Get Your Kitchen Cleaner Quicker

Most of us are cooking more to save money. Unfortunately, that means that the kitchen can get dirtier than ever faster than ever. But you can easily bring it back to its former sparkle with a little prep. And once you do, your regular cleaning routine will be a snap.

Looking to also be green while you clean? Here, Linda Mason Hunter, co-author of Green Clean: The Environmentally Sound Guide to Cleaning Your Home, provides her best tips for your dirtiest spots.

1. De-clutter before cleaning.

Is your counter covered with knickknacks, canisters or small appliances that rarely get used? Such objects eat up valuable workspace, attract dust and dirt, and make it harder to clean your counters quickly. Make space in your cabinets for all canisters of food and appliances (or consider getting rid of them altogether if you haven’t used them in a year), and you’ll make the rest of your job a lot easier. “A de-cluttered kitchen feels cleaner and stays cleaner,” says Hunter.

2. Clean toaster crumbs.

A buildup of crumbs can create more than just a mess: It can start a fire in your toaster oven. Stay safe -- and clean -- by lining the toaster oven tray with foil and replacing it weekly. To dislodge crumbs from a traditional toaster, turn it upside down and shake it over a garbage can.

3. Freshen the refrigerator.

Food can easily spill in your refrigerator, so it’s important to regularly wipe it down -- inside and out -- to remove spills and grease, and keep it smelling fresh. An open box of baking soda should do the trick and can then be used to make a baking soda paste to clean the refrigerator. “It’s especially important to use a natural cleaner in the space where you store your food,” says Hunter.

4. Banish burnt-on spills.

You can get rid of stubborn spots in your oven or on your stovetop with this nifty natural nonabrasive scrubber: Simply make a paste of baking soda and castile soap, apply it with a sponge and rub. This also works on dirty grout. If spills are especially stubborn, sprinkle with baking soda, lightly spray with water and let it sit overnight. Then, rinse with cold water. Next time you cook, sprinkle fresh spills with salt as soon as your stove cools. This will absorb the food, and you should be able to scrape it off easily.

Wipe it up when it happens:
Want to make your next kitchen-cleaning job easier? Be proactive and zap spills and other dirty mishaps as soon as they occur. “The longer that dirt and grease sit on a surface, the longer it takes to remove them -- and the harder you’ll have to work,” says Hunter. In addition, giving your kitchen a little TLC each day (wipe down the counters and sink, wipe smudges off appliances, sweep the floor) will help make bigger cleanups (almost) a breeze. 

The Cleaning Cheat Sheet

Feel like you never stop cleaning? A 2008 University of Michigan survey found that American women scrub their houses an astonishing average of 17 hours a week, and (no surprise) their spouses spend a lot less time with a sponge. The good news: “Such drudgery is totally unnecessary,” says Jeff Bredenberg, author of How to Cheat at Cleaning: Time-Slashing Techniques to Cut Corners and Restore Your Sanity. Follow his tips to make short work of your housework.

Keep Dirt Outside
Establish a no-shoe rule inside your home, and you’ll prevent all kinds of muck from ever touching your floors. Place a basket by the front door and ask everyone to deposit footwear there.

Cover up
Using washable slipcovers on couches and upholstered chairs won’t prevent spills, but it will keep them from becoming a permanent stain. If you can’t bear to cover up all the time, use the slipcovers on high-risk occasions, such as kids’ parties (think: drippy chocolate ice cream and sticky lollipops) or holiday gatherings (red wine and salsa). So many colors and styles are available that you don’t even need to spring for custom-made ones. Just make sure you can pop them in the washing machine.

Get a Disposable Countertop
Next time you cook something messy, cover the counter with wax paper. It will keep your space clean when you grate cheese, set down a sauce-covered spoon or bake cupcakes. Afterward, just crumple up the paper -- and the mess.

Make Appliances Clean Themselves

  • Food processor or blender Fill half with water, add a squirt of dishwashing liquid, close lid and turn on. The food will spin off the blades. Then just rinse.
  • Garbage disposal Empty a tray of ice cubes into the disposal, throw in some orange peels, then grind until ice disappears. Any bad smells will go with it.
  • Microwave Heat two cups of water in a microwave-safe bowl on high for five minutes. The steam will loosen cooked-on splatters. Then simply wipe away with a paper towel.

Buy Denture Tablets
Throw one into your toilet bowl to make stains vanish overnight. The next morning, just brush a tiny bit and flush. Denture tablets also remove coffee and tea stains from mugs and get rid of crusty buildup in the bottom of flower vases. Just fill with hot water and drop one in. 

Get Rid of Pet Hair
If you have a dog or cat, you probably also have a couch or drapes covered with clingy pet hair. To remove it easily, warm a dryer sheet and rub it over the material. This zaps the static cling, allowing the hair to fall off so it can be vacuumed up quickly.

Can It
Don’t waste time trying to dust the crannies of computer keyboards or piano keys. Instead, just give the dust a fast blast with a can of compressed air -- sold at office supply stores. This also works on pleated lampshades and chandeliers.

Know When to Stop
No matter how much you scrub, certain household items, such as door mats, stovetop drip pans and shower curtains, will never come completely clean. So when they get too soiled, bite the bullet and replace them. 

One-day Home Makeover

The entertaining season is upon us, which means it’s a little too late to start a major home-makeover project. But a few small changes can make a dramatic difference in the way your living space looks -- and how you feel about having people over. In just a few hours, these simple ideas will help you make what’s old new again … before the doorbell rings.

Dress Your Drapes
Depending on how many windows you have -- and how big they are -- your drapery can account for nearly as much wall space as … well, your walls. Changing or enhancing what’s already there can make as big an impact as putting up a new paint color.

· Switch it up. If you’ve got the time and money to shop for new drapes, try a totally different look than the one you have -- new color, pattern, texture, etc. Change the hardware too.

· Add swag. For an even quicker fix, buy long hemmed scarves and create swag valances to go over your existing drapes. Don’t worry too much about being matchy-matchy; the bolder you go, the bigger the difference.

· Double down. For short drapes, add some interest, color and drama by sewing on a bottom tier of contrasting fabric to make them floor-length.

Pick up Your Couch
You don’t need to re-upholster to completely change the look and feel of your sofa. Just go pillow crazy. Remove the originals that matched so perfectly, and replace with a contrasting potpourri of sizes, textures, colors and prints. Choose a wide assortment and start playing. Pink next to red and yellow? Try it. Silk alongside chenille and chintz? Could be great. Get creative and whatever you don’t use, return. Be sure to toss a few onto the love seat and armchairs too.

Change the Focus
When you walk into your living room or dining room, what do you see first? Give your guests something to look at other than a plain tablecloth or empty coffee table.

· Veg out. A huge vase of fresh flowers can infuse a room with color.
Scatter smaller vases around the room to create an indoor garden.

· Light up. Hang a new eye-grabbing lighting fixture over the dining room table.

· Spruce up. Set an indoor tropical tree in an empty corner.

· Go big. Replace a small framed print with a statement-making large one.

Play With Patterns
Solid colors -- on carpeting, tablecloths and upholstery -- tend to disappear and make the room look flat. Patterned surfaces add depth, especially when you layer them. For an instant makeover, put a bright Turkish area rug under the coffee table and a muted jacquard runner on top of it. Then drape a multi-stripe silk throw on the couch. You don’t have to pay a fortune either. Check out Craigslist and eBay, and hunt online for sample and warehouse sales.

In less time than it takes to make stuffing, bake pie and roast the turkey, you’ll have completed a one-day home makeover.

Fall Cleaning 101

Back-to-school is a season for fresh starts -- and that includes your home. At the first signs of spring, most of us open the windows and pull out the cleaning bucket for a full-on assault on dirt, dust and clutter. We should do the same at the start of fall, says cleaning expert Donna Smallin, author of Cleaning Plain and Simple and the One-Minute Cleaner. “Fall is when you’re going to be closing the windows and preparing to be cooped up for a few months -- and you want to be cooped in a clean house.”

Here are Smallin’s essential fall cleaning tips:

Detox the Bathroom
Now’s the time to bring out the heavy-duty cleaning products that remove layers of soap scum and mildew in the shower and tub. With the bathroom window open, spray the cleaners inside the shower door, on the walls, and on the tile ceiling. Then walk away for a few minutes.

While your shower virtually cleans itself, take stock of what’s in your medicine cabinet. Toss out any old or expired medicines, lotions and makeup. Medications and sunscreens have expiration dates on the bottom -- they usually have a shelf life of one or two years. Lotions last only a year. And to avoid contamination, you should replace eye makeup every six months.

Once you’re done, go back to the shower and tub and rinse with a hand-held shower nozzle. Or turn on the overhead showerhead and use a long-handled scrubbing wand to mop up the cleanser. Help keep things clean and fresh by using daily shower sprays.

Prep the Kitchen for Holiday Hosting
Two areas need special attention before the start of the holiday cooking and baking marathon: The outside of the cabinets and the inside of the fridge. Using paper towels or a clean dishcloth, rub wood cabinets with oil soap, and wipe knobs and pulls with straight vinegar. Completely empty the fridge and do a thorough cleaning with soapy dishwater or all-purpose spray cleaner. Take out the bins and wash in the sink with soapy water … but watch the temperature. Hot water can crack the plastic. Dry and line them with a paper towel before putting them back in.

Turn on the oven self-cleaner, and while it goes to work, drag the step stool over to the fridge. Armed with all-purpose cleaner and paper towels, scrub the top to get rid of built-up grime. Go through your pantry and gather up all the unopened food you know you won’t use to give to your local food pantry. (Anything you donate before the end of the year is a tax write-off, says Smallin.) While you’re at it, toss out any spices that have overstayed their welcome; check online for how long specific spices keep their potency.

Detail the Family Room

It’s time to face whatever’s lurking behind all your heavy furniture. Move everything away from the wall and wash the baseboards with oil soap. (The room will smell great!) Use a magic sponge to remove scuffmarks from the walls. Vacuum behind the curtains and between the cushions. And have your carpets professionally cleaned (or do it yourself) if it’s been a year or more.

Weather-proof Your Bedroom

Change out summer bedding and curtains for colder-weather ones. Wash everything before you store it for the season; dirty clothes can attract insects, according to Smallin. Bring out your fall and winter clothes, but before you put away your summer stuff, go through it carefully. Store only the things you loved wearing this past season, and donate the rest. And if you haven’t done it in the past year, clean the carpet -- including inside the closets.

De-bug the Fixtures

Last but not least: Take down your lighting fixtures and ceiling fans, and see what’s been living inside them all summer. Bugs and spiders love it up there (guaranteed you’ll find a web or two), so give your fixtures a good wiping and cleaning.

Keep Your House Spring-clean

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping -- and you’re sweeping up a trail of caked mud leading from the back door to the family room. Along with blue jays and daffodils, spring ushers in a houseful of dirt as kids and pets track everything from mud to grass cuttings throughout the house. But with some strategic planning, you can keep the mess at bay. Organization is key, according to Donna Smallin, author of A to Z Storage Solutions and The One-Minute Cleaner. Smallin shares her tips on keeping the house free from mess.

1. Roll out the rugs.

Pick up some cheap rugs or carpet remnants and place them in front of all the high-traffic doors in your home -- both inside and out. The more dirt you catch at the door, the less you’ll be chasing after it with a vacuum. For extra protection, lay a clear plastic office chair mat right inside the door and cover it with a rug.

2. Start a no-shoes rule.

Put a large basket (solid, not woven) near the door where all shoes can be tossed as soon as kids walk in. That way, stray dirt from the shoes will fall to the bottom of the basket rather than mess up the floor, says Smallin.

3. Keep the vacuum where the dirt is.

Rather than running up and down the stairs every day, keep your supplies where you’ll need them the most: mop in the kitchen, vacuum cleaner in the living room or hallway, etc. During the spring and summer, plan on vacuuming more often to keep any dirt from settling.

4. Clean up the mess.

If you do end up with mud on your carpets, let it dry before you vacuum. “One thing I don’t recommend is using stain removal sprays on carpet,” says Smallin. “This is the advice of every carpet-cleaning professional I’ve ever met. It [the stain removal spray] may remove the stain, but it leaves a residue that attracts dirt to it.”

The best trick for removing stains from carpet, according to Smallin, is to pour hydrogen peroxide on the stain, cover it with a wet white towel, and then press a hot steam iron on it for 15 to 20 seconds. The stain will transfer from the carpet to the towel. Repeat the process as needed. For best results, cover the spot with a dry towel and a heavy weighted object, and allow it to dry.

5. Call for help.

Once your house is equipped and organized, Smallin suggests instituting one last rule: “You make a mess; you clean it up.” As she says, “Why should Mom have to clean up after everyone?”