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House and Apartment Cleaning Tips
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Cleaning Myths Debunked: Vinegar
In the realm of DIY house cleaning solutions, vinegar may be the One True King. But, aside from that sharpish, unpleasant smell it leaves behind, vinegar rarely cleans anything and has the potential to do great damage. Here are five vinegar myths debunked:
Myth #1 Vinegar is a great cleaner.
False Vinegar has no detergents to lift away dirt or dissolve oils, meaning it’s not actually a cleaner. Household vinegar is, in fact, a 5% dilution of acetic acid with a relatively strong pH of 3. For perspective, water is pH 7 (neutral) and hydrochloric acid is pH 1. Vinegar may start as fermenting corn, but after distillation and other factory processes, it ends as a strong chemical.
Myth #2 Vinegar makes things squeaky clean.
False Not anymore! Back in Ye Olden Days, when people used to clean with real soap (the highly alkaline kind made from boiled fat and lye—yikes!) it left a slippery, soapy residue that was tough to rinse off. Adding acid (vinegar) to rinse water helped, so the positive association between vinegar and squeaky clean was born. But, unlike old-fashioned soaps, modern detergents don’t leave residues, so the need for an acid-rinse step has disappeared. Sadly, the vinegar myth has remained.
Myth #3 Vinegar is a disinfectant.
False Vinegar is unpleasant for germs, but not nearly deadly enough to be a disinfectant. Undiluted vinegar has been shown to kill only 90% of bacteria and 80% of viruses and mold, and that’s after a nice long soak with undiluted vinegar. When diluted and mixed with other soaps, vinegar’s germ-killing properties become even weaker. While 90% might be a good grade on a test, it’s an absolute FAIL in terms of killing serious germs that can make you sick.
Myth #4 Vinegar and water is the safest wood-floor cleaner.
False No, just no. Old fashioned wax floor finishes used to become easily scratched and dull, so people would use oil soaps to polish and improve their appearance. As you can imagine, this was a slippery business. Thanks to Myth #2, people believed that rinsing with acidic vinegar removed slippery residues, thus another bad cleaning idea was born. Fast forward to today: polyurethane—used to seal virtually all modern wood floors—prevents wood from absorbing both water and oils, making oil-based soaps even more slippery and hazardous. But, vinegar, even when highly diluted, softens polyurethane, slowly ruining a floor’s finish and making it even more susceptible to water damage and scratches. Even worse, since it lacks detergents, vinegar leaves behind the dirt and grit that make floor scratches happen even faster!
Myth #5 Vinegar is a great bathroom cleaner.
Mostly False Okay, yes, sometimes, but only with help! Vinegar’s acidity can dissolve calcium and magnesium, which make up hard-water deposits and give soap scum its crusty shape. However, vinegar still needs the help of real detergents and disinfectants to remove all dirt and body oils, to kill germs, and to make your bathroom surfaces truly clean. Vinegar’s dissolving power is also dangerous for many of the natural stone surfaces, such as marble, travertine, and limestone, that are so popular in bathrooms today.
The best thing about hiring highly-trained professionals to clean your home is they know all the true facts about what works and how to clean both safely and effectively!
Cleaning Myths Debunked: Carpets
There’s nothing quite like the comfy feeling of plush carpeting under your toes in the morning. But, without regular surface and deep-cleaning, carpets can easily turn into incubators for all sorts of unwanted guests in your home. Before you get too worried, take heart that humans have been decorating their homes with carpets for multiple millennia and still the species flourishes. Be grateful for your hearty immune system and read on to learn why regular carpet cleaning is so important!
Myth #1 Your carpet is dirtier than a toilet seat!
TRUE Typical carpet contains roughly 200,000 bacteria per square inch on average, making it technically 4,000 times germ-ier than a toilet seat. Most toilet seats are smooth, sealed surfaces that get cleaned and disinfected regularly, whereas many consumers wait years between professional carpet cleanings.
Myth #2 Carpet can hide 1-lb of dirt per yard and still appear clean.
TRUE This is where it get’s scary: those 200,000 bacteria per square inch feed on the millions of dead skin cells shed every hour by each person living in your home. Add in the daily tracks of living (pet dander, food crumbs, pollen, and soil off of the bottom of your shoes), and your carpet becomes a veritable Vegas Buffet for germs and bugs.
Myth #3 2,000 dust mites can survive on a single ounce of carpet dust.
TRUE While dust mites will gladly set up shop in mattresses and furniture, they are particularly fond of carpets due to their buffet of foods and the reasonably protected environment (you wash sheets regularly…carpets, not so much). If anyone in your home has a dust mite allergy, stick to hard-surface floors and washable area rugs as much as possible, especially in bedrooms where human dander is most prevalent.
Myth #4 Norovirus can live for up to two weeks in carpet.
TRUE This should be a death knell for the 5 Second Rule where food and carpets are concerned! Studies prove that norovirus can live for over 12 days in even regularly vacuumed carpeting. If your family seems particularly prone to stomach bugs, get carpets steam cleaned at a temperature of at least 158° F for five minutes or 212° F for one minute to completely kill off norovirus.
Myth #5 Carpets filter air by trapping dirt, dust, and germs in their fibers.
TRUE Carpeting is actually one of the most powerful natural air filters in your home, trapping dirt and germs from the air. Due to temperature differentials from inside to outside, homes actually breathe through the walls and roof. Carpeting acts as a huge, fluffy pre-filter, which is why the edges of carpets get dirty so fast even when you vacuum regularly.
Myth #6 Vacuuming regularly is a sufficient way to cope with germs trapped in carpets.
FALSE Even the most powerful vacuums struggle to extract dirt and germs from the base of carpet fibers.
Moral of the story Make a habit of removing shoes when entering your home—or at least put down washable entry mats and runners and wash regularly. Invest in having carpets cleaned and extracted professionally at least once a year. In between professional cleaning and extraction, vacuum thoroughly at least once a week, using a high-quality machine with a motorized brush. You might also consider investing in a HEPA filtration type of vacuum—such as the ones used by our cleaning professionals.
Cleaning Tips for the Bathroom
The bathroom is one of those rooms where a small amount of daily tidying and light cleaning—we’re talking only minutes here!—can substantially lighten your weekly cleaning workload.
One key is to keep the right supplies near to hand: a toilet-bowl cleaner and swisher, cleaning solution suitable for your specific counter types, glass cleaner, a spray-on shower-wall cleaner, a squeegee, and absorbent rags for drying. Then follow these quick tips:
Tip 1 Use the fan (or open a window) when bathing. Preventing humidity from getting trapped and accumulating is the number-one defense against mold and mildew in your bathroom. After you bathe, leave the fan running while you dress, make beds, and so forth.
Tip 2 Spray, rinse, and squeegee shower and tub walls. At the end of a shower, spritz walls quickly with a mild cleaning solution, rinse, then squeegee away as much water as you can. This takes only a minute or two and stops soap scum in its tracks. Ultimately, it means less heavy-duty chemicals and scrubbing on big cleaning days. Finish by removing hair collected in the drain grate, then drawing shower doors or curtain fully closed for maximum exposure to air for drying.
Tip 3 Give the toilet bowl a quick swish. Squirt in some bowl cleaner, swish it around, then let it sit while you complete other morning routines. Be sure to flush before heading out the door.
Tip 4 Stow all daily-use products—tooth brushes, pastes, razors, cosmetics, and so forth—out of sight. This might mean freeing up space in cabinets and drawers. If you don’t have sufficient closed spaces, get creative with decorative containers, wooden boxes, baskets, and think outside the bathroom, re-purposing kitchen, office, old china, and other solutions for organizing miscellany. For corded appliances—hair dryers, curling irons, straighteners, razors, trimmers, and the like—take a page out of the hotel playbook and stow in a drawstring bag on a hook (of course, only when completely cooled).
Tip 5 Spritz, wipe, and dry surfaces and mirrors daily. Cleaning toothpaste, shaving cream, other blobs and splatters is much easier when they’re fresh. Hand dry to protect moisture-sensitive surfaces, avoid smears, and prevent mold and mildew from getting into crevices.
Tip 6 Empty trash. Chances are, your bathroom waste basket is small and prone to unsightly overflow. It can also be a big source of unpleasant odors (especially if you have kids or teenagers who sneak food into the bin). Try to empty at least every other day.
Tip 7 Let in the sun. Sunshine is mildew’s worst enemy, so finish your daily bathroom tidying routine by throwing open the curtains or blinds to allow in as much daylight as possible.
7-Steps to Cleaning Your Fridge and Freezer
It’s a good idea to deep clean your fridge and freezer at least twice a year. Aside from assuring basic food safety, it’ll save you money! That unwiped spill or ‘science project’ stuffed in the back where you can’t see it? It’s growing bacteria that can jump to other items, causing food to spoil faster.
For a deep clean, pick a date when you can dedicate at least 3–4 hours and inform family members that the fridge and kitchen areas will be off limits while you work.
Gather essential tools: replacement water/air filters; clean food coolers and ice packs; a pH neutral, scent-free soap; thin plastic scrapers in different sizes for getting into nooks and crannies; as much counter and table space as you can muster; and plenty of clean, absorbent cloths for drying.
Step 1 Take everything out, storing highly perishable items (meats, dairy, frozen foods) in the coolers.
Step 2 Remove all interior parts—racks, shelves, drawers, brackets. You might be surprised by how much is engineered to come out. Inspect for toughened gunk and set to soak and soften in the kitchen sink while you clean the appliance itself.
Step 3 Pull the fridge out from wall and unplug (mind your lower back and get help on this step as needed). Remove the base grill and thoroughly brush or vacuum refrigerator coils behind and underneath (to the best of your ability—this frees the coils to more easily release heat, enabling the compressor to operate at peak efficiency).
Step 4 Now for the interior. Clean and dry inside walls, ceiling, floors, irremovable shelving brackets, and so forth. Use scrapers (gently!) to get into cracks and crevices where spills, carton leaks, crumbs, and other scraps tend to accumulate. Be sure to inspect everything from both above and below. Brush loosened debris to the floor (you’ll vacuum it up later). Dump old ice, and carefully inspect and clean both ice and water dispensing mechanisms as these can be particularly susceptible to growing germs. Replace interior air/water filters as needed.
Step 5 Clean fridge exterior, including the gasket (that ridged rubber thing that makes the door seal tightly)—it likes to harbor crumbs and other junk in its folds!
Step 6 Re-plug and restore fridge to its original position. Moving to the sink, thoroughly wash, dry, and replace removable parts. Look closely to see where these items are engineered to be easily disassembled. Never use abrasives on glass or plastic parts.
Step 7 Use a hot, wet cloth to wipe sticky jars, cartons, and other items before re-placing them into the cleaned fridge; it’s also a great time to inspect for items that have expired, gone past freshness dates, or are simply unlikely to ever be consumed.
That’s it! All that’s left is to vacuum the floor. To maintain your fridge (and hard work!), we recommend that you clean at least one area (for example: a produce, deli, or meat drawer) each week as you put groceries away, and do an intermediate-level cleaning (wipe shelves and re-org) at least once a month.
Quick Cleaning Tips for Toddler ‘Artwork’ on Walls
There is something about a pristine expanse of wall that no toddler—momentarily unsupervised with a crayon, marker or, heaven forbid, permanent marker in hand—can resist.
And, while you might be tempted to spend a few moments appreciating your pint-sized Picasso’s brilliant artwork, time is not on your side when it comes to effectively cleaning the wall.
A quick Google search yields dozens of potential solutions for removing crayon, regular-, and permanent-marker stains from walls—everything from mayonnaise to non-gel toothpaste, baking soda, hand sanitizer, vinegar, nail-polish remover, hairspray, WD-40, rubbing alcohol, turpentine, pencil erasers, Magic Erasers, dry-erase markers, hair dryers, and more.
What is often left out of these articles is that some of the solutions work by being oily—meaning they lift the marks away, but can leave their own permanent, greasy stains behind. Others work by reacting chemically with the stain–meaning they can also alter your wall’s paint chemistry, leaving it tacky, discolored, or faded. OR, they work by being abrasive—meaning that, along with removing the offending marks, they might also rub away some of your wall’s paint or paper covering.
Four essential rules for reacting to a pop-up toddler art show are to:
- Act quickly before the wall has a chance to absorb the marks.
- Know your surface—both its absorbency and susceptibility to damage from cleaning.
- Test each solution in an inconspicuous spot before applying to visible areas.
- And, as with all stain removal, begin with the least aggressive treatment and work progressively toward harsher, more potentially damaging treatments. And when in doubt, call in a house cleaning professional.
Here’s a quick rundown of how to approach different wall finishes:
Semi- or high-gloss paints. If you’re lucky, your toddler will have chosen to draw on a door, door frame, or molding, which are the most likely to be finished with glossier paints. These finishes are the least likely to absorb stains and least susceptible to staining from oil-based solutions or permanent discoloration from use of mild abrasives.
Eggshell and satin paints. These moderately glossy finishes are popular because they do a reasonably good job of hiding wall-surface imperfections, but are less likely than flatter finishes to absorb surface stains or to sustain damage from rigorous cleaning. While you should always start gently, if you know for sure that a wall is finished with an eggshell or satin paint, you can afford to be somewhat more aggressive with how you escalate stain removal before facing the prospect of repainting.
Matte or flat paints. Popular for their superiority at hiding wall-surface imperfections, flatter paint finishes are, unfortunately, the most stain absorbent and susceptible to damage from cleaning. Use only the mildest pH-balanced cleaning solutions and avoid heavy scrubbing with abrasives on any colored surface. This includes baking soda, white toothpaste, steel wool, abrasive sponges, and so-called magic erasers, which, while seeming soft, use microscopic glass beads to abrade stains away. Be prepared for the possibility of needing to repaint matte- or flat-finished walls.
Wall paper. Most modern wallpapers contain some vinyl or plastic-type coating that can withstand gentle washing and stain removal tactics. But, even if designated as washable, stick to only mild pH-balanced cleaners and avoid abrasives of any kind. For small marks, try a pencil or art eraser followed by judicious use of either a commercial chemical cleaner or common-household solution such as nail-polish remover, hairspray, or hand sanitizer. Especially with wall paper, test somewhere inconspicuous before using on the main stain.
Quick Cleaning Tips for Different Hard Flooring Types
When it comes to safely cleaning and protecting hard floors, there are several universal truths (plus a few key differences, depending on type).
Basic Floor Care
Leave shoes at the door. The absolute best long-term cleaning defense for hard flooring is to avoid tracking in grit, tiny pebbles, and oils that scratch, etch, permeate, and cause virtually all hard flooring types to appear dull over time.
Sweep and vacuum often. Even when you leave shoes at the door, it’s impossible to keep damaging debris from falling. Frequent sweeping (dare we say daily?) and at least weekly vacuuming is also a must.
Wipe spills immediately. Except for wood laminates and glazed tiles, hard flooring types are essentially—and to varying degrees—porous. That makes them highly vulnerable to staining, so it’s imperative to pay prompt attention to spills.
Damp mop only, then dry! The same porousness that makes hard floors susceptible to staining also makes them vulnerable to long-term damage from moisture: warping, mold/mildew growth, and so forth. The rule, then, is to damp (versus wet) mop, then physically (versus air) dry after cleaning.
Go pH neutral and avoid abrasives. While certain hard flooring types can withstand a little diluted acid (such as lemon juice) to remove dulling soap buildup, or mild abrasives to attack tough stains, many others will sustain serious damage from both acidic and alkaline cleaners (such as ammonia) and abrasives. Best rule of thumb is to use a pH-neutral cleaning solution that’s designed to bond with and pick up dirt and oils (versus just swishing them around). Rinse your mop frequently with clean water and never skip the rinse step where you focus on removing soap residues after you’ve picked up all the dirt.
These basics will get you most of the way with cleaning, protecting, and extending the lifetimes of hard floors.
Stone. Common varieties include limestone, slate, travertine, granite, and marble. Avoid acids like the plague, use the least possible amounts of water, and always dry after cleaning. For softer varieties, such as travertine and limestone, periodic resealing is also a must to protect against staining.
Laminates. Virtually indestructible on the surface, wood laminate floors are still susceptible at the seams. Seeping water can break down adhesives over time, causing unsightly warping, peeling, and bubbling.
Wood (surface sealed). Most contemporary wood floors are sealed with polyurethanes, meaning it’s perfectly safe to damp mop using the basic guidelines above. Never use oils or furniture polish—hello skating rink! And, despite all your best efforts, these floors will still dull over time as the finish deteriorates, so expect to sand and refinish every 7–10 years.
Wood (unsealed). Unsealed may be too strong a word as older hardwood floors tend to be at least oiled, lacquered/shellacked, or treated with so-called penetrating sealers. Nonetheless, these wood floor types are united in their hatred of water and should NOT be damp mopped. Address serious stains directly, using the least possible amounts of cleaners and water. These high-maintenance floors also need regular waxing, which is a three-step:
- strip the old layer
- apply a new layer of either paste or liquid wax
- machine buff to a high shine
Ceramic tile (glazed). When glazed tiles start looking dull, it’s generally okay to use a mildly acidic solution to remove soapy residues. Grout cleaning is also a must on occasion and can be addressed safely with a strong nylon-bristled brush, a commercial grout cleaner, or, if you have the time to let it sit, a paste of baking soda and water. A few drops of bleach in your solution can also be used on tough grout stains, but it’s important to note that bleach works simply by turning dirt white versus removing it.
Ceramic tile (un-glazed). Un-glazed ceramic tile is typically durable…but also more susceptible to staining than glazed varieties. That means you might need to get down on your knees and scrub with a brush to get it truly clean. Un-glazed tile is also more susceptible to mold and mildew, so be sure to dry physically after cleaning.
Linoleum. While there are cleaners specialized for linoleum, a pH-neutral cleaner (or even a bit of dish washing liquid in hot water) will work perfectly well, too. Stay away from high-pH cleaners—such as ammonia—which can damage linoleum. You can make these floors really shine with specialized linoleum polish.