Clean Sweep

The 10-step guide to cleaning

The bright spark who uttered those words was on to something. There are only a select few people in this world who actually enjoy the painstaking process of preening their palace, but it’s a necessary evil unless you want to wind up as the unlikely star of a reality TV show about hoarders, and be filmed climbing over piles of your own debris just to get to the kitchen.

So where do you start? There’s also a good reason why you should always clean from top to bottom – and it doesn’t necessarily involve having a double-storey house. This way any dust that gets stirred up along the way is removed once and for all in your final sweep. It will also make the process more efficient, and is the same strategy professional cleaners employ to cover a lot of ground within strict time constraints.

When you’re ready to begin, open your windows and doors for some fresh air – provided it’s not blowing a gale outside – and put on some upbeat music to get you in the groove. A timely piece of advice before you start: Don’t get distracted from your plan of action. A five-minute diversion can soon turn into 30 minutes or an hour, and your mission will have to be aborted.

1. Survey your domain
Like most things in life, preparation is the key. Grab your empty laundry basket and a rubbish bag. Next, take a five-minute tour of your home, standing in the doorway of each room to assess what needs to be done. Divide the room into sections and mentally note what is required. This could include dusting, cleaning windows, vacuuming and clearing any clutter. Clutter can be cleared quickly by adding it to your laundry basket. Ditto for any garbage. Then move from room to room and make a list of everything that needs to be done – including what equipment you will require.

2. The bucket list
Just as a tradesman has a toolbox to carry his tools, a cleaner should have a bucket or cleaning caddy they take with them wherever they go. Besides the cleaning products, cloths, brushes, rags, squeegees and wipes, it’s a good idea to carry various vacuum attachments in a pocket so you have the appropriate one on hand to tackle lamp shades, pictures, shelves and windowsills. Add an old toothbrush or two for getting into hard-to-reach spaces.

3. Top start
The first job isn’t necessarily the one you’d expect, but it makes most sense. Simply fill your kitchen sink with hot water and a squeeze or two of dishwashing liquid, then soak the removable elements of your gas cooktop (knobs and trivets) and your microwave turntable.

As they soak, turn your attention to the bigger picture. Cleaning from top to bottom, as the saying recommends, begin on the top level (or furthest room if you have a single level home). Dust from the ceiling down, removing cobwebs, and paying attention to walls, picture and mirror frames, wall lamps and finally the skirting boards. This prevents dust from dropping onto freshly vacuumed carpets or mopped floors. As for removing cobwebs from high ceilings or reaching light fittings, lifestyle.com.au recommends turning a sports sock inside out and attaching it with an elastic band to the end of a mop handle.

Once the room or space is completely dusted, start vacuuming. Take your time. Concentrating on one spot, vacuum in both directions as it allows the machine to better suck up dirt and dust. And make sure you empty the bag before it fills up and loses its effectiveness.

4. Mop secret
Having an exit strategy when mopping avoids duplication, so it makes sense to apply the same principle with general cleaning in each room. Work from the back of the room to the front – moving from corner to corner – as it allows you to carry your cleaning kit and supplies with you. The room-by-room approach is another integral aspect of your cleaning mission. Cleaning one room at a time creates a sense of accomplishment and allows you to return to your area of focus if you’re interrupted.

Another way to avoid repeating your work is to clean in a single direction, and organise as you clean, wiping under and around objects in hard-to-reach spots. It doesn’t matter if it’s left to right or right to left, but it’s important to be thorough and complete that task before moving to the next. A tip from the professionals: Rather than allowing wet surfaces to air dry, give them a finished look by wiping them dry. Not only does it deliver aesthetic results by removing water spots, it also inhibits the growth of bacteria and reduces the chance of slips or falls.

5. Next step
Stairs are one of the most highly trafficked areas in your home but they are often neglected when cleaning. Besides being a place where dust, dirt, hair and fibres collect, they also act as a conduit, transferring those same elements from the stairs into other spaces. Suck up the debris with a vacuum, then use a wood polish or hand vacuum to ensure each step is well maintained.

6. Living areas
Rugs have gained a notorious reputation for concealing hidden mess, so you’d be on the right track by immediately clearing up that misconception. Roll them up and vacuum underneath. Then vacuum both sides of the rug. If possible, hang them on a washing line and hit to release any lodged dust.

Move your couch, chairs and other pieces of furniture as it is surprising how much dust can accumulate underneath in a short space of time. Similarly, remove any seat cushions – it’s amazing what you will find.

7. Kitchen
As one of the most-used rooms in the home, the kitchen warrants special attention for health as much as aesthetic benefits. When you’re attending to the splashback, realsimple.com recommends that you wipe down the coffee machine, toaster, mixer and kettle and other small appliances, benchtops and cabinet interiors with an all-purpose spray.

Tend to the benchtops by rubbing in small, circular motions, using a surface specific cleaner. Restore the shine to the stainless steel in your kitchen (i.e. cooktops, oven, rangehood, microwave, integrated coffee machine) simply by adding a few drops of vegetable oil to a paper towel and wiping. White vinegar is also effective.

If you have more time, clean out the fridge. This may involve removing any old jars of food or over-ripe fruit, washing the shelves with soapy water, and wiping the interior with a bicarb soda paste with water (return later to rinse). As a bonus, bicarb soda will also remove any lingering smells.

8. Bathroom
The enclosed space of a bathroom is where the one-direction work philosophy will prove most handy. Before cleaning your cabinets, check inside and discard any expired medicines, almost-empty bottles and cosmetics you’ll never use. Remove built-up soap scum in your basin with a cloth, and put the old toothbrush to good use around the base of taps. If mildew or mould is a problem, remove it with a 50/50 vinegar and water spray and using another toothbrush.

9. Bedroom
To prepare bedrooms, first strip all linens and wash. To extend the life of your mattress, it’s a great idea to flip and rotate it every six weeks. At the same time freshen your mattress by sprinkling a cup of bicarb soda and even a drop of two or essential oils (i.e. lavender), leave it for an hour or so and then vacuum.

As for your built-in wardrobes and bedside drawers, examine what’s in there and give away any items you haven’t used for a year. Preserve the other items by laundering or dry cleaning.

10. Lock it up
Once your job is finished, ensure all your cleaning materials are stored out of harm’sway for the sake of your family and pets.

All-purpose and hard-surface cleaners, detergents, bleach and toilet bowl products are among the most common causes of poisoning among children, while pets can also fall victim.

Based on the 180,000 calls made annually to the Poisons Information Centre, an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report found about half related to children. All-purpose cleaners, bleach and dishwashing detergents contributed to more than 3500 cases, with toilet-bowl cleaners, hand sanitisers and disinfectant accounting for a major proportion of the remaining cases.

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