Keep up, don't catch up.
Stockpile tea towels.
Use DIY window cleaner.
Renew stained linens.
Go old-school with products.
Deep-clean with the seasons.
Less is more.
Practice an ounce of prevention.
Freshen the air naturally.
Use vinegar to descale.
Stock a rag bin.
Make a natural whitener.
Grandma kept after messes every day, and you should, too. "It's easier than saving all your chores for one big cleaning session," says Donna Smallin Kuper, certified housecleaning technician and author of Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness. Get into a daily routine and your house will always look neat as a pin: Make the bed, do the dishes after every meal, and sweep the kitchen floor daily.
Instead of using paper towels, invest in flour-sack tea towels. "They're 100 percent cotton so you can dry glasses lint-free, wipe down the stove, or let dishes drip-dry on them," says Becky Rapinchuk, blogger at Cleanmama.net and author of The Organically Clean Home. "They launder well and dry fast." Grandma-approved bonus: They come in pretty patterns, colors, and embroidered motifs to add vintage charm to your kitchen.
Your grandma didn't have fancy window and mirror cleaning sprays, and you don't need them either. Mix up this streak-free recipe, courtesy of Rapinchuk:
•1 ½ c. water
•1 ½ T. white vinegar
•1 ½ T. rubbing alcohol
•3 drops peppermint essential oil
Mix in a spray bottle, spray liberally on windows and mirrors and wipe with a lint-free cloth.
Can't get rid of stains on napkins, tablecloths or doilies? Grandma wouldn't toss them; she'd tea-stain them. Add four or five black tea bags to a bucket of hot water and let them steep for 10 minutes or so. Remove tea bags, add the cloth (swish it around so it absorbs the water), and let it sit until you reach the desired shade. "You'll get a lovely antique creamy brown," says Rapinchuk. Let dry to set, then wash in cold water.
Some of the products grandma used are still available, because they're inexpensive and they work great. Use lemon oil such as Old English or Milsek to dust furniture and add a sheen to kitchen cabinets. Try scrubbing powder such as Bon Ami on pots and pans. Or dab baking soda on a damp rag as a light abrasive in sinks or to buff scuffs off floors.
There's something to be said for cleaning in sync with the calendar like grandma did, says Rapinchuk. At least once a year, wash your windows, change the furnace filter, deep-clean your carpets, flip and vacuum your mattress, and purge your closet. Keeping clothes you don't like or wear is not sensible, and grandma wouldn't approve!
You don't need a million specialty cleaning products in your arsenal. "Borax is a multipurpose cleaner that's been around forever and is incredibly versatile," says Liz Trotter, co-owner of Cleaning Business Builders and owner of American Maid Cleaning in Olympia, Washington. Sprinkle a little on a damp sponge to clean tile, floors, porcelain sinks, or fixtures. Use it to wipe down greasy kitchen cabinets. Add it as a detergent booster, especially to rid laundry of odors. Or use it as a pre-soak for tough stains.
Cleaning as you go prevents little messes from becoming big ones, says Kuper. Squeegee down the shower after every use. Wipe the bathroom sink after you brush your teeth, so toothpaste blobs don't dry in place. Place throw rugs inside and outside doors to prevent dirt from getting tracked indoors. Vacuum your traffic patterns frequently to keep grit from grinding into carpet fibers.
Use 100 percent vanilla extract for deodorizing. "It gives a clean, fresh scent instead of a chemical smell," says Trotter. Douse cotton balls with vanilla and hide them in plants, or rub one over a cold light bulb; when it heats, the room will smell great. For stinky microwaves, put two tablespoons of vanilla in a glass bowl, heat for 30 seconds, then let sit inside the microwave for a few hours. For lingering cooking smells, simmer a few tablespoons of lemon juice in a pan.
Degunk your shower head by pouring straight white vinegar in a plastic bag. Use a rubber band to hold it in place around the shower head for several hours. Remove the bag, and scrub off residue with a toothbrush. Vinegar also de-grimes plastic shower curtains: Toss the curtain in the wash with a few towels, a bit of soap, Borax, and a vinegar rinse (pour into the softener dispenser). Give the curtain five minutes on low in the dryer, and it will look new, says Trotter.
Grandma was thrifty so she never, ever threw out a scrap of fabric. Clothes that were too worn became cleaning cloths. Use cotton diapers, or tear old flannel sheets and cotton T-shirts into square cleaning rags. They'll last forever.
For yellowed white laundry or linens, make a natural lemon whitener. Squeeze the juice of one lemon into a gallon of hot water in a laundry bucket. Let the item soak for one to two hours. Run through a rinse cycle or rinse by hand, then set out in the sun to dry, says Rapinchuk.