Spring cleaning: few words evoke an equally powerful sense of accomplishment and dread. We don’t know a single person who doesn’t love to have a sparkling clean house . . . and who doesn’t also wish she could take a spa vacation while an army of scrubbing, vacuuming, and organizing elves do it for her. But until science Frankensteins these magically helpful creatures for us, we’ve got Annie’s handy tips for a thorough spring cleaning you can do in segments, over the course of a few weekends. This helps you to actually get through the entire list without cutting corners—and without feeling dead on your feet after a marathon cleaning session.
Weekend 1: Cleaning the Living Room, Dining Room, Bedrooms, and Home Office
1. Start by eliminating clutter. Gather up all those magazines, newspapers, catalogs, bills, mail, and any other pieces of paper that have been hanging around for months. Go through the stack, placing each item in a Keep or Toss pile. File any items from the Keep pile that have a permanent home elsewhere (e.g., your electric bills), and immediately throw the tossables in the recycling bin. Then go back through the Keep stack a second time. Do you really need that issue of House Beautiful from November, simply because it had a photo of your dream dining room? Instead rip out any pages you plan to refer back to, and organize them in folders or binders for later. Then scrap the mag.
2. Put away books, kids’ or pets’ toys, clothes, or other objects that shouldn’t be decorating the arm of favorite chaise or your floor.
3. Remove any sheets, blankets, duvets, quilts, or slipcovers that need washing, and place them in a laundry basket. This is also a good time to wash pillows and duvet inserts. You can start the laundry at any time of the process; set a timer to help you keep track of when to switch out loads, to minimize wrinkling.
4. Once the rooms are as organized as possible, give them a thorough dusting. If you have any wood furniture that needs oiling or polish to stay looking its best, now is a good time to do it.
5. Without moving the furniture, give each room a good vacuuming. Once you’re done, slide the furniture off any area rugs, shake the rugs outside, and allow them to hang in the fresh air while you’re working. Pull the furniture toward the center of the room (or away from its normal position), and vacuum again, focusing on any areas that were covered by sofas, beds, bookcases, and other large pieces. This is often where you’ll find the ickiest, tumbleweed-esque accumulations of dust, hair, and (gulp) dead insects.
6. With the floors now dirt-free, you’re in the perfect position to either steam-clean your carpets or steam or polish your wood floors. If you have pets or small ones in the house, be sure to use nontoxic cleaners. For wood and tile, we love McCulloch’s PowerSteam series of home steamers, which can be used with hot (and we mean boiling hot) water alone, or with a bit of white vinegar poured into the mix, for an antibacterial boost.
7. Finally, clean out your closet. No, really. We admit that we sometimes procrastinate on this one—parting is such sweet sorrow and all that—but the longer we wait, the less likely we are to do it. And then we’ll be cramming extra stuff into a space that can’t accommodate it, making it harder for us to see what we actually have and encouraging wrinkling. We like to set aside one of the mornings of this weekend for our annual closet cull, and pull out:
• Anything we’re on the fence about—e.g., “I loved it when I bought it, but . . .”—or pieces that we suspect may not flatter us
• Items that we’re pretty sure might be too big or too small
• Clothes that need repair
• Anything we haven’t worn in the past two years; we see your “But it was on the clearance rack at Nordstrom!” and raise you a “Cut your losses and move on.” Preferably to other, better pieces you buy because you can’t live without them, not because they seem like a great deal.
We try on any items we’re not sure about, even snapping cell-phone photos if we have to, so we can take a more objective look at how they fit. Anything that doesn’t pass the “fit, flatter, love” test gets put in a bag or box for giveaway or donation. As for those clothes that need fixing, if we can’t imagine making the time to take them to a seamstress in the next two weeks, we add those to the bag, as well.
Weekend 2: Cleaning the Kitchen, Bathrooms, and Windows
1. First eliminate any clutter from the kitchen and bathrooms, just as you did while cleaning last weekend.
2. Ask yourself when was the last time you cleaned or replaced your kitchen sponges. If the answer is “Sometime during Obama’s first presidency,” it’s time to toss those squishy bacteria colonies and start fresh. If it’s been a couple weeks since their last cleaning, space the sponges out on a small, microwave-safe plate, cleaning surface up, pop them in the microwave, and set it on high for three minutes. Carefully remove the plate and let the sponges cool completely before you try to pick them up.
3. If your dishtowels have been hanging up for more than three days or were used to mop up any counter spills, throw them in a hot-water load of laundry.
4. Shake out and wash your area rugs —this is especially important if you haven’t done it in a while. Hang them to dry in moderate sun or partial shade to prevent fading of any non-UV-treated rug weaves.
5. Clear off the kitchen counters entirely. We know it sounds like a lot of work, but it will actually make the cleaning process go so much faster. Once you’re in the clear, grab your liquid of choice (we love this herby antibacterial cleaner from Method) and spray a light film over as much of the countertops as you can. Allow it to sit for a few minutes to kill any nasties, then wipe with paper towels, a clean sponge (not the one you use for the dishes!), or a clean, damp rag. Repeat if necessary to remove all the cleaner, then allow the counters to dry completely.
6. Give any dusty kitchen and bathrooms surfaces the once-over with a duster or rag. If you come across kitchen cabinets or walls that have an oily residue from cooking, wipe them down with a towel dunked in a 2:1 solution of water and white vinegar.
7. Comb through your bathroom cabinets for any expired medications or beauty products; make a list of what needs to be replaced, and toss the rest. Also check for any towels or washcloths that smell funky from sitting in storage, and run them through a hot-water wash with ½ cup white vinegar in the rinse cycle. Or check out our guide on how to remove stains the nontoxic way.
8. Spray the bathroom shower/tub and countertops with antibacterial cleaner, and allow them to sit for about 20 minutes before wiping down. Also spray the seat (top and bottom), behind the seat, and inside the toilet bowl. Although we usually prefer milder cleaners around the house, you don’t want to mess with the toilet. Use a bleach-based cleaner, and let it sit for at least 20 minutes before scrubbing. To make the bowl really sparkle, after cleaning and flushing, pour in ½ cup white vinegar, let it sit for 10 minutes, and scrub it shiny.
9. For dirty or streaky windows, try this tried-and-true window cleaning formula: fill a large spray bottle with 2 cups water, ¼ cup white vinegar, and ½ teaspoon liquid dish soap. Crinkle the newspaper into a loose ball in one hand, and spray the window with the other. Rub in a circular motion to remove dirt, then switch to either horizontal or vertical wiping to eliminate streaks.
10. There probably isn’t much in the way of furniture in your kitchen or bath, but move any pieces away from their normal spots and vacuum thoroughly. For tile or wood floors, follow up with a careful steaming or polish.
Weekend 3: Cleaning the Garage or Shed, Porch or Patio, and Walkways
1. Remove all heavy, space-sucking yard and garden machinery—lawnmowers, lawn trimmers, snow blowers, and their friends—and park them outside.
2. Get your organization on by putting out two boxes or crates, one marked Keep and one marked Toss, in a central location. Then go through the garage or shed, looking for anything that’s broken, items you no longer need, or stuff you can’t figure out the origins of (like that weird, plastic-topped screw you found on the floor of the garage that doesn’t seem to be part of anything you own), and put them in the Toss box. Any items that you need but just need to be reorganized can go in the Keep box. Once you’re done, find permanent places for the latter. Garage organization might just be our least favorite spring cleaning task, but it’s necessary to prevent the slow creep of hardware hoarding, so we always do it as early as possible.
3. Once the floor and countertops are as clear of clutter as possible, it’s time to clean out a year’s worth of dirt, dust, pebbles, and other stuff we don’t want to think about. For this chore, Annie loves her Ridgid 14-gallon wet/dry vac with leaf blower attachment. She fires it up, and the garage is dirt-free in about 20 minutes’ time. Repark your yard and garden machinery, and you’re good to go.
4. Remove any furniture and indoor/outdoor rugs from the porch or patio, and repeat the leaf-blowing extravaganza. (You could sweep instead, but let’s face it: power tools make spring cleaning a whole lot more fun.) Walkways can be cleaned the same way.
5. Give your indoor/outdoor rugs a thorough cleaning by following our easy how-to.
6. Remove any dust, cowbwebs, or animal poo from your yard furniture or furniture and accessory covers with a stiff-bristled brush or broom. Hose down the furniture and covers, then give everything a good scrubbing with your favorite eco-friendly detergent or a 2:1 solution of water and white vinegar. If mildew or mold has been building up for a few months, give it a shot of bleach and let it sit in the sun for about 30 minutes; then scrub, rinse, and allow to dry before putting them back in place.
We hope these spring cleaning tips make a decidedly unglamorous job just a little bit easier. Got your own tips that make the process a breeze? Share them in the comments.