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How to save money - and your health - when spring cleaning

Posted: March 22, 2008 2:02 a.m.
Updated: May 23, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Maria Jose Garcia of The Maid Brigade cleans a door frame.

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Now that spring has officially come and the weather has started to warm up, the ever-longer days may have started to illuminate those previously-neglected dark, dusty corners of your house. If you can't see your newly-blooming garden through the grime on your windows, it may be time for a thorough spring cleaning.

To get your house sparkling clean inside and out, experts advise following some simple advice to make it as easy, safe, and as productive as possible without straining your back, budget or the environment.

Gail Tagashira, owner of The Maid Brigade in Valencia, has many years experience cleaning houses quickly and effectively. She shared some of her own tips and tricks that you can also benefit from in order to clean out a whole winter's worth of muck and yuck and get your house in ship-shape from top to bottom.

Preparation and pacing

Before you embark on a cleaning frenzy, Tagashira suggests making sure that you have enough supplies and time to tackle the tasks at hand.

"It can take several hours to clean an entire house," she said. "Allow yourself lots of time. In my business it can take two people two hours to clean a 2,500-square-foot house. For one homeowner to do that by themself, it would take at least half a day."

You might also want to take a modified approach so as not to wear yourself out, especially if you're over 55 or lacking in strength and stamina.

"If you're an older person, or less strong, divvy it up throughout the week," Tagashira said. "Tackle the bathrooms one day, the bedrooms another day, and the living room and kitchen another day."

If you have a big family or can't afford to pay for a house cleaner, one idea is to make spring cleaning a family affair. Set aside a day or an afternoon, divide tasks by age-appropriateness, then get started. For maximum success, make sure to take lots of breaks, and give incentives to smaller children to motivate them to get the job done.

The second step in preparing for a big spring clean is to make sure you have enough supplies before you get started. You don't want to get halfway through the kitchen only to find out you've run out of floor cleaner or Windex.

"Get all your stuff together, your mop, your cleaner," Tagashira said. "Look under the sink, assess what you have, then make a trip to the store if necessary."

Lastly, tuck all your stuff away to make sure all surfaces to be cleaned are junk-free, and open all the windows.

"Get the clutter out of the house," Tagashira emphasized. "Take your pajamas off the floor, pile magazines up, and get the coins out of the couch cushions."

Keeping your house well-ventilated at all times while you're cleaning is also very important, because the fumes emitted from some cleaning solutions can be dangerous if inhaled for too long while working in an enclosed space, such as a bathroom.

Techniques/materials

Certain cleaning devices and techniques will speed the process and ensure maximum cleanliness, Tagashira said.

"Once you start cleaning, it's best to start at the top and move to the bottom of whatever you're working on," whether it be a shower enclosure or an entire living room, she said.

When dusting, for example, start on the ceiling and dust the hanging light fixtures and walls, then move all the way down to the baseboards. From there, tackle tables, chairs and mirrors.

Make sure not to forget the blinds and window sills, because these two areas tend to accumulate a lot of debris over time. Use a micro-fiber wipe first, and finish the job with a vacuum extension and brush attachment to get them ultra-clean. The last thing should be to vacuum the floor or carpet.

When dealing with dust, Tagashira prefers to use a microfiber cloth because it traps dust, rather than feather dusters, which just circulate dust around the room.

When using cleaning solutions, try to apply the product to a cloth instead of directly onto the surface you're cleaning, unless you're dealing with a large surface like a floor. This will conserve product and limit the amount of fumes being released into the air.

To save time in the kitchen or bathroom, try first spritzing greasy or mildewy stains with cleaning solution, then let it sink in for a few minutes while you scrub something else. For example, spray grime remover on the shower walls while you clean the counter and sink, and soak crusty stains in the microwave and fridge while you scrub the tile countertops.

For mold and fibers that accumulate in hard-to-reach, sticky places such as the bathroom or kitchen ceiling, Tagashira said that using a degreaser product on a microfiber cloth attached to a long pole can do the trick.

If you have kids or pets, you probably have scuff marks, crayon smudges and all manner of debris stuck to your walls. For things that won't come off with a damp cloth, try an ammonia-based window cleaner, or a mixture of 1⁄2 cup ammonia,1⁄4 cup of white vinegar, and1⁄4 cup of baking soda in one gallon of warm water.

Pencil marks, heel marks and other non-greasy spots can be removed from wallpaper or floors with a simple gum eraser. Tagashira recommends the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, which can be bought in any supermarket or drug store.

Other products that Tagashira swears by are lemons and Bar Keeper's Friend. She is a big fan of natural and "green" products, because they are safer and can be just as effective, if not more effective, than conventional products.

"Lemons are an all-purpose cleaner - they can be used as a degreaser, as furniture polish and in many other ways," she said. They can also take lime scale off of a sink or faucet. Her only caution is not to use lemons on delicate surfaces, since they are acidic.

Bar Keeper's Friend is a gentle, non-toxic powder cleanser derived from volcanic ash that can be used on tile grout, stainless steel, chrome, porcelain or plastic. Tagashira said it is particularly effective for cleaning kitchen sinks and ceramic tile stains.

Though most people associate that "chemical" smell with a sparkly-clean house, Tagashira warned that the smell can be deceptive at best, and dangerous at worst, which is why she prefers non-toxic products.

"You don't want the chemical smell," she said. "A clean house should actually not smell at all. Usually the fragrances just mask odors caused by dirt and grease. It also means there is cleaning fluid residue in the air, which contains volatile organic compounds. You don't want VOCs in your house."

Don't forget the outside

Once you are done with the interior of your house, see if you have the energy to tackle the outside. One sure way to improve the curb-appeal of your house is to scrub exterior walls and windows in order to loosen the dirt that accumulates with the winter wind and rain.

If your house is leak-proof, you can start by spraying the outside with a garden hose to remove grit and cobwebs. A car-washing brush can be attached to the hose to get into the nooks and crannies of textured stucco.

Before washing windows, remove the window screens. Excess dust can be vacuumed up with a brush extension, or you can use a wet cloth to get really stubborn dirt out.

Since the outsides of windows tend to get dirtier than the insides, it is advisable to thoroughly douse them with a wet cloth soaked in a soapy water solution and use a little elbow grease to dislodge dirt. You may need to do this more than once. Using a squeegee to remove excess water will ensure a streak-free shine.

For more tips on spring cleaning, go to housekeeping.about.com. To contact the Maid Brigade, call (661) 255-1113 or go to www.maidbrigade.com.


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