Every now and then (preferably on a weekly basis) you need to get into your gym clothes, crank up some Zeppelin on the CD player, and break out the cleaning supplies. If you are semi-incompetent when it comes to cleaning and laundry, this section will give you the basics on how to get the job done in half the time and with twice the results. If your bookshelf has a well-thumbed copy of Cheryl Mendelson’s Home Comforts or you subscribe to Martha Stewart Living, you most likely can skip this section.
The basic strategy is to move from top to bottom in each room, leaving floors, the kitchen, and the bathroom to the end. You may want to use rubber gloves to protect your hands from the cleaning chemicals, and it’s a wise move to crack the windows so the fumes don’t knock you out in mid-mop. To save time, keep all of your supplies on hand at all times so that you don’t waste time running to look for something you left in another room.
The first thing to do is go into the bathroom, wet the tub and sink, and sprinkle non-abrasive scouring powder or cleaner (Bon Ami and Soft Scrub are popular brands) in each. Then douse the toilet with some spray-on toilet cleanser, like Lysol. They’ll start working while you mop and vacuum the other parts of the apartment.
If you are totally cleaning-impaired, there are some new products that make house cleaning a snap. Check out the Swiffer line of products for dusting and floors and new inventions from Clorox and Scotch Brite for bathroom cleaning. They are pricy, though, and not very friendly to the environment.
If you want to avoid store-bought cleaners, you can get the job done by using ammonia, baking soda, and bleach. A standard recipe for basic housecleaning calls for one tablespoon of laundry detergent mixed with a gallon of warm water and ¾ cups of bleach. You can use this solution to clean most areas in bathroom and kitchen. A non-poisonous solution of a quart of warm water and ¼ cup of baking soda can be used for wiping inside the refrigerator and oven. A mild ammonia and water solution works well on windows and mirrors.
Caution: NEVER MIX AMMONIA AND BLEACH. It creates toxic fumes that can be lethal.
Ants, Roaches, Mice
You may not want to think about this, but many older urban buildings — especially in the hottest up-and-coming-yet-still-affordable neighborhoods — have problems with bugs and rodents. Your landlord should provide a regular exterminating service to keep things under control, but know that the first line of protection is your hands. Don’t leave any foodstuff exposed on kitchen counters; use containers for flour, sugar and other staples and store your bread in a closed breadbox or, if you’re not big on cooking, use your oven/microwave to store these kinds of perishables.
Ants, as you know, love sugar. An empty soda can become an ant resort colony overnight, so make sure you rinse out any that you plan to recycle. Ant traps are cheap and effective, but if you have pets or young children around make sure the traps are out of their reach.
There are many roach sprays on the market. They work to some extent, but only meticulous housekeeping and a professional exterminator can eradicate the problem for good. When you use the sprays, you need to spray in the dark, forbidding corners of your kitchen and bathroom, under the sinks and behind the refrigerator, where roaches like to hide. Boric acid is another option, as long as you don’t have any pets or kids wandering around.
If you see any signs of mice or even bigger rodents, notify your landlord immediately. Then put into effect a two-part attack plan. First, use steel wool to plug all the cracks and holes in the walls and near radiators and water pipes that rodents can use as points of entry. (Putting small nails in the steel wool makes it doubly tough for them to get through). Then, place mouse-traps in the areas where you see mouse droppings. Another option is to place mouse and rat poison in places where the rodents hang out, but, again, remember the pets-and-children risk and keep in mind that the rodents can eat the poison, walk back into their hiding spot and die — leaving you to fish around for their corpses once a strange smell enters the apartment.
Next, you’ll have to deal your laundry. Here’s a beginner’s guide for people who should be ashamed of themselves for not knowing how to do this already.
- Check the care tags on all new clothing to make sure it is washable and what cycle to use. (Better yet, check before you buy so you won’t be surprised by a “dry clean only” tag)
- Empty all pockets.
- Pre-treat stains, either just with detergent, or with a stain remover like Spray N Wash or Shout.
- Sort everything by color or at least into lights and darks, so you don’t end up with your whites turning a delicate shade of salmon.
- Pay attention and use the right amount of detergent–more does not mean cleaner, just soapier.
- Use fabric softener, either in liquid form or as a sheet that you add to the dryer cycle.
- If bleach is needed, wait until the washer is full of water before adding, using some water to dilute the bleach. (Many machines tell you when to add the bleach.)
- Don’t be stingy with the quarters and pack all your clothes into one dryer–your clothes will wrinkle and take forever to dry.
- If you are using a Laundromat or laundry room, don’t make the mistake of leaving your clothes in the machine for hours–it can make your clothes wrinkly and moldy, and you run the risk of someone stealing your stuff or throwing it on the floor.
- Hang up anything that can’t be dried, but don’t use wire hangers. They can leave unsightly rust stains.
If your job requires you to wear business shirts, either learn to iron or find an inexpensive Chinese Laundry/Dry Cleaner. If you have to iron but don’t have an ironing board, you can use any flat surface, like a table, desk, or kitchen counter, as long as you first cover it with a thick, clean bath towel folded in half. If space is a concern, you can get a small tabletop ironing board.