Experts Share the Best Cleaning Secrets They Learned from Their Moms

Kitchen with stainless steel appliances.

Calimia Home

If you ask any cleaning pro how they learned the tricks of their trade, many will tell you it all started at home with moms who were devoted to keeping a clean house. We asked these pros for the one cleaning tip their mothers passed down that they still swear by today. 

Did we get lots of hacks and tricky solutions? Nope—more like simple and straightforward advice that has stood the test of time. “When cleaning, my mom would fill the pockets of her bright yellow apron with cleaning tools, so she never had to look for a misplaced rag or duster,” Jamie Novak, author of Keep This Toss That, says.

Some tips were about modest distractions that helped make the cleaning process more bearable. “We had this little TV in the laundry room and mom would watch her favorite shows while doing the wash, sneaking in entertainment and much needed alone time,” Patric Richardson, author, and narrator of the Laundry Love audiobook, notes.

And oftentimes, the tips were simply about taking advantage of available helping hands. “When dishwashers came out, people asked my mom if she was going to buy one. She’d reply, ‘No, I’ve got seven already—my kids,'" Laura Dellutri, author of Speed Cleaning 101, laughs. 

Ahead is more sage advice from the women who taught our cleaning pros a thing or two about their profession.

01 of 27

Line the Fridge

Fridge with organized bins

Breathing Room Organization + Styling

“My mother lines her refrigerator bins and door shelves with paper towels, so any leaks, drips, or spoiled veggie messes get trapped in the paper towel, which she then tosses away and replaces. It’s much easier than removing and washing the bins and shelves in the sink.” —Carolyn Forte, Director of the Home Appliances & Cleaning Products Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute 

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Clean From Top to Bottom

A bedroom with window treatments hanging over a glass door

Pure Salt Interiors

“My mom taught me to dust from the top of a room to the bottom to ensure that if any dust falls from a high surface—a light fixture for example—it can be dusted and picked up on the floor or baseboard. It’s how I do all my own cleaning these days,” —Morgan Brashear, a Senior Cleaning Scientist at Procter & Gamble

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Wipe and Swipe

“My whole family has allergies, so my mom worked tirelessly to keep our home dust-free. Her secret was dryer sheets to clean baseboards, blinds, electronics, and many other places around the house. Not only did they leave a fresh scent behind, but their anti-static properties attracted dust particles and left a slight residue behind to help prevent dust from collecting in future.” — Matt Berndsen, Director of Housekeeping, Hilton Columbus Downtown

04 of 27

Load the Dishwasher Properly

Large wood island with stainless steel dishwasher.

Design: Jessica Nelson; Photo: Carina Skrobecki Photography

“My mom was a fanatic about making sure we filled the dishwasher properly. All the glasses had to go on the upper shelf, and the silverware went in ‘handle up’ so we would never touch the part that goes in our mouth when we were emptying it. She also cleaned her dishwasher weekly, running it empty with lemon juice and salt in the soap dispenser to break down any interior soap scum.” — Leslie Reichert, Cleaning Coach and author of The Joy of Green Cleaning

05 of 27

Make Cleaning Fun

Bedroom with a chair and light fixture

Calimia Home

“My mom would turn any chore into a challenge. She’d set a timer for five minutes, and my three sisters and I would see how much dusting, picking up, and vacuuming we could accomplish before the buzzer rang. We loved watching the timer countdown and to this day, I still make my cleaning tasks more fun by setting a timer.” —Jamie Novak, author of Keep This Toss That

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Pretreat Spots

Laundry room with shelf above sink

Light and Dwell

“My family immigrated to the United States when I was five years old from what is now Croatia. As the mother of seven kids, my mom couldn’t afford to buy us new clothes, so she became a master at pretreating stains by rinsing the stain, pouring laundry detergent directly onto the spot, rubbing the fabric together until the stain was mostly gone, then tossing the garment into the washing machine in warm water to finish the job. To this day, I do the same except I use cold water to save energy and keep my clothes from fading.” —Mary Begovic Johnson, Tide & Downy Principal Scientist

07 of 27

Try the Lemon Juice Trick

"My mother always taught me if you need to remove a stain on white fabric, squeeze lemon juice on it and place it in the sun. I learned why it worked years later—together, the citric acid and the sun create a chemical reaction to lift the stain." —Patric Richardson, author, and narrator of the Laundry Love audiobook

08 of 27

Scent Up Your Space

bed with diffuser on nightstand.

“The cleaning trick my mom taught me was to put a few drops of essential oil on your vacuum’s filter. The oil permeates the air as you vacuum and leaves your whole house smelling amazing.” —Jacqueline Janus, Owner, Two Chicks and a Broom

09 of 27

Find New Uses for Old Things

“My mom used old t-shirts and pajamas as cleaning cloths, extending their life. She would cut them into large squares and stack them in a basket to grab and use for all her cleaning and dusting.” —Becky Rapinchuk, owner of Clean Mama and author of Clean Mama’s Guide to a Peaceful Home

10 of 27

Give an Old Toothbrush New Purpose

bathroom vanity

Design: Emily Henderson

“My mom loves to recycle and taught me the benefits of using old toothbrushes on hard-to-reach areas in the bathroom, and how old cotton t-shirts make great rags for polishing jewelry and wooden furniture.” —Sofia Nuñez, Housekeeping Manager, Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek

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Avoid Cross Contamination

“When I was growing up, my mother was the only vegan in our home and she taught us not to place utensils or cutlery in different foods when eating and cooking so that we didn't, for example, dip the meat sauce spoon in the bowl of pasta. She used that lesson to teach us about cleaning—don't use a cloth, sponge, or brush in one spot if it's already been used in another.” —Melissa Maker, Cleaning Expert and author Clean My Space 

12 of 27

Remove the Wax

Entryway table with neutral decor and black taper candles.

Lemon Leaf Interiors

“Growing up in Ireland, the local priest would come to our house once a year to hold a Catholic mass for the neighborhood. When this took place, we would set up the dining room table with white tablecloths as the alter and use our best candles and candlesticks for the occasion. After hours of burning, there would always be a collection of wax on the starched tablecloths. My mother would then lay one sheet of newspaper on the wax and place a hot iron over the top. The wax would melt and soak up into the newspaper, leaving the tablecloth wax-free. I still use this technique today.” —Louise Carey, Director of Housekeeping, Four Seasons Hotel Seattle

13 of 27

Mop From a Clean Bucket

“My mom was a nurse, so she taught us to mop with two buckets: one to clean, the other to rinse. It really does make your floors come out so much cleaner when you don't fill your bucket of soap water with all the dirt from the floor. To this day, when I see people rinsing off their gross mop in their one bucket, it makes me queasy.” —Melissa Homer, Chief Cleaning Officer, MaidPro

14 of 27

Utilize Bathroom Staples

bathroom vanity

Design: Anne Sage

“My mom used shaving cream to eliminate water stains on our shower glass doors. She’d apply, let it sit for 15 minutes, and wipe—simple yet effective.” —John Monis, Director of Housekeeping & Engineering, Lake Austin Spa Resort 

15 of 27

Keep a Rag in Hand

“It's a family joke that my mom always has a rag in her hand when she’s in the kitchen. She’s a big believer in ‘spot cleaning’ meaning she rarely has to clean entire spaces at once because she cleans sections as needed.” —Jamie Hord, Founder, Horderly Professional Organizing

16 of 27

And Kitchen Staples

Green tile in kitchen

House of Chais

“My mother had a trick to keeping our wood floors sparkling for days. In a bucket with warm water, she would mix 1-2 teaspoons of virgin olive oil with a cup of Mr. Clean and apply the solution to our floors to make sure they were both clean and shiny.” —Ryan Lupberger, CEO and Co-Founder, Cleancult

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Use Vinegar

“My mom always sang vinegar’s praises for eliminating laundry odor—simply add ½ cup of distilled white vinegar to your normal detergent for a fresh-smelling load.” —Sam Higgins, Director of Room Operations, Bobby Hotel 

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Don't Count Out Hairspray

“As kids, we would often end up with ink marks on our clothing. My mom would spray Aqua Net on the stain, rub it with her fingers, then rinse under cold water, repeating if necessary. It works wonders still to this day.” —Robin Younger, Director of Housekeeping, Mountain Shadows Resort Scottsdale 

19 of 27

Clean Before You Play

playroom ideas

 Chelius House of Design

“My mom taught the seven children in our family a very important rule, one that I have used repeatedly with my children—you clean before you play. Every time one of us wanted to go somewhere she would say, ‘Is your room clean, bed made, clothes put away and chores done?’ If no, then the answer from her was always no. We’d plead, beg, and even try to bribe, but she never bent. As an adult, I still clean before I play.” — Laura Dellutri, author of Speed Cleaning 101

20 of 27

Get the Kids Involved

“Growing up, both my parents worked full-time during the week, so it was their kids’ job to clean the house on the weekends. There were four of us, and the house was divided equally between three boys and me. We cleaned every Saturday morning, and if our job wasn’t finished by noon or didn’t pass inspection by my father, you did it again and were grounded until after school on Monday. By today’s standards, this may seem harsh, but in retrospect, it probably helped us become more responsible as adults and better cleaners." —Jan M. Dougherty, author of The Lost Art of House Cleaning

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Add Shine to Stainless Steel

Kitchen with stainless steel appliances.

Calimia Home

“We would visit my grandmother every Sunday for a family gathering, and if we got there early, we would find wet paper towels soaked in white vinegar draped over the stainless steel sink faucets in the bathrooms and kitchen. She’d leave them on for 30-40 minutes for the cleanest looking metal—my mom and I now do the same thing.” —Zelenny Martinez, Director of Housekeeping, La Cantera Resort & Spa

22 of 27

Don't Cut Corners

“My mom always said to ‘never cut corners’ because, in her eyes, our house always had to be presentable and ready for guests. I remember a time she followed behind me to check my work and noticed I had missed dusting a corner and sent me back to fix it. Because of my mom, I take my time, double-check my work, and never take shortcuts.” —Maryana Buchkovska, Housekeeping Manager, Hilton Cleveland Downtown

23 of 27

Clean Behind Your Furniture

Neutral living room.

Coco Lapine Design

“Lots of people clean around a room, but they don’t really get to all the areas. The cleaning tip my mother taught me was to always make sure to move and get behind furniture if you ever want to get dust fully under control.” —Merlyn Alberto, Executive Housekeeper, InterContinental Washington D.C., The Wharf

24 of 27

Discover Products That Work

“My mom's favorite secret was a product called "Bar Keepers Friend," and the uses she found for it still amazes me today—from removing water stains on wood furniture to freshening a toilet or sink. She even used it when I accidentally gave my dad's new car a surface scratch! It’s a product I’ve incorporated in my own cleaning rituals.” —Jeremy Burns, Director of Housekeeping, Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley

25 of 27

Keep the Bathroom Clean

Pink mid-century modern bathrooms

Cathie Hong Interiors

“Growing up in a Hispanic family, the community was everything to us and we always had neighbors, friends, and family over to our house. Because of this, my mom instilled in us that the cleanliness of a bathroom said a lot about the rest of the house. In our bathroom, she would leave a small bucket filled with liquid soap and vinegar along with a small brush and sponge as a reminder to always keep the restroom neat after each use. Now, as a mother today, I have passed this same idea onto my sons, and even my three-year-old knows he has to keep the restroom tidy with the sponge.” —Johanna Martin, Director of Housekeeping, Hilton New Orleans Riverside

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Eliminate Carpet Stains

"My mother's special trick to removing carpet stains was to spray the spot with a mixture of ½ cup distilled white vinegar and 2 cups of Dawn before covering the area with baking soda and leaving everything to sit for 24 hours before vacuuming. Today I use the same solution to make rug stains disappear." —Tyrene Petriello Morgans, Assistant Director of Housekeeping, The Breakers Palm Beach

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Keep Things Bright

“My mother always reminded me to dust the light bulbs or end up with less bright lighting and reduced energy efficiency.” —Lorraine Beezley, Director of Housekeeping, Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek 

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