You consider yourself an all-star house cleaner. Dust bunnies under a bed, muck on a stovetop, soap scum on tile—you've mastered it all. But even the most vigilant house cleaners can overlook spots in their homes that need cleaning, areas that could have serious consequences if not addressed. "Built-up lint in your dryer and creosote in your chimney can cause a house fire," says Melissa Homer, the chief cleaning officer at MaidPro, "while soiled kitchen sponges can spread foodborne pathogens." Now that we have your attention, it's time to put these 11 items on our to-clean list. Read on for Homer's expert advice on how to make those often-forgotten things in your home sparkle again.
Meet the Expert
Melissa Homer is the chief cleaning officer of MaidPro, a professional cleaning service.
Excessive lint, whether in the lint trap, in the connecting ductwork, or in the exterior dryer vent, will slow your machine down and not allow it to release moisture properly. That means it will take longer for your clothes to dry, and your utility bill might increase. Lint is also flammable, and a buildup can lead to a house fire. If your clothes are especially hot at the end of a cycle, and the outside of your dryer is very warm to the touch, lint is likely accumulating somewhere in your system.
How to clean: Empty the lint trap after every load and wipe the screen clean. Once a month, use a long-handled flexible dryer lint brush to pull out any large pieces of lint before running the dryer to capture any remaining fluff. Once a year (or twice a year if you do more than four loads of laundry a week), unplug your dryer, disconnect the duct or hose from the back, and use your vent brush to eliminate any lint inside the dryer opening and within the hose or duct.
Then, head outside to clean the exterior vent, using a spinning exterior dryer vent brush that attaches to your drill. Begin by removing the plastic vent cover from your home's exterior, attach the brush to your drill, turn on the dryer, then push the rotating brush into the vent, about a foot in, and pull it out and clean off any lint. Repeat, going in a foot deeper each time until all the lint is removed. Summer is a great time to do this, as mounds of snow in winter can make it difficult to access the vent.
Most exterior covers are made of plastic and need to be replaced after a few years due to cracking from the sun and steam exposure.
Fan blades constantly spin through the air, drawing in dirt, dust, and sprinkling your home with potential allergens whenever you turn it on. During hot, humid days, dirt can stick to your blades and grow mold, further aggravating allergies.
How to clean: Make sure the fan is off, then use a machine washable microfiber duster on an extendable pole, to pick up and grab dust and dirt. Ideally, you should be dusting the blades every other week to prevent buildup. In a pinch, there's the "the pillowcase trick," where a blade is covered with a pillowcase to draw and trap debris, but in most cases, microfiber is a better choice because it's easier to use. Finally, if you've waited too long and your blades require extra attention, you'll need to wipe down the blades with a microfiber towel and an all-purpose cleaner.
Insider tip: Use an extendable duster to clean off the outside case of the motor and dust other parts of the fan, including the light bulbs and glass shades.
Sponges pick up bacteria, mold spores, and viruses from wiping splatter from raw meat, as well as from mold and bacteria floating in the air. If you clean a counter with an infected sponge, you'll spread germs everywhere. This is especially dangerous when you're prepping fresh foods, like summer salads and fruit platters.
How to clean: Put your sponges through the washing machine in hot water and then throw them in the dryer. The washer agitates and spins the sponge, getting out the dirt from within, while the dryer heat kills germs and bacteria. Additionally, a clean sponge right out of the dryer won't embrace new pathogens. The sponge will come out of the dryer hard and dry, but it will spring back to action as soon as it gets wet.
While a daily wash is ideal, aim for at least once a week, and replace the sponge if it develops stains that won't launder out or if it starts to tear. It's a good idea to delegate specific sponges to certain tasks—use one just for food-contact items, like dishes, counters, and cutting boards, and another for dirtier tasks, like wiping things off the floor or scrubbing tubs. Assign a particular sponge color to each job to avoid mix-ups.
Insider tip: Get rid of sponges all together and use washable microfiber towels instead. Most are about the same size as a sponge and come in packs, with an absorbent microfiber side and a non-scratch scrubbing side to tackle any mess. Toss them in the hamper after each use and grab a fresh one for your next job.
Air Conditioning Filters
It's important to clean your air conditioning filters—they need to be in top form to capture and remove any outdoor allergens, mold spores, dust, and debris that wafts into your home. Clogged filters force your system to work harder and waste electricity, so you should be cleaning your central air or window unit filters every 90 days they're in use, especially if you're a pet owner or have allergies.
How to clean: First check with the manufacturer to see if the filter can be reused or if it needs to be replaced. The filter in most central air systems is located in the return air duct or blower compartment, and will probably require a disposable filter, which can be purchased at any hardware store for less than $20. With window units, you usually have to take the front cover off to locate the filter.
Less expensive filters capture fewer small particles, yet they let air through faster, taking pressure off the motor. The more expensive filters remove tiny particles and contaminants from the air—great for allergy sufferers—but the motor needs to work harder to get the air through, reducing the lifespan of your air conditioner.
To clean, turn your unit off, remove the filter, then rinse with a hose (avoid using a pressurized nozzle, which could tear the mesh) and let air dry. If they're really dirty, you may need to clean them using diluted dish detergent.
Insider tip: With most filters, you'll see a shift to a dingy color when it's getting full, but trust your usage timeline more than visual inspection, as filters can be dirtier than they look.
Carpets are the most effective filter in your home, as they wipe dirt off your shoes and trap grime daily. Needless to say, they need cleaning. Vacuuming helps, but it doesn't deep clean or deodorize, which is necessary to prevent bacteria from eating away at the natural fibers and causing shedding. (To note: Even most synthetic carpets have some natural fibers, often found in the carpet backing.) Dirt will also grind into your carpet's base, causing fibers to collapse and flatten.
How to clean: All rugs—including area rugs and wall-to-wall carpet—should be cleaned once a year, or every six months if they're in high traffic areas. Your best bet is to hire a professional who will offer two options: Steam or hot water extraction cleaning. The main difference between the two is how hot the water temperature gets during the cleaning.
Steam cleaning, which is typically used on synthetic carpets, uses very hot water and pressure to melt and blast out dirt. It dries quickly and won't leave a soapy residue. Extraction cleaning, often used on more delicate, natural fibers, uses sprayed-on hot water (but not hot enough that it converts to steam), and soap to draw out the dirt during the rinsing cycle. Both will penetrate down to the carpet backing and loosen any embedded soil, oil, and grease deposits. Rental units at grocery and hardware stores are notorious for their subpar suction, leaving too much water in the carpet. If you plan on renting a carpet cleaner, be sure to do your research on the machine and check the reviews.
Insider tip: Summer is the best time to clean carpets, not only because you can open your windows and let in the fresh air, but because higher temperatures will help your rugs dry faster. If you live in a humid climate, pick a day and time when it's comfortable enough to leave your windows open for at least six hours, and if you have any fans, turn them on to help remove moisture from the air. Drying time depends on the cleaning method used, but count on being off your rugs for six to eight hours.
Left unchecked, decks can become covered in dirt, mold, and algae, especially in warmer weather, and lead to wood rot. It's important to give your deck a good cleaning at least once a year.
How to clean: Fill a pressure washer with a bleach-based deck cleaning solution that zaps mold, mildew, and algae and works on multiple surfaces, including wood, concrete, and tile. If you're concerned about plants and grass, opt for a bleach-free solution that also removes fungal growth and works on all surfaces, even siding.
To start, work your way away from the house and toward a gutter, drain, or runoff you want the dirty water to flow toward. Sweep the wand back and forth in front of you, in slightly overlapping strokes. If you don't own or can't rent a pressure washer, scrub your deck using a deck wash solution and a deck brush, then hose everything down. There are special nozzles that turn your ordinary hose into a high-pressure power washer, which will make rinsing easier.
Insider tip: Fully stain and waterproof your deck every three years to keep it from splintering and cracking. Once a year, you can add protection with a spray on/wipe off mold and mildew barrier, which will prevent fungal growth.
Burning logs can leave flammable creosote residue on the inside of your hearth and up the walls of your fireplace's flue, which can be ignited by sparks and embers, resulting in a house fire. Getting your chimney swept and inspected annually is crucial, and there's no better time than the summer when it's not in use. If your chimney needs cleaning, your house will smell particularly smoky after a fire, and you'll notice a buildup of greasy, black soot.
How to clean: This is one cleaning job best left for the professionals, but if you choose to take it on, you'll need the right tools—including a scrub brush, a rotating chimney sweeping brush that cleans using flexible rods and a spinning whip, a cordless drill, and a shop vacuum. Tarp off the area and put on clothes you don't mind ruining, as well as goggles, gloves, and a dust mask. Using the scrub brush, sweep the inside walls of the hearth. Attach the brush to the drill, turn it on, and slowly push the brush up the chimney, allowing it to remove the creosote from the inside of the flue until you've reached the top. Clean up any mess with your shop vacuum.
Insider tip: Invest in creosote logs. They don't eliminate the need for regular cleaning, but they contain a powder that, when heated, converts to a gas that breaks down creosote compounds and reduces buildup.
Outdoor Garbage Cans
If your bags leak or tear, your garbage cans will get gross—fast!—and attract bugs and animals hunting for a free meal. Plus, bacteria grow more rapidly in warmer months, which can create a major stink.
How to clean: Grab some rubber gloves, an environmentally friendly all-purpose cleaner or dish soap, a garden hose, and a scrub brush, like a long-handled tire brush made for cleaning tire rims. Spray the inside and outside of the garbage can with water, then drizzle in some detergent. Using the tire brush, give the can a good scrubbing inside and out, including the lid. Rinse until the water runs clear without bubbles, and then let the opened garbage cans sit outside in the sun to dry.
It's best to clean your garbage cans at least twice a year, or whenever a bag leaks. Deodorize the can if it smells foul by misting it with a multi-purpose disinfectant concentrate, which will also kill germs.
Inside tip: Lining your cans with a huge black contractor bag will keep them cleaner longer. Throw out the contractor bag once it gets dirty or rips.
If neglected, your sink disposal will smell of rotting food and eventually clog. Food grease, soap scum, and body oils from washing your hands in the kitchen sink coat the drain and attach to food bits that can clog your disposal.
How to clean: Every two weeks, or whenever there's an odor, throw a biodegradable cleaning packet made of a natural bleach alternative into the disposal to eliminate grime on the sidewalls, blades, and other concealed areas. If you need a quick DIY fix, pour a ½ cup of baking soda in the disposal, followed by a ½ cup of vinegar. Cover the drain with a stopper and a fizzing action will commence. After five minutes, remove the stopper and flush the disposal with hot water.
Insider tip: Sink disposals have gotten more energy efficient and safer over time, so if you've got an outdated version (10 years+) it might be best to replace and upgrade.
A disposal on its way out will get noisy, run more slowly, and jam, signaling the blades have gotten dull.
A grimy shower curtain liner is not only unpleasant to look at; it can produce mold spores that float and land on tile, towels, and bath mats, leaving you with even more things to clean. And be advised, mold grows more quickly in the summer heat.
How to clean: Many people prefer to replace their shower liner when it gets dirty, as it's a relatively inexpensive purchase, but if you want to be thrifty here's an excellent hack to cleaning them fast. While it hangs, spray both sides of the liner with your favorite tub and tile cleaner up to the tub line, then put on a pair of dampened exfoliating gloves and "massage" both sides at the same time, bottom to top, until the whole curtain is covered in the cleanser. Use a shower sprayer or rinse cup to remove the soapy residue. You can throw a shower liner in the washing machine using warm water on the gentle cycle, but gloves are a better option if you hate removing and rehanging liners.
Insider tip: With liners, you get what you pay for. Invest in a heavy-duty vinyl liner with a mold resistant coating to make your liner cleaning more infrequent.
Refrigerator condenser coils, located on the back or across the bottom or top of your refrigerator, are responsible for cooling and condensing refrigerant. If clogged with dust or hair, they'll put extra stress on the system and be less energy efficient, leading to higher energy bills. Some coils are protected with a plate, so an annual cleaning is sufficient, but if you have pets or cook with a lot of grease, you should clean the coils twice a year. Summer is an especially important time to clean your coils, when your refrigerator is hard at work keeping food cold.
How to clean: Unplug the unit, locate the condenser coils, and unscrew any protective plates. Take a vacuum hose with a dust brush or crevice attachment and rub and prod the exposed coils until all the dust comes off.
Insider tip: Dirty coils aren't the only thing that will reduce the efficiency of your refrigerator. Loose seals (aka gaskets) on your door allow cool air to escape, wasting energy, and causing your fridge to work harder. Inspect the seal for cracking, then close the door on a dollar bill to see if it can be easily pulled out. If yes, clean the seals using dish detergent and warm water—if that doesn't tighten the seal, consider replacing them.
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USDA: Lab Notes: News from the Forest Products Laboratory. Maintenance of Cedar Siding: Removal of Algae, Mold, and Iron Stains. Updated September 15, 2014.
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