In which I give up all my best secrets....except the pork taco recipe!

Friends of mine know, that for the last five years I've supplemented my family's income by cleaning houses part-time. In those years I've gotten quite good at it.  Sometimes my clients think I'm a miracle worker.  I'm not, but I have learned a trick or two.  Since I've gotten quite a few requests for advice of late, I thought I'd share some of my tips here.

Over the years, I've tried product after product, things my clients have provided, and things I've experimented with on my own.  The products I display below are the ones I've come back to again and again, the ones I never want to be without, and the ones I always have on hand in my own home.  Heed my warning: I'm going to give advice shamelessly and un-apologetically.  Take what you can live with, and leave the rest, but I really do swear by the things I'm going to share.

Let me start here: Gloves.  Don't do anything that involves water without them, even if it's just rinsing your dishes.  If you don't like them, get over it. You will get used to them eventually, and when you do, you will thank me.  Wearing gloves takes the "icky" out of cleaning.  No task will be too disgusting.  Also, they will protect your hands from drying, cracking, and spider bites.  NEVER clean in crevices, or behind or under anything without gloves.  Just this week I encountered a black widow in a home, and frequently I find brown recluses.  I have no fear, because I have gloves.  As you would guess, I've tried just about every kind of glove.  But it is still the good old Playtex Living I come back to time and again.  They are the best quality for the price.  Be sure they fit well. If they are too big you will drop things, or get them caught or pinched in things. If they are too small, they will tear prematurely from the tugging it requires to get them on and off. Keep one pair for kitchen use and one for bath.

This next product is nothing short of fantastic.  I use it in place of pumice.  It is drywall sanding screen, available at any home improvement or hardware store.  I think 3M brand is the best quality, but if you cannot find it, the off brand will do.  I usually choose a medium grit, for versatility.  Take a sheet of it and fold in half and again until it is a rectangle that fits comfortably in your gloved hand.  Keep one handy for kitchen use, and another for bath.  I use these to clean the interior of toilets. (Yes, this means putting your gloved hand in the toilet.) They are flexible and so can follow the contours of the bowl, even under the rim. (Do not use these for any part of the toilet that is not porcelain - it WILL scratch.  NEVER use on glass. Take my word for it.  If you are uncertain about a surface, test first in a small inconspicuous area.) These are also preferable to pumice for cleaning ovens, and will make that task easier than you ever imagined was possible.

Next, Formula 409 cleaner.  There's a reason this product has been around as long as I've been alive - it works.  Use it anywhere where grease or soap-scum is a problem. I get the big jug at our local restaurant supply and just keep refilling the spray bottle. I've tried the industrial strength degreasers, but for household use I find 409 to be as reliable as they come, and I've never found it to harm or discolor grout or other kitchen or bath surfaces. (By the way, if you prefer a bathroom specific product, Lysol 3-in-1 is also good.)

Also for the kitchen and bath, there's another oldie but goodie.  Ajax, or Comet cleanser - inexpensive, reliable, and disinfecting. I use these for white porcelain, or other bathtub surfaces where the disinfecting and whitening of bleach is desirable.  I shake it into toilet bowls and white porcelain sinks before scrubbing.  It is also great for white tiles and grout.

(Remember, never mix any product containing bleach with any product containing ammonia.  The mixture creates a fatal vapor cloud.  I actually know a person whose aunt died from mixing these two ingredients in hopes of making a super strong cleaner. I also know a woman who was almost overcome in this manner in the middle of the night while urinating in a toilet bowl which her husband had, unbeknownst to her, decided to pour bleach in to soak overnight. Urine can react with bleach in the same manner as ammonia!)

Ah, and one of my secret special favorites - Endust!  I poo-pooed this product for years, thinking it a silly waste of money.  Then I tried it.  It is perfect for dusting any (non-glass) surface, especially high gloss enamel wood furniture.  It does not build up or leave streaks.  But here's the real reason I love Endust so much: stainless steel. Get rid of all those expensive stainless-steel specific products. Nothing works better on the new, ever-so-popular stainless appliances.  No streak, no greasy feeling, cleans and restores to like new in one easy step.  And for the price, it's the best product out there.

Now, I know some of you will think Pine-Sol is the name in household general purpose cleaners.  I'm not going to argue, but I can't stand the stuff. Though it works pretty well, it tends to leave streaks on floors, and the smell makes me sick, even in the lavender scented variety. Mr. Clean, on the other hand, has a fresh lemony smell, and besides being great for the mop-bucket, can be diluted in a spray bottle and used for all kinds of light cleaning. It is my favorite for the exterior surfaces of toilets.  Because it is cheaper in dilution than 409, I use it for light cleaning of counter tops. 

Barkeepers Friend is one of the world's best products. I use it for stainless steel sinks, and all metals which can tarnish: copper, brass, silver, etc.  It works better, faster, and cheaper than any specialty metal polish I've tried, and with no disgusting smell. (Sorry Tarn-X, but I don't like to use products that cost seven dollars and smell like dead fish.) I even use it on silver jewelry. It's a great rust-remover as well. It can also be used for anything a Comet type cleanser can be used for, but with less abrasiveness, and no bleach properties.

Now, this next product will not likely be available everywhere.  I buy it at a local window glass company, but I'm quite sure you can order it on the internet.  I do think this one is worth the trouble.  Bio-Clean, Water Stain Remover.  Don't waste your money, time, or environment using those harsh acids, or CLR, or Lime Away for water stains. They just don't do the trick on anything that can't be literally soaked in them.  Bio-Clean is a thick liquid which can be applied with a moist scrubbie or a damp cloth, depending upon the surface and severity of the hard-water build up. It is the only product I've found that really works on water-spotted glass shower doors. I've also used it on my car windows when they've gotten spotted. I should warn you, though this product works, it does not work like magic.  Nothing works like magic on water spots.  But Bio-Clean, and some steady, patient rubbing will actually get the job done.  Oh, like Barkeepers Friend, it can also be used on tarnished metals, though it doesn't work quite as quickly.  And it, too, will remove black pot/pan marks from white porcelain sinks.

Okay, here's where I step on some sacred cows.  Use Windex, or another brand name window cleaner.  The cheap replacements require far more product and far more wiping to remove streaks.
Vinegar, or homemade ammonia mixes will work - but only as well as the cheap replacements, and for only a minimal savings. For me, the extra trouble is not worth the few cents' savings.  Also, don't over-wet the surface.  It takes more wiping and wastes product if you do. Paper towels are wasteful and leave lint.  Newspaper - well - it's a mess.  The ink gets all over your hands.  I really don't get the appeal. (And besides, the way the newspaper industry is headed...well, you know.) Use rags. 

Oh, by the way, never use fabric softener with your cleaning rags.  It kills their absorbency and will leave cloudy streaks on your glass and mirrors, which defeats the whole purpose.

Next up, scrubbies.  I like these green and yellow ones for bathrooms and the blue variety for kitchen work. They can be freshened up every few days in the laundry.

Now for the wood, the kind that needs oiling.  I like Liquid Gold.  It also is good for shining up stainless steel sinks after they've been cleaned.  Nuff sed.

Finally this heavy duty recommendation.  T.S.P. can be diluted in a spray bottle for cleaning washable walls.  It is highly recommended prior to re-painting such surfaces.  When mixed with bleach (as indicated on the label) nothing beats it for removing mold and mildew.  This is what I use on my bathroom walls and ceilings, which my hubby so dearly loves to steam up at least twice daily. It also works on soap scum. I keep a spray bottle with this mix handy just for that reason.  This is a heavy-duty product you will find many uses for if you keep it on hand.  I get mine at the restaurant supply store, but it is also available at Lowe's and Home Depot.

I'll end with some miscellaneous tips.
  •  If you happen to have one of those new razzle-dazzle washer/dryer sets that looks like race cars.  Here's just the thing for you - Turtle Wax, or whatever your favorite automotive wax is.  This will protect that beautiful red, blue, or whatever you've chosen surface from scuffs and scratches.  I also know of some folks who use automotive wax to protect their stainless steel sinks.  Mind you, these are the true perfectionists, the ones who wipe their kitchen sink dry after every use.
  • If you have Pergo or the like, buy a product specific for that type of floor.  Other floor cleaners will likely leave streaks, which is really frustrating.  Pledge makes a reasonably priced product for that purpose, as do many other manufacturers.
  • For carpet spots, I like Folex.  The price is right; the bottle is big; and it does what it's supposed to.
  • Vinegar, in my humble opinion, is food. Cook with it. It is entirely overrated as a cleaner. 
  • I've also found that in a pinch a few drops of dish soap in my mob bucket is a perfectly fine cleaner for a kitchen floor.
Well, there you go.  Have a blast.  If you have any questions, or want more specifics, don't be afraid to ask.


WhiteStone said…
Great list, Laurie! I use many of these.

One I no longer use is 409. Years ago it softened (and made gummy) the latex glossy paint on my kitchen cupboard doors. I believe it had ammonia in its formulation and that softened the paint over time. Now I have polyurethane finished cupboards and I just use a damp cloth to clean them.

I like Windex to clean fridge door, dishwasher, microwave, stove, washer/dryer. It cleans nicely.

As for my pergo floors...I mop with a damp mop and dry with a cotton towel. This may be labor intensive but my pergos are in the bedrooms so they don't need to be mopped that often. Drying with a cotton towel prevents streaks.

A tip I tell my granddaughters...which has nothing to do with cleaning but everything to do with reducing bacterial germs...I use washcloths for kitchen work instead of sponges. And I use a clean one every day. I suspect many cases of "flu" are actually food poisoning due to bacterial buildup...possibly from a dirty dishrag. Just my opinion but we haven't had the flu in several years.

Am I gabby or what!?
Laurie M. said…
Ha! Gab all you want. You made me remember one of my pet peeves - cheap dish soap - the kind you wash in the sink with. Oh my! Every single time I've purchased the cheap off-brands I've regretted it. Lately I've taken to using the Costco "Natural" kind, and really like it. It's a good price too. The older I get the more I realize that it's the poor folk who get ripped off the most. When you buy the cheapest product you end up using more and replacing it more often, spending more in the long run. Or else you buy the cheapest thing and it breaks!

Now who's gabby?
Karin said…
Great line-up of cleaning supplies. We don't get all of the same brand names up here in Canada. Since I was introduced to the micro-fiber cloths, I've been able to majorly cut down on cleaning products! The cloths I got are absolutely fantastic and have resulted in considerable savings of other supplies. Just don't use fabric softener or the dryer on them - they lose their effectiveness.

For my kitchen it has been my habit since I married - a fresh dish cloth and towel every day!
Laurie M. said…
It's funny that both of you mention the sponges. It occurs to me that I don't use a sponge in my own kitchen. I only ever use the yellow ones, and only for bathrooms. I like using the blue ones in the houses I clean, if they have them there, but I don't own any of my own. I use a little cloth, and a fresh dishtowel every day also. If like sponges, though, you can buy a multi-pack of them, trade them out every day and wash them with your regular laundry, just like the dish towels.
Scott said…
Thanks for this. I just forwarded your link on to all four of my girls, my friend from Ghana, and my sister-in-law who also cleans homes. Never know what you're gonna learn, or when, or where.
Debbie said…
Laurie, I loved this post. It was so practical and helpful to me. I USED to have a cleaning lady come to my home but that ended a year ago or more. BTW, we sold our home :( and are now in a rental house that is so much smaller. But God is good and He provided us with this home and I'm grateful.

However, I needed some tips on products and you really helped me out. I actually cut and pasted your post in a Word document and will print it out for reference when I go shopping.

Thank you my friend; you're a life saver.

Laurie M. said…
Scott, and Debbie,

Glad to be of help. I was thinking that the post was light on technique, so if you have questions, let me know. Perhaps I'll add this general rule of thumb: work from the top down. The thing is, different people will like to do things in a different order. I think the main thing is the right products and tools. The rest will mainly come through trial and error, and reading the instructions on the product labels.

I am so encouraged to hear of God's continued provision for you in these tough times. He is faithful. He cares for us. He doesn't always keep us "in the manner to which we've come accustomed", but He DOES keep us in the ways that count. He keeps us in the faith. He keeps us trusting in Him and full of hope.

I would have loved to have been your cleaning lady! But now I'm glad to help in this little way.
Debbie said…
Laurie, I plan to clean with my new cleaning tools today. This house is so filled with boxes and is disorganized. I hate that. But it will be clean today with Laurie's help.

How true your words are for me. Yes, I'm not living in the way I had grown accustomed to but I know God has a plan and a purpose and maybe I needed to get out of my comfort zone. He is El Shadday and I know that nothing is impossible with Him. I'm praying for lost loved ones.

Love you,
Laurie M. said…
I will pray for your lost loved ones too.

I hope you enjoy your cleaning - or at least the results.

BTW all - I'll be adding a little warning about bleach in toilet bowls to my original post.
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