Bonus column: Ask Martha
Is it the sunlight? It's finally spring, and you feel energized and excited in a way that you haven't for months. As nature comes alive and beautifies what you see outdoors, don't be surprised if you're inspired to roll up your sleeves and get your house top-to-bottom clean. You want the inside to reflect the shiny, happy rejuvenation you see through your windows.
Granted, the idea of spring cleaning can be daunting. But we've spotlighted and demystified the key steps to cleaning the high-traffic trouble spots - the windows, kitchen and bathroom - named some of our favorite supplies and identified the "Speedy Three" - the trio of tricks that make well-trafficked rooms look neat and tidy when you're racing against the clock (and unexpected guests are headed up the front walk!).
Whether you aim to clean the windows, the kitchen, the bathroom or any combination thereof, follow our advice and give it a morning or an afternoon. Then, by all means, get outside and enjoy the sunshine.
A simple cleaning solution, some cloths, a sponge and a squeegee are all that stand between you and crystal-clear glass.
■ Avoid washing windows in direct sunlight, since the heat will dry the liquid too quickly, causing streaks.
■ Dust windows first with a soft-bristled brush. Place a rolled-up towel across the sill.
■ Mix equal parts white vinegar and hot water in a bucket. Wet a sponge in the mixture and use it to wipe dirt away, avoiding the frames.
■ Dampen a squeegee's rubber blade (so it won't skip). Draw it down the glass in a straight stroke, then wipe the squeegee. Repeat, slightly overlapping your strokes.
Tip: For mullioned windows, use a mini hacksaw to cut a squeegee to a size slightly narrower than that of the panes. (Snip the rubber with scissors.)
■ Bag and label any loose hardware before you begin. Note the room and position (e.g., "den, left of TV").
■ Work in the yard, garage, laundry room or tub; ideally, you want to be in an area that has drainage.
■ First, lay the screens flat on the ground, prop them against a wall or hold smaller ones at a slight angle. Wet a scrub brush in a mixture of warm water and mild dishwashing liquid, and run it over the mesh and frame.
■ Rinse with a hose or under the faucet. Let dry completely (outside in the sun is best) before hanging.
Metal or vinyl Venetian blinds: Wipe each slat individually with a cloth dampened in a mixture of warm water and a few drops of mild dishwashing liquid.
Metal or vinyl vertical blinds: Remove a few slats ata time, lay them flat and wipe with a cloth dampened in a mixture of warm waterand a few drops of mild dishwashing liquid.
Wooden blinds and shutters: Wipe each slat with a slightly damp cloth (no soap). Dry witha clean cloth.
Tip: If slatted metal or vinyl blinds are very dirty, remove them from the window and lay them flat on a drop cloth outside. Scrub closed blinds with a soft brush and warm soapy water. Repeat on the other side; rinse. Open and hang outside to dry.
Don't forget the casings: Before washing the windows, use a dust-brush attachment to vacuum the glass and the grooves in the casing, the muntins and the mullions. After washing the glass, wipe the frames with all-purpose cleaner mixed with water. Rinse with a clean, damp cloth, then wipe dry with a clean cloth.
Doing dishes, wiping spills and sweeping crumbs, this busy space needs daily attention, as well as routine maintenance.
Counters & Backsplash: Your approach depends entirely on the material.
■ Engineered stone (such as silestone): Spray it with all-purpose cleaner; wipe with amicrofiber cloth.
■ Granite: Wipe it with a cloth dampened in a mixture of warm water and pH-neutral stone cleaner.
■ Soapstone or laminate: Wipe it with a soft cloth dampened in a mixture of mild dishwashing liquid and warmwater. Spot-treat stained laminate with a thick paste of baking soda and water.
■ Stainless steel:Use a mild abrasive, such as Bon Ami, and warm water. Fully dry; buff with a clean, dry cloth.
■ Tile: Wipe tiles with a soft cloth dampened in a mixture of mild dishwashing liquid and warm water. Clean grout with a thick paste of baking soda mixed with water.
■ Unfinished butcher block: Wipe it with a soft cloth dampenedin a mixture of milddishwashing liquid and warmwater. Spot-treat stains withfresh lemon juice or vinegar.Lightly wipe on mineral oil.
Floors:Vacuum or sweep away all crumbs and small particles. In a bucket, mix a cleaning solution: If you have glazed tile floors, mix warm water with a squirt or two of all-purpose cleaner. For sealed wood floors, use 1/4 cup of white vinegar for every quart of warm water. Working from the far corner of the room toward the entrance, mop, wringing out the mop head very well after resoaking it in the mixture. Too much water will simply spread the dirt around; properly mopped areas should look dry almost immediately. Move the mop back and forth two times: once to wash, then again to remove any residual cleaning solution.
Stainless Steel or Enamelware Sink: Sprinkle it with a mild abrasive, such as Bon Ami, and scrub with a soft cloth. (You can also try a thick paste of baking soda and water.) Avoid scouring powders containing chlorine bleach, ammonia or hydrofluoric acid.
Refrigerator Coils: Clean coils will let the refrigerator use less electricity. The coils are usually found behind a grill near the floor: Unplug or turn off the unit, remove the grill and clean them with an appliance brush, or vacuum them with the crevice tool. Universal appliance brush, by GE, $10 for 2, homedepot.com.
Coffeemaker: Wipe the exterior with soapy water; dry. Fill the carafe with equal parts white vinegar and water and run the machine: When a few cups have filled the carafe, turn it off and let sit for one hour. Then turn it back on and "rinse" with a few cycles of water.
Stove Knobs: Remove them from the cooktop or range, and wash them in a mixture of mild dishwashing liquid and warm water. Thoroughly dry before refitting.
Trash Can:Outside, rinse it with a hose; use a long-handled brush to scrub the inside with a mixture of white vinegar and warm water. Rinse and let dry.
Dishwasher: Clean and de-scale the inside of the dishwasher by filling a cup with white vinegar, placing it on the top rack, and running the otherwise empty machine at its hottest setting (e.g., "high-temperature," "heavy" or "sanitize").
Cabinet Knobs: Cabinet knobs can get grimy. If they're easy to remove, unscrew them, then scrub with a cloth dampened in a mixture of mild dishwashing liquid and warm water; dry. (If they're tricky to remove, just wipe them with a cloth dampened in the same solution, then dry.)
Stove: Take off the stove top's grates and reflector bowls and soak them in a mixture of hot water and mild dishwashing liquid. Clear any clogged gas ports by inserting a wire into each hole.
It's a spot with a split personality: you quickly wash up or luxuriate in the bath. either way, you want it sparkling clean.
Toilet: Pour 1/2 cup white vinegar or 1/4 cup chlorine bleach (never mix the two) into the bowl; let sit for several minutes. Brush the entire interior with a toilet brush, then flush. If the toilet has a hard-water ring, let the vinegar or bleach sit for an hour before brushing clean.
Shower & Tub:
■ Bathtub interior:Clean it with a sponge or cloth and a mild abrasive, such as Bon Ami. (Never use a brush inside the tub; it can damage the surface.)
■ Soap scum:An acidic cleaner - like white vinegar or Lime-A-Way - will cut through soap scum. Wear gloves when cleaning with acid, and be sure to rinse well, since the residue can etch surfaces if left on too long.
■ Glass shower door:Clean the track with an old toothbrush and mild dishwashing liquid. Wipe the door with a cloth dampened in white vinegar, then rinse and wipe dry with a clean cloth.
■ Shower liner:A vinyl, nylon, cotton or hemp shower liner can be machine-washed in hot water and mild detergent, like Ivory Snow. Rehang the liner to dry.
Grout: Scrub it with a soft-bristled brush and a mild abrasive, such as Bon Ami, or a mixture of mild dishwashing liquid and warm water. Mix 10 parts water to 1 part chlorine bleach to treat mildew buildup. Use a soft-bristled brush; wear gloves.
Hardware: Wipe faucets, handles and other hardware with a soft cloth and white vinegar.
Showerhead: Fill a gallon-size plastic bag with white vinegar, submerge the head in it and secure it to the showerhead with rubber bands; let sit overnight. Rinse and wipe dry. If it's still clogged, remove the head and soak it in warm white vinegar for several hours. Then scrub it with an old toothbrush. Rinse completely.
Switch Plates: Natural oils in your fingertips can smudge switch plates. Wipe them with a cloth dampened in a mixture of warm water and mild dishwashing liquid. (Never spray cleaner directly on a switch.)