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CHICAGO — In college, she set up a chore chart for her roommates, who teasingly referred to her as “Martha Stewart.”

As a young art teacher, she got compliments from the custodians on her sparkling-clean classroom. Fellow teachers started coming to her for cleaning tips, and one asked if she wanted to moonlight as a cleaning lady; soon she was cleaning three of her colleagues’ homes.

Still, when she was bitten by the blogging bug in 2009, she hesitated: Would anyone really want to read about her passion for cleaning?

The answer, as it turned out, was a resounding yes. Today, the Chicago area’s Becky Rapinchuk is a social media celebrity, with over 580,000 Facebook followers, a million blog page views a month (cleanmama.net), she said, and three books, the latest of which, “Clean Mama’s Guide to a Healthy Home: The Simple, Room-by-Room Plan for a Natural Home,” was published this month. A recent article in the British newspaper the Guardian named her a leading online “cleanfluencer,” along with “tidying” guru Marie Kondo, three British Instagram stars and a Canadian YouTuber.

“It’s really exciting,” said Rapinchuk, 44, who lives in the western suburbs and has three children ages 7 to 13.

“It’s super fun from the standpoint of someone who really actually enjoys cleaning and getting other people excited about it.”

Rapinchuk’s style is down to earth and approachable: think Wisconsin by way of Chicago. She likes the word cute, and she “pinky-swear promises” you that her approach works. She showcases an updated, sparkling but unintimidating home on her Instagram feed, complete with unmatched utensils and even an occasional scuff mark.

“I like a clean house, but it’s nowhere near spotless all the time,” said Rapinchuk, who is married to an insurance agent. “There are three kids, two dogs — it’s life.”

She cleans for about 30 minutes a day, she said, and that works well for her.

“I know there are some clean influencers who want to clean all day — and want to show you that they clean all day — but that’s not realistic. I like a clean house, but I don’t want to be maintaining it 24/7.”

If Kondo’s idealistic minimalism can be boiled down to the advice to toss any possession that doesn’t “spark joy,” Rapinchuk’s approach is perhaps best summarized with her homespun adage, “Every day a little something.”

Rapinchuk emphasizes all-natural products; her latest book shows you how to eliminate potentially toxic chemicals from your cleaning routine and includes simple recipes for household cleaners featuring ingredients such as vinegar, Castile soap and essential oils. Rapinchuk writes that she came to natural cleaning after her then-1-year-old daughter managed to snatch a bottle of all-purpose cleaner and spray her face and chest.

Rapinchuk’s daughter didn’t suffer any ill effects, but Rapinchuk’s panic — and her frantic calls to the Poison Control Center — led her to do research and eventually change her cleaning products. Her book offers tips for reading labels and doing an extensive cleanse to eliminate a range of suspected toxins from your home.

If you want to start slowly, she suggests eliminating traditional laundry detergents and fabric softeners.

“That’s the easiest one that you can change, but it’s going to have a huge effect,” she said, pointing out that you live in your clothes and sleep in your sheets. She offers a recipe for laundry detergent or recommends using one with naturally derived, plant-based ingredients that’s free of synthetically sourced scents.

Growing up in Wisconsin, Rapinchuk was a neat kid, she said, but not exceptionally so. While Kondo writes about a period in junior high school when she tidied her siblings’ rooms, throwing out things she thought they didn’t need, Rapinchuck, who shared a bedroom with her sister, was satisfied with just keeping her side of the room looking good.

As time went on, there were quirks: she read Martha Stewart’s aspirational Living magazine, full of photos of Stewart’s jaw-dropping Connecticut estate, for the cleaning and baking stories — the lifestyle aficionado’s equivalent of reading Playboy magazine for the articles.

Rapinchuk enjoyed her college nickname and actually dressed up as Martha Stewart for Halloween.

Her approach to cleaning was refined during her days as a young art teacher in Minnesota, when 300 students would pass through her classroom each week. She loved to make messes with the kids, but she also found it really fun to figure out how to clean up quickly so the room would meet her “hospital-clean” standards.

She was methodical about showing kids how to clean up, with step-by-step plans and bins in place to hold materials, and the kids responded well, she said: She never had problems with cleanup.

Today, she’s similarly methodical in her advice for adult cleaners, suggesting we put simple routines into place, such as assigning a major task like vacuuming, dusting or cleaning the bathroom to a specific day of the week.

“Instead of looking at an entire house and saying, ‘What’s the worst spot? Let me start there,’ you’re actually saying ‘OK, Mondays we do this, and Tuesdays we do this,’ so you aren’t wasting any time or energy determining where the worst spot is,” she said.

“You’re putting that whole routine on autopilot, so you take care of it, and you get on with your day.”

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©2019 Chicago Tribune

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