A clean house. If you’re a parent, that concept is probably nothing more than a dream, right up there with kids who love veggies. Even if you were a neat freak before you had a family, chances are these days you struggle to stay ahead of dirty laundry, strewn-about shoes, and that somehow-always-sticky refrigerator door handle.
You’ve probably made peace with a certain level of chaos (mostly because you have no choice). But how about when guests are coming over? Before you hit the panic button—or bolt the door—read on. We asked two cleaning authorities to explain how you can get your house company-ready in a rush.
Pre-Cleaning Plan of Attack
Conceal the clutter. Your first step is to put away all the jumbled-up stuff in any rooms your company might glimpse. “Hide the shoes, hide the coats, and take out any boxes from deliveries,” says Anna Harasim, owner of Anna’s Cleaning Service in New York City. In the kitchen, clear the countertops. Everything will instantly look better.
Concentrate on areas where guests will go. “If you’re in a jam and you need to do things quickly, you need to prioritize the most important spaces,” says Jennifer Gregory, marketing director of Molly Maid, a Neighborly cleaning service with branches throughout the New York metropolitan area. Usually, after your initial de-cluttering, that means attacking the foyer, living room, kitchen, and bathrooms.
Speed Clean Your Foyer and Living Room
Freshen up the furniture. “Take a barely-damp microfiber cloth and wipe it down. It will catch any hair and debris, and does a really good job of removing the dust from intricate carvings,” Gregory says. (She advises against furniture polish: “It tends to grab dirt faster and make it stick to the furniture,” she explains.)
Address areas above your eye level. “People tend to look around at where their height is [as they clean]. They forget to look up,” Gregory warns. Using a high duster, skim the place where the walls meet the ceiling, making sure to dust ceiling fans and light fixtures.
Fold and fluff. “If you have any blankets in the living room, make sure they’re folded,” Harasim says. Fluff up non-woolen throw pillows and smaller throw rugs by placing them in the dryer with a clean tennis ball and drying them on low for 5-10 minutes, Gregory recommends.
Shine up mirrors, windows, and glass-framed photos and paintings. Give them a quick once-over with a slightly damp microfiber cloth, Gregory says, or use a microfiber cloth and Molly Maid’s DIY cleaner: 1 gallon of water, ½ cup white vinegar, ½ cup rubbing alcohol, and about 2 squirts of Dawn dish detergent. For photos that aren’t covered in glass, dust them with an unused large paintbrush.
Dust the mantle. Use a microfiber cloth to dust the fireplace mantle (if you have one) and any knick-knacks that you keep on it. Clear away any wood debris in front of the fireplace, and if there’s tile in front of the hearth, make sure it’s dusted, mopped, and dried. If you have a gas fireplace, use your microfiber cloth to clean the outside.
Don’t forget the floors. Vacuum or sweep them, then mop them with a microfiber mop. “We use a little bit of degreaser—about a quarter-cup of all-purpose cleaner in a gallon of water—as long as the floors are sealed. If not, use plain water,” Gregory says.
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Speed Clean Your Kitchen
Remove the trash. Put out the garbage and recycling, Harasim says. After that, “remove your stovetop burners, fill your sink with hot water and dish soap, and put your stove burners in that water and let them soak while you start moving around,” Gregory advises.
Work your way around the room. Clean the stovetop with a microfiber cloth and a degreaser, Gregory says. Then wipe down the countertops with a microfiber cloth and a solution of half white vinegar and half water, working your way around the room. (If your countertop is granite, simply use water or a cleaner specially formulated for this use.) As you go, put away and straighten up any utensils and cookbooks.
Fix up the fridge front. Move any magnets and other things on your refrigerator’s door or sides and then wipe down the front with your microfiber cloth and the vinegar-water mixture. Make sure you also wipe down any ledges formed by the doors and handles, Gregory adds.
Scrub the stovetop burners. Dry and replace them on the stove. At that point the refrigerator will have dried, so you can (neatly) replace anything usually kept on the door or sides, Gregory says.
Mop the floor using a microfiber mop and a ¼ cup of degreaser mixed with a gallon of water, or just water for unsealed floors, Gregory says.
Speed Clean Your Bathrooms
Hide cleaners, Harasim stresses, “especially if you know someone’s coming with their kids,” as they may pose a safety hazard.
Tackle the toilet. Spray the lid, seat, rim, and base with the vinegar-water mixture, Gregory says. Add two to three tablespoons of baking soda inside the toilet and swish it around. Let everything sit for a few minutes as you tackle other areas.
Replace the toilet paper and tissues if you’re running low, Harasim says. Set out fresh towels too, she adds.
Take out any trash and replace the trash bag.
Shine the mirrors and faucets with Molly Maid’s homemade glass cleaner (see Foyer and Living Room) and use a microfiber cloth and water on the countertops. Once you’re done, wipe down the exterior of the toilet with a microfiber cloth, starting with the lid and working your way down to the base. Scrub the interior with a toilet brush and flush everything away.
Focus on the floor. Remove all items from the floor, and shake any throw rugs in the hallway, just hard enough to remove dust and debris, Gregory says. Vacuum or sweep the floor quickly. Next, use a dampened microfiber mop on the floor. After the floor has dried a bit, replace the trashcan and rugs and vacuum the hallway.
Got a little time left over? If you live in a house, go outside and “walk up [to your home] the way your guests would walk, and remove anything your guests would find,” Gregory suggests. Make sure your pathways are cleared (and salted, if it’s snowy or icy out). Use an outdoor broom to sweep the walkway and clear away any cobwebs. Clean the storm door and sidelight windows with glass cleaner and a microfiber cloth.
“If you have time, you’ll want to clean the bedroom along with the rest of the house,” Gregory says. “Worst case, shut the door, but absolutely make the bed.” That way, if anyone stumbles in, they’ll get an overall impression that—kids and all—you keep a tidy home.