You know, when you think about it, we should be obsessing over fall cleaning instead of spring cleaning. After all, you’re about to shut yourself inside for months with all the dust and dirt your home has collected during the hot, dusty, open-window days of summer. And who wants to inhale that?!
The EPA even estimates that indoor air quality can be five times more polluted than outdoor air. So here’s a checklist to help you breathe easy all winter long in your home.
Wash and Disinfect Garbage Cans and Wastebaskets
You’re going to be shut in all winter with these germ havens, so now’s a good time to clean them thoroughly. Take them outside where you can blast the insides with a garden hose, then add disinfectant.
For an environmentally safe way to sterilize these nasty grime collectors, use undiluted hydrogen peroxide or vinegar mixed 50/50 with water. Caution! Don’t mix hydrogen peroxide with vinegar — the result is harmful peracetic acid. Regular bleach is an effective disinfectant (one part bleach to six parts water), but we much prefer environmentally safe.
Let the garbage cans sit for an hour, then pour out the contents and scrub the insides with a stiff bristle brush to remove any residue. Rinse and, if possible, let the wastebasket dry in direct sunlight, which helps eliminate bacteria.
Wash and Disinfect Toilet Brush Holders
Take the holder and the brush outside, and spray wash thoroughly with a garden hose. Immerse the holder and brush in a bucket of hot water mixed with one of these solutions:
- 1 part bleach to 6 parts water
- 2 to 3 cups of environmentally friendly washing soda crystals
- A 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water
Let everything sit in the solution for a couple of hours, then rinse the holder and brush with a hose and place in direct sunlight to dry.
Turn Over Furniture and Vacuum the Bottoms
You might shift furniture around so you can vacuum the floor, but there’s another side to the story — the underside.
Tilt upholstered chairs and couches all the way back (much easier with two people) to expose the bottoms. The dustcovers tacked underneath furniture can catch dreck and dust bunnies, so vacuum them off, being careful not to press too hard on the fabric.
Clean the Tops of Doors, Trim, and Artwork
Tables and countertops aren’t the only household items with horizontal surfaces. In fact, just about everything in your house except Rover’s tennis ball has some kind of horizontal surface where dust and dirt will nestle, often unnoticed. You’ll want to clean the top horizontal edges of:
- Interior doors
- Trim, including baseboards and chair rails
- Artwork and mirrors
- Electrical wall plates
- Wall-mounted smoke detectors, CO detectors, and thermostats
- Upper kitchen cabinets
- Light bulbs and light fixtures
- Computer monitors
- Books on shelves
Vacuum Behind the Fridge
Your fridge needs to be cleaned periodically so that it operates at peak efficiency. Ignore this chore and face another $5 to $10 per month in utility costs. Worst case: a visit from an appliance repair pro who’ll charge $75 to $150 per hour!
The object is to clean the condenser coils. Here’s how:
If the condenser coils are on the back of the refrigerator, then pull the unit out completely, and unplug it while you work on it. Brush or vacuum the coils to clean them, and clean up any dirt and dust on the floor.
Also, check to make sure your freezer vents are clear. Freezers circulate air to reduce frost, but piling up too much stuff in front of the little grill-like vents inside your freezer blocks their business.
If the condenser coils are on the bottom of the fridge, then you’ll need to clean them from the front of the unit.
Take off the bottom faceplate to expose the coils.
Clean dust using a condenser-cleaning brush ($8) or a long, thin vacuum attachment made for cleaning under refrigerators ($14).
You should still pull your refrigerator all the way out and vacuum up dirt and dust that accumulates in back of the unit. Unplug it while you work on it.
Put down a piece of cardboard so that grit under the wheels doesn’t scratch your flooring.
Winterize Your Entry
Keep winter’s slush and gunk at bay by making your entryway a dirt guardian.
- Get a boot scraper ($19 to $35).
- Add a chair or bench for taking off boots, and have a boot rack for wet footwear.
- Put down a tough coir outdoor doormat ($30 to $190) for cleaning footwear.
By some estimates, dirty window glass cuts daylight by 20%. That’s a lot less light coming in at a time of year when you really need it to help chase away winter blues.
Clean windows inside and out with a homemade non-toxic solution:
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon eco-friendly dish detergent
- 2 cups water
Wipe clean and polish using microfiber cloths.
Clean Ceiling Fan Blades
Those big blades on your ceiling fan are great at moving air, but when they’re idle they’re big dust magnets — dust settles on the top surfaces where you can’t see it.
Out of sight maybe, but not out of mind. Here’s an easy way to clean them: Take an old pillowcase and gently cover a blade. Pull it back slowly to remove the dust. The dust stays inside the pillowcase, instead of all over the floor, the furniture, your hair (ugh!).
Vacuum Out the Dryer Vent
This little chore should definitely be on your list. It prevents lint buildup that can create a fire hazard.
Tips for cleaning a dryer vent from the inside:
Pull out the dryer as far as the vent pipe allows. Disconnect the vent pipe from the dryer, and clean the outlet holes in the wall and the back of the dryer with a shop vac or regular vacuum.
Clean the vent pipe with a dryer snake cleaning tool ($15 to $20). This is a rotary brush on a cable. You can attach it to the chuck of an electric drill, which rotates the cable and the brush.
But, don’t use this tool on flexible plastic or foil vent pipes, only rigid metal. An electric drill may be too hard on the flexible tubing. Better to vacuum flexible tubing with a narrow nozzle.
Even better, for safety reasons, opt for rigid metal tubing, rather than flexible plastic or foil vent pipes, according to both the Consumer Product Safety Commission and U.S. Fire Administration. Flexible pipes trap lint, which is a fire hazard.
Change Furnace Filters
Yeah, this is a no-brainer, which is why it’s last on this list. But everything else you do could be moot if you’re not changing your filters at least once every 60 days (more if you’re sensitive to allergies).
Air filters for furnaces are rated by level of efficiency. The higher the rating, the better the filter is at removing dirt, mold spores, and pet dander.
Filters are rated one of two ways (you’ll see the ratings on the packaging); higher numbers mean better efficiency, but there’s a point of diminishing returns — some filters with extremely high ratings also restrict air flow, making your HVAC work so hard that the system heats and cools inefficiently.
- Minimum efficiency rating values (MERV) for filters range from 1 to 16, but 7 to 13 is typical for households (14 and up are used in hospitals).
- Microparticle performance rating (MPR) range from 300 to 2,400.
Cheap filters cost about $2, but won’t do you much good. You’re better off paying $12 to $17 for a pleated filter with a 1250 MPR, or $20 to $25 for a filter rated 2,400.
Happy cleaning (and breathing!) this winter.