As with any job, you can clean better, faster and more easily if you have the right tools and materials, so it pays to invest a little time and money in getting yourself well equipped.
Brooms and brushes
A broom is an old-fashioned cleaning basic which is as useful today as ever. Remember that in general brooms and brushes with soft bristles are for smooth, hard floors, and those with hard bristles are for soft floors, such as carpeting. You will need at least one long-handled broom with soft bristles for sweeping hard floors such as vinyl, wood or cork. To complement this, you will need a hand brush with soft bristles and a dust pan. Dust pan and brush sets designed to hang up as one unit are very convenient. An additional small brush with stiff bristles is useful for small carpet-cleaningjobs such as brushing up dried mud or spilt sugar. A second long-handled broom with stiff bristles is useful for sweeping drives, paths and yards.
The bristles in broom and brush heads can be made of either natural materials such as cocoa fibre or horsehair, or synthetics such as nylon, polypropylene, pvc or polyethylene. Often, two or even more fibres will be mixed together to provide the right brush for the job. Try to buy from a quality range that offers a wide choice. One specialist manufacturer offers horsehair for ‘really long-lasting indoor sweeping of hard floors’, crimped poly- propylene for ‘carpet sweeping, particularly around edges of fitted carpets’, and red polypropylene for ‘heavy-duty outdoor work’.
Broom handles are attached to their heads by various methods. It is important that the head fits securely – you cannot sweep properly with a loose-fitting broom head which may well come offcompletcly just when you are at your busiest. Some handles simply fit into a hole in the broom head, although you may first have to shape the handle a little with a file or sandpaper so that it fits. Put a little wood adhesive into the hole in the head before banging the head onto the handle with the broom upside down. You may find there is a hole in the broom head through which you can drive a small, thin screw; use a gimlet or 106 bradawl to make a starting hole in the handle to avoid splitting the wood. Many modern ranges of brooms have their own patented ‘connectors’ – strong and easy-to-fit ways of joining broom head to handle.
Try to keep brooms and brushes as clean as possible. Remove fluff from the tufts with a wide-toothed comb. Periodically, wash the heads in a bowl of warm water to which has been added a squeeze of washing-up liquid. Then rinse well, giving bristle brushes a final rinse in cold salty water to stiffen them up again. Suspend brushes to dry heads down but clear of the ground; this prevents water soaking into the heads and distortion of the bristles.
Specially designed brooms and brushes are available for some tasks. For example, you can buy a cobweb brush with a soft head – particularly useful if you have high ceilings; look for one with an extending handle. A radiator ‘mop’ is invaluable for cleaning down behind radiators. A bottle brush will get inside not only bottles but also vacuum flasks, vases, decanters and so on, and there is even a tiny brush designed for cleaning teapot spouts! An old toothbrush comes in handy for many fiddly jobs such as cleaning around taps and cooker knobs. Every wc should have its own lavatory brush.
Most homes have some areas or smooth, hard flooring – vinyl sheet or tiles, cork, wood, stone and so on, and for these a mop is an essential. You can still buy the old-fashioned type with a stranded cotton head, but if you do you will also need the old design of metal mop bucket in order to press the water out properly. This can be rather bulky to store, and most people nowadays use sponge mops on a long handle, with a built-in squeezer for pressing out the water. The heads are usually made of cellulose and should always be rinsed very well after use, otherwise remains of dirt or tood will literally eat away the mop head. For the same reason, never cover the mop head during storage; leave it to dry naturally. Make sure that before use the mop is completely immersed in water so that it becomes wet and soft, otherwise the squeezing motion will crack it. You will also need a bucket large enough to take the mop head.
Dishcloths and floorcloths
You will need dishcloths for general cleaning and mopping up in the kitchen and bathroom, and floorcloths as heavy duty versions for mopping up spills on hard floors. Absorbent cotton dishcloths are best, but they must be kept scrupulously clean. Sterilize them by soaking overnight in 5 litres of cold water, adding-j eggcup of household bleach. Rinse thoroughly. Alternatively, you can boil up dishcloths on the stove with a little washing powder added to the water. They will smell sweeter if they are hung to dry in between use rather than being left in a crumpled heap. You will also need scouring pads and steel wool for very dirty pans, but use with caution.
You can easily make your own dusters from cut-up clothes. Cotton tee-shirts and men’s cotton vests make the best ones; synthetics are not suitable because they are non-absorbent and some are scratchy. In addition to dusters, it is useful to keep a ‘rag-bag’ of material for really messy cleaning-upjobs. Keep your dusters clean, washing them regularly, rinsing them well and drying them thoroughly. If you buy the traditional yellow dusters, wash them separately from your clothes because the dyes are not fast.
Cleaners and polishes
Washing-up liquid is useful for all kinds of cleaningjobs – use just a brief squirt of this in a bucket of warm water, for example, to wash vinyl floors or clean paintwork. But do not use it for small stains on carpets as you will simply re-attract dirt; instead, buy a small bottle of carpet shampoo, of the type that dries to a dry foam and is then brushed off. Harsh cleaning powders and liquids are really only necessary for very dirty surfaces: indeed they are not recommended by many flooring manufacturers. Liquid 107 floor cleaners are available which can be diluted for damp-mopping or used neat on very dirty areas. A little ammonia added to detergent solution will cut through grease ; do not use for vinyl floors or paintwork. Washing soda is useful for keeping drains free from grease; once a week, pour down the sink a solution of 225 g soda to 7 litres of boiling water. Scouring powder, sold in tall cannisters with perforated tops, should be used with caution as it can scratch stainless steel, plastic or enamel surfaces. Use only for tackling very dirty saucepans or baking pans and rinse well afterwards. Scouring creams are preferable for most surfaces, but do remember that even these are abrasive, although less so than the powders. Always apply them on a damp pad, do not squeeze them directly on to the surface to be cleaned.
Household bleach is an essential since it is useful for a wide range of cleaning and sterilizing jobs. But always dilute as recommended on the bottle as strength varies a little from brand to brand. Some bleaches are now thickened so that they cling to surfaces to provide a longer-lasting effect, and some have a ‘directional cap’ so that you can aim them under, for example, the rim of a we bowl. White spirit is useful for removing marks from paintwork etc., and as a general solvent for greasy marks. Caution: it is flammable. It is also useful to keep a liquid and an aerosol branded solvent stain-remover. Other solvents such as methylated spirits and acetone are useful for shitting particular stains, as suggested in the Stain removal chart. Lavatory cleaner will shift lime scale in wcs which household bleach will not: but never use bleach and lavatory cleaners together as, when combined, they give off a dangerous, possibly even fatal, gas. Household disinfectant is useful for washing out pedal bins, dustbins and so on.
There are all kinds of special cleaners and polishes available for different surfaces, and you will find more notes on these under the relevant subject headings which follow later. But a can of general purpose aerosol cleaner-polisher is handy.
Most products used for household cleaning are poisonous; many are flammable; many will irritate the skin or eyes. Pay careful attention to warnings printed by law on packs. Always read carefully any directions for use, diluting solutions strictly in accordance witb instructions on the pack. Store all bottles upright with caps tightly fastened. Never snift or taste old chemicals. Do not transfer cleaners or chemicals into other containers; in particular do not use containers which have held food or drink. Keep all cleaning products in a securely closed cupboard out of the reach of young children – you may not have young children yourself, but they may come to visit you. When using any of these products, work in well ventilated rooms, away from naked flames.
Make sure you buy the type best suited to your needs. If possible, try out the cleaner in the shop, to test for weight and manoeuvrability. If you cannot afford a new cleaner, you may be able to buy a ‘re-conditioned’ one; these can be perfectly satisfactory, provided you buy from a reputable well-established dealer.
Upright cleaners have ‘beater bars’ which are particularly good for pile carpets. Some models now available will get right to the edges of fitted carpets and there are attachments specially designed to cope with smooth floorings, upholstery and curtains. But uprights should not be used on shag or long piles with pile tufts longer than about 30mm , because the pile can become entangled in the beater bars. Use a cylinder cleaner instead , then fluff up with a ‘shag rake’ – like a plastic-garden rake.
Many people find cylinder cleaners more convenient in use though generally they do not have the power of uprights. Cylinders can usually be taken from carpets onto smooth flooring without the need to change to another tool, and they are often lighter and easier to carry round.
Push vacuum cleaners slowly over carpets, doing a section the width of the cleaner at a time. Make at least three strokes: once forwards, once backwards, and then forwards again and on to the next section, if possible leaving pile sloping in right direction. The correct direction for
CLEANING AROUND THE HOME plain carpet pile is the direction which looks and feels the smoothest. Carpet pile has a natural ‘tall’ or ‘slope’ like a cat’s fur: you can tell the right direction when you stroke it – and it is obvious if you are-actually looking at a carpet. If correctly laid, velvet pile carpets will have their pile laid slanting away from the light. For notes on looking after your cleaners, see Care of household appliances.
There is one golden rule however: empty dust bags regularly, before they become more than half full. A vacuum cleaner cannot work efficiently with a full dust bag, which can block the passage of air through the cleaner. This can strain the motor, necessitating early, costly repairs.
Carpet sweepers are less expensive than vacuum cleaners and are not as quick or thorough, but they are very useful for a quick clean-up when you do not want the trouble of getting out the vacuum cleaner. They also make a useful stand-by against the possibility of your vacuum cleaner breaking down. They are light and easy to carry up and down stairs. And they do not make a noise; useful if someone is trying to watch television, study, or is ill in bed while you are doing the cleaning.
STORAGE FOR CLEANING EQUIPMENT
Keep your cleaning equipment all together in one place. Long-handled brooms and mops should be hung up with their heads clear of the floor, so that the bristles or sponge do not get crushed. You can make a slotted rack to hold broom heads, or use large spring clips, sometimes 109 called ‘terry clips’. Or, from hardware stores, you can buy rings that fit onto the end of the handles so that you can hang them from a hook or nail. Alternatively, insert a screw eye into the handle, and hang the broom up by a piece of string. Keep small, often-used cleaning equipment in an easy-to-carry container with a handle so that you can take it easily from room to room; you can buy plastic ‘cleaning caddies’ from chain stores for this, or you could use a small plastic pail.
Use bags or boxes to keep your cleaning cupboard or drawer tidy – plastic carrier bags or shoe boxes are ideal. It you have a cupboard with a sturdy door, you could line its inner side with shallow, ‘lipped’ shelves to take bottles and cannisters, or buy wire racks from hardware stores. These can be suspended from two screws inside the cupboard door. If you keep your cleaning things under the stairs, do have a light fitted so that you can see to get things out easily and safely. One idea is to store cleaning equipment on a trolley that stows away under the stairs; this can be wheeled out when needed, and even wheeled around the house with you, provided you do not have too many steps up and down. You could buy an old trolley very cheaply from a junk shop, and give it a coat of bright gloss paint.
Of course, the cleaning materials and methods you use will vary according to the surfaces to be cleaned.
These days, few people can afford the luxury of doing their cleaning on regular weekday mornings. Many of us have to do household chores in the evenings or at weekends, or fit them in as best as we can around the demands of small children. Everybody finds their own best ways of coping and a set cleaning routine is definitely not necessary. However, there are a few general hints which might prove useful.
Try to wear suitable clothes for thejob. You cannot clean properly if you are worrying about keeping your clothes smart, so take the time to change, or at least put on an apron or an old shirt as a cover-up. Change into comfortable flat shoes, if you have them.
Before you start, take a few moments to plan what you are going to do. Be realistic. it is often better to do one job thoroughly than to skimp quickly through two or three. If you are short of time with visitors imminent, concentrate on a thorough tidying-up: it works wonders. Have plenty of storage available such as bins or baskets for toys, racks or trollies for newspapers and magazines, baskets for sewing
I 10 projects and so on. If you have ‘a place for everything’ things can all the more easily and quickly be returned to their places when the heat is on.
Always take time to clear surfaces completely before cleaning. When in a hurry there is a great temptation to try and clean around things and it is never satisfactory. For example, before you do the floor you must pick up all toys, magazines and so on, and move out light chairs or put them up onto other furniture. Shelves must be cleared before dusting: use a tray or a plastic washing-up bowl to hold items such as ornaments or framed photographs.
Cleaning floors used to make a lot of dust, and the advice then given was to clean the floors first and then go on to the dusting. With modern vacuum cleaners, it is not important in which order you clean a room, but dirt on the floor or carpet does seem to be more conspicuous than dust on a shelf.
As your children get older, do try to train them to help you with the cleaning. If you are very busy and frequently tired, training possibly unwilling teenagers can seem more arduous than simply doing it oneself. But making the effort does pay off. Even quite small children can be taught to clean baths and basins and dust furniture. Older children can become expert at vacuum cleaning and keeping their own rooms tidy.