Showing posts with label Cleaning Gadgets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cleaning Gadgets. Show all posts

Mar 14, 2016

What You May Not Know About Choosing The Best Vacuum

Have you ever wondered whether one vacuum is better than another for the condition of your carpet? Or even if your vacuum could be damaging your carpet? I hadn't - not at all - until recently.

You see, our house has wall to wall carpeting in the living areas. At first, I didn't think we could afford to replace it before selling the house, but it turned out we could, thanks in part to a good deal from a local (i.e., not big box) flooring store. (Thank you, Lord!)

I always knew there was hardwood under the carpeting, but I expected it to be in bad shape. Imagine our surprise when we ripped out the old carpeting and discovered THIS:

Gorgeous, right? I took lots of photos because, frankly, we don't have the time to repair the floor where the carpet tacks were, plus a few little other areas that need some TLC. But if someone else wants that lovely floor, I can show them it's there, nicely protected by a new carpet pad and carpeting:

Anyway, once that new carpet was installed, my husband asked me to look into it's warranty. He'd heard that using a Dyson vacuum, like the one I have, nullifies carpet warranties. I'd never heard this, but I dutifully called the flooring company and asked about it. The lady I talked to said she'd heard this rumor, too, but didn't know if it was true. She dug up the carpet's written warranty, though, and gave it to me. And I read: "Vacuum regularly with a Carpet and Rug Institute of Approval vacuum cleaner." Hmmm....

So I Googled said Institute and found their list of approved vacuums. There was not one single Dyson listed. And, frankly, there were a lot of vacuum manufacturer names missing. I was seriously surprised.

Reading a bit further, I found the criteria for vacuums that end up on the Carpet and Rug Institute of Approval list:

  • The vacuum has to remove a certain number of dust particles; 
  • and "the vacuum should not affect the texture appearance of the carpet more than a one-step change based on one year of normal vacuum use."
The second standard is the one our local flooring company warned me about. "If your vacuum doesn't allow you to adequately adjust the height of the brush roller, it won't be on the list," the flooring lady told me.

My Dyson allows me only to raise the brush roller up completely (for non-carpeted floors); it does not allow me to otherwise adjust the height of the brush roller. That means it could be really harsh on carpet fibers, ultimately voiding carpet warranties and leading to a quicker carpet death. While I've always said I loved my Dyson for being great at picking stuff up, it turns out at least some of it's ability to "suck" was probably damaging our carpets.

So if you have carpet you want to last (and remain under warranty), be sure to check out the Carpet and Rug Institute Seal of Approval vacuum list. You might need to buy a new vacuum!

Feb 9, 2016

Lazy Girl's Guide to Spring Cleaning (or getting a house ready to sell)

If you were to knock on my door these days, you'd find me covered in paint head to toe. Because when I paint, that's just what happens. Yes, friends, I am working my patootie off painting and cleaning these days. And I got to thinking, it is spring cleaning time(ish), and really all I'm doing is really intensive spring cleaning. So I think some of my little tricks for making the work easier and faster will translate to your house, too - whether or not you're putting your house up for sale.

Don't Use a Sponge or Cloth...Use a Mop!
Do you still wash walls and ceilings with a wet cloth or sponge? Then you're working too hard. Instead, use a mop. Better yet, use a Magic Eraser mop. Not only will you scrub less with one of these things, but you will almost never need to use chemicals - not even the natural kind. A little hot water and a Magic Eraser mop will clean almost anything - even a greasy kitchen ceiling.

And, oh yeah, they work great on floors, too. (Nothing gets my vinyl floor cleaner!)

Get Yourself Some Magic...Erasers, That Is

Got grubby baseboards? Dirty window trim? Icky crown molding? Or stubborn dirt on nearly any hard surface? Don't use elbow grease - use a Magic Eraser sponge. It does a better job - and it shortens cleaning time.

You can buy large boxes of generic "erasers" off eBay, or you can get Walmart's brand (they even sell a container of 12, which will probably last your entire spring cleaning and then some), or there are these, which are only 14 cents each. I always cut each eraser in half because I think they last longer that way. Also, remember that you don't have to press hard with these things - and not doing so will also make them last longer. (Of course, it's always smart to test a surface in an inconspicuous spot first, just to make sure the sponge doesn't remove the finish.)

Don't Sweep and Dust...Vacuum!
The next fantabulous tool you should use is a good vacuum. (I love my Dyson.) Years ago, I posted tips on how to use your vacuum to make housework easier; check it out, if you haven't already. (P.S., when I have a sticky, dusty mess, or just an area with a lot of debris that might clog up my vacuum, I borrow my hubby's shop vac.)

Have Some Popcorn
Speaking of vacuums, they are a real necessity if you have ceilings with bold texture, like acoustical (i.e. popcorn) ceilings. Sure, some people recommend scraping down those popcorn ceilings - but it's quite a project (and requires re-texturing the ceiling, unless you want every little flaw in said ceiling to show). From everything I've read, all but the newest (1990s - forward) popcorn ceilings contain asbestos, and therefore should only be removed by a pro, anyway. (Don't worry; the asbestos is only dangerous when it floats in the air and gets breathed in - i.e., during removal; if you leave the texturing in place, it's not a health hazard. Also bear in mind that popcorn ceilings were invented to help sound proof homes and prevent them from sounding echo-y, and as so don't remove them if you don't like an empty-sounding house.) 

To clean deeply textured ceilings, you can only use a vacuum; see full instructions here. (Be sure to wear safety goggles, since bits of the texturing may fall down.) But nothing spruces up any ceiling better than slapping on a couple coats of paint.  I've been doing that with ours, and I'm amazed by the difference! I really didn't realize how much our ceilings (which haven't been painted in 15 years) were making the rooms look drab. 

The photo doesn't do my ceilings justice. In real life, the freshly painted ceiling is bright and the bumpy texture much less noticeable.

Now, I've painted popcorn ceilings with a thick nap roller before, and it does work - but it's terribly messy - and it doesn't work nearly as well as a slitted foam roller designed for acoustical ceilings. So grab yourself one of those before you begin, then apply paint in both directions; for example, paint left to right, then run the roller front to back, too. I recommend two coats. You'll also want a small paintbrush to cut in the areas near the wall; you can also use it to touch up any little spots that still didn't quite get enough paint. Layers of paint minimize the texturing, too. (Admittedly, though, in order to really get the edges of the ceiling well covered with paint, you're probably going to end up with paint on the wall, too. So it may be a job best left for a time when you want a fresh coat of paint there, too.)

Don't Do It All At Once
Nothing wears down a busy, tired mama more than trying to do all the spring cleaning at once. The good news is - there's no reason for that! Instead, go through your house now and making a list of all the cleaning and repairs that need doing. (I have a free printable for this purpose, here.) This is often recommended before you sell your house, but it's a really handy tool even if you're not planning on moving. Once your list is written, you can just work your way down it as time allows.

Plus, there are few things more satisfying than checking off things on a to-do list. Right? Right!

Mar 3, 2014

#1 Best Spring Cleaning Tip for Busy Moms

Before I had young children, my house was reasonably clean. I did a thorough cleaning every spring and just before Christmas - you know, scrubbing down walls, cleaning baseboards, that kind of thing. (My vacuum, by the way, did most of the work.) But since having kids? Yeah right. There are currently dirty hand prints all the way down the hall and on virtually every light switch. (As soon as I clean them, they magically reappear, so I've admittedly become lax about wiping them away.) The baseboards look like they have a century's worth of dirt and dust on them. And don't even think about spot checking the house for dust and fingerprint-free windows.

Spring cleaning may not be on your agenda this year. I completely understand, Mama. But if your house is beginning to look a bit too crusty for your taste, I have one very helpful tip for you:

Buy a bunch of Magic Erasers. Truly, these things make spring cleaning so much easier. Your kids can even help! Use them for cleaning:

* Baseboards
* Cabinets
* Walls
* Widow sills
* Toys
* Furnature
* Bathtub/Shower
* Sinks and fixtures
* Appliance exteriors
* Toilets
* Light switches
* Crevices

Just be sure to test a small, inconspicuous spot first.

You don't have to spend a fortune on Magic Erasers, either. I often buy mine at The Dollar Tree. Or you can buy generic melamine foam sponges (yep, that's all Magic Erasers are) on eBay or Amazon. On the day I wrote this post, the best deal on Amazon was just 14 cents a sponge, shipped.

I also recommend you use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser mop. In my experience, nothing beats it on linoleum - AND it makes cleaning walls and ceilings easier, too.

Happy spring!

Feb 20, 2013

Dishwashers: How to Use them Properly

Last year, we replaced the dishwasher that came with our house. It had stopped cleaning dishes altogether and was too costly to repair. Then, just last week, our new dishwasher began malfunctioning. When the repairman came out, he said the problem was...drum roll, please....I was putting dirty dishes in the machine. (Yes, I'm serious. More on this later.)

With these things in mind, here's what I've learned in recent years about how to (and not to) run a dishwasher.

Why Use a Dishwasher?
Whenever I have dishwasher problems, I feel slightly guilty. After all, one can't actually say a dishwasher is a necessity. On the other hand, a dishwasher does lighten my workload, shortening the amount of time I spend doing dishes. It also saves us money on water and energy bills.

There are a number of studies proving dishwashers use less water and energy (to heat the water), but the most recent was conducted by the University of Bonn. It showed that even among those who took great pains to use as little water and energy as possible while hand washing dishes, dishwashers still did a more efficient job. On average, dishwashers used about 4 gallons of water and used1-2 kWh of total energy. Hand washing used an average of 27 gallons of water and 2.5 kWh of energy.

Not surprisingly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has something to say on the topic, too. They claim a post-1994 dishwasher saves 1,300 gallons of water over its lifetime. So yes; there are good reasons for using a dishwasher.

The Problem with Older Dishwashers
I like old dishwashers. As long as they are in good repair, I believe they do a much better job of cleaning dishes. However, they do use more water and energy than modern Energy Saver dishwashers. And now that the EPA has scared dishwashing detergent makers into removing phosphates from detergents, old dishwashers don't clean dishes nearly as well. So many Americans are now finding they must buy new dishwashers, or begin hand washing.

The Problem with New Dishwashers
However, new dishwashers come with their own set of problems. Yes, they use less water and energy - but at a price. Dishes that go into new dishwashers must be well rinsed before they go into the dishwasher. Water pressure is lower in new machines, and sensors that indicate dirtiness may make the washing cycle considerably longer if dishes go in dirty. 

But your dishwasher has a food grater, you say? According to my repairman, they are chintzy and don't work well - so count on them to only get rid of very small, very soft, accidentally-left behind pieces of food.

In addition, new machines are liable to plug up or leak if you ignore these new rules.

When I expressed amazement at all this, our repair man - who has been in the business for over 20 years - said, "They don't make a really good dishwasher anymore. They just don't do the job well. The best brand is Bosch, but they aren't that much better than anything else, and they cost a whole lot more." 

Tips for More Efficient Dishwasher Use:

* Clean the dishwasher at least every two months. Most manufacturers recommend buying special cleaner for this, but our repairman says a cup of white vinegar works just as well. Just pour it into the machine and run it through a wash cycle.

* Inspect the machine before every use and remove any bits of food. Look especially along the seal and the drain.

* Rinse dishes right away; don't let them sit in the sink or dishwasher while they still look dirty. This simple step saves time, water, and energy because you won't have to really wash or scrub dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.

* Run the dishwasher only when it's full - but don't overfill, block nozzle sprayers, or overlap dishes so water can't get between them.

* To save more energy, stop the machine after dishes are clean but before the dry setting kicks in. Either use a dishcloth to dry the dishes or air dry the dishes in the dishwasher. (If you feel you must let the dishwasher dry the dishes, be sure to use Jet Dry or a similar product or the sensors in new dishwashers will make the dry cycle last much longer.)

* Use the right amount of detergent. Using too much leaves a film on dishes. Using too little can result in dirty dishes. Consult your dishwasher manual for details.

Read your dishwasher manual for tips on the most efficient loading and maintenance techniques for your particular machine. If you don't have the manual, check for it online. Often, they are available as a free download from the manufacturer.

Mar 2, 2011

Air Drying Laundry Indoors

There is a strong movement against automatic clothes dryers. There's good reason for this: Dryers are huge energy consumers - the biggest hogs in the average American home. They are hard on electric and gas bills. And they are hard on clothes, too. But what if you don't have space for - or, due to regulations, aren't allowed to have - a traditional clothes line or tree? Here are some ideas.

* Hang a clothes line under a coverage porch.

* Install a line in your basement (as long as it doesn't have moisture issues).

* Install a line on your (flat) rooftop.

* Buy a clothes rack or tree and place it in an out of the way location in your home. Placing it near a heat source speeds up drying - just be sure clothes aren't too clothes to the heat source, or you may cause a fire.

* Hang wet clothes on ordinary clothes hangers and place them over the shower rod to dry.

* Install a BreezeDry drying cabinet in your home. It pulls air from outside and circulates it to dry clothes, using 90 percent less energy than a traditional clothes dryer.

Do you dry your clothes indoors? What's you're method?

Jul 27, 2010

No More Dryer Sheets

Since I began reading The House That Cleans Itself, I've been thinking a lot about how my house sometimes works against me. For example, I've always used dryer sheets, but I have a tendency never to throw them out afterward. I can't find them in the dryer, and when I fold the clothes, somehow the dryer sheets always end up on the floor or caught up in the blankets. Not only does this make for a mess, but it drives my husband crazy.

Enter the Bounce Dryer Bar. This little do-dad comes with a small plastic holder that has a sticky back so it adheres to the inside of the dryer. Then what looks a bit like a bar of soap slips into the holder. The manufacturer claims it will last between 2 to 4 months, on average, depending upon the bar you buy. (The bars come in 2 month and 4 month sizes.)

I began using the Dryer Bar about 5 months ago and have refilled it once. It works just as well as dryer sheets, has stayed stuck to my dryer, and is super easy to refill. I also like having one less step (adding a dryer sheet) to the chore of laundry. more dryer sheets that need throwing away!

Some friends have expressed concern the bar might leave grease stains or something similar on clothes left in the dryer. This hasn't been a problem for me, and I often leave a load of laundry in the dryer over night.

The Dryer Bar does have a pretty strong scent at first; some people might not like that. The scent left on clothes is like any other dryer sheet. One time, the bar fell out of it's holder, but it slid back in place easily, and I've never had that problem since. My only real complaint is I can't seem to find just the refill bar. Every time I need a refill, I have to buy the Bar and the holder, which seems wasteful.

I have not kept track of how many loads I can run through each bar, so I can't tell you if it's a money saving device. I just know it's make keeping my house a little bit easier.

Jul 7, 2010

The Perfect Mop

Do a Google search for "the perfect mop" and you'll pull up 40,400 results. Unfortunately, they are mostly posts by home keepers asking other home keepers were to find the perfect mop. So it seems I am not the only one tired of mops that don't work well and don't last.

I admit I'm probably harder on mops than some people. I don't have a mud room - or even an entry way - and while my kids and I remove our shoes upon entering the house, I can't get my hubby to follow suit. I can mop in the morning and by afternoon you literally cannot tell I've just mopped.

I've tried many different mops, because, for me, having clean floors is greatly satisfying. If the floors are clean, the whole house seems much cleaner. I've used rag mops, string mops, Swiffer mops, and sponge mops. (I prefer the latter.) I've also scrubbed on my hands and knees and used floor steamers. (My steamer worked pretty well, but it was a bit of a pain, and I didn't like using it around little people who might get burned on it.)

So while I have yet to find the perfect mop, here's what works best for me: First I "sweep" by vacuuming the floor, as detailed in this post. Then I pull out my Magic Eraser Mop and use it with a little floor cleaner.

Although the mop breaks just before I'm ready to replace the Magic Eraser head (a real frustration), it does clean extremely well. Before finding this mop, I used a regular sponge mop, then got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed scuff marks and other hard-to-clean spots with a Magic Eraser Sponge. The Magic Eraser Mop shortens my cleaning time and is a lot easier on my knees.

What about you? Have you found your perfect mop? What is it?

UPDATE 1/15/11: My new Mr. Clean Eraser mop has already lasted considerably longer than my old one; the design is much sturdier. However, now you can buy Mr. Clean Eraser heads with a universal adapter. So if you have a mop handle you really like, you can easily convert it to use a Mr. Clean Eraser head.

Jun 16, 2010

5 Reasons I Use Sponges

1. Although some people think sponges are unsanitary and therefore unsafe, people have been using them forever without ill effect.

2. Sponges are less wasteful and save more money than disposable cleaning cloths.

3. Disinfecting a sponge uses less energy, water, and time than washing reusable cloths.

4. Trying to get rid of all germs in the home - if that's possible - isn't healthy. Our bodies need exposure to less malicious germs so they can build up better resistence. Too, some bacteria is actually good for our bodies.

5. Sponges are easy to sanitize. The Soap and Detergent Association says all you need to do is put them in a mixture of 1 quart water and 3 tablespoons bleach, let them soak for five minutes, then air-dry. Microwaving a wet sponge for 1 minute or placing the sponge on the top rack of the dishwasher and running it through a cycle also removes more than 99 percent of bacteria, according to most sources.

Feb 5, 2010

False Economy

Today as I baked bread with measuring spoons that kept bending, then mopped with a mop whose wringing mechanism wasn't working right, I was reminded how buying cheap often leads to false economy. Although it's important to consider price when shopping for your home, it's also vital to look at quality.

For example, I could buy eating utensils at the Dollar Tree and within a month, they begin breaking and I must buy new ones. Or I could spend $40 or $50 at Target or Wal-Mart for stainless steel utensils and never need to buy new ones. Even though it costs more initially to buy the utensils for $50, in the long run, I'll spend less.

Not all shopping decisions are this easy, of course, so here are a few tips:

* For larger items be sure to check out consumer reviews. I long ago lost faith in Consumer Reports (they don't recommend many of my favorite household tools), but I do take the time to read reviews at Amazon and Epinions. Look at the big picture first: Do most consumers seem to like the product, or not? Then look at details. Why are some people dissing the product? Are their concerns similar to yours? For example, if you're buying a blender and some reviewers give a low ranking to a particular blender because it won't fit under the counter, consider whether this feature is a big deal to you. If it's not, you can disregard those poor reviews.

* Consider materials. Some materials simply last longer than others, or work better than others for certain applications. For example, I'd never buy anything other than a nonstick pan for cooking eggs, because they just work so much better for cooking that particular item. I also make sure my household work horses (like measuring cups) are made of materials that should last my lifetime.

* Know what the going price is. If you shop around (either online or off) and see that, say, stainless steel measuring cups generally sell for $20 to $30, you'll know to be skeptical when you see some for $10. (I almost guarantee they'll be too flimsy to be useful.) You'll also know to take note of more expensive products; what makes them cost more than the competition? Sometimes there is a good reason that can make a real difference in your home, making the more expensive product a better deal - in the long run - than the cheaper one.

* Check small items for quality while in the store. Items not in packages are easiest to look over. For example check utensils for bend-ability; if you can flex them too easily, they won't last. Some items should bend easily (like plastic spatulas) so check they aren't too stiff. See how things are put together; if there are screws, they will come loose and need re-tightening, for example. If items are in boxes and there's no display model, ask a sales clerk to remove one from a box so you can examine it. Avoid items in plastic wrap that can't be opened and examined.

* Look for warranty information. Look for products that offer a complete guarantee. How many times have you purchased a product only to have it break right after the warranty ends? So look for products with the longest guarantees you can find. (Then be sure to file away warranty info - including a receipt - in case you need them later.)

* Choose your store wisely. When it comes to many household tools, it makes sense to buy commercial grade. For example, if you need new kitchen gadgets, be sure to check out the local restaurant supply store. Generally, commercial items last far longer than products made for consumers because they withstand much harder use

* Finally, don't continue to use products that don't work well. For example, by continuing to use a mop that doesn't work right, I waste time (because it takes me longer to do the job) and gain a lot of frustration. It's better economy for me to purchase a new mop than to continue using a mop that costs me so much.

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Oct 7, 2009

The Self Cleaning House

Unlike the Proverbs 31 woman, nor indeed most middle class women from ancient times through the early- to mid-20th century, I do not have even a single servant. That means common household chores eat up a lot more of my time than they did my ancestors. Which means I shouldn't beat myself up too much when I can't seem to achieve a truly clean house.

Yes, I want a pleasant home my family loves being in. Yes, I want the house organized enough it doesn't cause frustration. No, I don't want it to stay so dirty it's unhealthy. But caring for my children, being a helpmeet for my husband, and running a part time business (which is a need, not an option) take up most of my time and are more important than vacuuming and dusting.

That said, I love a clean and tidy house. So does my husband. So in my efforts to achieve something like a clean house, I've discovered that (in some cases, at least) the house can be self cleaning. Truly!

Here are two products I've tried that promise to make houses "self cleaning." Consider whether they could lighten your burden and give you time for other, more important efforts.

Scrubbing Bubbles Automatic Shower Cleaner

My husband has his own bathroom; it's just off our bedroom and much too small for us both to crowd into. Before we had children, I kept it sparkling clean for him, but after our daughter was born 3 1/2 months early, I needed to cut down drastically on household chores; the bathroom became his to deal with. But my husband doesn't clean, and his shower stall quickly became a filthy mess.

So I bought this automatic shower cleaning kit by Scrubbing Bubbles. I began by cleaning his shower the old fashioned way, then hung the plastic bucket-like device over the shower head and asked him to push the button once after each shower. The results were amazing! I no longer have to clean his shower!

Later, I bought one for the bathroom I share with the kids, which has a tub/shower combo. The cleaning kit doesn't work quite as well there; I still have to clean the bathtub and shower from time to time - but I do it less frequently than I used to. (Just remember to rinse the tub with some water before giving the kids a bath, even though the cleaning solution is described as "less harsh than other shower cleaners.")

The refills are about $4 dollars (for a single clear bottle that sits in the plastic bucket device), but while the manufacturer says they last only about 21 days, I find ours lasts a bit longer, even when used daily. You only need to use the cleaner after the last shower or bath of the day. The batteries need replacing about every six months or so. For our household, I find this expense well worthwhile.

There are also ways to cut the cost of refills - although they are of course not recommended by the manufacturer. For example, over at Instructables, a writer describes how he refills his shower cleaner kit with shower cleaner from the Dollar Store. Other brands of cleaner may not work as well, however, may corrode the shower cleaner kit, and are probably much more harsh.

When I read there was a robotic vacuum requiring no help from me except to turn it on, I was skeptical, but intrigued. For years, I read reviews on the Roomba vacuum, and finally my husband (a gadget guy) asked for one for Christmas. We love it!

I make sure toys are picked up off the floor, my husband sets the little devices that prevent the machine from going where you don't want it to go, and one of us turns the thing on. Then we leave the room (to, for example, watch a DVD together at the end of the day) and let the Roomba work. The machine detects when the floor is clean (our model works both on carpet and vinyl or wood) and turns itself off. There's even a separate remote-like device you can buy to schedule the Roomba to clean when you're not at home.

Because I don't always have the energy to pick up the house at the end of the day (so we can run the Roomba), I still do some traditional vacuuming. But back when we had only one child and pick up was easy, we used the Roomba every day, and I never had to pull out the "big vacuum."

The Roomba uses a rechargeable battery pack and other than replacing this every few years, requires no more ongoing maintenance than any other bag-less vacuum.

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