Time-Saving Cleaning Tips & Tools to Revolutionize Your Cleaning Routine
I lived in apartments from birth through my early 30’s, so I know how tight storage can be. I've tried to include options depending on the space, floor coverings, and budget, but if you have additional questions feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Use a dustbuster...especially in the bathroom
Image via Pexels/Karolina Gabrowska
Damp dusters will (correctly) tell you that dry dusting can – and likely will – just move dust around. Dry dusters will (correctly) tell you that if you fail to dry dust in advance of cleaning you are likely to create that gross trail of wet dust and dirt that is a pain to recapture.
The answer? You need a great dustbuster and you need to use it EVERYWHERE. Dustbust the toilet from the base to the top of the tank, the tub/shower, the sink, and everything in between. It saves an incredible amount of time because the 5 minutes it takes saves 20 in aggravating dust-goop clean-up and chasing stuck-on hair that will not be picked up!
I use the Shark Wandvac because it can reach anywhere, has great suction power and is easy to clean. The vacuum features a single touch empty button, allowing you to easily empty the dust cup without having to touch the dirt. Side note: I bought a previous dustbuster recommended by the NYT only to find that I spent more time cleaning *it* than it did cleaning for me. So many reviewers don't live with their purchases!
The Wandvac weighs 1.4 pounds and is easy to handle and maneuver and includes attachments that can get in small crevices or vacuum up crumbs on upholstery.
Disinfect bathrooms, kitchens and cleaning tools...without the toxins
Image via Pexels/Karolina Grabowska
I know what you're thinking: You want me to use these dustbuster attachments on a toilet and *then* in bedrooms? Yes, but it's not as gross as it sounds! Wash them with dish soap to remove gunk and then use my favorite cleaning spray to disinfect them (along with everything else).
I discovered Force of Nature when I became a mom and was desperate for something that could disinfect a rubber changing pad without using products harmful to babies. Here's how it works: You buy a starter kit that includes a small machine, a reusable spray bottle, and capsules. You fill the appliance with water and squeeze in a capsule that is made up of salt, water, and vinegar. The appliance uses an electrical current to break apart molecules of these ingredients and create electrolyzed water — more specifically hypochlorous acid: an antimicrobial used in wound healing that kills 99.9% of germs with a small splash of sodium hydroxide: a compound that dissolves grease and grime (at low levels of concentration like these it is used in toothpastes).
The resulting spray is effective against grease, mold, mildew, sticky messes, viruses, bacteria, and works on (almost) every surface (beware of heavy use on fabrics without testing on a small hidden part.) It's also EPA-approved for use against Covid-19 and respiratory viruses. It meets high safety and environmental standards and is cheaper than buying bottled sprays in the store.
There are, however, two catches:
- The reason this is sold as a tool instead of bottled on store shelves is that hypochlorous acid starts to lose its disinfecting power after two weeks, so you have to make it fresh. I use this to clean everything so I go through at least two bottles a week but if you don't clean as often make sure this will fit your schedule.
- To thoroughly disinfect, you have to spray it generously on a surface and let it sit there for 10 minutes before wiping it up or letting it air dry. This is true of a lot of disinfecting cleansers like Seventh Generation's or Method's ANTIBAC all-purpose cleaner but people don't often read the fine print and may think they're disinfecting surfaces when they are not.
So: Dustbust everything then disinfect the attachments with this stuff!
Prevent dust and dirt so you spend less time cleaning
Image via Pexels/Karolina Gabrowska
A shocking number of sites suggest keeping all your doors and windows closed to fight outside dirt. That might help in some ways, but it's not a good idea as the EPA says indoor air quality can be 2-5 times worse than outdoor air and even up to 100 times worse in extreme cases. This can lead to bad health outcomes so, please, open your windows (just make sure they have screens)!
For a preventative measure that will actually help air quality instead of hurting it, try high-quality air filters. The highly rated ones that have both carbon and HEPA filters can cut down on dust and pollen in the home in addition to harmful pollutants. We have Coway Airmega AP-1512HH air purifiers throughout our home, and they are fabulous.
When the wildfire smoke blew through town a few weeks back, I put these air purifiers on full blast and our monitors showed that our indoor air quality went from poor to clean very quickly.
When properly maintained, the HEPA filters can catch bacteria, mold, viruses, dust and pollen and the carbon filter can removed things like VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which are bad news.
When I put them on full blast, these little guys are pretty loud. Run them on eco, low or medium and you won't notice, but pumping them up and they start to sound like a tiny airplane taking off in your living room.
Lastly, I always run these without the ionization option. This feature (which you don't have to use) is supposed to help with viruses and bacteria but it emits small amounts of ozone which we prefer to keep at bay.
Another preventative measure that won't strain your lungs but will do a world of good for your cleaning routine: Have everyone leave their shoes at the door. Your shoes collect an amazing amount of dirt and debris and, let's face, probably some poop too. I offer our guests either freshly-laundered grip socks or shoe covers if they prefer. At one point I wanted to make a sign that read "Toddlers like to lick the floor, so please leave your shoes at the door," but I'm just not ready to admit I'm That Person.
There are no catches here, only upside. According to recent studies, wearing your shoes indoors is worse than most people thought and can even bring in bacteria like Clostridioides difficile which can cause diarrhea and colitis.
And, lastly in the prevention department: Hard water build-up. We live in the Northeast and are in the middle of this scale in terms of hard water, and still it plagues our sinks and tubs. After every time we shower we spray white vinegar I store in these beautiful glass bottles. I also spray it all over the kitchen sink before bed. Just be careful to avoid any grout as the acid in vinegar can erode it.
Clean the floors without spending all of your time cleaning the floors
Image via Pexels/Shvets Production
No matter how well you strip your guests of dirt upon entry, your floors will still get (very) dirty. Experts suggest vacuuming daily if you have carpets and mopping constantly if you don't, but all of this sounds much less time-consuming than it really is. When we lived in our apartment with our infant, it was carpeted in the bedrooms, which was an absolute nightmare with all the fluids and regurgitation (mostly from the baby), but having a carpet cleaner (which I ended up buying in a fit of desperation) didn't mean I didn't also need a vacuum and a mop — it was a lot to store in a small space.
Now that we live in a house, I made sure to only buy washable area rugs and avoid carpeting like the plague, but between the tile, wood, and rugs we still need more tools than my budget feels comfortable with. I'm going to recommend the best things I've found over the years, but besides a good vacuum, the makeup of them will depend on your home and how much you want to spend on it.
This steam mop is a game-changer. Steam is incredible at cleaning floors and you don't have to worry about chemical additives. But the thing that sets this one apart is the scrubbing head. When we moved into our home, there was this dingy tile around the fireplace. I was steam cleaning something and realized part of what I thought was just faded ceramic came off and a a beautiful terracotta tile was beneath. It turns out this was years of built up soot. Nothing I tried worked in terms of cleaners or elbow grease, but when I took the steam mop to it with the scrub head, the soot, dirt and grime came off easily. The steam mop is great for kitchens and bathrooms and requires little maintenance or cleaning. I did, however, replace the scrub brush head after the fireplace incident as it was not going to recover from that. It cost $4. The only other things to note: I use distilled water in all of my machines to avoid hard water build up.
Bissell is a weird company. The mop is fabulous in every way but, more often than not, I find their product designs so odd as to make me think they have never spoken to any of their users. This bulky-but-still-compact-enough-for-an-apartment carpet cleaner is a good example: It doesn't have wheels. As a result, I constantly ended up tipping it over and being frustrated by its lack of maneuverability. Still, it works well — even on the projectile vomiting of children — and it is easier to clean than some other Bissell products that I've come across (the trick is sucking clean water through the scrubber and hose afterward).
If you live in a home with wall-to-wall carpeting, or you have high-pile area rugs in combination with kids or pets, this is a good bet. I tried their upright carpet cleaners at friends homes, and I couldn't get over how hard they were to clean and maintain. One friend even broke hers while trying to get the gunk out — SO many cleaning products I encounter have the fatal flaw of not being easy-to-clean themselves. On the other hand, I'm a huge fan of Shark products, in part because they're effortless to clean.
This stick vacuum is great — powerful, no bag to fuss with, easy to maintain and easy to maneuver. It was also $70 less when I bought it in 2018. I genuinely don't know if there are other vacuums in this higher price range that are better, but five years in, it's still working perfectly and does a fantastic job. The only catch is that, because of its large head and skinny body, it doesn't stay standing on its own. I have to lean it against something when I stop for a moment which is mildly annoying.
I'm pretty sure this Shark version of the Roomba is the closest I'll get to having a robot maid like the Jetsons. It's hard not to notice how much farther and faster power tools have evolved than cleaning tools but this thing is a real time saver and you can set it off in your child's room while you go outside to play. Time is our most valuable asset and of all the tools in this piece, this one saves the most. It is also the easiest thing to clean out you have ever seen. Release the back, take out the filter, dump out the dust (DO THIS OUTSIDE OR IN YOUR BUILDING'S TRASH ROOM), bang the dust out of the filter and put it back together.
Get to the hard-to-reach places without the frustration
Image via Pexels/Shvets Production
When my son graduated from the "I'm sort of a potato" stage into the rowdy toddler stage, I had to block-off areas under furniture to avoid having to move couches a dozen times a day to find lost toys. As a result, these areas get some dust but you need a flat cleaning tool to reach them. This is also true of the area under our microwave and other appliances. Amazon sells things that are made to fit in these spaces, but the fatal flaw in all of them is that while the cleaning blade is flat, the handles are chunky so they can't always get deep enough into crevices. (The longest one I could find was this OXO version at 33 inches).
The other issue with these is that, while some of them are bendable, they aren't easy to manipulate into hard to reach areas like the one between the glass panels of your oven (you know you can clean the insides of those, right?). The narrow hole at the bottom of the oven door is not only hard to fit tools into but it's even harder to manipulate the cleaning tool once inside because its proximity to the floor.
With all this in mind, I bought two of these and grabbed a 360-rotating pivot hinge from the garage. I ended up with a 60+ inch long flat duster that rotates in the middle and is flexible front to back. When I use it to clean (and not just dust), I attach velcro microfiber mop cleaning heads to give it extra oomph and absorption.
Header image via