When it comes to household chores, we're all guilty of playing favourites. Even Becky Rapinchuk, who has made a career of sharing housekeeping tips on her blog Clean Mama, says there are tasks she loves and tasks she loathes.
"I love cooking and puttering around before and after meals, so the kitchen is usually pretty clean," the former art teacher and mother of three says. "But I hate, hate, hate doing laundry. The minute I have more than a couple baskets, it takes a whole afternoon, so I make myself do a basket a day."
Rapinchuk estimates that most households spend three or four hours a week cleaning, but she says aiming for 30 minutes a day, or "cleaning as you go," feels more manageable. That will keep the easy chores easy and free you up to take on the harder chores or the ones you otherwise put off.
Here are five of the most daunting, irritating and time-consuming household hassles and tips to make them less so.
Grout, tile and the tub
Dirty grout and tub rings can take hours to tackle if you don't go in with a plan. In her Homekeeping Handbook, Martha Stewart offers a list of tools to keep in a caddy specifically for cleaning the bathroom, including rubber gloves, plastic-bristled scrubbing brushes and dishwashing cleaners.
Rapinchuk gives the routine a twist by offering DIY recipes for natural cleaning solutions that aren't loaded with chemicals. Her go-to mixture for bathroom surfaces is a spray made from white vinegar and vodka (a half-cup each), 10 drops of lavender and lemon essential oils, and 1 1/2 cups of distilled water. Mist the entire room and let sit for 15 minutes to disinfect. When it's time to spot-clean tile and glass, many people use a plain solution of white vinegar and store-bought dish soap. For a more natural option, mix peppermint oil (10 drops), a half-cup of vodka and a cup of water. A spritz of hydrogen peroxide can be used to lightly bleach problem areas, but use caution, as it can overwhiten.
Finally, if you're on the hunt for tools, Rapinchuk loves Casabella's grout brush ($8, amazon.com) and Scotch-Brite's cleaning pads, both of which are small enough to stash in the corner of the shower with a spray bottle of solution. If you want to be extra efficient, add a little spot-cleaning to your morning shower routine. "The beauty of using nontoxic products is that I can do a lot of the cleaning while I'm in there," she says.
Stove grates and burners
There's something about a sticky stove top that makes us want to start scrubbing. Don't! Instead, remove the grates from the stove top and wrap each one in a plastic bag with a quarter-cup of ammonia. Then let them sit overnight. (The idea isn't to cover each grate with ammonia; it's about sealing the grates in so the fumes can break up the gunk.) If you prefer to clean all the grates at once in a large bucket or garbage bag, do so in a garage or separate, well-ventilated area where you won't be inhaling the chemicals. In the morning, you should be able to wipe off the grease and grime with the soft side of a sponge. Do not mix ammonia with other household cleaners, as it can be toxic when combined with bleach, and be sure to wear gloves for safety.
While your grates are soaking, tackle the burners. Coat each one in baking soda and a teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide. After 20 minutes, wipe off the grime.
For a nontoxic solution, use warm water and dish soap with a little vinegar. (But be prepared to scrub.) Sprinkle baking soda and salt directly on the problem areas where food has collected and dried.
Stainless steel smudges
The most important thing to know when cleaning stainless-steel appliances is that steel has a grain, just like wood. To find it, look closely at your appliances for fine lines that run vertically or horizontally. When cleaning, always rub in the direction of the grain. The next step is to find a cleaner that jibes with your appliances. Rapinchuk's kitchen has appliances by a few different brands, which means each piece reacts differently to store-bought cleaners, so she keeps her routine simple: plain white vinegar and a microfiber cloth. Once the appliances are wiped down, some people like to polish them with a drop of oil on a clean cloth to further reduce the appearance of marks and fingerprints.
A sticky, cluttered fridge
Cleaning out your fridge can feel like cleaning out your closet. It's been years - why start now? But if you have bottles of dressing or olives that expired two years ago, it's time to start fresh. Take everything out and toss any items that are expired or spoiled.
When you're ready to deep clean, start by removing all of the drawers and bins so that you're working with a blank canvas. To clean the body, mix two tablespoons of baking soda with a quart of hot water and wipe down the interior, sprinkling extra baking soda on dried food spots. While you're scrubbing, soak the bins and shelves in a separate tub of the same mixture. In her book, Stewart notes that it's easy to forget about the door seals, but they should be cleaned regularly so that crumbs and gunk don't get lodged inside. Do your best to dry each piece before putting the puzzle back together.
If the paper-towels-and-Windex routine isn't working for you, mix a gallon of warm water, a cup of white vinegar and a tablespoon of dish soap, and try switching up your tools. Rapinchuk uses microfiber cloths and a squeegee. "Microfiber is the thing I couldn't live without," she says. "And not all microfiber is created equal. If it doesn't feel great on your hands when you start using it, shop around. The way it picks up dirt and grime can't be beat." Alternatives are black-and-white newsprint or coffee filters, which don't leave lint streaks on windows and mirrors the way paper towels do.