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April 2012

Mary's Modern Homemaking

Spring Cleaning
By Mary Frances

Mary's Modern Homemaking archive


Winter is the reason and spring is the season for cleaning. The days are longer. The wind has a hint of warmer weather ahead. Like it or not, ladies and gents, it is time to put on the good ole apron and grab that broom.

Spring cleaning was the thing to do so many years ago. Long before central heat people heated their homes with stoves and fireplaces. Unfortunately, those methods were extremely dirty. Since wood and coal were readily available, it was the way to go, but ever so messy. Dirt and ashes collected in every inch of your home. Not to mention all the outdoor air pollution in a big city.

Get organized

The first step to spring cleaning or just plain old daily duties is organization. Meet my "cleaning cart." This portable keep-it-all-together cart has everything I need to keep every room in my home picked up and tidy. For this and other handy organizational tips, check out Confessions of an Organized Homemaker, by Deniece Schofield.

cleaning cart with supplies

  1. First you need a cart; for example, a small shopping cart.
  2. Then a plastic container that fits just inside the top to hold your cleaning tools. I use a dish pan. Containers can be bought just about anywhere: your local grocer, dollar stores, or thrift stores.
  3. Next, some spray bottles to hold cleaning solutions for glass and mirrors and an all-purpose cleaner. Preferably ones you have made yourself using baking soda, vinegar, etc.
  4. Rags, rags, and more rags. I love all-cotton ones. They are washable, reusable, and lint free. I prefer all-white ones as colored cloth tends to bleed. After all, you do not want your white walls green or pink! Terry cloth rags are great for mopping the floor as the loops provide a gentle scrub without scratching.
  5. A variety of brushes comes in handy, too. Included in my cart are toothbrushes—the soft or gentle ones—brass wooden-handled brushes, and a floor/carpet brush.
  6. I attach a large outdoor garbage bag to the side of my cart so that when I go room to room I can empty any garbage in that room and place smaller bags in the big one. Then when I am done, I simply take the larger bag outside to the garbage can.
  7. I keep baking soda, vinegar, salt, Murphy Oil Soap, and some dental tablets as cleaning aids. Keep them all together in your cart to make finding things a cinch.
  8. Some miscellaneous items that are good to have (many of which can be found at dollar stores): rubber gloves, toothpicks (I use the bamboo ones), a plastic squeeze bottle (such as a mustard/ketchup container) for a cleaning solution for the toilet, a small handheld strainer (used for shaking baking powder onto carpet), and newspapers. As you learn how the cart functions, you will soon add your own cleaning supplies and develop your own techniques.

cleaning supplies

Get started

Now that you have gathered up all your supplies, time to get started. Remember, spring cleaning can be an extremely large task and should not be attempted in one day. Take two or three days or even a week, but make it a good deep clean.

Wood stove

I start with my wood stove. Since the ash and soot create a great deal of dust and grime, this makes the most sense to me. Once the inside is clean, I wash and polish the outside, including the chrome piece that tops my wood stove. Then I spiffy up the brick, mantel, and hearth.

wood stove before

wood stove after


Now it's time to take down all the draperies throughout the house. Wash and dry them—with any kind of luck the day will be sunny and warm so they can line dry.

To clean the windows I use a mixture of one part vinegar to nine parts water. Put this in a spray bottle to use on the windows and mirrors, and then shine them up with a crinkled piece of newspaper or lint-free rag. I always use my label maker, which requires no electricity, to identify what is in my bottles as well as keep the formula on them for easy refills. If windows are extremely dirty and/or greasy, wash them first with very warm water mixed with a little dishwashing liquid. Then use the polish method explained above. What I love most about this method is that when you are done you just toss the newspaper into your compost pile or recycle bin, or better yet let it dry and use it to start your next fire.

label maker

Window sills and door frames get dirty in places one cannot see without a small step ladder. Don't overlook those out-of-the way places. Since my frames are made from real pine, I use a small amount of Murphy Oil Soap diluted in very hot water. Since there is no need to rinse, I just wipe dry. For painted drywall (like in my bathroom), I use a mixture of hot water, one or two drops liquid dishwashing soap, and 1/4 cup vinegar. Adding the vinegar helps reduce the chance of mildew.

Dust first? Vacuum first?

Dust first, then vacuum, or vacuum first, then dust? This is a question that has long been debated. My own experience has taught me this: how you dust depends on which you do first. I vacuum first because I dust with a damp cloth; any dust kicked up by the vacuum simply gets wiped away

Once or twice a week I use a mixture of hot water, a little Murphy Oil Soap, and some real orange oil or extract. Why the orange oil? Wood loves it. I'm not sure why, but my wooden walls, tables, and entertainment center really shine after each use. Plus, in between dusting it smells wonderful. For quick spot-dusting I use my own cotton version of the popular Swiffer pads with a small amount of spray, then swipe away any dust.

About that dust

By now you must be wondering why so much attention to dust? This seemingly harmless stuff harbors an awful, nasty little pest. A pest so small it can only be seen with a microscope: the dust mite, which is a close relative to the spider. Experts wonder if this could be the reason for so many allergies these days. With more and more families having to work longer hours, there is little if any time for the thorough cleaning our moms, grandmas, and great-grandmas used to do. Their cleaning was not done out of boredom but served a real purpose. For more on this, pick up a copy of How Clean Is Your House: Hundreds of Handy Tips to Make Your Home Sparkle, by Kim Woodburn and Aggie Mackenzie.

You're on your way!

As you get started on your spring cleaning, put on your best apron, turn up the music, and start sweeping.


Mary Frances lives in Ravensdale, Washington, and loves finding healthy ways to keep her castle clean. She believes that what we clean with can be just as important to our health as what we eat. When she's not cleaning, Mary Frances battles the blackberry vines in her yard. Also enjoy Mary Frances's blog, All American Gal.


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