In a perfect world, homes are regularly kept up and never get very dirty or messy. In real life, clutter and dirt sometimes gets the better of us. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t worry about it, just get busy. Cleaning a really dirty house takes time and commitment, but as long as you keep moving forward you can get the job done.
All cleaning adventures begin with picking up, otherwise known as decluttering. Advice about this step can be found in my post How to Deal with a Really Dirty House.
After you’ve gotten clutter out of the way by tossing trash, purging, organizing, and/or packing stuff up to sort out later, it’s time to clean.
Stuff with Which to Clean
You’ll need some stuff with which to clean. Here’s a list:
- Vacuum cleaner and extra bags, maybe even a shop-vac if there’s significant dust or a lot of dirt.
- A broom and dustpan might come in handy.
- A dusting tool for cobwebs, one that’s telescoping or long-handled if you need to reach high spots.
- Microfiber cloths or rags, sponges, eraser-type sponges.
- Cleaning agents: all-purpose cleaner or ammonia or vinegar, degreaser for the kitchen (dish detergent is fine), glass cleaner, bathroom cleaner for tub and sink, baking soda, cleansing powder.
- A bucket, mop, toilet brush, scrub brush, nylon scrubbers, possibly steel wool.
- Trash bags and some boxes for temporary storage of small items that you’ll need to get out of the way (if applicable).
- Rubber or latex gloves, face mask if there’s a lot of dust, dirt or foul odors.
To begin, if it’s possible, open windows or doors to let the fresh air in. Don’t use any fans, including ceiling fans, to circulate air if there’s a lot of dust.
Next, if there’s substantial dust or loose dirt, you may want to make quick, crude pass through major passageways with a vacuum or a broom, both to cut down on tracking dirt back and forth and to reduce the recirculation of dust.
Plan to work either room by room or divide the house into sections.
Quick Run Down
Here’s a quick run-down of what to do. Modify as needed.
- Remove small objects and either set aside in a box or wash (if they need it).
- Pick up small rugs and wash or air outside. If they’re really dirty, you may have to toss them out.
- Take down curtains and blinds that need to be washed. You can also take them down and air them outside, or vacuum them where they hang.
- Dust from the top down: ceilings, ceiling fans, walls, light fixtures, wall sconces, chair rails, baseboards, baseboard heaters, air vent covers, all furniture, shelves.
- If there’s lots of dust on furniture or shelves, it’s better to remove it with your vacuum cleaner than with a cloth or dusting tool. Vacuuming traps dust instead of allowing it to re-circulate.
- Move furniture as much as possible to get into the corners and areas than you can’t reach otherwise.
- Once the cobwebs and dust have been eliminated, begin washing woodwork as much as is necessary.
- Wash windows and any glass doors.
- Vacuum furniture and clean upholstery if necessary.
- Vacuum floor/carpet.
- Wash floor/carpet.
Extremely Dirty Floors
Don’t try to use a lightweight floor cleaning tool on extremely dirty floors; this approach will only spread the dirt around. Use a string mop and a bucket containing a cleaning agent diluted in water. The cleaning agent can be specialty floor cleaner, all-purpose cleaner, vinegar, or ammonia. (Don’t use vinegar or harsh cleaners on stone.)
When you’re mopping an extremely dirty floor, expect to change your mop water repeatedly. If the water reaches the point that it’s gray, drain it and get a fresh batch.
You can spray an all-purpose cleaner straight from the bottle onto a floor that’s extremely dirty, mopping in sections. Be sure to rinse thoroughly so there’s no cleaner residue left on the floor.
To Remove Scuff Marks
To remove scuff marks from flooring, try using a pencil eraser, eraser-type sponge, thick baking soda and water paste, toothpaste, WD-40, nail polish remover, or a nylon scrubber with a degreaser.
To Clean Grout
To clean grout that’s extremely dirty, use oxygen bleach mixed with water. Working in sections, spray or sponge your solution onto the grout and let it soak for ten or fifteen minutes, scrub with a stiff brush, then rinse the area with clear water.
Wood floors need special care. If you have to wash a wood floor, use as little water as possible. If the floor is extremely dirty, resist the urge to saturate it. Keep going over it with your mop until it’s clean. As you wash the wood floor, use rags to dry it so that there’s no water left standing. This step also helps remove leftover dirt. If the rags come up dirty, keep repeating the entire process.
For tough carpet stains, call a professional carpet cleaning service. In some cases, the carpeting may be beyond redemption. If you have a carpet shampooer or steam cleaner and the rugs aren’t too dirty, you can attempt it yourself. Vacuum thoroughly first, pre-treat stains, then have at it.
If your windows are too dirty to see through, you don’t want to tackle the job with a wimpy bottle of glass cleaner and some paper towels. This method would be an excellent way to waste paper towels, glass cleaner, and a quantity of your valuable time.
If windows are extremely dirty, get a bucket of warm water, mix in some ammonia or vinegar (1/2 cup to a gallon of water), and use a cloth or a sponge to wash the window. Keep wiping the glass and rinsing your cloth until the window is clean. Then use a dry cloth to buff the window surface. Switch off your drying cloth as it gets damp; your cloth should be as dry as possible to eliminate streaking.
- If your windows repeatedly streak or have any kind of haze, wipe with straight vinegar then buff clean.
- To remove gummy gunk of or dried on residue from glass, use a glass scraper.
If somebody has done really bad things to your wood furniture and you feel like it needs to be washed, wipe it down with a very lightly dampened (not sopping wet!) cloth. Rinse and repeat until you’ve achieved the level of desired cleanliness. Don’t leave any standing water on wood surfaces.
You could also apply a thin coat of beeswax or lemon oil and then buff with a soft cloth.
These same methods apply to wood cupboard doors, wood shutters, wood paneling, shelves, or anything else made from wood.
Any kind of laminate furniture or plastics can also be wiped down with a damp cloth. Don’t use any of the wood cleaning products mentioned above on laminates.
Washing walls is not a lot of fun. It’s not a little fun. It’s the exact opposite of fun. If it needs to be done, however, here’s how:
- Clean all dust from the walls by vacuuming or using a dust mop. Don’t skip this step unless you would like dust smeared all over your walls.
- Use a little bit of mild cleaning agent such as ammonia, vinegar, or all-purpose cleaner in a bucket of water (a quarter cup of cleaner per gallon of water). Don’t use too much cleaner; any residue left the surface will attract dust and dirt.
- Also use a bucket of clear water to rinse your work area as you go.
- Start at the top (do the ceiling first if you are washing the ceiling, too). Wipe back and forth horizontally, rinsing as you go.
- Never spray any kind of cleaner directly onto dirty walls; it will streak. You will wish you hadn’t.
Once you’ve gotten everything in the house clean, replace any objects that you packed away, replace scatter rugs, re-hang curtains or other window treatments. Vow to never again allow an extreme cleaning situation to occur, because that was a lot of work. Whew!
Want more organizing and house cleaning tips and ideas? Check out my author page. My books include De-Clutter and Organize Your Home in 7 Simple Steps, Clean Like A Pro: Tips and Techniques for Cleaning Your Home Like a Seasoned Professional, and How to Become a Cleaning Pro: the Ultimate Guide to Starting and Operating Your Own House Cleaning Service.