Keep it clean

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I wouldn’t say I was partic­u­larly tidy, but I do like to keep my living envir­on­ment clean. I spent a few years work­ing in restaur­ants when I was young­er, and a big part of the job was keep­ing the restaur­ant and bar as clean and pleas­ant as possible. Espe­cially at the end of the night, you can’t go home until everything is spot­less, so you get used to clean­ing things as effi­ciently as possible, and in a way that makes sure it all looks shiny as well as being hygien­ic. This has also been useful in making not-so-nice rented places in London a lot more pleas­ant to live in. (It has also given me the side-effect of find­ing house­work to be an effect­ive hangover cure)

I’ve come to real­ise lately, a surpris­ing number of people find house­work diffi­cult and turn out not to know things about laun­dry, unblock­ing drains etc that I thought every­one knew. It still seems a bit patron­ising for me to write these tips (but also quite milit­ant in my aver­sion to dirty tea towels and unrinsed wash­ing up), because they’re obvi­ous to me, but I know now they’re not obvi­ous to a lot of people, and New Year seems an appro­pri­ate time to write them.

I don’t really find many online clean­ing tips that help­ful. They’re either aimed at Amer­ic­ans and talk about things you don’t find in Brit­ish houses and products that aren’t avail­able here, try to convince you that anything can be cleaned with white vineg­ar and baking soda (tip: some­times that doesn’t work well), or they’re for the kind of obsess­ive person who loves to buy special brushes to clean inside blinds. I just want my place look­ing nice without spend­ing too much time or money doing it. I haven’t recom­men­ded many specif­ic products, the gener­ic super­mar­ket stuff is fine.

Here’s what I want from clean­ing really:

  1. You don’t feel nasty because you touched some­thing and it was myster­i­ously sticky or dirty
  2. You can invite people over without feel­ing ashamed
  3. You spend as little time clean­ing as possible for the biggest result
  4. But without spend­ing a lot of money on special products
  5. Everything is shiny and smells nice with the minim­um effort, and you like being at home

So here’s some tips after the cut, for anyone who wants them.


Kitchen clean­ers: You only really need a basic spray clean­er for every day use, and some de-greas­er for heav­ier duty. Sink and hob-clean­er also come in handy. What you don’t need is anti-bacteri­al products loaded with triclosan (unless you are actu­ally clean­ing a hospit­al, which in that case, why are you read­ing this?). Your house doesn’t need to be sterile.

I have dry skin, and always use rubber gloves for clean­ing and wash­ing up. If you do use gloves, make sure to use differ­ent ones for kitchen and bath­room, as clean­ing your kitchen with the same ones you use for the toilet is really unhygien­ic.

Sponges and cloths: Manky old sponges and clothes just spread muck every­where. Don’t use the same sponge for wash­ing up and clean­ing surfaces, it’s incred­ibly unhygien­ic. Use clean tea-towels and put manky stained ones in the wash.

Clean­ing work surfaces: Wipe off any crumbs, then use a hot, clean, wrung out cloth, and a small spray of basic kitchen clean­er, and quickly wipe down the surfaces. There should barely be any water on them. If you have gloss surfaces, dry them down with either a clean teatow­el or some kitchen paper to avoid streak marks. It should take no more than a couple of minutes, and will leave the surfaces spark­ling. The secret is the hot cloth. Too many people leave a big pool of luke-warm or cold water lying around, that takes forever to dry, and leaves a tide-mark.

Wash­ing up: Leav­ing the soap on things means you’re leav­ing the dirt on. For god’s sake rinse things. Also wash them up prop­erly to start with, and don’t even think of using a grubby tea-towel to dry anything. If your drink­ing glasses don’t sparkle, they either weren’t washed enough, or not rinsed enough. To remove stains from the bottom of mugs, spray a little kitchen bleach inside, wait 10 minutes and then wash as normal (making sure of course to rinse thor­oughly).

Dish­wash­ers: If your dish­wash­er smells, or leaves bits on the plates, then something’s wrong, and there’s prob­ably manky rotting bits of food in there some­where. The rinse aid and dish­wash­er salt have to be kept topped up, and there’s a big plastic filter at the bottom that needs taking out and wash­ing every so often. You can also get a cart­ridge you put in the empty dish­wash­er, and then run on a cycle with no plates, which cleans the whole machine and usually sorts out any smells or clean­ing prob­lems. (I’m not even going to address people who mix clean and dirty plates in the dish­wash­er, and never fully empty it. They are anim­als.)

Fridges and food hygiene: I think most people know to not use the same chop­ping boards for raw meat and veget­ables. You also shouldn’t put (open) raw meat at the top of the fridge, because it can drip blood onto other food and contam­in­ate it. Person­ally I don’t like to keep fruit and veg in the draw­ers at the bottom, as I feel like they just end up going off there much easi­er unseen.

Every so often, you should take the glass shelves and door shelves out of the fridge and give them a wash with wash­ing up liquid, and wipe the inside of the fridge down. It’s so much nicer to get food out without think­ing “ugh, what was that sticky residue”. You should also check that the drain at the back of the fridge isn’t blocked, as that can lead to the fridge flood­ing. A fridge freshen­er is also a good purchase- it’s a little tub of gel that absorbs any bad smells.

Oven hoods: A lot of grease and glued on dust lurks here. Some degreas­er and elbow grease will remove it.

Hobs and ovens: A clean hob without manky bits of old food makes your life feel nicer. You can buy a special clean­er for the heat­ing pads of elec­tric hobs. Oven clean­er is nasty stuff, and you should open the windows and follow the instruc­tions care­fully.

Sinks: Having a clean, shiny sink also makes your life nicer. Ceram­ic ones are just cleaned with stand­ard kitchen spray, and stain­less steel ones use a special cream for steel. If your land­lord has kindly left you one of those beige plastic sinks from the 70s or 80s that picks up every tea stain, then you can clean it by spray­ing kitchen bleach, leav­ing for half an hour, and then rubbing it with a sponge.

If the water doesn’t drain well, or the plug­hole smells, then you need to unblock it. Drain clean­er, wait­ing 30 minutes, then pour­ing a kettle of boil­ing water down will do the job. Drain clean­er is nasty stuff, so follow the instruc­tions care­fully.

Descal­ing: Kettles need descal­ing regu­larly if you live in a hard water area. You can buy a sachet that you boil inside to remove the limes­cale.


I usually wear gloves to clean the bath­room, as some of the chem­ic­als are bad for your skin. If you use gloves, make sure to use differ­ent ones for kitchen and bath­room, as clean­ing your kitchen with the same ones you use for the toilet is really unhygien­ic.

Sinks and baths: Just use some simple spray clean­er, and a hot, wrung out sponge or cloth to make them shiny and dry quickly, and then rinse. If you have a nasty scummy ring on there, use some­thing stronger like Cilit Bang.

Blocked/​smelly plugs: See info in kitchen section

Descal­ing: If you live in a hard water area, limes­cale will cling to everything, and block up your shower head. Unfor­tu­nately the only way to remove it is with strong clean­ing products and some elbow grease. For tiles and shower doors, use spray descaler and the green scour­er side of a sponge. To descale a shower head, soak it in a plastic bag or ice cream tub of descal­ing solu­tion for the recom­men­ded time, and then give it a good scrub.

Toilets: Obvi­ously not having a disgust­ing toilet is a good way to make your life happi­er. Make sure to clean under the seat prop­erly. You can buy toilet clean­ing wipes that claim to be flush­able, but don’t flush them, because whatever they claim, they do block up pipes. I used to use those blue cistern blocks which keep clean­er flow­ing through the toilet. I’m not sure how good they are for the envir­on­ment though. Whatever you use for the toilet, don’t clean your sink and shower with the same sponge/​cloth/​whatever, as it’s not exactly hygien­ic.

Black mould: Unfor­tu­nately we live in a cold, damp climate in the UK, and unhealthy black mould likes to appear in bath­rooms. The only way to get rid of it is with strong bleach and elbow grease.


Carpets: Hoover them regu­larly obvi­ously. Hoover­ing does a surpris­ing amount to make a room feel nicer. With carpet foams and powders, it’s best to stick to the neut­ral-scen­ted ones and use them spar­ingly, because a lot of the scen­ted ones have really sickly arti­fi­cial smells that linger forever.

Hard floor­ing: Wash­ing it once a week makes a massive differ­ence. A lot of people don’t seem to know how to mop well. They spend a long time slosh­ing a load of cold water all over the place, which then takes forever to dry and turns into a huge produc­tion. The correct way is to boil a kettle of water, add it to the buck­et along with a capful of floor clean­er, and then wring the mop out as much as possible. You can then wash the floor in a couple of minutes with the hot mop, and it dries quickly and with a shine. For wooden floors I like the Ecov­er floor clean­er, which has linseed oil in, and smells deli­cious.

Hoovers: A lot of rented houses come with a bagless hoover that has not been treated well. (Person­ally I have a Henry that I’m really pleased with). Wash­ing all the bits, and taking the sponge filter out and wash­ing it makes a big differ­ence to how manky the hoover is. Vacu­ums shouldn’t smell bad. You can also get an air freshen­er for hoovers you put inside the chamber/​bag.

Mirrors, glass and dust­ing:

Dust­ing: Dust makes you sneeze and makes aller­gies worse, and elec­tric­al items attract it. The best way to get rid of it is with some simple spray polish and a yellow dust­er.

Glass and mirrors: The main way to get these spark­ling is with a tiny amount of glass clean­er, news­pa­per and lots of elbow grease. If you use too much clean­er, don’t buff it enough, or use the wrong sort of cloth, it will be smeary or have fluff stuck to it. Having clean mirrors makes a bath­room look a million times better.

Making the place smell good:

Keep­ing the place clean should keep it smelling nice. I’m not a fan of the sickly arti­fi­cial fragrances you get in those plug-in air freshen­ers, they give me a head­ache. I like candles however, but my number one tip for your house smelling good is an essen­tial oil atom­iser. I used to have the Muji one, and then when it wore out, I replaced it with a cheap­er one from Ebay.  You fill a cham­ber with water, add a few drops of essen­tial oil, and then it uses ultra­son­ic vibra­tion to turn the water into a scen­ted mist. Anyone who’s been in a branch of Muji knows how good they smell. I normally use lemon­grass, cedar and berga­mot oil togeth­er.

Bedding and towels:

Good bedding and towels (which are changed/​washed often) make your life much more enjoy­able. Espe­cially with pillows, people tend hang on to old ones that are thread­bare and lumpy. Nice new pillows imme­di­ately make your life better. TK Maxx is an excel­lent source of high-qual­ity house­wares.


Deter­gents: Laun­dry deter­gents can be one of the worst culprits for aller­gies. I find ones with lots of soap, perfume and optic­al bright­en­ers really aggrav­ate my eczema in the winter. I can recom­mend Ecov­er for people with aller­gies. If you’re not aller­gic, they’re much of a much­ness.

Fabric condi­tion­er: It’s a good idea to use a small amount fabric condi­tion­er to make your clothes feel soft, and avoid that card­board effect when they dry, but if you use too much it will give a slimy feel to the clothes. Strongly perfumed condi­tion­ers can also be an issue for people with aller­gies.

Separ­ate light and dark items into separ­ate loads, and use a dye absorp­tion sheet with items like jeans (You can buy pack­ets of them with the deter­gents for £1-2). This stops the loose dye that comes off them for months after purchase stain­ing anything else.

100ºc– white items
60ºc– bedding, towels, teatow­els (also option­ally under­wear, socks and gym clothes). This temper­at­ure removes dust and dead skin.
30-40ºc– gener­al cloth­ing (30ºc is better for the envir­on­ment and kinder to clothes, but doesn’t remove stains or smells as well, and under­wear needs to be 40+ºc)
cold- wool­lens and fragile vintage items. Use special deter­gent for delic­ates rather than the stand­ard stuff.

Not all wash­ing machines spin the clothes enough. They should barely feel wet when you take them out. If they feel notice­ably damp, give them an extra spin cycle, and then they will take much less time to dry. If your clothes are taking more than overnight to dry in the winter or smell damp, then you’re taking them out too wet.

To remove blood: wet the item with cold water, and cover the stain in salt and leave for a few hours. Then use normal stain removers.
To remove gener­al stains: Apply some pre-wash concen­trated stain remover and leave for an hour, and then wash with a scoop of oxygen-based laun­dry bleach (coloured or white version depend­ing on the item). I don’t recom­mend tradi­tion­al liquid laun­dry bleach, it’s too easy to leave orange stains on things
For dingy white or cream items: Soak for a couple of hours in water with oxygen-based bleach powder, then wash at 100ºc (if this is possible for that item- the bleach will help a lot anyway)
To get rid of smells on gym clothes: Add some baking soda to the wash. Fabric condi­tion­er and synthet­ic sports fabrics also don’t mix well. You can also presoak it in warm water with white vineg­ar added.

Clean­ing the wash­ing machine: Limes­cale and residues can build up in the wash­ing machine. If it has a smell (wash­ing machines shouldn’t smell of anything) or you feel that it isn’t clean­ing things prop­erly, you can buy a pack­et of powder you run through the empty machine on a hot cycle, which cleans it.

You also need to wipe down the inside of the door and the rubber seal, and take the deter­gent tray out and wash it every now and then (also check there is noth­ing nasty lurk­ing inside the rubber seal). There shouldn’t be gross old soap residue in the deter­gent tray, it attracts black mould easily, and all that nasty old gunk is getting rinsed through onto your clothes.

Tumble­dry­ers: Obvi­ously they are very conveni­ent, but also bad for the envir­on­ment and wear your clothes out faster. Never tumble-dry wool­lens either, unless they are horribly stretched out and you delib­er­ately want to shrink them. Please, please clean out your lint tray frequently. Old fluff and dust lurk­ing in there catch fire easily. If the dryer is one that condenses the water vapour into a tub of water, you also need to empty and wipe down the tub regu­larly, as it is a target for black mould.

Iron­ing: Some wash­ing machines crease clothes up so badly you have to iron everything, and some of them don’t. Might as well iron it rather than look a mess. If you live in a hard water area, it’ s a bad idea to use tap water in the iron, as it will crust up the inside with limes­cale, and stop it work­ing. You can buy plain or scen­ted iron­ing water, which will keep your iron in good condi­tion. If the sole of the iron is dirty or sticky, you can buy a clean­ing stick that you rub on, heat up, and then rub off on paper.

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