It's spring! Take a deep breath and ... clean

Debbie Arrington

It's that time of year again when we want to throw open the windows, take a deep breath and ... clean.

Somewhere deep in our American heritage (or maybe it's in our DNA?), we latched onto spring as a time of great home renewal. Even if the dust has piled up all winter, we suddenly have this urge to purge our clutter and tackle the grime.

The hardest part: Getting started. Too many distractions, too much to do. Seeking needed motivation and direction in this unending battle on dirt, we turned to the experts: folks who clean professionally year-round.

"We do it every day," said Betty Nicholson, founder of Carmichael, Calif.-based Mothers Cleaning Co-op.

This time of year always places increased demand on professional cleaners.

"In spring, people want to tackle the big jobs," she said. "Windows; that's always big in spring cleaning.

"Mainly, when I think of spring cleaning, it's thorough," she added. "Empty the closets. Move everything. Pull the house apart and clean top to bottom. Every surface that ever gets touched gets wiped. Open the windows and start fresh."

House cleaning really does get easier with routine, say the pros.

How to get started

Steve and Paula Mumm, who operate Merry Maids cleaning service in Granite Bay and Folsom, Calif., have been helping clients conquer dirt for two decades. They start at the front door.

Use entry mats –– inside and out, Steve Mumm said. "It is amazing how much dirt they catch."

Use the big sturdy kind like those found in businesses; one on each side of the door. To limit dirt's access, use only one entry door into your home instead of multiple entries. That makes fewer places to track in mud, pollen and dust.

Before you can dust and polish the furniture, you have to be able to find the tabletops. So get rid of clutter, said the Mumms. That's a broad category in their clean perspective; if you can't put it away, it's clutter.

They offer this anti-clutter assault plan: Divide it into three groups: junk, charity and undecided. Toss or recycle the first, give away the second and store the third in a box or bag until you can decide whether it's really worth keeping.

Cleaning is easier with the right tools. Cotton diapers or old T-shirts work well for most jobs.

"People used to clean with just a rag for generations," Nicholson said.

Sponges are a must. So are soft-bristle brushes, rubber gloves and a squeegee.

Assemble a cleaning carry-all, the Mumms said. Store all your basic cleaning supplies in a cleaner's apron or bucket, and carry them with you from task to task.

A deep cleaning   

Having the right tools yields professional-looking results. The Mothers' secret weapon for big jobs: steam.

They use the Vapor Boss ES600 residential steam cleaner made by U.S. Steam. This pricey tool (suggested retail $795), which Nicholson found online, has become a huge hit with both clients and cleaners.

“People ask us all the time, 'Where did you get it?’” she said. “They love it. They like to watch us steam.”

Steamers have increased in popularity for their ability to deep-clean surfaces. Because the steam can lift embedded dirt, it cleans effectively and sanitizes without the use of harsh chemicals.

"Steam takes up stuff that's trapped in crevices and deep inside surfaces," Nicholson said. "And once it's clean, it stays clean. You can get the kitchen cleaned to a level you can't without it."

Nicholson chose a model known as a workhorse.

"Once I decided I wanted to use steam, I did a lot of research," Nicholson said. "You can spend a lot on a steamer –– anywhere from $200 to $300 to way over $1,000. (Between $700 and $800), this was in the middle."

The Mothers –– all moms who love to clean and work part time for the co-op –– use steam for many jobs.

"Windows, tile, counters, almost any hard surface," Nicholson said. "It opens the pores so you can clean deeper. It does a beautiful job. And you get a free facial, too. Just be careful; you are using heat."

Have a game plan

Next comes strategy. How do you attack a messy house?

Clean top to bottom, said the Mumms. Use the same approach to each room, one at a time, until the house is done.

The Mumms offer their room-by-room Merry Maids method: Dust first, vacuum last. Go over the carpet twice, changing direction; vacuum from east to west and north to south.

Cut down on streaks: Scrub, wipe and polish in straight lines (if wood, with the grain) instead of circles. Clean windows and mirrors like a pro. Squeegee the surface with an initial horizontal stroke across the top, then top-down vertical strokes, wiping the blade after each stroke.

The job will get done faster if you give cleaning solutions time to work. Spritz counters, mirrors and surfaces in the bath and kitchen. Let them sit while you scrub the sink, tub and toilet, then go back and wipe them clean.

Finally, defy dust from coming back –– or at least slow it down, the Mumms said. Change your furnace filter and replace vacuum bags monthly. Don't miss the vents when you dust and vacuum.

With winter's grime a memory, take time to enjoy the results of your effort. Open the windows and let the spring air in.

Contact Debbie Arrington at