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Solutions for Your Toughest Cleaning Problems

By Arricca SanSone

If you’re tired of wasting time scouring the stove and scrubbing the tub without getting results, we’ve got you covered. “Knowing a few cleaning tricks helps you get the job done right the first time,” says Liz Trotter, owner of American Maid Cleaning, LLC, in Olympia, Washington. “Even the worst household messes can be conquered with a little know-how.” With that in mind, we asked cleaning professionals for solutions to some of the toughest tasks around the house. Read on to find out a few tricks of the trade.

Problem: A pot has boiled over—all over your stove, that is.

We understand that, frankly, it can be hard to keep an eye on everything that’s going on in the kitchen. To clean up a cooking spill on the stove, let it cool first, then remove drip pans or grates (you’ll clean these separately). Apply a dollop of dishwasher detergent gel or a paste of dishwasher detergent powder and water directly to the spill. “Don’t use regular dishwashing soap—it doesn’t cut through cooked-on foods as well,” says Trotter. Let this sit for 15 minutes, then use a damp sponge to check whether it’s ready to wipe off. If it’s still stuck, add a few drops of water, wait another 15 minutes, then wipe clean.

Problem: Drips, crumbs and other food-related things have dried onto your stove’s drip pans and grates.

Let’s be honest: Not all of us wipe up messes right away. When your stove’s drip pans or grates have become too unsightly to bear, run them through the dishwasher (by themselves) on the pots and pans cycle, or soak them in the sink with gel or powder dishwasher detergent. Use about 1/4 cup of soap with just enough water to cover them. Let sit about a half-hour, rinse and dry. For heavy grime, let your self-cleaning oven do the work, says Trotter. Preheat oven to the lowest temperature, then turn it off. Place the grates on an old towel and spray with oven cleaner, then place in the still-warm oven for 30 minutes. Remove grates, spray off in the sink and dry.

Problem: The surfaces in your kitchen are covered in grease.

This is especially true if you’re an avid cook. For weekly maintenance, use straight distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle. “Spray it on a soft cloth and wipe down, but avoid using it on porous surfaces such as granite,” says Donna Smallin, author of The One-Minute Cleaner Plain & Simple. If you’ve got heavy buildup, you’ll need something tougher to cut through it. “Use a microfiber cloth dipped in a degreaser such as Dawn dish soap mixed with water,” says Teresa Ward of Teresa’s Family Cleaning in Rocky Point, New York. “And don’t forget the top of the refrigerator, which gets pretty greasy.”

Problem: Smudges that just won’t go away on your stainless steel appliances.

Though stainless steel looks lovely straight out of the box, you may have noticed that the material tends to show everything—including hard-to-clean smudges and smears. To remove them, wipe down with a slightly damp, very fine microfiber cloth. If there’s a greasy buildup, which can occur over time if you’ve used stainless steel products to clean these appliances, remove it by washing down with dish soap and water or lemon-scented ammonia (make sure to ventilate your kitchen when using ammonia). Dry with a clean microfiber cloth, wiping with the grain.

Problem: Hard-to-remove scuff marks on your bathroom’s porcelain sink.

There’s nothing worse than seeing your pristine sink covered in scuff marks, right? If you’ve been afraid to scrub them for fear of scratching the surface, start with a nonabrasive polishing powder such as Bar Keepers Friend. Wet the surface thoroughly, then pour a few tablespoons’ worth on the stain. Use a wet microfiber cloth or white or blue sponge (avoid green sponges, which are for heavy-duty use and may scratch the sink) to rub out the marks. Or use a pumice stone, available for a few dollars at hardware stores. “Keep the stone and the surface very wet to avoid scratching, and gently buff out the marks,” says Trotter.

Problem: Soap scum buildup on the walls of your shower and/or tub.

Soap scum is always the last thing on everyone’s to-do list. Why? Because it seems impossible to get it all off. Try using a microfiber cleaning cloth with a paste of 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (not bottled), 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar, 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup baking soda to scour the surfaces lightly, says Ward. Or try using a nonabrasive scouring pad, like the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, sopping wet with your favorite cleaner (let the cleaner sit for 15 minutes before wiping down). To prevent scum from building back up and eliminate the need for weekly cleanings, use a squeegee to skim water and soap residue off walls after showers or baths.

Problem: Hairspray buildup on bathroom surfaces.

The price to pay for gorgeous hair? A gross buildup of hairspray on the surface of your bathroom sink. To remove, start with hot water and a microfiber cloth. If this isn’t effective, try a dash of non-sudsy lemon-scented ammonia on the cloth to cut through the lacquer. Or try 1/2 cup of water, a few squeezes of Dawn dish soap and a sprinkle of baking soda on the cloth. “Let it sit for a few minutes each time, then rinse and repeat. It may take a few applications,” says Ward.

Problem: Crud-covered glass shower doors.

You know you’re in trouble when you can hardly see through your glass shower doors anymore. To make them transparent again, use a spray of white vinegar or a commercial soap scum–removing product with a plastic scrubby; avoid abrasive products, as they can scratch glass doors. Once clean, apply a thin layer of liquid lemon oil furniture polish or car wax paste to provide a water barrier and prevent buildup, says Trotter. To prevent buildup, you can also use a squeegee after showers. To clean out shower tracks, use a nylon brush to scrub gunk out of the crevices, and chopsticks or a BBQ skewer to dig into corners.

Problem: Dusty Venetian blind slats.

Talk about a tedious job! Instead of wiping down slat by slat, which is incredibly time-consuming, blast through your blinds with these genius tips. First of all, don’t use cleaning products, which will only make the blinds streaky. Instead, “Use a microfiber cloth that’s barely, barely damp,” says Trotter. “Close the blinds flat and wipe side to side all the way from top to bottom. Then turn the lever to move the slats in the other direction. Wipe again from top to bottom. Now stand on the backside of the blind and do the same thing in both directions.”

Problem: Dusty chandeliers or overhead lights.

OK, chandeliers are so high up, no one ever really notices if they’re dirty—except you know they are. So once or twice a year, make sure the light is cool, then remove fabric shades and vacuum or use a sticky lint roller to dust them. Use a slightly damp microfiber cloth to wipe down each bulb. Heavy glass shades can be run through on the top rack of the dishwasher on the china cycle. Delicate shades should be hand-washed with a mild dish soap and dried. “Dirty lightbulbs emit about 20 percent less light,” says Smallin.

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