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Magazines > Searcher > September 2012
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Vol. 20 No. 6 — September 2012
Household Tips on the Web
by Irene E. McDermott, Reference Librarian/Systems Manager, Crowell Public Library, City of San Marino

I once bought a Roomba vacuum [] because I loved the idea of a robot cleaning my house. The thing was loud (it went “chunk! chunk! chunk!”), it only picked up surface bits, and it was hellish to empty the tiny dust cup. Dirt and hair always found their way into the interior workings of the Roomba. After every session, I had to use tweezers, brushes, and compressed air to clean the cleaning machine. That took so long that frankly, it was just easier to run the regular vacuum around the room myself.

I feel so disappointed when machines can’t clean my house for me. Still, I can get a machine (my computer attached to the internet) to tell me how to clean the house and everything in and around it with as little effort as possible. My friends on the machine, that is, my pals on Facebook, also provide tips and tricks for keeping house.

General Tidiness Advice

When she wants general housecleaning tips, my colleague Tera Forrest, youth services librarian, turns to websites that offer a full array of advice.

Martha Stewart Home & Garden

You may have been doing your own laundry for years. Still, Martha Stewart offers tips on how to do it better. “Turn delicate items, sweaters, and cotton T-shirts inside out,” she suggests, “to prevent pilling.” She also gives instructions for properly loading a dishwasher, vacuuming any surface, and a cleaning checklist for each season.

Good Housekeeping: Home and Organizing

The Hearst Media website that corresponds to its print magazine is heavy on the ads. Still, it offers sound advice for home-making, including organizing, cleaning, decorating, and repair. Explore “52 Home-Organizing Tips” to keep clutter at bay. Or, learn how to clean windows faster. (Hint: Clean them on a cloudy day.) Readers chime in with their suggestions in the comments.

Facebook (and real life) friend Miriam Nakamura writes: “I have been using vinegar instead of bleach for many years.” She buys jugs of the stuff and fills spray bottles with it. “My darn HE front load washing machine would stink before I started using a ¼ of vinegar in the softener cup when washing whites or rags. It kills mildew smells after the kids have left their clothes packed up after a trip.”

Housekeeping and Organization

This New York Times site hosts advice from professional cleaner and mother-of-five Sarah Aguirre. Aguirre is a big believer in getting organized before you get organized. That is, she makes lists of chores and offers advice on getting the kids to do them! Follow her directions for both a 15-minute cleanup for every room or deeper, intense cleaning. She shares a list of cleaning supplies that belong in every home and also information about their shelf life. Did you know that bleach loses its effectiveness after 6 months? (I’ve had mine for years.)

Ask a Clean Person

The Hairpin columnist Jolie Kerr offers cleaning advice to young people who have never had to do it before. Recent questions that she has answered include how to clean a juicer, how to get jeans stains out of a carpet after an intense make-out session, and then, seriously, how to make a bed. I suppose that, if the bed had been made, the carpet would have been spared.

Corporate librarian Erik Adams chimes in: “Careful with vinegar and whites. If you use bleach (which I do), adding vinegar will create toxic chlorine gas. Of course, it will also kill the mildew. Another way to keep your front loader smelling nice is to just leave the door open when it isn’t in use.” (Warning: Adams is not kidding. Mixing vinegar and bleach creates a deadly combination. Do not try this at home to see for yourself.)

Clean & Organize: iVilllage

NBCUniversal (NBCU) owns this site, which mixes helpful household advice with advertising. Browse photo-themed entries under “House Proud” or search the site’s Q&As for expert answers to reader housekeeping queries.

The Kitchn: Life in the Kitchen

The Kitchn, a daughter blog of Apartment Therapy [], was founded in 2006 by Maxwell and Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan. Visit this site to get ideas for cooking, sure, but also find tips for cleaning and organizing your cooking space. The Housekeeping and Cleaning section [] offers advice for the modern kitchen, including techniques for sanitizing sponges and cutting boards. Follow The Kitchn on Twitter [@thekitchn], Facebook, and Pinterest [].

Speech teacher Julia McDermott uses vinegar mixed with Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap [] to clean almost everything in her kitchen. “It gets pretty much everything clean including the floor, and there’s no worry if it gets on food, dishes, utensils, or food preparation surfaces.”

Housekeeping Channel

Boise’s Housekeeping Channel, in conjunction with the International Executive Housekeepers Association (IEHA), offers professional advice for keeping the home in top condition. Browse its articles by category (bathrooms, pets, motivation) or type (articles or video clips). Got stains? Try its stain removal wizard for advice.

Anne Cohen, minister and mom, says, “I use vinegar to take out the smell of barf in the car.” She also used vinegar when her cat brought mice into the house and they crawled up into the furniture to die. “It took the dead smell out of the springs and upholstery. Gross, I know.”

Marla Cilley, a “sidetracked home executive” from North Carolina, is the “FlyLady.” Cilley offers a whole year-full of ideas about how to quickly organize and maintain the home — along with suggestions for getting a little exercise. Her basic message is that we all need to get on top of the chaos in our lives so that we can love ourselves. She encourages (some would say nags) her email subscribers through “baby steps” toward control over their clutter and, ultimately, their lives. Watch her videos and listen to her podcasts.

Ants. Although she is a minister, Ann Cohen hates them. She writes, “We use baby powder on window sills and other entry points when we have ant infestations. Works like a charm.”

An alternative to the FlyLady is the “Organizer Lady,” Sandra Felton, who has been helping folks deal with clutter since 1980 (1999 on the web). She encourages us all to make a quick, clean start of each day and then turn around to briskly make the bed! A former hoarder herself, Felton fashions her advice on the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program. Join her Yahoo! Groups to find social help from other “messies” on the web.

Sister-in-law Pamela K. Bartley offers her housecleaning tip: “Do it in the nude. Saves on laundry!” Friend Susie Dashiell answers, “Pamela, we used to have ‘naked day’ on laundry day at my house. That way, for a few precious hours, all the laundry was done.”

Speed Cleaning Rules and More

Jeff Campbell, one of America’s leading home cleaning experts, and his “Clean Team” offer rules from their books about how to clean things quickly along with guidelines for keeping a home-clutter free. Buy his favorite speed-cleaning products on the site too, including an apron especially designed to hold all the cleaning tools that you will need as you speed-clean your house.


When Vermont resident Pat Brownlee looks for a specific household tip, she starts with Google. “If I’m just browsing, I use Pinterest. That’s right. Sometimes I’ll read tips ‘just to read them,’ as my mom would say.” Search for “Boards” with the word “housekeeping.” You’ll be clicking and repinning cleaning ideas for the rest of the day.

Cleaning Products

Miriam Nakamura just loves to clean with vinegar. “I forgot to mention,” she writes, “that during the Black Plague in Europe, they used to use vinegar to wash coins off to buy food from a neighboring city. They would leave the washed coins at a drop-off point and do an exchange for food. It is funny how we are dependent on such harsh chemicals to do the work of something as natural as vinegar.”

I’m not as wedded to natural products as Miriam is; I’m open to using new products that are effective. Here are two that have recently become my favorites.

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser

The quality of my cleaning life shot up when Procter & Gamble introduced the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser in 2003. The eraser is a sponge made of spun melamine foam manufactured in Germany by BASF [] under the name Basotect. For 20 years, the foam had been used as insulation. Then it was discovered that, when wet, the spongy material works as a fine abrasive to remove dirt and grit. “On curing, melamine resin becomes almost as hard as glass,” explains BASF’s Dr. Christof Möck. hardness of this material is one of the secrets of its cleaning talent: Like extremely fine sandpaper, the foam eraser rubs the particles of dirt from the surface.” Magic Eraser scrapes out the ground-in dirt from my scratched white linoleum kitchen floor. However, I never use it on glass. Oddly, the Magic Eraser doesn’t work that well on scummy bathtubs.


Shield Industries out of Woodstock, Ga., makes this bathroom cleaning product that works better than anything I have ever tried to dissolve bathtub scum. “The cleaning power of ScumBlaster is comparable to that of muriatic (hydrochloric) acid, yet this noncorrosive formulation is environmentally friendly, non-fuming, and safe for septic tanks,” the site reports. ScumBlaster contains neither bleach nor acids. It is “formulated using an organic salt that was designed as a safe replacement for traditional acids in industrial applications.” I bought mine at Bed, Bath & Beyond [].

Soaps & Detergents: History

Thinking about cleaning products brings up these questions: What is in soap and detergents and how were they developed? The American Cleaning Institute traces soap back to the ancient Babylonians, who left clay jars containing a mixture of ashes and animal fat, the ingredients of soap. The Romans bathed, but the medieval Europeans did not; their filth facilitated the spread of disease. In the Renaissance, soap was taxed as a luxury item, but by 1850, it was mass-produced and became an essential housekeeping tool. Germany developed detergents, which are chemically synthesized surfactants, in 1916 in response to a lack of raw materials caused by World War I. Today, detergents have largely replaced soap for most cleaning needs.

Visit the American Cleaning Institute to learn about how soap and detergents are made as well as to find cleaning product safety information.

How the Broom Became Flat

Brooms are one of the most basic cleaning tools. Yet, they weren’t always flat or uniform. J. Bryan Lowder explores the history of brooms from their mention in the New Testament up through Anglo-Saxon England where “besom squires” would lash birch twigs together, to the new world, where the Shakers discovered that making a broom flat increased its efficiency.

Select Household Tips

From time to time, we all have to do these things. Let’s get advice from the experts about how to complete these tasks easily.

How to Fold Fitted Sheets—garden/bed—bath/folding-fitted-sheets/16935265001/74731173001

This video from Consumer Reports explains the mystery of folding fitted sheets. It seems that the secret is to place pocket into pocket and then to fold the sides in like selvage. I’ll try that next time!

How to Unclog a Toilet Like a Plumber

“Rod from Roto-Rooter” dumps his plumber’s secrets for unclogging a toilet. First, he emphasizes, avoid disaster by removing the top off the tank and pressing the flapper down to keep the bowl from overflowing. Then he suggests heating the rubber plunger with hot water to make it more pliable. Finally, he reveals his magic weapon: pouring hot water into the clog along with some dishwasher soap. Rod also offers tips for keeping a toilet clog-free, including cleaning the water jets around the rim to maintain a strong flush.


Neighbor Kathy Talley-Jones exclaims, “Good lord, why would I want household tips! I work hard to maintain my squalor.” It’s even harder to persuade the kids to help maintain the home. Here’s a site that just might change their minds.

Chore Wars

Are you (or your kids) gamers with dirty houses? Turn cleaning into a game with Chore Wars. Chose an avatar and some character strengths (vacuuming, organising parties, taking the bins out — this is a British site). Join a “party” or become the “dungeon master” of your own group. Import pregenerated “adventures”: common chores such as mowing the lawn, dusting, or attending to the dishwasher, here rendered as “Either loading or unloading the enchanted cabinet of crockery washing.” Or, develop a custom chore list. Your character gets experience points for every chore completed. Repeat weekly! Clever London-based web designer Kevan Davis developed this game.

Perhaps this is the secret: to make cleaning house an ongoing game. After all, as everyone’s favorite British nanny, Mary Poppins, so perfectly put it: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game.” Until they invent a robot that can clean a house as well as a human, this may be our best household tip!

Unorthodox but a Hoot

While researching household tips on the web, I found several sites that either advocated drinking while cleaning or seemed to show the results of inebriated craftiness.

How to Clean Like a Man

Hint: It involves beer. Joe Weber, blog master at Dappered [], opines that housekeeping is best done when hammered. “High alcohol microbrews will make the experience more tolerable. So try something heavy.”

My Drunk Kitchen

Hanna Harto has become famous for her cooking videos in which she prepares dishes such as macaroni salad while totally snockered. At one point, she cooks up a Vietnamese noodle dish while getting “PHO’ked up.”

Pinterest, You Are Drunk

This blog and also its Facebook site [] gather examples of when a posting on Pinterest goes too far. One recent example offers the advice to shred bar soap to make liquid soap. “Another idea for washing the body? Using the bar of soap.”

Craft Fail

We swoon over images and ideas from and Pinterest. However, these have been assembled by design professionals. Bad things can happen when rank amateurs attempt to re-create what they see on those beautiful sites. Craft Fail details the unfortunate results.

While logging her dishwashing, Irene E. McDermott ( fell into a battle with a Chore Wars Tentacle Monster. If it had sported sponges on its tentacles, it might have been some use.

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