Spring cleaning shortcuts

Easy tips and foolproof strategies for making your home sparkle-fast. By Natalie Ermann Russell

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Is there really a way around spending hours and hours on a massive seasonal spruce-up? Sure. Here are quick but thorough strategies and tested cleaning tips for carpets, windows, mattresses, and more that fit your schedule, meet your standards, and give you that let-the-sunshine-in sense of renewal. And for those who clean for the fun of it-instructions for how to go deeper on each.

Carpeting and Rugs: Shortcut
Target needy areas-high-traffic zones and stains that have been bugging you forever. Give the rest a quick (but still substantial) once-over.


  • Vacuum
  • Cotton cloths
  • LA's Totally Awesome concentrated cleaner and degreaser-great on carpet stains ($3, amazon.com)
  • Hair dryer

Steps for Wall-to-Wall and Area Rugs:

  1. Scope the joint and determine which areas need the most care (near entryways, where people eat, play spaces).
  2. Take a vacuum to the problem areas, going back and forth for about 30 seconds in bad spots. For area rugs, do the top of each rug, then lift and fold back the corners where you can to vacuum the underside.
  3. Dampen a cloth with LA's Totally Awesome cleaner and degreaser (not for sisal, which doesn't like moisture) and apply it to stains; let sit for five minutes, then blot with a fresh, dry cloth, working from the edges of the stains toward the centers. Blot again with a fresh cloth, this time applying pressure with your foot to get really deep.
  4. Use a hair dryer set on high to dry each spot. Open the windows to finish the job.

Time investment: About 10 to 15 minutes for a 15-by-15-foot carpeted room (the same for each area rug); 6 to 10 additional minutes per stain.

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Carpeting and Rugs: Long Version

Cotton and Synthetics
Clear out the family (and their clutter), shampoo all the floor coverings you can, and treat the wood underneath the area rugs.


  • EZ Moves round permanent furniture slides ($25 for 16, ezmoves.com)
  • Vacuum
  • Rented carpet cleaner (about $25 to $30 a day from a home-improvement store) or a home carpet cleaner, like the Bissell ProHeat 2X Select ($250, bissell.com), which also works on upholstery and drapes
  • A helper
  • Broom or baseball bat
  • Lamb's-wool floor mop, like the Wedge mop ($20, woolshop.com)

Steps for Wall-to-Wall:

  1. Remove all furniture using EZ Moves furniture slides.
  2. Vacuum the carpeting thoroughly, spending extra time on dirty or stained areas.
  3. With the carpet-cleaning machine, use a quarter of the soap called for (too much leaves residue, which dirt will cling to). Otherwise, operate the machine according to the manufacturer's directions. Make sure not to overwet the carpet. It should be damp, not drenched.
  4. Open the windows. Let the carpet dry thoroughly (about eight hours) before moving the furniture back to avoid indentations. (Metal feet will leave rust stains on a wet carpet.)

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Steps for Area Rugs:

  1. Drag rugs outside. Vigorously shake with the help of a partner, then hang over a fence or railing and beat with a broom or bat.
  2. Toss washable rugs (cotton or polyester without stiff backings) in the washer.
  3. Vacuum others, flipping them over to tackle both sides.
  4. Run a lamb's-wool mop over the floor; its natural lanolin will help bring shine to a hardwood surface.
  5. Follow steps 3 and 4 of wall-to-wall carpeting (above).

Time investment: For a 15-by-15-foot carpeted room, a morning, plus drying time. For area rugs, a half hour per rug, plus drying time.

Wool and Silk
These rugs prefer a vinegar solution to a standard shampooing. Vinegar preserves carpet dyes in these materials rather than stripping them away. Test first in an inconspicuous spot.


  • Vacuum
  • Spray bottle filled with 1 part white vinegar to 4 parts water
  • An old towel (washed a lot, so fibers won't shed)
  • Broom or baseball bat
  • A helper

Steps for Wall-to-Wall:

  1. Vacuum thoroughly.
  2. Spray the vinegar solution on a two-foot area. Blot with a towel, applying pressure with both feet. Move to another area, repeating until you have covered the entire rug. Open the windows.

Steps for Area Rugs:

  1. Follow step 1 of cotton and synthetic area rugs.
  2. Bring rugs inside; vacuum both sides.
  3. Follow step 4 of cotton and synthetic area rugs.
  4. Follow step 2 of wall-to-wall.Time investment: For a 15-by-15-foot carpeted room, a morning, plus drying time. For area rugs, about an hour per rug, plus drying time.Rather hire a pro? Some charge by the square foot; others, by the room. Expect to pay about 30 cents per square foot of rug.

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Windows: Shortcut
Focus on the exterior, where the most dirt builds up, and don't sweat the detail work. For best results, choose a wind-free, overcast day. (Gusts will cause you to get sprayed; sunlight can leave streaks.)


  • Plastic whisk broom (natural bristles tend to shed)
  • Windex Outdoor Multi-Surface Concentrated Cleaner ($10 at grocery stores). The bottle attaches to your hose.
  • Hose
  • Bucket filled with a few drops of dish soap for every gallon of warm water
  • Old sheet
  • A few microfiber cloths


  1. Close all the windows and screens. Working outside and using a whisk broom, brush debris from the screens you can reach (no need to take them out) and the tracks.
  2. Attach the Multi-Surface Concentrated Cleaner to your hose and remove the yellow plug. Turn the dial to Rinse and spray your windows through the screens from at least five feet away. The power of the stream will let you reach windows on the second floor without a ladder. Move the stream back and forth to shake debris loose, and make sure you hit cobwebs in the corners and bird droppings on the glass. Also run the stream up and down the window frames.
  3. Turn the dial to Clean. Shoot suds onto screens and frames. Let the soap sit for 30 seconds.
  4. Turn the dial to Rinse again. Spray every screen and frame top to bottom to remove suds. Give each another 10-second spray.
  5. Push the screens (that you can reach) up to expose the windows. Repeat steps 2 through 4.
  6. Take the bucket inside and lay down the sheet to catch drips. Open the windows. Dip a cloth into the cleaning solution, wring it out, and wipe the screens; close the windows. With a fresh cloth dipped and wrung out, wash the windows from the outside corners in, using circular strokes.

Time investment: About 15 minutes per window.

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