Whether you're spring or fall cleaning, or your house has reached the "I just can't take it any more" level (we've all been there), here's how to give your house a full deep clean. It's easier than you might think. Start with six basic cleaning steps, then tackle a few room-specific chores, and you'll have a house that passes any white-glove inspection in almost no time.
1. Declutter Just a Bit. Find a new place for -- or better yet, get rid of -- anything that does not belong in the room but is visible. (Save the stuff behind closed doors for another day. You don't want to get overwhelmed.) Clearing the clutter makes deep cleaning easier, plus seeing those tidy surfaces will give you the oomph to keep going.
2. Start High, Go Low. Tackle the big, hard-to-reach surfaces in this order: ceiling, ceiling trim, ceiling light fixtures (including bulbs), walls, the rest of the trim, and baseboards. The best tool is a clean microfiber mop or duster with a telescoping handle. (They're so thin you can get behind the sofa without moving it.) Above eye level, a spritz of water is all you need on the mop. But below, where there is actual dirt plus dust, use warm water mixed with a drop of dish soap. (In bathrooms, add a splash of white vinegar to stop mold.) Where a mop is unwieldy, use a microfiber cloth. Rinse often and wring thoroughly.
3. Yep, You Do Windows. It's not that bad, and the payoff is huge. First, vacuum the sills and tracks. Then spritz the window with cleaner from top to bottom. Let the cleaner do its thing for a minute, then squeegee it off. If you wipe in one direction on inside windows and another on outside ones, it will be easier to see and fix streaks.
4. Spruce Up Those Window Treatments. Save yourself the trouble of taking down blinds or shades. All you really need to do is vacuum them using the brush attachment. And instead of laundering and ironing curtains, just fluff them in the dryer for a few minutes (while you wipe off the rod and rings). Then hang them right back up.
5. Ditch the Dust. Wipe all remaining hard surfaces (wood furniture, shelves, built-ins, etc.) using a petroleum distillate-free, beeswax-based wood cleaner. (Try Williamsville Wax, $6.25; hfstaples.com.) If you feel the need for speed, put a clean cotton tube sock on your dominant hand and move objects with the other. Finally, take a lint roller to the lampshades.
6. Refresh Those Floors. Folks, to do this right, you've gotta move the furniture, even the biggies like beds and sofas. To make that easier now and in the future, put furniture gliders (about $5 for four; amazon.com) under the big pieces. Then break out your vacuum's crevice tool to get at dirt in corners and along baseboards. If you have a hard floor, clean it with a microfiber mop and the prescribed cleaner. If you have carpet, now is a good time to rent a professional-grade cleaner. (And if you have pets and/or kids, think about investing in your own.)
Launder the Bedding. Wash the bed skirt, duvet cover, shams, and pillows (even down-filled). Give them an extra spin cycle to make drying faster. Dry down pillows on low with clean tennis balls to prevent clumping; dry synthetics outdoors. For comforters, hit the laundromat and use one of the extra-large front-loaders.
Freshen the Mattress. While your bed is disassembled, sprinkle baking soda on the mattress, let it sit for an hour, then vacuum it up using the hose attachment. Flip or rotate the mattress per the manufacturer's advice and repeat.
Bonus Points: Pull out the clothes you didn't wear this past season and bag them for consigning or donating. Then treat your wardrobe to matching hangers. If your closet looks nice, you'll try harder to keep it under control.
Polish the Cabinets. Wipe the exposed tops first, then cut newspaper to fit them. The paper collects the dust, so next time all you'll have to do is replace the paper. Genius. Next, wipe the doors front and back with wood cleaner (for painted or laminate surfaces, use warm water with a squirt of dish soap). Try the tube sock trick here. Put one on each hand, spritz with cleaner, and make like Mr. Miyagi: wax on, wax off.
Deep Clean In and Around Appliances. Wait until the fridge is nearly empty, then wipe it down, inside and out. Do the same for the stove and dishwasher. If possible, pull them out from the wall to get at the surrounding walls and the floor.
Tidy the Countertops. Move everything off the counters, clean and dry them and the backsplash thoroughly, then return only what you use daily. Find hidden spots for everything else.
Bonus Points: Take everything off your pantry shelves and wipe them down. A roasting pan is the perfect crumb catcher. Still going strong? Rent an air compressor and blow the dust bunnies off your refrigerator coils to boost its efficiency.
Wash the Shower Curtain. It can probably go in the gentle cycle on cold, but check the tag. Set dryer on low and remove and rehang curtain before it's completely dry. Either wash the liner on cold and hang it to dry or spring for a new one.
Make Shower Doors Sparkle. To get rid of water spots and soap scum, heat distilled white vinegar and wipe it on the doors, reapplying to keep them wet for 30 minutes. Then scrub with baking soda sprinkled on a nonscratch pad. Want to keep the shower cleaner longer? Add a squeegee and switch to glycerin soap. (Animal fat and talc in regular soap leave that icky residue.)
Bonus Points: Bring order to the chaos under the sink. Pull everything out, toss what doesn't belong there, wipe down what does, and reload it by category.
Freshen the Furniture. Remove cushions and vacuum every upholstered surface, including the backs, with the brush attachment.
Don't Forget the Frames. Take all framed artwork and photos down and dust them front and back using a damp microfiber cloth. Attention: Don't spray anything directly on the glass. It could seep into the corners of the frame and potentially ruin the picture and mat.
Dust Under the Electronics. Nobody's asking you to unhook and move everything. That would be nuts. Just get one of those ultraskinny dusting wands (E-cloth cleaning and dusting wand, $20.58; amazon.com) and run it under the components.
Bonus Points: Launder all the throws and throw pillow covers. Also, take a good look at the DVDs, CDs, video games, and other media tucked behind closed doors. Is there anything you can get rid of, maybe even sell for a little cash?
We asked four of our favorite cleaning pros, what's in your caddy?
Aby Garvey A professional organizer who teaches online courses on the subject, Aby has the motto "More fun. More done." simplify101.com
Becky Rapinchuk Becky's popular blog is all about how she keeps things clean and organized while still enjoying her family. You can, too. cleanmama.net
Leslie Reichert Leslie is on a mission to teach families the art and science of green cleaning. greencleaningcoach.com
Mary Findley An author, expert, and entrepreneur, Mary invented a mop system that uses ordinary terry cloth towels. marymoppins.com