How To Clean Any Space: 5 Steps To Start Fresh : Life Kit A clean home can feel like a fresh start. Here's how to build a cleaning routine without getting overwhelmed.

These 5 tips can help you get into a cleaning routine at home

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This is NPR's LIFE KIT. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.


CARDOZA: Most of us are in our homes a lot more than we were this time last year, and maybe like me, you've noticed how clean your surroundings are directly affect how you feel about being in it. So if one of your New Year's resolutions is to clean house, we have tons of tips for you to get it done as painlessly as possible. To help kick things off, I spoke with someone who's responsible for converting the messiest among us - teenagers into expert cleaners.

KEVIN FRAZIER: My name is Kevin Frazier. I'm a master gunnery sergeant in the United States Marine Corps.

CARDOZA: Kevin is based at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., and he's responsible for turning 17, 18, 19-year-olds into young Marines.

FRAZIER: It's hard on them - very, very hard on them.

CARDOZA: He understands. He says he lived the same way before he entered the Marine Corps.

FRAZIER: Clothes in a pile in the corner of the room, bed's not made, food everywhere... (laughter).

CARDOZA: The military, on the other hand, is very clean and organized - like very clean and organized. Shoes have to be in a certain place, beds made just so, floors kept spotless. Kevin says there are reasons behind that.

FRAZIER: It's all about discipline. Everything for the military and, especially the Marine Corps, revolves around mission readiness. You know, a simple aspect of keeping your room clean and disinfected means that individual Marine is ready when needed to deploy and not be sick and not get other Marines in his unit from getting sick.

CARDOZA: Kevin says when being organized is ingrained in Marines from the start, those skills spill over into everything else, which can be critical in say, a combat situation. And, I guess, when you're in certain situations, you can't - like, you're not a civilian who has time to search for their keys.

FRAZIER: That's right. When you're very good at the brilliance in the basics, it actually goes a long way for mission success.

CARDOZA: What did you say, brilliance in the basics?

FRAZIER: Yes, ma'am. Brilliance in the basics - doing the basic stuff really, really well. When you can take care of all the little things like cleaning your room, then when the big things happen, you're ready to accomplish that task.


CARDOZA: So maybe the stakes aren't as high for civilians and a clean house isn't necessarily a matter of life or death. But having a tidy home is going to make existing in that space easier, healthier and more pleasurable. And isn't that what all of us want right now?


CARDOZA: So let's make a plan of attack - first things first.

TARYN WILLIFORD: Step back, zoom out and figure out your goals and really get your mindset into shape.

CARDOZA: That's Taryn Williford. She's a lifestyle director at the website, Apartment Therapy. Taryn says before you tackle any cleaning project, you need to think about why you're cleaning in the first place.

WILLIFORD: Understanding why you're cleaning will help you set realistic expectations for what you want to get done and how thoroughly you need to do it.

CARDOZA: So know what you're getting yourself into. Decide on a rough schedule for how often you want to tackle different parts of the job. So maybe a weekly clean of the bathroom, nightly or every other nightly wipe downs in the kitchen, a monthly deep clean for your whole house - identifying these things ahead of time makes it easier to get down to the actual act of cleaning. You might also want to think about who else is involved in the process.

WILLIFORD: Any time you share a home with people, whether they're kids, roommates, pets, spouse, things get complicated and cleaning is no different. Laying out expectations for who cleans what on what schedule can really help. People have very different standards for cleaning - so I think just laying out those expectations at the beginning. And yeah, when you're talking about kids, I think - kids love to be useful. And the parents I speak to kind of tell me that it's good to provide structure and goals - so, like checklist, chore charts - that's all great.

CARDOZA: Another thing, when we talk about mindset, some people, like, really enjoy cleaning and organizing and some people hate it (laughter). Can you talk about how you can kind of make it more fun?



WILLIFORD: I am one of those cleaning haters. I think this might be why I became a cleaning editor. I realized I hate cleaning. I hate spending time cleaning. So I really want to know the most efficient ways to do things and how to make sure it doesn't take a second longer than it has to. If you don't enjoy cleaning, it's really hard to start. Setting a timer can really help you get the motivation to clean. So if you have a big task - say you want to declutter your closet or something like that - you can just say, I'm going to set a timer for 10 minutes and when the timer goes off, I'm going to stop. But more often than not, that timer's going to go off and you're just going to keep cleaning 'cause starting is the hardest part.

Giving yourself a bite-sized task - whenever we do big cleaning assignments at Apartment Therapy, I will make sure we always start with something small. So we might kick off an entire whole home decluttering project by just cleaning out one drawer, 'cause sometimes it's all you need to just get yourself in the mindset to clean. In terms of just making sure - once you're cleaning - that it's more enjoyable, playing music is great, playing podcasts are great - audio books. Sometimes, I'll put up a stand-up comedy special on the television. I think that's great. But you can also just call a friend, call your parents, call your grandparents - that cleaning is going to fly by. I think once you have your tools and a target, most cleaning doesn't require a lot of focus. It's very meditative. So you can definitely multitask.

CARDOZA: OK, supplies - there are so many cool gadgets. There are so many awesome smelling sprays. What is, like, a list of must-haves?

WILLIFORD: So in terms of solutions, you can really get away with an all-purpose surface cleaner, a disinfectant and a window cleaner. That all-purpose cleaner is going to work for most of the surfaces on your home - in your kitchen, in your bathroom, sometimes on the floors - but also you shouldn't use all-purpose cleaner on natural stone surfaces. So just kind of be careful.

Do a little bit of research about what all-purpose cleaner - can I clean this with all-purpose cleaner? Disinfectant is what you need to attack germs. Kitchens and bathrooms are hot spots for those - inside of the toilet, on the kitchen counter; if you're preparing food, you need a disinfectant to tackle that. And then window cleaner - the reason why you can't use an all-purpose cleaner on a window is that all-purpose cleaners might leave streaks. Window cleaners are formulated to make sure that they dry off quickly and don't leave streaks and don't leave deposits.

CARDOZA: Do you need specialty cleaners or can you use natural cleaners?

WILLIFORD: You can get a lot of mileage out of vinegar, baking soda and dish soap.


WILLIFORD: If there was a trifecta of cleaners to have at home, I think those three. Vinegar is going to be great at cutting through mineral deposits. Vinegar's great in the bathroom. And baking soda is great at kind of dissolving fats, grease, oils. So if you're cleaning an oven that's grimy and baked on - a baking soda paste - which is just baking soda, mix of water - is going to get that done. And then dish soap is such a versatile cleaner. If you never pick your dish soap up away from your sink, I think you're really under using it. Dish soap is great at cleaning bathroom surfaces - the shower tile tubs that are always grimy and always stained - dish soap's a great cleaner for those.

CARDOZA: What about cleaning tools?

WILLIFORD: Yeah. So I think, cleaning tools - the must haves are - you need some kind of cloth. Microfiber cloths are a great go to. Cotton cloths are great, but they're not going to be as absorbent. A scrub brush is great. And then you need, like, a vacuum or a broom. I say, if you're only going to buy three things, make sure it's those three things. But then you start getting into maybe you need a duster. Maybe you need dusting cloths or gloves. Maybe you need a mop.

I always make sure I have a razor blade scraper around. Any time there's stuff stuck to my kitchen counter or stuff stuck to my bathroom, I will take a razor blade and just scrape it right off. Cocktail picks are great to have for cleaning. If there's, like, a little ridge around your bathroom faucet, for example, sometimes I'll just take a cocktail pick and scrape at that thing and get the grime out of there. And then a squeegee can be really helpful. If you have glass shower doors, squeegeeing them often is great and squeegees just make windows spotless.

CARDOZA: OK, so we've got our supplies. We've got a plan. Which room would you suggest we start with?

WILLIFORD: Yeah, I think - whenever you're cleaning your house, you just can't ignore the kitchen and the bathroom. These are just rooms that so many people go in and out of and do all kinds of things. It's the most important rooms to clean and to clean properly. I feel like we could talk about, like, cleaning the kitchen all day 'cause there are so many ways to go about it and so many approaches. If you had 10 minutes, I would say clean the surfaces, clean the top of the oven, clean the sink, clean the floors. If you're doing a really, really deep clean of the kitchen, start at the top, which means maybe the tops of cabinets, the top of the fridge. Then move down the fronts of the cabinets, the front of the fridge. Then start on your counters. Then you might want to hit the top of the oven and then the lower cabinet fronts, and then the floors. I mean, really, cleaning a room starts with just being in the room and looking at the room.

CARDOZA: What about bathrooms?

WILLIFORD: Yeah. I think in the bathroom - again, being in the room, looking at the room helps. Start with - if you have time to do a really, really deep clean of the bathroom, start at the top - light fixtures. Move on to mirrors and windows, then the sink, the surfaces. Move around to the toilet. Do the shower. Do the tub. Do the floors. And then don't forget to clean the fronts of your cabinets in the kitchen and the bathroom. You'd be surprised how grimy they can get. So cabinet fronts - people forget to clean trash cans. When you think about all the things you throw in those trash cans, you probably want to clean those, and you want to disinfect those.


CARDOZA: Let's move on to the bedroom.

WILLIFORD: So one of the most important rules is cleaning top to bottom. This is a rule that I learned late in life. I used to strip the sheets before I would clean the bedroom. But the thing I would do after I stripped the sheets was start to clean the ceiling fan, and then all the dust would fall on my bare mattress. So actually, I would say leave the sheets on your bed, clean the ceiling fan or the light fixture in the bedroom first, then go down to the sheets. Strip the bed. Put that in the laundry, and then do your clockwise cleaning.

So when you clean clockwise or you follow the wall, it's really helping you make sure that you're not missing anything when you clean, so look for the furniture in that space, whether it's a dresser, a nightstand, a chair. I just kind of work at eye level or below eye level around the room. And then the last thing is the floors. If you have a rug or carpet in the bedroom, you want to do a vacuum. If you have hardwood floors, do a sweep and a mop.

Curtains and blinds are one of those things you can trust your eyes for when they need to be cleaned. The easiest way that I've found to clean blinds is just to put a sock over your hand, and use your hand, and wipe those blinds one by one. You can also by dusting gloves, which a lot of people - you'll find them in auto supply stores because people use them to wash cars and detail cars, but they work just as well at dusting blinds and surfaces.

But also do your dry cleaning before you do your wet cleaning. So if you're going to do dusting, which is a dry type of cleaning, you'd want to do that before you start introducing, you know, maybe an all-purpose spray. And the reason for that is if you start straight in with your wet cleaners and you haven't dusted that surface, you're going to end up getting all of that gunk. And you realize, oh, this rag is filthy, and you end up having to switch out rags more often. It's just really not efficient.

CARDOZA: So talk a little bit about some of the other places and kind of what to look for, what not to forget.

WILLIFORD: Yeah. I think when you're cleaning your living areas, it's really just a matter of your personal satisfaction with the space. You want to make sure it's a comfortable place to be in. You want to make sure that you can sit on the sofa and feel comfortable and there aren't crumbs all around or you're not walking on crumbs. I think cleaning everywhere else in your home is just a matter of making sure that it looks good. It smells good.


WILLIFORD: I think the most important thing to clean well all-around your home are the floors and the rugs. Those can get really filthy. If you really want to clean your rug well, you clean it from both sides. You vacuum the top, you flip it over. You vacuum the bottom, you flip it back over, and vacuum the top again 'cause those crumbs and dirt will fall through the fibers.

CARDOZA: So we've talked a lot about, like, a deep clean. And I wanted to ask you about - what are some of the everyday things? So, one, can you break it down to that - what should we be doing daily, weekly, monthly?

WILLIFORD: Sure. I would say the most important parts of a daily cleaning are going to be picking things up, doing a once-over in the kitchen, especially if you cook every day. So cleaning your surfaces, cleaning your floors, doing those dishes. And then another really high-impact daily cleaning habit is cleaning the shower. And I don't mean that you need to get on your hands and knees and scrub the shower every day. That is too much even for me. But squeegee the glass if you have glass in your shower. That's going to go a long way towards making sure it stays clean.

And then weekly, clean the bathroom, the sink, mirrors, toilet. I think weekly is a good cadence for dusting your surfaces all over your home. Weekly is a good time to do your floors. And then I think weekly is a good cadence for washing sheets and towels as well.

CARDOZA: Another thing, I guess, that makes it easy is having a place for everything.

WILLIFORD: Definitely. (Laughter) The easiest way to make sure that your home feels clean is making sure that everything has a home.

CARDOZA: My mother in-law used to tell me a place for everything and everything in its place.

WILLIFORD: That is a great maxim - a place for everything and everything in its place.


WILLIFORD: One Apartment Therapy commenter left a comment one day that kind of shook me to my core. They said, don't change your habit, change your habitat - which is kind of this great shorthand for realizing if you leave socks on the living room floor, you're probably always going to be someone who leaves their socks on the living room floor. Instead of trying to become someone that carries their socks upstairs to the hamper that's in the bedroom closet, why don't you leave yourself a hamper in the living room? (Laughter) It's fine. That's great. That's so smart. And then, you know, you kind of pull your socks off at the end of the day and chuck them across the room.

When I heard that, I started giving myself a place in the living room to put my skin care 'cause at the end of the day, I would want to remove my makeup and wash my face and, you know, put on serum's and things, and I realized I didn't want to walk upstairs to the bathroom to do it. So sometimes I would just, like, wash my face in the kitchen sink, but I knew I had my cleaner next to the sofa. And then I'd sit on the sofa and put my serum's on as I was watching a show. And I realized, like, oh, OK, I can kind of choose to design my home around my life instead of designing my life around my home.

CARDOZA: So say you cleaned everything. It's spotless, sparkling, like, smells great. You know, everything is where it should be. Describe what that feeling is like to you.

WILLIFORD: A perfectly clean home really makes you feel like you can do anything. I think it's really easy to get bogged down with menial life tasks. Sometimes just getting up to cook yourself a meal can be an overwhelming task for a lot of people. But when the kitchen's clean, it makes cooking that much easier. When the sheets have been washed, it makes getting to bed on time easier. I really think a clean home is just the foundation for smart life habits that are going to impact your health, impact your wellness, impact your hobbies, how excited you are to get up in the morning and explore the day.

CARDOZA: The nice thing about cleaning your house is you get to decide when you're done. But just as an experiment after you're all done cleaning, imagine for a moment that Master Gunnery Sergeant Kevin Frazier is coming back to inspect your work, and he's thorough.

FRAZIER: No dust, no debris, trash taken out, and run my hands along the backs of the TV to make sure there's no dust in any of the areas or crevices. The laundry room - make sure the lint traps are out. The fridgerators (ph) have to be defrosted. There's no frost in the freezers. Same thing for the floors - cleaned, swept.

CARDOZA: So you would kind of lift up the beds or open cupboards?

FRAZIER: Yeah. Yeah. Well, if they don't lock it, it gets inspected.

CARDOZA: And if you fail inspection, you get reinspected on your day off.

FRAZIER: Well, trust me. They catch on real quick. I'd say within a week of getting there, they know exactly what to do, and they do it. You can call it brainwashing, or you can call it training. I like to call it training (laughter).

CARDOZA: All right. Let's recap.


CARDOZA: First things first - you want to establish a plan. Know how much you're going to tackle and think about what sort of schedule makes sense for you and your home. Next, you don't need a lot of fancy products or tools to keep your house clean.

FRAZIER: You don't have to go out and buy all this other cleaning gear and equipment. You can quite effectively clean with just a scuzz brush and a small towel and a bucket of water.

CARDOZA: The kitchen and bathroom are key. And remember these cleaning tips to keep things efficient.

WILLIFORD: Cleaning top to bottom, cleaning clockwise around the room, and then the last rule, I think, is cleaning with your dry cleaners before you clean with your wet cleaners.

CARDOZA: Finally, as Taryn says, don't change your habit. Change your habitat.

For more LIFE KIT, check out other episodes. There's one on improving your credit score and how to chase away the winter blues. You can find those at If you love LIFE KIT and want more, subscribe to our newsletter at If you've got a good tip, leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823 or email us a voicemail at

This episode was produced by Sylvie Douglas. Meghan Keane is the managing producer. Beth Donovan is the senior editor. Our digital editors are Beck Harlan and Clare Lombardo. And our editorial assistant is Clare Marie Schneider. I'm Kavitha Cardoza. Thanks for listening.

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