For November : Home Maintenance To-Do List

Seasonal Home MaintenanceThe calendar has turned to November; the month during which we transition from fall into winter.

With less sunlight, colder temperatures, and shorter days ahead , it’s an opportune time to cross those last-minute maintenance items off your homeowner to-do list.

Practicing preventive care — both inside and outside your home — can save thousands of dollars in repairs come later this winter. What follows is a brief checklist to get you started.

For outside the home :

  • Inspect exterior lights and outlets. Be sure that none of the outlets are cracked or broken, or have exposed wires.
  • Clean gutters and clear all blockages. If leaves are falling, redo after leaves are off all trees.
  • Inspect and test outdoor railings and stairs.
  • Have problem trees trimmed, including those that may damage your home in a storm.
  • Protect outdoor water faucets from freezing. Consider using foam cups, sold at hardware stores.

For inside the home :

  • Change batteries in all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms, whether they’re “dead” or not. 
  • Vacuum refrigerator condenser coils, plus the front bottom grill. Empty and clean the drip pan.
  • Inspect wood stoves and fireplace inserts. Hire a certified chimney sweeper to clean the chimney, if needed.
  • Insulate bare water pipes running through your home to prevent freezing and to limit condensation on cold-water lines.
  • Inspect automatic garage door opener. Lubricate chains according to manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure bolts and screws are properly tightened and secured.

As a constant series of chores, home maintenance is a four-season job and one which should not be taken lightly. The tasks of each season are unique and November’s jobs are mostly preparatory in advance of colder weather.

If your routine maintenance uncovers larger issues including a faulty HVAC unit, or a leaking faucet, for example, seek professional help to make the repair. 

How To Beat The Bacteria In Your Kitchen

Within homes, the kitchen is often the most “used” room in the house. It’s a meeting place for meals, for conversation, and for family. Unfortunately, that makes it a meeting place for bacteria, as well.

Along with bathrooms, kitchens are the most bacteria-heavy rooms in a home. Kitchens require a good, daily cleaning. This 4-minute interview on NBC’s The Today Show shows you how to do it.

Using ordinary household cleansers and some elbow grease, you’ll learn :

  1. Why sponges should be out of your kitchen and why loofahs should be in
  2. How to catch and trap fruit flies that spread germs and disease
  3. How to clean and disinfect porous cutting boards

You’ll also get tips on removing stubborn stains from the bottom side of a frying pan.

The video is loaded with good advice and is worth a watch if only to learn a single sanitizing tip.

For example, did you know that you shouldn’t soak wooden bowls or boards in water because the water causes the wood to separate, leaving it “open” to kitchen-borne bacteria? Or that, because of new soap-types, today’s dishwashers should be regularly disinfected?  

Keep your kitchen free from bacteria is a constant battle but, using the tips from the video above, you’ll give yourself a fighting chance. 

How To Clean A Water Aerator

How to clean an aeratorTypically found at the tip of indoor water faucets, water aerators split a single water stream into droplets, slowing the overall water flow and reducing the degree of “splashing”.

Homes with aerated faucets use up to 50% less water than homes without. However, aerated faucets can lose their effectiveness over time if they’re not cleaned at least periodically.

This is because aerators can collect and trap particles including minerals deposits and grit, depending on the make-up of your home’s water supply.

The good news is that cleaning your faucet aerator is a do-it-yourself job that requires no technical plumbing skills, and takes less than 5 minutes to complete. 

Here’s how to clean your home’s water aerators.

First, close or cover the drain of your sink. This will prevent pieces or parts from getting lost. Then, unscrew the aerator from the tip of your faucet. You may be able to turn the aerator with your fingers. If you cannot, and need to use pliers, wrap the faucet with a towel to prevent damage to the faucet from the pliers.

Also, don’t squeeze harder than necessary — you may bend the aerator casing.

Next, on a small towel, separate the parts of the aerator and lay them flat.

Then, using your finger, poke the mesh filter out from the aerator, being careful not to bend it. Use tap water to rinse sediment from the filter or, in extreme build-up cases, place the filter in a small cup of vinegar, soak it for an hour, then clean it with a small brush.

At this point, your aerator is clean. Replace the parts as you found them, and twist the water aerator back onto the faucet tip. If you use pliers for this step, remember to protect your faucet’s finish with a towel.

There is no specific rule for how often an aerator should be cleaned. In some areas, it’s twice yearly. In other areas, it’s every 5 years. If you’ve never cleaned your water aerators, though, make today your first time.

How To Keep A Clean Refrigerator

Clean refrigeratorDo you clean your refrigerator regularly, or only after you’ve run out of space? If your answer is the latter, your refrigerator may be harboring dangerous bacteria that can make you, your family, and your house guests ill.

Refrigerators should be cleaned monthly, inside and out, ideally. The process involves removing all foods, cleaning all shelves, and wiping down drawers. Spoiled food is removed and old containers reclaimed.

The process takes 20 minutes. Here’s how to do it.

First, prepare your cleaning stations, including filling a sink with soapy water, and having drying towels handy. Complete this step before you start to remove food from the refrigerator. This limits the amount of time that food has available to reach room temperature.

Next, remove all food from the appliance. Throw out old food past its expiration, and leftovers which have been in containers for more than a few days. Check dairy products for expiration dates — especially cheeses and creams. Toss fruits and vegetables that have spoiled. Wipe down condiment jars and bottles with a damp towel.

Next, with the refrigerator empty, remove all shelves and drawers and wash them in the water-filled sink. Scrub to remove any caked-on foods and spills. Rinse off the soapy water and dry the part on your drying towels.

Then, while the shelves and drawers are drying, using a mixture of baking soda and water, wipe down the interior surfaces of your appliance. The mixture should be roughly 2 tablespoons of baking soda for every 1 gallon of water. Wipe the mixture off with a clean towel.

Lastly, move the shelves and drawers back into the refrigerator and replace all of the food that’s “good”.

Refrigerators can be a dirty place. We rarely wash our hands before handling food in a refrigerator and that can contribute to a bacteria-heavy environment. A good cleaning, though, can keep our foods — and our home — healthy.

Clean your refrigerator regularly.

Spring Cleaning Shortcuts

Spring Cleaning ShortcutsIt’s April and warmer weather is coming. It’s Spring Cleaning season. Do you have a checklist?

In some households, spring cleaning is an annual ritual, taking anywhere from a full day to an entire week to complete. Room-by-room, foot-by-foot, dust, dirt and grime are replaced with cleanliness and shine.

No matter in which way to you choose to tackle your chores, though, the people at Real Simple have you covered. The magazine’s website provides a thorough, detailed walk-through of the most common spring cleaning tasks. It also offers a “shortcut” series.

For example, the section of cleaning area rugs and rooms with wall-to-wall carpeting is a chore Real Simple lists as lasting “a morning”. The shortcut version, however, is noted to take just 10 minutes.

Some of the other areas covered in the Real Simple spring cleaning guide include :

  • Windows (4-6 hours long version; 15 minutes each “shortcut” version)
  • Curtains (30 minutes per panel long version; 10 minutes per panel “shortcut” version)
  • Upholstery (25 minutes per piece of furniture long version; 5 minutes per piece of furniture “shortcut” version)

You’ll need tools for your spring cleaning tasks including special cleansers, sponges, rags and vacuums. In some cases, you may want to rent equipment from a local hardware store. For example, deep-cleaning an area rug with a steam cleaner may be more time-effective than scrubbing it clean by hand.

Then, after completing the above chores, remember to flip your mattresses, change your air filters, and test your smoke alarm batteries.

Keep track of what you’ve done, and what’s left to do, with this classic, 3-page Spring Cleaning Checklist from Martha Stewart.

How To Replace Cracked, Dirty Grout

How to replace groutTile is among the most versatile home surfacing materials. It can be as functional and good-looking on your home’s walls as it can be on counter tops, adding a polished look to your kitchen or bathrooms.

Tile is also easy-to-clean — so long as it’s well-maintained.

Proper tile cleaning is more than just a daily wipe-down. Cleaning tile requires a periodic resealing of the tiles themselves, as well as a re-grout for when the existing grout cracks, or stains.

Replacing grout is a job that’s low on skill but large on elbow grease. You can hire it out to a handyperson , or you can handle it in-home. If you choose to replace your own grout, here are the steps you’ll want to follow.

First, you’ll need some tools :

  • Hammer and screwdriver
  • Grout scraper
  • Putty knife
  • Damp sponge
  • Dry cloths
  • Grout
  • Grout sealer

Start by using your screwdriver to loosen bits of the damaged and/or dirty grout. Tap the screwdriver with the hammer gently to avoid scratching your tile. Once you’ve loosened the grout, use the grout scraper to remove the remnants. 

Next, pour new grout into the crevices between the tiles and smooth it into place using the putty knife. The motion is similar to that of buttering a slice of bread. Scrape up the excess grout as you work. Continue spreading the grout until you’ve finished a several-foot section.

Before the grout has dried, use a damp sponge to wipe the tiles clean and neaten the grout lines. You can also use your finger to smooth and remove excess grout from between the tiles.

Repeat the grouting and cleaning process until all of the grout has been replaced. Allow the grout to dry for the length of time recommended by the manufacturer.

Next, using the dry cloths, buff the tiles, using a forceful, circular motion to remove any remaining grout residue.

Then, as a final step, for long-lasting protection, seal the grout using a commercial grout sealer from a hardware store.

Keeping grout in good condition does more than just make your kitchen or bathrooms look great — it protects the surfaces beneath the tile, too. Re-grouting tile is a basic home improvement task that can pay for itself many times over.

How To Remove Soap Scum From Shower Doors

Clean shower doorsDirty shower doors can ruin an otherwise sparkling-clean bathroom. The soap scum that accumulates isn’t just unsightly; it contains body oils and skin particles that provide for a perfect bacteria breeding ground.

Supermarket shelves are filled with bathroom cleaners that promise to cut through soap scum, but the cleansers don’t always work and those that do often contain harsh chemicals that can irritate your skin.

Cleaning shower doors can be more safe and more pleasant, then, when you use chemical-free household products, many of which you likely have in your kitchen already.

White vinegar makes an excellent soap scum remover, for example.

To remove soap scum from your shower doors using white vinegar, pour non-diluted white vinegar into a spray bottle, and then spray your shower doors until the soap-scummy sections are completely saturated. Let the vinegar sit for several minutes. This allows the white vinegar time begin breaking down the soap scum.

Spritz the surface again, if necessary, to keep the surface wet.

After the white vinegar has had some time to work, wipe the soap scum away with a non-scratching sponge.

If the soap scum is particularly stubborn, cutting through it completely may require a mild abrasive.

After letting the vinegar soak for several minutes, sprinkle baking powder on your sponge and remove the soap scum using a moderate amount of pressure and small circular motions. If your shower doors are textured, you may need to switch to a scrub brush to get into the crevasses.

Reapply baking soda and re-spritz the doors with vinegar as needed to remove the soap scum completely. Then, just rinse away the residue with hot water.

Give the shower floor a final rinse after the residue drains.

How To Keep A Stainless Steel Product Shining

Shine Stainless Steel

With their sleek, modern look, over the past 10 years, stainless steel appliances have move from “hot trend” to commonplace.

However, as any homeowner with stainless steel appliances will tell you, to keep a stainless steel surface free from marks, drips and fingerprints can be a futile exercise. Streaks and smudges will happen — they can’t be avoiding.

There are tricks, however, for keeping your stainless “shining”. You’ll need a microfiber cloth and a small bowl, plus some dish detergent, and some WD-40 or furniture polish. 

First, start with a single teaspoon of dish detergent in a quart of hot tap water. Using the microfiber cloth to avoid scratching the appliance’s surface, rub the mixture firmly in the direction of the steel’s grain.

Rinse the surface with clean, hot water and dry it immediately.

If the smudge remains, as a second attempt, spray a little WD-40 or furniture polish on the surface of the stainless steel appliance and buff the mark away using the microfiber cloth.

Then, if the smudge still remains, apply a small amount of rubbing alcohol to the appliance surface and — again with the microfiber cloth — rub in the direction of the grain. This will remove the mark, but it will also dull the stainless steel’s shine.

Therefore, to restore the appliance’s luster, use a small amount of WD-40 or furniture polish, or buff the appliance with a drop of mineral oil. 

You may also use a commercial stainless steel cleaner to clean your home’s appliance and these products work well. However, they’re often thick with chemicals and can be more expensive than one of the do-it-yourself solutions presented above.

Sometimes, though, it takes a specialty product to get the job done.

How To Clean An Exposed, Interior Brick Wall

How to clean exposed interior brickExposed interior brick can add a nice, decorative touch to your home, but because brick is a porous material and prone to staining, it can be cumbersome to clean.

Standard household detergents alone are rarely enough to clean brick properly, so if your home features exposed interior brick, plan to use alternative cleaning methods instead.

Here is how to do it.

First, find a pair of sturdy rubber gloves to protect your hands from the harsh brick surface and from your cleaning agents. Then, with a dry dish cloth, gently wipe the entire surface of the brick wall to remove loose dirt and dust.

Next, pour a grease-cutting dish detergent into a small bucket. Do not add water to the detergent. Add a small amount of table salt instead.

Mix well.

Next, apply a thin layer of the soap-and-salt mix to the bricks using a cloth and allow the mix to sit on the bricks for 10-15 minutes. Then, with a hard-bristled scrub brush, gently scrub the brick to remove the stubborn dirt.

Lastly, dip a clean dishcloth into a warm water-filled bucket and use the dishcloth to remove the detergent mix from the wall.

Allow the wall to air dry.

Cleaning exposed interior brick is more complicated than cleaning other household surfaces but a clean brick wall can help reduce in-home health hazards and keep your brick in its best possible condition for the long-haul.

How To Clean Your Microwave Without Harsh Chemicals

Clean microwaves, organicallyMicrowaves are often well-worn. Spills and splatters dot their ceilings; splattered food stuffs line their walls.

To clean your microwave, you can use the harsh chemicals on sale at supermarkets and hardware stores, or you can apply an all-natural approach which yields the same results, with only slightly more preparation time.

The extra time may be worth it, too, considering that the chemicals of an over-the-counter cleaner may seep into your foods over time.

To keep your microwave fresh and clean, using organic materials only, here’s what to do :

  1. Unplug your microwave from the wall for safety.
  2. Gather a microwave safe bowl; 1 1/4 cups of water; a lemon; baking soda; white vinegar; and cleaning cloths.
  3. Slice the lemon and place the slices into your bowl. Add the water.
  4. Heat the bowl in the microwave for 7 minutes. Leave the microwave door closed for an additional 5 minutes.
  5. Remove the bowl (CAUTION : Bowl will be hot).
  6. Remove the microwave’s glass cooking surface and wheel system. Hand wash and set aside to dry.
  7. Dip a clean cloth in the lemon water mixture. 
  8. Wipe down the microwave’s exterior and interior surfaces, remoistening the cloth as required.
  9. Moisten a clean cloth with vinegar. Wipe down the microwave door’s interior surface. 
  10. Replace glass and wheel system, and plug the microwave back in to the wall.

If you find lingering stains in your microwave, mix baking soda with water to form a thick paste. Dip a corner of your cleaning cloth into the paste and apply it to the stain directly, gently rubbing in a circular motion until the stain is gone.

Microwaves should be cleaned at least once weekly for optimal performance.