Cleaning Tips

With over 30 years in the house cleaning business. Cleaning over 300,000 homes, apartments and condos each month and with 8,000 plus home cleaning specialists we most likely have the answers to your cleaning questions.

If you have a question about cleaning, contact your local area Merry Maids, or view our cleaning tips below.


Stain Removal

In addition to cleaning wood floors, Murphy Oil Soap makes a great laundry pre-spotter, especially on organic stains like grass or blood. Wet washable, colorfast fabric, add a drop of Murphy directly to the stain, squish through the fabric and wash as usual. Visit www.murphyoilsoap.com for more cleaning tips.

Ceramic tile floors

No need to wax.. Just sweep and mop on a regular basis and they stay clean and shiny. Mop floors with clear water or just a dash of liquid dish soap. Be sure to change the water when it gets cloudy. Too much soap or dirty water will make floors dull or sticky. Don’t use scrub pads on ceramic tile floors or you might scratch them. Our professional cleaners wash most floors by hand, cleaning and drying a small area at a time.

Grout

Old grout may need cleaning with a wax stripper or heavy-duty cleaner plus a grout brush. Use a bleaching cleanser on tough spots. Once the grout is as clean as you can get it, rinse it well. When it’s thoroughly dry, apply a coat of masonry sealer so that it doesn’t absorb dirt in the future.

For mildewed grout in tubs or showers, use a grout brush with a 1:5 solution of chlorine bleach and water. Never use bleach in combination with any ammonia-based product and be sure the area is well-ventilated. When you’ve finished cleaning, rinse the area well to remove all traces of bleach.

Clean colored grout with a heavy-duty cleaner and a grout brush, but don’t use bleach because this may remove the color from the grout. Be sure never to use a bleaching solution on colored grout. A masonry sealer can be applied to clean, colored grout to ward off future stains.

Hard water spots

Hard-water deposits are alkaline, so an acid-based cleaner is the best way to clean them. Phosphoric acid works well and is safe for most surfaces. Grocery store cleansers with phosphoric acid contain 4 percent to 6 percent acid. You can purchase lime scale removers at janitorial supply stores that contain 8 percent to 12 percent acid to get the job done faster. A higher concentration of acid is safe on most household surfaces as long as you rinse the surface to remove all traces of the acid after the cleaning is complete. Let the acid sit for a few minutes after you apply it to let it work. Tough hard-water deposits may take more than one application. Scrub the applied areas with a white, nylon-backed scrub sponge. Make sure you read any manufacturer’s warnings before applying phosphoric acid solutions to surfaces in your home.

Mini-blinds

Wipe down mini-blinds with a damp fabric softener sheet. This eliminates the static that causes dust to stick. The same trick works for TV and monitor screens.

No-wax/linoleum floors

Regular vacuuming or sweeping is the best way to maintain the finish. Then damp mop with plain water or add just a drop of liquid dish soap. If the floor has some tough spots to clean, use a white, nylon-backed scrub sponge. This will keep soil from wearing away the surface. However, if time and traffic eventually dull the glossy top layer, you may want to add a floor finish or wax to restore the shine. Choose any good commercial floor polish or try a self-polishing, metal-interlock floor finish available from a janitorial supply. Traffic areas may need finish applied more often than the rest of the floor. It’s a good idea to keep doormats at all the entrances to your home, as they will catch much of the dirt that could eventually damage your floors.

Painted wall cleaning

The type and quality of the paint greatly affects how you clean a wall and how easily dirt comes off. Generally, there are four types of paint finishes:

1. Baked enamel (most appliance finishes), epoxy enamel and automotive paints. These paints are durable and stain-resistant. Dirt typically cannot penetrate the hard finish. These surfaces can withstand scouring with mild abrasives, and can also handle heavy-duty cleaners and degreasers. With these finishes, be most careful of scratching or dulling the finish by using harsh abrasives, steel wool, colored scrub pads and strong solvents.

2. General-purpose enamels. Most often found on interior walls, especially kitchen and bathroom walls, this surface is stain-resistant and can handle moderate scrubbing. Do not use abrasive substances or colored scrub pads, which can scratch the finish. Use a neutral cleaning solution and a white, nylon-backed scrub sponge. Only use heavy-duty cleaners or abrasive cleansers when you’re willing to take your chances on ruining the paint. If you have latex enamel paints, avoid leaving them wet for more than a minute or so. Oil-based enamels are more water-resistant. Keep in mind that gloss enamels are the most durable and washable, followed by semi-glosses and then satin finishes.

3. Latex flat. The most common household paint, flat latex is not as washable as enamels. Heavy-duty cleaners or hard scrubbing can remove the paint along with any dirt. Use mild detergents and gentle scrubbing, and don’t let any solution sit on the surface for more than a minute.

4. Exterior paints. These paints are typically oil-based or latex and should be scrubbed only with a mild detergent and then rinsed with a hose. Use a long-handled brush for hard-to-reach areas or stubborn spots. Some people like to use pressure washers on the outside of their homes, but like harsh chemicals, these can loosen the paint, so use with caution.

Pet hair removal from upholstery and carpets

To remove pet hair from fabric or upholstery, try a pet rake (a brush with crimped nylon bristles), velour brush, tape roller or even tape wrapped around your hand. Use light, even strokes to remove the hair. Another option is to try the rubber bottom on a clean tennis shoe or a slightly dampened sponge (as long as the dampness won’t harm the upholstery).

To remove pet hair from carpet, use a vacuum with a good beater brush or brush roll. Plain vacuums don’t generate enough lift to remove all the pet hair from the floor.

Another option for both upholstery and carpets – especially at the edges where pet hair tends to collect and vacuums have a hard time reaching – is a “pet sponge.” These sponges, which are used dry, are available at pet supply stores.

Pet stain removal from carpets

First, blot up any liquid by putting towels or absorbent rags over the spot and stepping on them. Start with gentle pressure and increase it up to putting your full weight down. Change to fresh rags or towels, until no more liquid comes up.

For fresh stains, apply a bacteria/enzyme digester from a pet store, following the directions – it’s the only way to deal effectively with both the stain and the odor. Bacteria/enzyme digesters work slowly, so leave the solution on as long as the directions say. Urine has probably penetrated into the carpet and pad, so use enough solution to reach as far down as the stain. Apply the solution, put plastic over it, and step on the spot several times until the area is well saturated. Then, leave the plastic on the whole time the digester is working to make sure the spot doesn’t dry out.

Old or dry stains are hard – sometimes even impossible – to remove, but try the bacteria/enzyme digester. If it’s a popular accident site, the bacteria may produce enough ammonia in the course of breaking down the stains to create a super-alkaline situation that interferes with its own action. In this case, you may need to neutralize the spot after the digester has been working for about four hours. Mix a solution of one cup of vinegar to a gallon of warm water. Rinse the area with this solution and apply a fresh batch of bacteria/enzyme solution.

If the stain or odor remains, call a professional deodorizing specialist. A complete cure will probably involve cleaning the entire carpet by extraction and replacing the pad underneath, if not replacing the carpet.

Soap scum in tubs and showers

Since preventing soap scum build-up is a lot easier than cleaning it, squeegee water off shower walls and doors after every use or wipe them down with a towel. For tile walls or frosted shower doors, apply a light coating of lemon oil periodically to help prevent build-up. For a porcelain tub, apply a light coat of boat or car wax to the sides (never the bottom) of the tub.

If it’s too late for prevention, use a degreasing agent and lots of elbow grease. Get a good alkaline soap scum remover at a janitorial supply store or dissolve a handful of automatic dishwasher detergent in a bucket of warm water. Cover the affected area completely and let your cleaning solution soak for at least 15 minutes. Do it right after a shower when the walls will be wet. After soaking, use a stiff scrub brush or a white, nylon-backed scrub sponge to clean the walls. You may need to soak and scrub a couple of times to get rid of all the build-up. Then rinse well with clear water.

Toilet bowl ring removal

The earlier you attack this problem, the easier it will be to remove the ring. A thorough cleaning with a commercial acid-based bowl cleaner may do the trick. If the bowl cleaner doesn’t work, try using a green, nylon-backed scrub sponge along with the acid. For an old ring, use a pumice stone. Wet the stone with the water in the bowl and rub it on the ringKeep the stone wet the entire time you’re scrubbing. Pumice stones should only be used on vitreous china toilets – never on colored, enamel or plastic fixtures. Once you’ve gotten rid of a ring, weekly cleanings should keep it from coming back.

Wood floors

Vacuum and dust mop regularly to prevent dirt from building up and damaging the surface. Any wood floor can be cleaned with a quarter-cup of apple cider vinegar mixed with a gallon of warm water. Wood floors are best cleaned on your hands and knees because you should only clean a small area at a time and then dry it and move on. Never get wood floors too wet or allow them to dry naturally. Finished wood floors often can be cleaned just with water. However, the finish will eventually wear off, and you’ll either have to re-finish the floors or start waxing them.

Spill clean-up from carpet and upholstery

Merry Maids does not provide carpet or upholstery cleaning, so we suggest that you contact our affiliate, ServiceMaster Clean, which provides carpet, drapery and upholstery cleaning, as well as fire and flood cleanup. You can visit the ServiceMaster web site and ask their experts.

Repairing damaged wood furniture

Merry Maids routinely dusts and applies lemon oil to wood furniture. We suggest you visit our affiliate, Furniture Medic, a furniture repair and restoration company. If you have questions about furniture restoration or repair, please feel free to visit the Furniture Medic web site for expert advice.

Stain removal from clothes

Merry Maids doesn’t provide laundry service, so we can’t expertly address stains you find on fabrics. However, we can suggest a web site that may be able to help you. The site is sponsored by Tide, and can be found at: http://www.laundry.com/staindetective/

Candle wax removal from upholstery, wood or carpet

To remove the wax from carpet or upholstery, you will need a plain brown paper bag and a steam iron. Paper grocery bags work well.

1. Cut open the brown paper bag so it lays flat.

2. Lay the brown paper bag on the affected carpet., with any printing away from the carpet.

3. Set the steam iron on a moderate setting and plug it in. Allow it to warm up.

4. Once warmed up, place the steam iron on top of the brown paper bag over the wax spot. Move the iron back and forth over the wax spot. The iron should never come in direct contact with the carpet, only the paper bag. As the wax warms up it will begin to absorb into the paper bag.

5. When a dark spot appears on the bag, move a dry area of the bag over the wax spot and continue to move the steam iron over the area.

6. When no further wax absorbs into the bag, you have removed the wax.

To remove candle wax from wood, apply a plastic bag filled with ice to the spot, until the wax is brittle enough to crumble off. If some candle wax remains, place an ink blotter on the area and apply a hot pressing iron to the top of the blotter.

Pergo floors

The manufacturers of Pergo recommend damp mopping at least once a week and sweeping or vacuuming with an attachment more often if you are concerned about scratches.

Do not use soaps or detergents because they may leave a film, dulling the floor. Difficult spots like nail polish, markers, tar and cigarette burns can be removed with acetone or nail polish remover. Pergo floors must never be waxed, polished, sanded or refinished.

Marble and granite floors

If polished marble or granite is protected with floor finish, the finish must be buffed or burnished and periodically replaced to keep the surface protected and looking good.

Because marble and granite are sensitive and porous, they need to be cleaned with a neutral cleaner solution and then polished dry. Scratched and dull surfaces can be revived with a marble restorer (available from janitorial supply stores).

Cultured marble and certain types of granite are stronger than real marble and stone, but they do lose their luster after being cleaned for years. Clean with a spray bottle filled with all-purpose or disinfectant cleaner and a soft cloth. Always keep the area wet while working. Never use powdered cleansers, steel wool, metal scrapers or colored scrub pads on cultured marble or granite. If the surface is worn and looks dull even after cleaning, polishing compound may bring back the glow. A little appliance wax, car wax or silicone sealer will also help fill fine scratches and restore the shine.

Kitchen cabinets

Most cabinets are factory manufactured and finished, and even wood cabinets have enough varnish or other protective coating so that you can use a cleaning solution. The oil slick that builds up on cabinets – especially around the handles – is a combination of kitchen grease, food smears, skin oil and hand lotion transferred to the cabinet. All-purpose cleaners aren’t equal to the challenge.

If your cabinets are plastic laminate (formica or other plastic), metal, painted metal or glass, you can wash them all over with a strong alkaline cleaner, which is available at a janitorial supply store. Or use a heavy-duty cleaner from the supermarket. Mix according to directions and apply the solution with a sponge. Let it sit a minute or two, then take a white, nylon-backed sponge and scrub wherever necessary. Remove the grimy suds from the sponge by squeezing it into the sink or a slop bucket, never back into your cleaning solution. Then rinse with a damp cloth and wipe dry with a terry cleaning cloth to remove any last traces of scum and leave the cupboards clean and glowing.

Never use acids or powdered cleansers on cabinets. A good overall washing once a year should be enough. Keep a spray bottle of all-purpose cleaner handy the rest of the time and spot-clean after heavy kitchen use.

On wooden cabinets, take a gentler approach. To get off stubborn dirt, wash around all handles and any other grease zones first with hand dishwashing detergent. Then wash the entire cabinet, including the handle areas, with an oil soap solution. Just wipe lightly with the solution and buff dry immediately with a terry cleaning cloth. Always wipe dry with any grain or pattern. Seldom do you need to add any polish because the surface has its own sheen when clean. If your cabinets are dull from wear or age, spray furniture polish very lightly once a year or so to fill in the pores and bring back some life.

Spot removal from dishwasher

Brown, red or black deposits may be caused by iron or manganese in the water. To remove, start the empty dishwasher on the rinse and hold cycle; while the machine is filling, open the door and add 1/2 cup rust remover from a janitorial supply store to the water; then allow the cycle to finish.

Fireplace hearth

Cleaning the face of a fireplace is a project that demands patience. Fireplace stone and brick may be hard, but they’re also porous. This means it has plenty of tiny holes for soil to accumulate in.

First, make sure the floor around the fireplace is well covered with dropcloths. Mix a solution of high-alkaline cleaner and one ounce of chlorine bleach per gallon of warm water. . Wet the surface of the fireplace well with the solution, but don’t use so much that it runs. Dirty water running down the face may cause hard-to-remove streaks. Then scrub the solution in with a brush. You should see the suds getting dark and dirty as the buildup comes off. Rinse well. If the surface is shadowy, a light cleaning with a phosphoric acid cleaner may be enough to brighten it the rest of the way. Don’t use any acid stronger than phosphoric as it will damage the brick or stone.

If the results still aren’t satisfying, make a poultice of heavy-duty cleaner, bleach and diatomaceous earth and apply it to the areas needing attention. This should draw out any remaining residue. If necessary, repeat these steps until you get the result you want. The color of the brick or stone determines how aggressive your use of bleach can be. Heavy bleaching will whiten a dark surface and cause it to look out of place. You can use a stronger solution on white or light surfaces.

If you’re not comfortable taking these kinds of chances with your facing, you may want to call in a professional chimney sweep.

Dust

Eighty percent of the dirt in your house walks in through the door on people’s feet. The right kind of mats placed inside and out of all entrances will help cut down on cleaning time. Choose professional mats you see at the entrances of hospitals and supermarkets, which are available at a janitorial supply store. They’re called walk-off mats because they give the dirt a chance to be walked off before it gets in. Walk-off mats are usually nylon or olefin with a rubber or vinyl back for inside the door, and rubber or vinyl-backed synthetic turf for outside on the step. They’re available in a variety of colors. To do their job well, both the inside and outside mats should be four strides long. Vacuum mats regularly or shake them outside. Hose them down and scrub with an all-purpose cleaner as needed. You can also use upholstery shampoo or a wet/dry vacuum to clean them. It’s important to always hang them until completely dry so that moisture isn’t trapped under the vinyl backing.

If there are any unsealed concrete or mortar joints, they can bleed off bits of sand and concrete dust onto surrounding surfaces. You should also make sure your windows and doors seal tightly. Some utility companies will inspect your home for free to determine if you have any cracks where things could be going out or coming in.

Keep vacuum bags, filters, seals and gaskets in good repair to prevent fine dust from being blown back into the air as you vacuum.

Feather dusters typically don’t do much but spread dirt around. If you are using a feather duster on some surfaces, consider looking at alternative cleaning options.

Windows

The best way to clean windows, or any large expanse of glass, is with a squeegee. It does a faster and better job.

You need a professional-quality squeegee and a window wand. If you’ll be cleaning high windows, you also will need an extension pole. The basic process is simple – apply the cleaning solution with the window wand and pull the dirt and water off with the squeegee.

In detail.

1. Mix a capful of ammonia or five drops of liquid dish detergent in two gallons of water. Resist the urge to use too much detergent; that causes streaking.

2. Dip your window scrubbing wand or a sponge 3/4 of an inch into the solution, picking up just enough water to wet the window without flooding it. Wet the entire window then go back over it once to loosen any stubborn soil. Last, run the scrubber against the frame on all sides of the window to pick up any dirt you’ve pushed against the frame.

3. Dampen the squeegee blade before you start and wipe it with a damp cloth between strokes. A dry blade will skip and jump on the window instead of gliding smoothly.

4. Tilt the squeegee at an angle so that only about an inch of the rubber blade presses lightly against the top of the window glass. Then pull the squeegee across the window horizontally. This will leave a 1-inch dry strip across the top of the window. By squeegeeing across the top first, you eliminate drips running down.

5. Place the squeegee close to the frame in the dry area near the top and pull down to about three inches from the bottom of the glass. Continue this way across the window, overlapping into the clean, dry area with each stroke, and wiping the blade with a damp cloth after each stroke.

6. Finish with a horizontal stroke across the bottom and wipe any water off the sill with a damp cloth.

On some windows, it’s easier to cut the water off the frame side as well as the top, and then squeegee the entire pane using horizontal strokes. Large (picture) windows should be wet and squeegeed half at a time, the top half first. Finally, if you’re cleaning both the inside and outside of the window, squeegee horizontally on one side and vertically on the other, so you can tell whether any streaks are inside or out.

Large (picture) windows should be wet and squeegeed half at a time, the top half first.

Finally, if you’re doing both the inside and outside the window, you may want to squeegee horizontally on one side and vertically on the other, so you can tell whether any streaks are inside or out.

Odor removal

For all odors, the first thing you should do is to remove the cause of the odor.

To remove smoke film from washable surfaces, use a solution of heavy-duty cleaner or degreaser. A dash of water-soluble deodorizer from a janitorial supply store added to the solution will help neutralize the odor. For smoky windows, add one part isopropyl alcohol to five parts window cleaner to help cut the oily film.

Smoke on porous surfaces is a tougher proposition. Light smoke film on acoustic ceiling tile can be removed by professional ceiling cleaners, but heavy buildup usually requires painting or replacement of the tile. Upholstered furniture, draperies and carpeting can be wet- or dry-cleaned, as appropriate, after a thorough vacuuming, with water-soluble deodorizer added to the cleaning solution to control residual smoke odor.

If you smoke in the home, change the filter in their air circulation systems often.

Also, make sure you let the sun in to help dissipate smoke and other odors as you try to eliminate the cause. Try to increase air flow by opening windows, turning on fans or even putting particularly smelly items outside for awhile. You can fill small dishes with vanilla, vinegar or activated charcoal for an easy, inexpensive smoke eater. Or, you can purchase odor neutralizer from a janitorial supply house which will work more effectively.

Carpet and upholstery cleaning

If you have questions about cleaning carpets or upholstery, visit the experts at ServiceMaster Clean now.

Get rid of clutter

If you can’t put it away, it’s clutter. So divide it into three groups: junk, charity and undecided. Toss the first, give away the second and store the third in a box or bag until you can decide whether it’s really worth keeping.

Remove clutter catchers

If clutter accumulates on a table near a door, remove the table so you’ll be more likely to put things away.

Use entry mats

Use only one entry door into your home. Put a sturdy doormat on the outside and another on the inside. It is amazing how much dirt they catch.

Establish a command center

Designate one location (usually the kitchen) for daily mail, calendar, bulletin board, car keys, school papers, grocery lists, etc. Every family member should have a shelf for messages and an out box or folder to deal with clutter on the spot.

Clean top to bottom

Clean the house and each room from the top down. Dust first, vacuum last. Vacuum from east to west and north to south. Scrub, wipe and polish in straight lines instead of circles.

Clean windows and mirrors like a pro

Squeegee the surface with an initial horizontal stroke across the top, then vertical strokes, wiping the blade after each stroke.

Create a cleaning carry-all

Store all your basic cleaning supplies in a cleaner’s apron or bucket and carry them with you from task to task.

Use the clock

Give cleaning solutions time to work. Spritz counters, mirrors and surfaces in the bath and kitchen while you scrub the sink, tub and toilet. Then wipe them clean.

Defy dust

Change furnace filter and replace vacuum bags monthly. Do not miss vents when you dust.

Use the right tools

Cotton diapers are great for most jobs, but some tasks require a specialist. Try a damp sponge to quickly remove pet hair from upholstery and pillows. A dry sponge erases grime from acoustical tiles. Wear cotton gloves and clean mini-blinds by hand.