More than ever before today, with words like pathogens, virus and pandemic on our minds, we want our personal spaces to be clean and as germ free as possible.
But have we forgotten how to create clean and healthy homes? Our mothers and grandmothers knew how to clean and they prided themselves on this ability. But with generations of us coming from households where parents/partners work outside the home, many of us have become totally dependant on professionals for the home-keeping/home-cleaning that earlier generations considered simply part of everyday life.
Photo Courtesy of Theresa Kowall-Shipp
Today with every Facebook post, every public service announcement and even flyers in our mailboxes telling us how and what to clean, it could be a challenge to know who to listen to.
First and foremost, we should look to the government to ‘clean up’ (pun intended) the confusion. The Health Canada website has some solid common-sense tips, but when it comes to cleaning and common sense, I always think of my mother. She taught me a lot about cleaning and home-keeping and I am ashamed to say that until I started working on this article, I wasn’t aware of how much I had forgotten about her cleaning ‘rules’.
I am also going to confess that this piece took me a LONG time to write. You see, every time I researched another cleaning tip, I had yet another "OMG" moment and questioned my every homekeeping move:
"Oh my gosh, it’s been ages since I cleaned the coils on the fridge!"
"Did I clean the door handle with a cleaner with disinfectant?"
"OMG, I don’t think I’ve ever properly cleaned the vacuum cleaner. Who knew I was supposed to do that? Oh yeah, my mom would have!"
Oh, and I did not just learn cleaning tips from my mom. Dad was a big one for cleaning, but he approached it from a different point of view. As a Manitoba farm boy turned architectural woodworker, he knew that keeping your tools and equipment clean extended their lives, as is the case with keeping your house and your household appliances clean. He was a big advocate for maintenance being a necessary step in preserving the value of your home. And he believed that if your house was on the market, keeping it clean was as important as having your house in good repair and well-staged; a belief that was echoed by professional clean queen Melissa Maker, who runs the Toronto-based cleaning service and website Clean My Space.
Photo Courtesy of Clean My Space
I spoke to Melissa recently about her company’s open house/showing day cleanings, which is apparently a considerable part of her business.
Acording to Melissa: “A house can be beautifully staged but if it smells, if baseboards or cabinets are grimy, it signals to a potential buyer that the home has not been well maintained. A buyer will be wondering what else has not been looked after”. Melissa said that post-renovation and moving day cleaning requests are common, but as a self-professed cleaning hater she thinks that it is essential to deliberately teach ourselves and our children to regularly clean and "keep house". She and her husband work at teaching their two-year-old daughter age-appropriate home keeping and cleaning. Melissa’s a Millennial herself and she believes that cleaning is something that parents of Millennials and Gen Xers have not taught their kids.
Today, as we are all being asked to stay in our homes to protect our collective health, it is a perfect time to learn - or relearn - how to keep a clean and healthy home. To that end, here are some cross-Canada tips from men and women of different generations, ethnicities and professions. As Melissa said when we spoke, “cleaning is a health and lifestyle issue, a mental health issue, a marital and family issue. It’s a major source of family fights because everyone has a different idea about what clean is”.
Clean has no gender or demographic. Clean need not be expensive. Clean is a form of self-care - a sensory experience that can help keep you healthy, your possessions in good working order and maintain the value of your home. Perhaps one of the silver linings coming from this difficult time will be a renewed interest in home-keeping; the lost art of happy and healthy domesticity. So here we go folks. It’s time to relearn cleaning!
Below are tips from people across Canada. Look for my research notes in italics, and while you’re reading, I am going to go and clean every light switch in the house!
Photo courtesy of Theresa Kowall-Shipp
MY OWN TIP IS TO LOOK AT YOUR HOUSE WITH THE BRIGHTEST LIGHT YOU CAN FIND. Much to my embarrassment, I learned this when shooting TV segments in my own home. You might think that your house is clean, but when bright lights are shining every little bit of muck shows up; grime on your kitchen cabinets and your vent hood, dirt hiding in corners and on the sides of appliances - all the places you don’t normally look at under intense light. If you want to make sure your house really is clean, at the very least use the flashlight on your cell phone. Oh, and then clean your cell phone!
CLEAN WHAT YOU CLEAN WITH. This is something that my own parents taught me. The broom, kitchen sponge, mop, vacuum cleaners, your washer, dryer and dishwasher will all last longer and work better if you keep them clean. Today’s bagless vacuum cleaners are easy to take apart to wash and your major appliances have recommendations for maintenance. Wash your broom and then leave it in the sunlight to dry and put your kitchen sponge in the dishwasher regularly. TKS note: the kitchen sponge is, according to studies, one of the dirtiest and most germy things in your house. Clean it or replace it regularly!
CLEAN FROM THE TOP DOWN. A mom from Windsor, ON says that she learned to start high and work her way down, preventing dirt and dust from falling onto surfaces that have already been cleaned.
CLEAN WINDOWS CAN SELL A HOUSE FASTER. A real estate agent from Toronto, ON says that he insists that his clients clean their windows. He believes that vinegar and newspaper are the best window cleaners. TKS note about vinegar and cleaning: although it has been proven to have some disinfectant ability, it hasn't been proven to be effective against all viruses and bacteria so, especially today, be sure to use a product that indicates it is a disinfectant and follow manufacturer’s recommendations.
VINEGAR IN THE SHOWER EVERY DAY. A west coast gentleman who hates house cleaning says that after showering you should spray tiles and glass with equal parts vinegar and water to eliminate mould then wipe down tiles and glass with a squeegee. TKS note: Another great bathroom tip I discovered through research is that spraying vinegar onto the showerhead will also help prevent calcium build up.
MORE VINEGAR TIPS: A mom from Alberta’s farm country says that in her Ukrainian community her mom and grandmother used vinegar and soda for clogged drains, and vinegar and salt for disinfecting cutting boards. She also uses vinegar in the laundry room, adding it to every wash load to remove the bacteria that cause odors - and what’s more it helps keep your washing machine clean. TKS note: Again, vinegar has some disinfectant properties, but it is not recommended as a COVID-19 killer!
ALCHOL TO CLEAN BATHROOMS: A Vancouver husband and wife have for years used 70% alcohol to clean their sinks, faucets and porcelain fixtures. It not only kills germs but also removes water spots. TKS note: alcohol is also good for cleaning glass and mirrors, but only toilets, sinks and bathtubs that are porcelain. Don’t use on the plastic-like fixtures without checking manufactures recommendations.
BLEACH CLEANING A FAMILY TRADITION: A New Brunswick family has for years used their own bleach mixture for cleaning. They tell me that they add about one-third cup of bleach to a gallon of water. TKS note: Doing some research on bleach as a cleaner I found that many experts agree that it’s a disinfectant, but it comes with big warning. NEVER mix bleach with ammonia, vinegar or alcohol. This can actually be dangerous, producing gasses that can harm. So, rule of thumb: don’t mix bleach with anything. If in doubt, don’t!
Photo Courtesy of Theresa Kowall-Shipp
TOOTHBRUSHES FOR HARD TO REACH PLACES: A Toronto homeowner always keeps a toothbrush for getting to those hard-to-reach places behind kitchen and bathroom faucets, around the edges or in corners and crevices of appliances. A toothbrush can also help get the toughest grime out of heat vents or air returns. TKS note: I love what a toothbrush can do, but be super careful that your cleaning toothbrush doesn’t get grabbed for dental hygiene by a family member!
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE BENEFIT OF FRESH AIR: A Montreal grandmother of Hattian heritage cleans and sweeps the house every day, never letting it get out of control. By never letting the house get dirty, she never has a huge seasonal cleaning to dread. One of her best tips is to air out the house at least once a month. Open all doors and windows and let the stale air out and the fresh air in. TKS note: This is something that my mom did as well, often even putting pillows and duvets outside to air out as the fresh air and sunlight helps kill the dust mites!
STEAMED AND CLEAN: A Halifax homeowner with asthma suggested using a steam cleaner, as some cleaning products can aggravate asthma. Steamers are great for cleaning and disinfecting things and he loves using it for cleaning everything from his bathroom to the interior of his truck. TKS note: As an asthma sufferer myself, I love my steam cleaner, but they get really hot, so be careful with them. Steam can kill 99.9 percent of dust mites, germs and bacteria including salmonella, staph bacteria and E. coli. In this time of COVID-19, I have been using my steam cleaner after disinfecting ‘touchpoints’ like countertops, doorknobs, toilets, faucets and sinks with a cleaning product. I found my steam cleaner at Canadian Tire.
Here's some additional posts from the purveyor of Houseporn.ca - Steve Fudge - on his Toronto real estate site Urbaneer.com about our housing, homes and COVID-19:
Theresa Kowall-Shipp is a TV producer, director and writer. Her interest in home design grew from exposure to her family’s construction and architectural woodworking firm and producing or directing dozens of hours of design TV.