Getting ready for Christmas!
November is a great time to get ahead with planning for Christmas (by the time you’re into December, it’s all parties and panic-buying!).
This is the month of school fetes and fundraisers, so an ideal opportunity for a major de-clutter session in order to make room for all those presents that’ll be coming into the house next month.
When the rest of the family are out (you’ve got to be a bit sneaky about this!), gather up all the toys and gadgets that no longer get used, plus all the clothes that have been outgrown and take them along to the school fair or your favourite charity shop. Believe me, if you do this while no one’s looking, the stuff gone from the house will never be missed! And when you begin to de-clutter and remove items, you’ll notice the areas that are dusty and have been neglected.
If you’re having visitors to stay over the festive season, it’s worth getting started on some of the cleaning now – areas such as tile grouting, shower screen, limescale around the taps, kitchen cupboards - so there’s less of a panic nearer the time.
For grouting, dip an old toothbrush in a solution of half bleach, half water and rub gently. Rinse and dry with a clean cloth. Shower screen: using a sponge scourer, dip into bicarbonate of soda and scrub. Rinse and buff dry with a microfibre window cloth. Limescale: lay a sheet of vinegar-soaked kitchen roll over the scale, leave overnight, and buff to a shine with a microfibre cloth. Check store cupboards for out-of-date ingredients and fling.
Blog 15 - Aggie’s Secret Cleaner
People are always amazed to hear I have a cleaner. But much of the time I’m working away from home, and with two big boys in residence there’s no telling what sort of mess I would have to face on my return!
One of my pet hates is changing sheets. I get all hot and bothered pulling the duvet cover off and struggling to get the clean one on. Trouble is, I do like clean sheets, so my solution is to get someone else to do that job for me.
Lidia comes once a fortnight and has a good go around the place, particularly in my sons’ rooms. I am so grateful to her, and she is very good-humoured about all their nasty socks, etc, lying around their rooms (did I not teach them anything?)
But other than her coming fortnightly, the cleaning’s all down to me. I like to keep on top of the kitchen, bathroom, hallway and stairs (and in fact enjoy those areas!), doing something daily. I’m also happy to clean windows and iron. I know I should clean the oven after every use (something my mother always did while the oven was still warm, as the rest of us were trying to relax and eat our Sunday roast). The inside of her oven always looked like new, but I’d have preferred that she sat down at the same time as us to eat!
Here’s a great way of cleaning oven racks if they’re very dirty (which of course I’d never allow to happen!). Take a tough scourer along the rungs to get the worst off quickly, then follow up with a sponge scourer. Finally wash down and dry with a multi-purpose cloth. Done!
Blog 14 - Thoroughly Modern Aggie!
Things are so different from my mother’s day. She was a traditional housewife, and took pride in her work: cooking, cleaning, sewing, knitting, looking after the garden, etc. Modern women are often expected to do most of the above, plus handle a job and ferry the kids to and from after-school clubs, as well as find some ‘me-time’ for themselves.
And we’re all expected to keep up with the latest technology, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or whatever. I’m afraid I’m a slave to both my smart phone and laptop (wish I wasn’t, but once you start…). I keep thinking I should get a tablet, but then wonder whether I really need one, and if I reckon I do, which size to go for? And how many GBs to get? Apart from the technical considerations, what about the colour of the cover? So many decisions; I find I end up feeling paralysed and never get around to deciding!
The thinking about 20 years ago was that appliances such as the washing machine and dishwasher would allow us to free up our time so we could relax more, but it seems that many of us have given over that leisure time to ‘virtual’ living on the internet…ie sitting on our behinds! I remember one contributor to How Clean is your House? Mark was a computer gaming fiend who had two computers, side by side, so he could order in pizza on one while continuing to play, uninterrupted, on the other. His bedroom was home to a mountain of pizza boxes and drinks cans.
Ironically, one advantage of new technology is the development in recent years of, among other things, special cloths to gently clean our computer screens to a smear-free shine; good that we’re getting some cleaning done!
Blog 13 - Aggie’s Summer Holidays!
This is the month many of us will be on holiday. Let’s hope we’re all having plenty of sunshine! You’ll probably think I’m a bit nuts, but if I’m spending my holiday in a rented house, I always pack a capsule cleaning collection. It’s not so much that I’m expecting to enter a grime scene – more that I like to keep on top of things while I’m there and, of course, to leave the place nice and clean afterwards (I have a reputation to safeguard, remember!).
So I’ll pop in a 5-pack of microfibre all purpose cloths, a sponge scourer (essential for pots and pans) and a microfibre window cloth. I remember one year staying at a friend’s flat in France, where the windows hadn’t seen a cloth in months. It took me mere minutes to get them sparkling; all I did was to wash them down with a wet cloth then buff dry with the microfibre window cloth to a perfect, smear-free finish! My friend was delighted with the results. I always enjoy people’s astonishment when they see how easy windows are to clean using this method.
As last month, let’s hope the weather is good enough for us to be spending much of our time outdoors. Did you know that household dust is made up mostly of dead skin cells, so that the more time we spend inside the house, and the more people present, the more dust there will be! So this month get out…and stay out!
Blog 12 - Quick cleaning tips to help you enjoy the sun!
Summer’s here at last, and it would be mad not to take maximum advantage of the sun while it’s out. For so many of us weekends are meant to be the time to relax, but it’s also the only real opportunity to get the chores done. Definitely the best plan is to whizz through the housework as quickly as possible…then get outside and enjoy!
So the Holy Grail is…how to make your cleaning better, quicker and easier? Here are my top tips for a faster and more efficient approach so you can be lying on that sun-lounger before you can say rubber gloves!
- Rise an hour earlier than usual and get stuck in while the weather’s still cool – you can treat yourself with an afternoon snooze in the sun!
- Time yourself and set a limit to how long you’ll clean for and what chores you want to get done – racing against yourself is a great incentive to work quickly.
- Keep relevant cleaning equipment in a discreet spot in the appropriate room – kitchen stuff in the kitchen, etc. – that way you’re not wasting time going back and forth.
- Make the kids work for their pocket money – no jobs done, no dosh!
- Live on salads – healthier, more appealing in hot weather and, best of all, much less mess to clear up in the kitchen.
- Don’t be fazed by a filthy barbecue – take a Spontex Tough Scourer to it and it’ll come up a treat in no time at all.
- Spend as much time out of the house as you can – your vacuuming time will be drastically reduced!
Blog 11 - Post Holiday Clean Up!
My sister always cleans her home thoroughly before she goes on holiday, because she loves the feeling of coming home to a pristine house. I envy her – I have two hulking sons living with me, so each time I go away, even for a weekend, on my return I have to spend a good two hours on the downstairs rooms before I feel I am back. It never looks very bad at first glance, but a closer inspection reveals sticky floors, dull sinks, out-of-date fridge contents, beer bottles to be recycled, and so on.
Truth to tell, I don’t really mind the clean-up on my return – I feel as if it’s my way of getting comfortable again and bedding myself back in.
I usually attack the kitchen first, then move to the bathroom, wearing my extra-long cuff Spontex gloves. If you use a spray cleaner, spray the basin and bath/shower/loo all at once and leave the solution to do its stuff while you vacuum the floor. Then tackle all the wet areas and rinse down. I always use a microfibre cloth for windows to buff the shower screen dry. Change bathmat and towels (use the damp towels to shine taps and dry any areas such as the sink), empty the bin, then finish by washing the floor with a microfibre mop. (And it’s never a bad thing to pay attention to the door knob and loo flush too.)
Blog 10 - Home is where the heart is!
I wholeheartedly agree with the saying, ‘Home is where the heart is’. Your home is, or should be, where you feel safe, comfortable, happy and relaxed. And there’s little hope of feeling comfortable and relaxed in a dirty, unkempt home!
During my time on How Clean is your House? I loved the dramatic contrast between the ‘before’ and ‘after’, once Kim and I (and our crack cleaning team!) had cleared the clutter and cleaned up the mess. I used to get very excited anticipating the reaction of the householder (they weren’t allowed to peek until we had finished). They would often be moved to tears at the sight of their new-look, cleaned-up home.
Usually, the person would say they’d definitely keep the place clean, now they could appreciate how good it looked and how fresh it smelled (some did, others didn’t!). And those who did had a spring in their step and a sparkle in their eye.
The heart of my home is definitely the kitchen. I have stainless steel worktops, which I always like to have super-shiny and clutter-free. The secret of a clean kitchen is to clear up as you go along (and get the kids to do the same!). For a quick once-over, fill the sink with hot soapy water and, using a clean kitchen cloth, wipe down all surfaces – worktops, cooker hood, fronts of cupboards and appliances - top to bottom, left to right. Every month or so, do the oven, high shelves, insides of cupboards (including checking use-by dates), inside toaster, etc. And never let your cat jump on the worktops!
Blog 9 - Dirty Secret?
Kitchen floor mops can be a bit of a dirty secret… brought out to ‘clean’ the floor then hidden away again in a dark corner with all the smelly grime clinging to them, destined to go rock hard. I’ve seen a few specimens in my time! And don’t get me started on string mops – putting one of those away clean is a lot more work that doing the floor itself. The problem is, a minging mop will never give you a clean floor – all you’re doing is spreading muck and germs around the place (a frightening thought if you have toddlers at home).
A few years ago I was converted to microfibre mops, and what a joy they are to use. You dampen the microfibre, which then cleans with hardly any effort, warm water is all that’s required. And here’s the best bit: you whip off the head after you’ve cleaned your floor, pop it into the washing machine, and you can be sure you’ll have a perfectly clean, sweet-smelling mop head each time. It’s so simple, efficient and hygienic – everyone should change to them!
The Spontex range can be washed over and over again and when the head begins to look a little worse for wear, you replace it - no need to buy a whole new mop. So you see, there is absolutely no excuse ever to have a nasty, foul-smelling floor mop lurking around the place.
Blog 8 - Foul Floors
There’s a park at the end of the street where I live in north London, which is lovely…except for the doggies that often leave their doings outside on the pavement (I get so mad at the owners). My worry is that even when the bulk of it is removed by the poor street cleaner, there’s still residue left behind. Which is why I have a very strict rule in my house about all shoes off as soon as anyone is over the threshold!
As well as being more hygienic, this practice cuts down hugely on cleaning (particularly the stair carpet, which is now 10 years old and still looks like new).
Mind you, the vinyl kitchen floor is another story. Both sons cook for a living and it’s clear that they don’t have to clean the floors at work – half the chopped ingredients end up down there! I am really grateful when one of them makes dinner (and it’s always delicious), but my goodness the mess on the floor! And it’s invariably the wet stuff such as onion, garlic and herbs that are allowed to fall to the floor and seem to get ground right in. If I’m not on to it that evening (and, let’s face it, who wants to be washing floors at midnight?!), by the next morning it’s stuck on hard, like glue. But I never worry too much, because a damp Microfibre mop and a few little extra rubs cleans it off in no time to leave my floors sparkling!
Blog 7 – Rubber Gloves
I was brought up by a clean-freak mum who thought rubber gloves were for wusses, so for most of my adult life I’d not bothered with them either, no doubt because I had internalized my mother’s prejudices.
When I first appeared in How Clean is Your House? in 2003, I had instant, maximum exposure to rubber gloves. The researchers used to customize them: Kim’s to go with the theme of the programme (say if the householder was a dog-lover, or Country and Western fan) – what fun!; mine were always dainty, trimmed with pastel-coloured marabou (hell if it came into contact with actual water!). In those days I was a terrible nail-biter (had been most of my life) and will never forget the first time I was examining dirt at close range and was very conscious that the camera was honing in on my horrible nails! That did it for me – I’ve not bitten them since. Not only have I not bitten them, but excuse me, I always wear them painted. I love a shellac finish, which lasts for weeks, but despite being very hardwearing, if I’m scrubbing a pan with a wire scourer I always put on the rubber gloves otherwise bang goes an expensive manicure.
When I’m washing up generally, I like to get the water really hot and soapy (and rinse under a scalding tap!), so no fear of burned hands or dried-out skin if the Tough Gloves are in place!
Blog 6 - Mrs Beeton and modern day homes
I love cooking and have loads of books, including Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. It mainly contains recipes, but there’s also a section on looking after the home.
Mrs Beeton recommended remedies that are still valid today (for example, to prevent moths, put pieces of camphor or cedar wood in drawers) but, on the whole, her cleaning methods are firmly in the past (e.g., blackener for grates and recipes for furniture polish that include linseed oil, turps and vinegar).
Even in my own childhood I remember my mother on her hands and knees every morning wax-polishing the bathroom lino and her standing at the twin-tub washing machine on a Monday. (If you didn’t have the washing on the line before midday, you’d get talked about !).
Now that most households have both men and women in employment, we are so lucky to have surfaces, including floors, which are a breeze to keep clean, plus endless automatic electrical appliances. I think one of the most innovative cleaning materials in the past decade has been the microfibre cloth, such as the ones produced by Spontex.
Take windows, for instance. In the past, there was that gloopy pink liquid that everyone used – and how difficult was it to remove the streaks? Not so with the good old microfibre cloth– ne’er a mark to be seen!
Believe it or not rubber gloves have only been around since the 1960s and now they come in all shapes, sizes and thicknesses (including hypoallergenic) to suit everyone, so, no excuse for chapped hands. It’s interesting how modern materials (nonstick pans, Corian sinks) have required makers of cleaning equipment to come up with products to suit, clean and protect the surfaces, such as Spontex have done with their Brilliant range.
And how did we put up with those horrid, skanky string mops for so long? The joy of detaching a microfibre head and sticking it in the washing machine is not to be underestimated!
Blog 5 - Be aware of kitchen grime fires!
I was very shocked to hear that four million people have experienced a grime fire in their kitchen! A recent study, released by the Electrical Safety Council (ESC), also suggested that dirty and messy kitchens are partly to blame for more than half the house fires in Britain.
So, why is this happening? It seems too many of us are guilty of rushing around, leaving papers and clutter by heat sources and on top of the microwave. We’re not cleaning fat out of the grill and oven and generally not paying enough attention to cleaning the kitchen as often as we should.
I suppose the message is that even though your kitchen may look fairly clean, hidden grime and overlooked mess can be a fire risk waiting to happen. In this day and age people tend to be far too busy to give their house a good chunk of time to do a good thorough clean. Don’t worry though; there are simple ways to do this without spending a whole day cleaning.
Research conducted by household cleaning brand Spontex earlier this year suggests that cleaning little and often is far more effective when cleaning your home. I’d recommend setting your alarm 30 minutes earlier each morning. Getting straight up in the morning and setting your mind to a task can do wonders for your cleaning routine and help you keep on top of all the jobs that need doing.
And don’t forget! Within your cleaning routine you should clean your oven and grill regularly to avoid the build-up of excess fat. As the ESC study suggests this can help prevent kitchen fires and make the home a safer place for you and your family.
If you would like to read the Electrical Safety Council study for yourself, please visit http://ow.ly/pU3U9
BLOG 4 - Kids and Cleaning
After many months of filming, my second series of Storage Hoarders has finally come to fruition. I can honestly say, despite the seemingly endless travelling and long days, it’s been a hugely fulfilling experience meeting all our lovely contributors (60 of them, plus partners!) and persuading them that their lives will be so much better without the weight (emotional, financial and physical) of the clutter that’s been clogging up their lives. Their relief after shedding excess stored belongings has been enormous. One man described it as ‘the noise in my head that’s gone away’.
After being on the road for days on end, coming home is always a mixed blessing. You see, I have two sons (18 and 22), who live at home. And I’m afraid I didn’t practise what I preach (‘Get your kids helping from an early age’), partly because I was always a working mother and didn’t want our home time spent with me nagging them to clean their rooms and tidy toys away. And now I’m paying the price!
When I’m due home from a trip, I’ll get a text asking what time I’m arriving. No, it’s not so they can get the kettle on to welcome me with a cup of tea; it’s so they can work out how much of a window they have to get the place vaguely under control. The thing is, although they know Spontex microfibre mops are the biz, they always ‘forget’ that the kitchen floor needs sweeping before washing. So I’m faced with an array of beer bottle tops and other detritus banked up around the edge of the floor, pushed there during ‘washing’.
Annoying, exasperating, irritating – all of the above. But would I rather come back to a pristine, empty house? Of course not!
BLOG 3 – Food Hygiene
A couple of weeks ago I appeared on Sky’s Sunrise with Eamonn Holmes to comment on a report by the Food Standards Agency which stated that more than 8% of us have at least one poor kitchen habit that puts us at risk of food poisoning. The poll found that 43% would eat food after the ‘use by’ date and more than a third (36%) wash chicken before cooking it, potentially splashing campylobacter and salmonella bacteria around the kitchen (a complete no-no!). More than a fifth of the people polled (21%) said they don’t wash their hands properly before preparing food.
It never fails to amaze me how many people ignore basic hygiene rules: the single most important factor in reducing the incidence of food poisoning is to wash your hands (and dry on a clean towel) both after going to the loo and before preparing and eating food. It’s what we (well most of us!) were taught as children, but unfortunately some of us have forgotten!
One point that didn’t seem to be covered was the stinky kitchen cloth – one of my bug-bears (excuse the pun!). The rule is: if it smells, it’s heaving with bacteria. To combat this, either stick it in the dishwasher each time you use it or if you want to be absolutely safe, pick up a pack of 40 Spontex Handy All Purpose Cloths and dispose of each when you think it’s done its due. Sorted!
BLOG 2 – Pillows
I’ve recently taken full advantage of the dry weather and washed all the pillows in the house! If you consider that a little excessive, just give a thought to the amount of saliva, sweat, dandruff and skin scales penetrating your pillows over the year and you’ll be hot footing yours to the washing machine as well!
Most pillows have a washing instructions label, but I wash mine, two at a time, in the machine at 40 degrees, using biological detergent.
Then I hang them on the line, pegged at the corners. Halfway through the day, I unpeg them, turn upside down and rehang, so the feathers get a good ruffling. Pillows containing real feathers need to dry quickly (over the space of a hot sunny day is good), otherwise they could go mouldy – and there’s no remedy for that!
While you’re at it, give the duvets a clean as well. Single ones are fine in most machines, but you’d be hard pressed to fit a double in there – you’ll need to take that to the local launderette.
BLOG 1 – The Chopping Board
Last week someone asked me how hygienic a wooden chopping board is, particularly in warmer weather. Well, that depends on how well you clean it!
Wood is fine as long as it’s scrubbed thoroughly, say with a Spontex Tough Scourer and very hot soapy water, then rinsed with hot running water and dried with a fresh
Spontex Supreme All-Purpose cloth to avoid possible germs, which can be transferred from a used tea towel.
To mask smells, squeeze lemon juice (or sprinkle a little mustard powder) over and wipe with an all-purpose cloth.
There are also other options for boards, such as plastic or glass. Plastic can go in the dishwasher; however, when cleaning remember to treat like wood, as a knife can create grooves in the board. A glass board will harbour the fewest germs; however they’re horrid to cut on and will ruin your knives.
Chopping boards are handy if you’re preparing flowers for a vase. Rose stems, for instance, need a little bash with a rolling pin to help them absorb water better, plus a chopping board will save your kitchen surfaces.