When learning the domestic arts it is important that you learn about the tools that support the artist. Just as an artist who paints has a full knowledge of their brushes and paints they also learn the capabilities that they create as well as their limitations.
Of all the cleaning gadgets, products and tools - which ones are really essential, which ones are useful and of them, what are the most cost effective and environmentally friendly options? Let's take a look...
So let's start with the essentials:
Mops come in a variety of forms from my most detested 'squegee' variety of sponge mops to those that can be quite handy including:
- traditional twisted cotton mop with mop bucket to squeeze it out,
- spongy rag mops also known as strip mops,
- flat mops like that produced by Enjo.
I personally take advantage of having the first and the last in that list but have found that wrapping an old cotton t-shirt around a broom head and securing it can work equally as well when it comes to the crunch.
Generally speaking, most every squeegee on the market operates on the same principle of having a soft side which is used wet to clean a surface and a rubber strip to remove excess water on completion. Squeegees come in a broad range in respect to quality and this is one item that I strongly recommend you don't skimp on! The thing to look for is a quality soft cleaning head that will do an effective clean and not perish quickly. I know the day someone left us with a cheap one with what looked like a soft yellow kitchen sponge which was highly ineffective in areas like our shower to remove soap scum off the shower screen.
Buckets come in all sorts of varieties and for cleaning and household management purposes I would suggest that each household would require three such buckets. These buckets would serve the following purposes:
- small bucket, possibly with lid, for soaking small personal items discretely,
- standard bucket, preferably with lid, for soaking large items or several items of clothing or for putting objects in to disinfect them,
- mop bucket which fits the mop's head, possibly with appropriate excess water removal device, for use when mopping floor surfaces
These of course would be the start and I would suggest that, if you have young children a nappy bucket with a lid that seals securely would be required for soaking clothing items or toys, and that several would be required if the choice to use cloth nappies was made.
Depending on the household size there may be more than one basket per household. I would suggest that it is commonplace to have one basket for every two or three household members. Baskets come in three main materials: wicker, cane and plastic. Wicker baskets are a hard find these days and are worth their weight in gold in respect to quality. Plastic conversely, tend to wear more easily under the weight of large wash loads and often being left exposed in direct sunlight but are significantly cheaper. The mid-range, of course, is then the cane basket from which you can obtain years and years of reliable service, they are very cost effective in the longer term.
There are so many vacuum cleaners out there these days it is hard to comment on what is a good purchase. What can be suggested is that for a standard vacuum there are some attachments that you should expect to have with it. These are:
- main head, which may include a separate carpet head also, but generally has the ability to vacuum with bristles up for carpeted and soft areas and bristles down elsewhere,
- brush head, designed for cleaning cornices, skirting boards, window sills and cleaning away cobwebs with its long bristles,
- upholstery nozzle, a flat faced attachment for cleaning curtains, pelmets and soft furniture including sofas, and
- corner nozzle, often with a thin angled face, used for getting into tight places like corners and the grooves of window and sliding door guides.
A new product that is out there now is Roomba, a robotic vacuum cleaner. Some people love it and others love to hate it. Personally, I have had a Roomba and enjoy the fact that I can let it take the backache out of vacuuming. It does, however, have a short life span, and it costly to replace repeatedly. However, it is important to note that if you buy a Roomba you just can't throw away your old vacuum as you will still require something to get into all those tricky places around the house with special nozzles as well as occasionally vacuum out any vehicles you may own.
Another product that is available is a hand-held vacuum or Dust Buster - they too have limited power and you will need to actively seek out one with quality suction levels. Many do not make the grade required for a family home and also, be aware of the ongoing costs of filter replacements and the like.
Brooms come in a variety of widths, thinner ones for indoors and wide ones for large outdoor areas. They also are produced in a confusingly large range of materials these day also! The keys to determining what sorts of brooms you require for your household are the surface and the type of soiling. For most indoor areas ,a nylon broom with its soft bristles will do the job perfectly and is the best choice if you do want to cover it with an old t-shirt for both dusting and mopping also. A broom with stiffer bristles would be required for outdoor living areas, garage and carport floors.
Dustpan and Brush
One of the household essentials required for picking up dust, dirt, spills and other dry messes. Every house needs at least one set.
There are many other brushes out there for cleaning a variety of surfaces. From dish washing brushes with their soft nylon bristles to the tough bristled scrubbing brushes for heavy duty cleaning. You may choose to purchase these as required for particular areas of your home. There is also a far greater range of non-scratch style cleaning brushes, some with bristles and some with soft scourer-like surfaces for use in all sorts of areas of the home.
Cloths & Sponges
The fantastic thing about cloths and sponges is that they come in a variety of colours so you can colour code them to the area of your home. When I did family day care it was really handy to have seperate tubs and knowing that yellow was dishes, blue was bench and table tops, pink was bathrooms and green was the toilet. It made it very easy to ensure that the correct cloth was used each time. Now that I have moved to using Enjo for a lot of my cleaning my colour coding has been reset to more closely match what Enjo have implemented.
Of course, some cloths are designed to be highly consumable, others for either short or long-term repeat use with washing in between. There are also some cloths which can be easily sourced from your own home.
Cotton fabrics are great for cleaning and old t-shirts can be used for fantastic lint-free cleaning as well as for turning your broom into a mop! Some other favourites are old stockings, socks and nappies.
Old stockings, because of their fine weave, can be used as a soft scourer in wet areas and for cleaning up marks on walls. Socks can be used in a glove-like style to clean water rings from bathtubs, apply polish and water-proofing to shoes, and use damp to reach and clean some of those harder to reach surfaces like the tops of refrigerators.
Nappies are my favourite though! When I moved from square nappies to modern cloth I was left with a dozen flannel nappies and a couple of dozen terries. I use the terries daily, as they are, for cleaning up spills and messes as well as for quickly drying out wet surfaces like the shower and bath if we are expecting guests. With the flannel nappies, however, I cut them into sixths and resewed the edges and they are used twice as much from wiping hands and faces after meals, through to being general cleaning cloths which I can wash and reuse over and over again.
Spray bottles are everywhere! Many of the cleaning chemicals that one can buy in the supermarket today come in a spray bottle for easy application. I strongly recommend having several spray bottles for your own regular use. Some key uses of spray bottle would be to hold the following:
- water, for softening food marks that have dried onto benchtops and table surfaces,
- vinegar diluted with water, to provide basic disinfection for regularly cleaned areas,
- household/hospital grade disinfected, pre-diluted to the correct strength, for use in toilets and on other household items like potties, and
- water, bi-carb and a select essential oil, for odour absorbtion and deodorisation.
I am sure you can think of other useful combinations also!
I have seen clutter boxes and baskets of all shapes and sizes in my time. From households with a small woven basket in each room to the simplicity of a bucket. In the case of the friend with the woven baskets she would put the room's clutter in there across the week as she tidied then would pack them up on the day that it was her 'focus room'. On the other side is the bucket where items are placed as cleaning is undertaken and everything is packed up approximately each hour during the cleaning process.
Personally, I disagree with some who tout the necessity of a clutter box or basket. For me, I see it as just another place for clutter to collect!! My number one recommendation, if you choose to use something to collect clutter whilst cleaning, so that you can later sort through and either throw items out or put them away, is to use a container that you know you will need for something else later. That way you have to get the clutter sorted out and away! If I have let my house slide a little and I find I really need something to collect the clutter first then I use a wash basket - an item which I require daily!
The most obvious and commonly used form of protective wear when cleaning is gloves. They come in many different materials to suit their use. From latex disposables, rubber, polyurethane, acid-resistant to the gardening variety. They all serve a purpose.
The environmentally conscious are very aware of what chemicals they are exposing their family to and I would suggest that if you find you need the acid-resistant gloves that perhaps you should consider what alternatives there are to the chemicals you are using.
Personally, I do not use gloves outside my garden - not even to wash the dishes. I far prefer to have an excuse to sit down and moisturise and sometimes manicure after a good morning's work! However, if you choose to you gloves when you clean - I recommend going for a quality pair of rubber or polyurethane gloves that will far outlast disposables to the equivalent value. From there, a good pair of gardening gloves never goes astray, providing you have a garden!
There is other protective wear that you can purchase for cleaning which also fits into my category of 'review your chemical use' - this includes things like eye protection and breathing protection which is suggestive of harsh chemical use. My suggestion is that you look at alternative cleaning products before exposing yourself and your household to these nasties!
There is one other form of protective wear that you just don't see in use like in the 1970's - that is the humble apron. As we have become a more and more of a 'consumer society' we seem to have lost our care for preserving the quality of our clothing for as long as possible.
How often I am surprised at the number of people who do not use an apron for cooking or cleaning when they can be particularly handy, if well designed, in acting as your cloth caddy also! You don't even have to look very far for aprons - you can pick up plastic ones, great for cleaning wet areas or washing dishes, from department stores for under ten dollars usually. If you are willing to put them through a washing machine regularly you can buy cotton aprons from many culinary stores also.
I have taken to making them from second-hand pre-backed curtains. They are water resistant, can be washed easily in cold water and worn over and over again in your own choice of style and colour!