September 30, 2013

Fall cleaning: The dirty things you don’t think about

Remote controls, keys and credit cards need to be washed, too.

Rants, raves, reviews and resources for Dallas-Fort Worth parents

Deep-cleaning your home may be associated with spring, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things that could stand some scrubbing now that fall is here.

We won’t bore you — or gross you out — with statistics on the germs that lurk in your house. Suffice to say that the dirtiest places are the ones you probably overlook. Fall is the perfect time to tackle them.

Here are a dozen nitty-gritty tips on cleaning the things that are most gritty.

1. House and car keys

The low-down on dirt: Although they don’t come in contact with a lot of places or get handled by many people, your keys, which you handle several times a day, are an easy item to overlook. They are also an easy item to clean.

Cleaning solution: Simply wipe them down with a Clorox disinfecting wipe to get rid of grime and germs.

2. Credit cards

The low-down on dirt: Your plastic credit and debit cards — plus the store card readers — are handled by a lot of people. They may seem flat, but germs can lurk in crevices around the numbers.

Cleaning solution: Simply wipe your cards down with rubbing alcohol and let them dry before returning to your wallet. The same works for other plastic cards, like insurance cards and your driver’s license.

3. Remote controls

The low-down on dirt: Your home probably has more remote controls than people, and each is a germ magnet. If you look closely, you’ll probably see grime around the buttons and in the crevices.

Cleaning solution: First, remove the batteries and for the Wii-remote, the rubber cover. Wipe the whole thing down with either disinfectant cleaner or rubbing alcohol. To get into the small spaces, a cotton swab dipped in alcohol or a toothpick will work. Be careful not to press too hard, as pieces of the toothpick may break off and become lodged.

4. Reusable grocery bags

The low-down on dirt: They hang out in your car, in the shopping cart, and come in contact with a kitchen full of food.

Cleaning solution: Nylon and canvas bags can be run through the washing machine and dryer on a regular setting. Be sure to remove any plastic inserts first. To add an ounce of prevention, keep meat and poultry separate from other foods. It may help to have a designated bag just for those items.

5. Makeup brushes

The low-down on dirt: Cleaning your makeup brushes regularly prevents bacteria and other bad things from coming into contact with your skin.

Cleaning solution: To get yours looking like new again, make a mixture of equal parts olive oil, water and hand soap. Dip the brushes in the mixture and gently rub them to create a lather.

Rinse them in cold water and lay them flat, not standing up, to dry so water doesn’t run into the handle. It is recommended that you do this in the evening to give them time to thoroughly dry overnight before using them again in the morning.

6. Computer keyboard and mouse

The low-down on dirt: Your computer attracts dust due to static electricity, and you probably already dust it occasionally. However, the keyboard and mouse are the biggest germ offenders, since you touch them constantly.

Cleaning solution: Both can be wiped down with a damp lint-free cloth. Using a solution of one drop of dish soap to 1 quart water is best because it is not abrasive. To get further inside the keyboard, a can of compressed air works wonders when sprayed between the keys.

The crevices of the mouse can be wiped with a cotton swab and the same solution. To clean the inside of a rollerball mouse, press and turn the disk to open it. Wipe the ball and cover with the damp cloth. Gently run a barely-damp cotton swab around the inside and over the rollers.

7. Car steering wheel

The low-down on dirt: Anything your kids touch may be a close second, but the dirtiest place in your car is the steering wheel. You touch it every time you drive — while eating, with a cold, after pumping gas — you get the idea.

Cleaning solution: If your steering wheel is leather, use a leather-cleaning product like Zymol. Otherwise, glass cleaner works well on plastics because it dries quickly. Spray the cleaning product onto a soft cloth and wipe gently. Scrubbing too hard can wear away at the material, and older vehicles may already be worn in places.

8. Plastic shower curtain liner

The low-down on dirt: You probably run the fabric shower curtain through the washing machine every now and then, but what about plastic curtains and liners?

Cleaning solution: Those can go in the washing machine, too. Simply run one through a regular wash cycle with detergent, along with a towel for friction. You can tumble it for a short cycle in the dryer without heat or simply hang it to air dry.

9. The top of tall furniture

The low-down on dirt: As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind. The top of bookshelves, cabinets, and even the refrigerator may not be home to a plague of bacteria, but they do catch a lot of dust.

Cleaning solution: Spray a cloth with an all-purpose cleaner — or furniture polish for wood — and wipe down the top of everything taller than your line of sight.

10. Refrigerator shelves

The low-down on dirt: The place where you store food is prone to spills, but may be rarely empty enough to be visibly dirty otherwise. Before the crush of holiday food is the perfect time to give fridge shelves a good scrub.

Cleaning solution: Empty the fridge out as much as possible or move food to other shelves while you clean. Wipe the shelves and sides down with a mix of 2 tablespoons of baking soda for every quart of warm water. Removable glass shelves can be washed over the sink, but let them warm to room temperature first so that contact with too-warm water doesn’t crack them.

11. Trash cans

The low-down on dirt: No matter how careful you are with the garbage, the outdoor bin always seems to smell like every bad thing at once. Maybe a garbage bag got torn or an animal got into it. Maybe someone threw something in without using a bag.

Cleaning solution: The indoor trash cans can be wiped down with a rag and all-purpose cleaner or, if small enough, run through the dishwasher alone. For the outdoor cart, use a squirt of dish soap and a hose with a sprayer attachment. The strongest setting on the sprayer will work as a power washer and create a lot of foam. Rinse and repeat if necessary. Even if you use a biodegradable soap, be sure to wash the cart on the grass rather than allowing wastewater to run into the street gutter.

12. Inside washing machine

The low-down on dirt: It may seem redundant to clean something used for cleaning, but minerals can build up inside the washing machine. The cleaning method used depends on the age of your machine.

Cleaning solution: For new high-efficiency front-loading models, be sure and leave the door open after each load of laundry to allow it to dry. You should also wipe down the door with soap and water to prevent mildew from growing in the crevices. For older top-loading machines, simply wipe the drum out with soapy water and a cloth. Then rinse and drain the machine.

Sources: Holly Bruner of Holly’s Help, Arlington, 817-721-1087,;;; “Hints From Heloise;” Good Housekeeping; Popular Mechanics; Better Homes and Gardens

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