Drive out the dust, dirt and scum from top to bottom

Courtesy Chicago Tribune
By Annie Groer
The Washington Post

I love to cook, am a whiz with a hot iron and rather enjoy polishing the family silver(plate).

But the larger task of cleaning an entire apartment or house leaves me cold. Always has.

I might have remained forever ignorant of what it really means to clean from "top to bottom" (remember this phrase, it will reappear) had not a flyer from MaidPro, the Boston-based national cleaning franchise, recently come my way.

"All our service providers are professionally trained through our MaidPro University," the ad boasted. University? Where better to acquire a remedial education than from a firm that charges by the hour, trains two-person crews to clean as many as four houses a day, and has as its pun-ly motto, "It's About Time."

Clearly grime is money.

My professor was self-described "neat freak," Philip Doyle, who spent 25 years in hotel management (housekeeping was definitely part of his portfolio) before he bought a MaidPro franchise here in October. His classroom was the home of a client, where I watched Doyle and one of his top cleaners do everything from shaking dead leaves off a pair of potted trees and dusting oil paintings with a fat, sable paintbrush to vacuuming a sofa and knife-creasing throw pillows.

Doyle's first rule of cleaning echoes that of many household experts: "top to bottom." This technique drives all dust, cobwebs, pet hair and shower scum downward from ceilings, walls and furnishings. Once on the floor, the collective mess becomes a snap to vacuum, sweep or mop up.

His second-favorite direction is "from the farthest point to the door," which allows the cleaner to exit without tracking dirt over newly pristine surfaces.

In less than 10 minutes, I had acquired two foundations of cleaning. But real Maid Pro students learn much more, especially the overarching lesson of the order of chores.

First, strip the beds and put sheets and pillowcases in the washer. Then clean the whole kitchen, which is the toughest room in the house and gets a full half-hour of attention. (Doyle loves washing kitchen floors with a "Sh-mop," its large head covered by an abrasive pad and elasticized cloth cap). Continue by cleaning all bathroom surfaces before doing the bedrooms. Finish the laundry and bathrooms, clean the hallway and stairwell, and end up in the living and dining rooms.

MaidPro owners nationwide must use the same cleaning products, most of them from Procter & Gamble, including a liquid Comet cleanser that is not available to the public. The techniques are also uniform.

Take the toilet: Spray liquid scouring solution on the outside, from the top of the tank to the base of the throne. Pour Mr. Clean Toilet Bowl Cleaner into the water. Wait 15 minutes, wipe the exterior with a nylon scrubby and a microfiber cloth (color coded so it will not mistakenly be reused in the kitchen, thank heavens). Tackle the bowl with a long-handled toilet brush.

For framed art, spray Windex onto a paper towel to clean the glass. Spraying the glass directly may ruin the picture behind it. To shine a metal frame, first remove the photo, glass and backing, then apply polish (Doyle uses Nonox for Brass, Mrs. Wright's Silver Cream for sterling or silverplate and a soft toothbrush for detail work). When the polish dries, rinse it off with hot water and completely dry the frame with a soft cloth before reassembly.

He routinely damp-cleans hardwood floors with a mild solution of 4 ounces of Spic and Span and 28 ounces of water. Occasionally, he uses Dura Seal paste wax on a wood floor and polishes it to high gleam with an electric buffer. He uses Riccar upright and tank vacuums with HEPA filters for most tasks, but prefers a ProTeam backpack vacuum for draperies because the wand has an adjustable suction vent and the machine is light enough for the cleaner to wear while climbing a ladder.

In dusting furniture--MaidPro uses microfiber cloths because they create enough static to attract dust--he instructs cleaners to move knickknacks and clean each with a brush.

He generally just dusts wooden furniture or goes over it with a cloth slightly dampened with a diluted Spic and Span solution because, over time, Doyle says, aerosol furniture polish containing silicon softens the finish and makes it less dirt-resistant and more scratch-prone.

There are other rules to master, including these: Always put newspaper on the floor before de-gunking an oven, never spray cleaners on or near a fish tank or pet cage, and check for toothpaste splatters on bathroom mirrors.

After several weeks of MaidPro University training, it's time for "graduation" to a team of one's own. In the Washington area, MaidPro prices range from about $60 for a condo (oven and refrigerator cleaning cost extra) to $1,200 for a five-story ambassador's residence.

Other commercial services also train their staffs, although they don't call it college.

Maid Brigade, based in Atlanta, offers a weeklong combination of morning classes and afternoon hands-on cleaning lessons. Chicago-based Merry Maids, the nation's largest franchise cleaning service, not only trains its own workforce but posts helpful hints on its Web site (www.merrymaids.com) for the rest of us.

Who knew that lemon oil applied to bathroom tile walls can retard soap-scum buildup? Ditto for car wax on the sides of a porcelain bathtub (do not wax the tub's bottom and invite a fall). If stubborn toilet bowl rings don't succumb to an acid-based bowl cleaner and a nylon-backed scrubby sponge, attack them with a pumice stone (it must always be kept wet during rubbing). This will work only on vitreous porcelain.

Now I cannot wait to buy microfiber cloths, a fat paintbrush and a Sh-mop for my place.

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Order of chores

Total Time: 3 3/4 Hours

To start:

10 minutes: Strip beds, wash sheets and pillowcases. Later wash towels and bathroom rugs separately.

Kitchen

30 minutes: Dust using duster, microfiber cloths and sable brush (cabinets, fridge top, vents, knickknacks). Wash dishes. Clean appliances, wipe down counters. Remove trash, rinse out trash can. Dust and wipe down baseboards. Vacuum and mop floor. Rinse and dry sink. Move laundry from washer to dryer, start second load.

Bathrooms

50 minutes (25 minutes per room): Spray cleaner on shower tile/glass surround, fixtures and tub. Let sit. Spray toilet exterior; put cleaner in bowl. Start high and dust ceiling, light fixtures, vents, tops of doors. Clean walls, doors and light switches. Clean mirror and vanity, polish sink fixtures. Clean shower surround and tile, recessed soap dish and tub. Remove trash, wash tile baseboards, vacuum floor, then mop. Wash, rinse and dry sink. Replenish towels.

Bedrooms

40 minutes (20 minutes per room): Start high and dust ceilings, vents, door frame tops, pictures. Dust lampshades and light bulbs with brush. Use cloths for lamps and furniture. Vacuum behind nightstands and under bed; put on clean linens. Remove trash. Vacuum baseboards and wipe down. Vacuum and damp-mop wood floors. Vacuum rugs.

Hallways and stairs

20 minutes: Clean from top to bottom all vents, door frames, light switches, pictures, furniture, etc. Vacuum stair carpeting, use damp cloth for wood railing.

Powder room

15 minutes: Follow bathroom instructions above.

Living and dining rooms

60 minutes (30 minutes per room): Clean all surfaces from ceiling downward. Remove all objects from furniture, dust them, clean surfaces and replace. Follow bedroom procedures for lamps, pictures, etc. Vacuum furniture with attention to pet hair; get vacuum hose underneath furniture and cabinetry. Fluff upholstery. Empty trash. Dust baseboards and vacuum floor toward the exit.