Tackle those charred drips and baked-on blobs.
Racks: Lay them down on newspaper or, even better, place racks inside a large plastic garbage bag and spray with a nontoxic oven cleaner. Let sit, then scrub with a scouring pad, rinse well and dry.
Interior: Zap splatters by running your oven's self-cleaning cycle. If you don't have the feature, Debra Johnson, training manager at Merry Maids, suggests applying a fume-free oven cleaner (like Easy-Off). Give the solution about two hours to do its job, then wipe away the greasy debris with rags or paper towels. Follow with a scouring pad, if needed, and a once-over with a microfiber cloth.
Prevention Plan: Place nonstick oven liners on the bottom of the oven to catch spills. To clean, remove the sheet and rinse -- burned food will lift right off.
It's time to think beyond grates and burners.
Exterior: The only way to get rid of sticky cooking residue on the sides of a freestanding range is to first pull the appliance away from the wall. Jan Dougherty, author of The Lost Art of House Cleaning (Outskirts Press), suggests giving it a thorough wipe down with a spray cleaner and scrub sponge.
Top: Eliminate stubborn, encrusted drips with a rubber spatula or a no-scratch scouring pad and hot, soapy water.
Prevention Plan: To stay on top of greasy knobs, drip pans and grates, Dougherty advises putting them all through the scrub cycle of the dishwasher once a week.
Give the fridge a major going over.
Condenser Coils: For safety, always unplug before tackling spots in the rear and under appliances. Some models have condenser coils behind a removable grill on the front. Snap it off and gently vacuum or use a long thin coil brush. Slowly move the fridge away from the wall, vacuum coils in the back, if applicable, then damp mop the floor.
Exterior: Wipe down all sides with a damp cloth and a degreasing agent like Krud Kutter before sliding the appliance back into place.
Top: For the stubborn, sticky film that collects here, Johnson applies hot distilled vinegar in water with a microfiber cloth. Buff dry with a second microfiber.
Prevention Plan: Frequently sweep and vacuum the kitchen floor to minimize crumbs and dust collecting under the fridge.
Eliminate dirt and debris inside and out.
Filter: Before turning on the window unit for the season, pop the front grill off and remove the filter. Clean it with a vacuum brush, says Dave Quandt of American Home Shield, then rinse the filter under a faucet until water runs clear. Air-dry before reinstalling.
Frame: Carefully vacuum inside grills to nab dust. Wash the outside with dish soap, using a sponge paintbrush to swipe vents.
Ducts: Remove the back of the unit and clean with an air conditioner coil cleaner and small brush.
Prevention Plan: Vacuum window unit filters every week or so -- and replace yearly.
Make spiffing up a seasonal priority.
Baseboards: Dry dust by hand or vacuum with a brush attachment and revisit with a rag and a bucket of hot soapy water, Johnson says. Or clean on a low setting with an extension attachment on a household steamer.
Walls: Most scuffs on walls will disappear with a spritz of degreasing cleaner and a microfiber cloth, says Dougherty. Or try a product like Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Always test any product in an inconspicuous area first to ensure that it won't damage paint.
Prevention Plan: Dust or vacuum baseboards monthly, and you'll only need to wash them once a year.
Get rid of grime on overhead fans and lighting.
Hanging Lamps: Always turn power off. For pendants, wash the glass globe in the sink. If it's not fragile, pop the dome into the dishwasher. Use distilled white vinegar and a microfiber cloth to polish the rest of the fixture. Dougherty sprays chandeliers thoroughly with a degreasing cleaner (place a shower curtain on the floor to catch drips). Apply white vinegar with a rag to rinse, and gently dry from the top down with a cloth.
Ceiling Fans: Carefully dry dust the blades and motor housing, then wipe the surfaces with a damp cloth, supporting the blade with your free hand as you work. For out-of-reach high ceilings, a duster on an extension rod works best, combined with a broom to steady the fan.
Prevention Plan: Vacuum fixtures with the brush attachment at least once a month.
Before mold takes hold, launch an all-out attack on shower gunk.
Tile: Spray with a biodegradable cleanser, not bleach, which may eventually eat away at grout. Scour the surface with a brush and use a toothbrush on the grout, then rinse and wipe dry. As an alternative, Johnson recommends trying the smallest brush attachment on a handheld household steam cleaner.
Shower Door: Blast soap and mineral stains on glass by misting with distilled white vinegar. Let sit until scum dissolves, sponge off and rinse.
Fixtures: Say goodbye to hard water spots and deposits on chrome faucets and showerheads by scrubbing vigorously with a toothbrush or microfiber cloth and all-purpose bathroom cleaner. For really tough stains, make a paste of vinegar and baking soda. Scrub and rinse, followed by a buff with another microfiber cloth.
Prevention Plan: Leave the shower door open after bathing to keep mildew and hard water build-up at bay. If you have a ceiling fan, turn it on. Consider keeping a squeegee handy and giving the walls a quick swipe when possible.
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.