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Tough Cleaning Made Easy

  • Dan Sipple

    Stickler: LCD Screens

    Solution: While glass cleaners are fine for shining up old-school TV screens and computer monitors, the alcohol and ammonia in these products can, over time, etch and cloud the delicate plastic coating on high-def panels, says John Herrman, contributing editor at the online gadget guide Gizmodo. To remove streaks and smudges, he suggests gently running a barely damp microfiber cloth across the surface; follow with a dry cloth. (Microfiber cloths are lint-free and less abrasive than cotton or paper towels.) Never spray anything directly onto the screen. If this doesn't bring desired results, try a cloth moistened with equal parts distilled white vinegar and water, which works just as well as specialty screen cleaners sold at electronics stores, says Julie Edelman, author of The Ultimate Accidental Housewife (Hyperion). Dust screens and casings regularly—again, microfiber is best. To reduce static that attracts dust in the first place, Edelman advises swiping a used dryer sheet (a fresh one will leave residue) over the screen every month or so.

    Stickler: Lamp Shades

    Solution: Remove dust on sturdy fabric shades with a tape lint roller. Brush paper or delicate fabric pieces, such as silks or antiques, with a clean paintbrush, or aim a blow-dryer, set on a low, cool setting, down over the top, says Edelman. For spots, rub on stain remover and lightly blot with a barely damp cloth. Tip: A Tide to Go pen (, $4) almost always does the trick on fabric shades that have stains.

  • Dan Sipple

    Stickler: Iron

    Solution: Whitish or brownish mineral deposits from tap water, and residue from detergent and fabric softener can clog the iron's steam holes and cause it to "drag." To restore the surface, wipe the metal plate with a cloth dampened with warm water and a little dish soap. Use a toothbrush to scrub inside vents, then wipe with a cloth dampened with plain water. Iron a clean towel with steam to remove any soap inside the holes. If this doesn't work, or if something has melted on the plate, try a hot-iron cleaner, available in tubes at hardware and crafts stores—put a dab on an old towel and run the hot iron over it. Iron a clean towel to remove residue.

    Stickler: Computer Keyboard

    Solution: "Studies have shown that the average keyboard has more germs than a public toilet seat," says Edelman, who recommends a de-crumbing and sanitizing regimen. Disconnect the keyboard or power down your laptop and use a hair dryer set on cool or a can of compressed air (try Dust Destroyer,, $9) to lift dust and debris from between the keys. Turn the panel over, gently shake and apply air again. Next, wring out the excess moisture from a bleach-free disinfecting wipe (like Seventh Generation,, $4) and rub that over and around the keys. While you're at it, wipe down the mouse and mouse pad. Another option, great for getting kids to clean their own keyboards (plus cell phones, video game controllers, and more), is a slime-colored Silly Putty-like substance known as Cyber Clean (, from $6). Press the gob, which is treated with germ-killing chemicals and can be reused, over keys to pick up dirt and bacteria.

  • Dan Sipple

    Stickler: Houseplants

    Solution: A feather duster is good for getting dust off leaves without doing any damage. You can also set the plant in the tub and gently hose it down with room- temperature water—cold water can leave spots on the foliage. Use a cotton cloth or damp microfiber dust mitt (Quickie,, $3.50) to wipe leaves on larger plants and trees; this makes it easy to target each frond quickly and precisely. Mix water with a little dish soap for leaves that have been exposed to kitchen grease. Clean dusty fabric flowers and plants by holding them upside down (if possible) and blasting with a hair dryer set on cool or a can of compressed air, says Diane James, a designer of high-end faux bouquets. If needed, spray on a silk flower cleaner, like Silk 'n Splendor (, $4), which dissolves dust and grease, no wiping required.

    Stickler: Grill Grates

    Solution: Every time you cook, preheat the grill for 10 to 15 minutes (with gas, turn it up to high) to sterilize the grates and loosen any baked-on debris, says Steven Raichlen, author of Planet Barbecue (Workman). Then brush vigorously with a steel or brass-bristle grill brush. Before you start cooking, oil the grates: Fold a paper towel into a small pad, and, using tongs, dip it in a bowl of vegetable oil and rub it over the entire surface. When you're done, keep the grill going for about 10 minutes (turn gas burners back up to high) and brush the grates again. Once a year, run stainless steel grates through the dishwasher. Hand-wash and lightly scour enameled or cast-iron ones (re-season the latter afterward). Or, next time you're using "self-clean" on the oven, put crusty grill grates inside and take care of two dirty jobs at once.

  • Dan Sipple

    Stickler: Hearth

    Solution: Get up whatever loose soot you can with the vacuum's brush tool, taking care not to press too hard or spread the mess around—bricks are permeable and stain easily. Lightly brush remaining spots with a dry cleaning sponge (, $4), a chemically treated foam block that takes care of stains without water. This is key, since soot becomes sludge-like and trickier to remove when wet. If you're still seeing spots after removing the bulk of the soot, spray area with all-purpose cleaner and rub with a scrub brush to get inside cracks and rough areas. Repeat, if necessary. Blot well with dry cloth.

    Stickler: Air Conditioners and Heaters

    Solution: Vacuum vents and filters regularly—they tend to collect a lot of dust and can blow it around the room—with a brush or crevice tool, says Jeff Campbell, president of the Clean Team, in Jackson, California. A lambswool duster works well too; opt for one on an extension pole (try the Unger Telescopic Lambswool Duster,, $12.50) if you need to reach ceiling registers. A couple times a year unscrew the vent covers and wash them with dish soap. You can also pop plastic or unpainted aluminum or steel covers in the dishwasher. Clean inside ducts, as far as you can reach, with the vacuum or a lambswool duster (a regular 12-inch handle is fine) covered with an old, inside-out cotton tube sock—this helps trap greasy dirt and keeps the duster from getting gummed up.


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