When the days start getting shorter and your thoughts turn to sitting around the fireplace instead of standing around the outdoor grill, it's time to invest a weekend on fall cleaning. Spring isn't the only time of year it pays to clean, organize and take stock of your home environment and accumulated stuff. Autumn is a perfect opportunity to stash that summer sports gear and other assorted toys, and start figuring out where you tossed the umbrellas, driving gloves and snow shovels last spring.
You spend major time indoors when the weather gets cold, so the more you do now to clean and arrange your space, the more pleasant it will be to hunker down for the duration when the weatherman starts talking about frost on the pumpkin.
Some elbow grease now will make Christmas entertaining easier and keep your home safer and more secure, too. A dirty dishwasher or grimy shower may not seem like a big deal when you're watching fireflies on the patio, but come January, you'll be surrounded by overcast skies and wishing you'd dragged out the ammonia on a day when it wouldn't be a problem to leave the windows open all afternoon.
These five important autumn chores will help get you prepared for winter and save you from having to play catch up during those short winter weekends when there never seems to be enough time or energy to get things done before it gets dark outside.
We'll be starting at the top for the first chore, mucking out the roof gutters.
Clean the Roof Gutters
Roof gutters are traces and chutes that route water off your roof. When you buy a home, the prospect of having to periodically climb up a ladder to maintain the gutters of your castle may not be at the forefront of your mind, but even though gutter maintenance may not be on your list of homeowner-friendly chores, it's a necessary part of home ownership. In fact, gutter cleaning is really important for the health of your home. Clogged gutters can cause water to pool on your roof, resulting in leaks and making a more attractive environment for some types of termites. Poor gutter maintenance can also lead to problems with siding, windows, doors and foundations from the prolonged effects of water draining on or near your walls.
Some new types of gutters have capped leaf-catching systems to keep leaves out, but even these gutter innovations aren't foolproof and need to be checked and periodically maintained. The best approach is to plan a day when you can get up close and personal with your gutters, read up on ladder safety, and dig out your heavy-duty work gloves.
Here's what you'll need:
- Narrow trowel
- Plastic garbage bag
- Stiff brush
- Safety goggles
- Hose with pressure attachment
- Heavy-duty work gloves
The easiest way to manually clean your gutters is the day after a light rain. The slightly damp leaves and dirt will come up more easily. If you're lucky enough to have a low sloping roof, you may be able to use a leaf blower to do the lion's share of the work, but if that's your plan, wait for everything in the gutters to dry out completely first.
The heaviest concentration of leaves and gunk will accumulate at the drain outlets, so start cleaning there. Use a narrow trowel to scoop up muck and dispose of it in the garbage bag; a bulb trowel is a perfect choice. You can also do it the old-fashioned way with your gloved hands, but be careful of exposed screws and sharp metal gutter edges. You can tie the bag to your belt or attach it to the ladder. If you can't get all the silt accumulation out, use the brush to work it free. Now you're ready to reposition the ladder and work on the next section of gutter.
Once you have a length of gutter completed, use the hose to remove loose silt and anything else you missed. This will also give you a chance to check how quickly your downspout drains and whether or not the slope of your gutters needs adjustment. If there's an obstruction in your downspout, you can use a plumber's snake to work it out from the bottom up.
Now you can move on to the next length of gutter.
This process will be much easier if you have a helper who can spot you on the ladder and help feed you the hose when you need it.
Gutter cleaning can be dirty work, so make sure that you, and anyone working with you on the ground, is wearing eye protection and old clothing.
While you're thinking about good gutter maintenance, take a look at how water is draining from your roofline. If you see large drips along the joints where sections of segmented gutter are attached to one another, or there are rivulets running down the walls, your gutters may need repair. If water pools under the downspout, consider investing in a sloped splash box that will reroute water away from your home's foundation.
In the next section, we'll take a look at the heart of your home, the kitchen.
Winterizing Your Kitchen
OK, so it isn't glamorous, but a good kitchen overhaul every once in a while helps keep germs and grease buildup under control. It also makes everything smell fresher and look brighter. Apart from regular maintenance, this is the time to wash the curtains, replace the shelf liners, remove and clean the ceiling fixtures and review all the bottles and cans that have taken up residence under the sink. This seems like a big job now, but once you've started to work, it will go fast.
This is also the time to give your major appliances some attention:
- Refrigerator -- Yes, the refrigerator gets dirty enough for a serious cleaning, even though you spot-clean drips and spills right after they happen. Take the time to remove all the contents as well as the shelves, racks, bins and trays. Wash everything with an antibacterial cleaner. Don't forget the door gasket. Door gaskets help create a good seal that keeps the warm air out and the cool air in, so clean it now and make sure that it stays clean.Don't stop with the interior, either. Haul out the vacuum cleaner and clean the condenser coils on the back or bottom of your refrigerator, too. You'll probably have to pop out the decorative grill below the refrigerator door. Clean condenser coils will save you energy dollars by helping your refrigerator run more efficiently.Before you put everything back, be sure to check the condiments and other stuff that tends to accumulate at the back for freshness dates. Keep everything smelling sweet by putting a stocking filled with activated charcoal or an open box of baking soda on one of the shelves.
- Stove -- No one likes cleaning the stove, but short of buying a new one, it's inevitable. If your model is self-cleaning, then you probably know the drill and can pass on some of the scrubbing.If you detest oven cleaners, you can place a cup of ammonia in a ceramic dish in the oven overnight to loosen some of the baked on stuff, or heat the oven to warm and the ammonia will work a little faster. Be sure to wear gloves and open all nearby windows.As for the outside, your oven's owner's manual will have some cleaning recommendations. By all means, use their guidelines for wiping down the stovetop and range hood, and don't forget to clean the range hood's charcoal insert if your model has one .Now, pull the stove out and tackle the dust bunnies and any grime on the sides.
- Dishwasher -- Who knew that an appliance whose sole purpose is to get things clean could get so dirty? For this job, use some baking soda on a damp sponge and wipe down the interior liner. You can clean and deodorize at the same time. For stubborn stains, try using a plastic scrubber.
Moving on, let's take a look at the next spot we want to clean and rejuvenate: the car.
Clean the Car's Interior
You may take regular trips through the car wash or spend a warm afternoon in the driveway cleaning your vehicle's exterior, but what about the inside of the car?
Summer fun can make lifelong memories, but it can also make a terrible mess. Before you spend winter locked in a car filled with beach sand, candy wrappers, suntan lotion and an extra pair of flip-flops, take an hour to clean and vacuum your car's interior. It's a great time to stock your ride with some things you might need in the next few months, like an ice scraper, umbrella, blanket and warm gloves.
There are lots of specialty products designed for cleaning the interior of your automobile, including upholstery and dashboard cleaners. If you want an inexpensive solution, you can use a little laundry soap on a cloth to do most car interior cleaning jobs. Be sure to use a vacuum with good suction, and don't be afraid to try some of the special attachments. For detail work, use a clean, 1-inch paintbrush or even an artist's brush to get rid of crumbs and dust that gets into those tight places.
Don't forget to tackle the trunk, too. Carrying extra weight in your vehicle wastes gasoline, so this is the time to pull out that accumulated clutter and replace it with a lightweight emergency road kit.
Keeping your glove compartment organized is a good policy any time of year. Having ready access to your current car registration and proof of insurance will save you from fumbling through old receipts and plastic fast-food forks if you get pulled over, and this is a great time to make sure that all your paperwork is current. After all, getting organized is one of the nice things about cleaning day.
For the next chore, we won't be going far. Just step out of the car into the garage.
Clean and Organize the Garage
It's pretty common to cringe when you consider cleaning the garage. For lots of folks, the condition of the garage is a guilty secret. If space in its dark expanse is getting so tight that the car won't even fit inside anymore, it's time to get that clutter under control.
This can be a big job if you haven't done it in a while, so start with some preliminary recon. Take an inventory of what your garage contains and how you'd like to organize the space. Make a list of things you're planning to pitch. Move from there to stuff you want to give away, like old toys or that exercise equipment that you never use. Your third list should include items that you plan on keeping, but start to see them in relation to the space. Begin at the car entry door and work back. Keep the most useful items, like tools, in front. Anything you won't use for six months or more can be positioned toward the back. Make some notes on the list to remind you of where put what.
If you know that you still have lots more stuff than your garage can comfortably accommodate, try considering a few creative storage alternatives, like wall shelves or overhead bins. Storage doesn't have to be expensive, and getting things up off the ground will liberate a surprising amount of space. Camping gear, sports equipment, pool toys and some larger tools can be affixed to the wall or placed on a high shelf to make getting around easier and less hazardous.
Once you have a plan, pull everything out of the garage into your three piles, sweep or go over the floor with a wet-dry vacuum, and install any shelving or bins. Now, you're ready to start putting away the things you plan on keeping.
This chore alone could easily take a weekend, but after that, maintaining a clear and useful garage space will be easy.
Beat Pollen and Bugs
In fall and winter, we use our homes more and close them up tight to shut out the cold. While we're protecting ourselves inside, we're trapping dust, dander and mold that can make us sick. Before you batten down the hatches for winter weather, make sure that you get your home as clean as you can:
- Bedding -- Wash all bedding in preparation for cooler temperatures and use very hot water, 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 Celsius) or higher to kill dust mites and bacteria. Over the winter season, be sure to wash bedding weekly [source: Minkin].
- Carpets -- Shampoo all of your carpets and change your vacuum cleaner bag. When you vacuum, go over each area multiple times to get up as much dust as possible.
- Drapes and Blinds -- Launder drapes and vacuum window blinds. If it's been a year or more since you tackled cleaning non-wood blinds, remove them and wash them out of doors with a mild soap. Use the hose to rinse off the soap and let them dry completely. Clean wood blinds with a mild wood cleaning solution.
- Heater/Air Conditioner -- Change or clean your HVAC filter, and repeat the process every month through the winter.
- Pets -- We love them, but they can be a handful, particularly if someone in the family has allergies. Whenever possible, bathe cats and dogs regularly to keep dander to a minimum. A weekly bath may seem unrealistic, but even a monthly wet or dry bath is better than nothing. If you teach them young, you may be able to train pets to tolerate the vacuum cleaner for a weekly vacuuming.
- Moist Surfaces -- Clean surfaces that tend to stay moist a while, like shower enclosures, sinks and floor drains, with mold-busting cleansers or a homemade preparation made with a weak solution of bleach and dishwashing liquid.
Your warm, cozy house may look inviting to more than just your family and friends this winter. If you have or develop problems with fleas, bedbugs, mice, cockroaches or other vermin or pests, call a professional or deal with them sooner rather than later. Your family and pets will thank you.