How Long Will it Take to Clean My House?

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Dear Home Ec 101,
How long will it take to clean my house?
Curious in Corpus Christi

time to clean

Heather says:

Well Curious, what is your favorite color?


Ok. I’ve plugged that variable into the top secret Home-Ec 101 House Cleaning Algorithm and I’ve determined it will take you exactly 18.36 hours to thoroughly clean your house. Oh. Wait. That doesn’t make much sense does it? A question like “How long will it take to clean my house?” has an incredible number of variables.

What kind of home do you have?

Someone who lives in a McMansion is going to have a lot more surface area to clean than someone who lives in an efficiency. In that case, just doing surface cleaning? Just mopping? The person who lives in the tiny apartment will be done in no time. Even if the floors are equally grubby, it simply takes longer to mop more square footage.

How many people live in the house?

More people means more messes. Humans are rather nasty creatures and in this case I’m not even counting what the young ones do -one of my minions has a cold and she’s at the age where I have to remind her to blow her nose, good times. People shed skin cells and hair, they track in dirt, even if they wipe their feet. The oils from our skin lingers on keyboards, remote controls, wall plates, and door jams.

Did you know there is actually a guideline for how often you should vacuum? Don’t feel badly if you didn’t know I was recently involved in a focus group discussing a vacuum cleaner and it surprised the hosts. Each week you’re supposed to thoroughly vacuum a carpeted room AND add a quick vacuum of high traffic areas for each additional family member, including large dogs. So, if you have a family of four, that’s one deep vacuum and three quick. . . do you see how this adds up? For what it’s worth, babies don’t count, but you’ll probably vacuum even more often once they can crawl.

Are there pets?

We love our animal friends, but anything other than beta fish tend to bring their own measure of mess into a home. From tracked in dirt to litter boxes, shed hair and damage to furniture. They all have a cost when it comes to extra work. -How long until someone tells me about the hairless cat they trained to use the toilet? That’s the exception that proves the rule, people-

Are there children under the age of reason?

Do I really even have to explain this one? It’s chaos in a 3 feet tall package -unless you’re my kid and then you bump it up to under 5 feet-. Sure children can be taught to help with damage control, but for years even the most perfectly behaved, helpful, and polite children create more mess than they can possibly undo.

How many people actually clean in the home?

How well chores are divided will help reduce the amount of time any individual has to spend cleaning a home. For even the most well adjusted adults, this often requires a lot of effective communication of wants and needs on both parts.

Do you cook in your home?

Cooking food adds moisture and often sends aerosolized grease particles -yes, even vegetarians, just less so- into the air. The particles float around and cling to surfaces. Once they are on a surface a dust magnet has been created. The longer the dust magnet sits on the surface, the harder it will be to remove.

Let’s consider clutter.

Imagine two book cases. One has neat rows of books and the other has glass figurines, odds and ends, a pile of papers, etc. The first only requires the soft bristle attachment of the vacuum or a feather duster. The other? You’re going to have to unload each shelf, wipe the item carefully and replace gently. Multiply this around every horizontal surface in a home and it quickly becomes obvious that the amount of STUFF in a home drastically affects the time it takes to clean.

How often has the home been cleaned?

If you’ve lived in a home for five years and never cleaned the tub, it is going to take a long time to undo the damage. Some of it may not even be fixable. Regularly attending to chores keeps grime from building up. Without a lot of grime to remove, cleaning takes less time.

I wish I had a simple answer for you, Curious. The truth is I can’t give you a good answer, just trying to figure out how long it should take a person to clean their home without any other variable is a very overwhelming task. Here is what I do know.

house cleaning help

Click the picture for more cleaning help!

How to reduce the time it takes to clean:

  1. Communicate
  2. Delegate.
  3. Don’t procrastinate.

Good luck.

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Dry Wall Dust and Other Fun Construction Clean Up

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This reader question came in via email titled: A kitchen cave-in.

Dear Home-Ec 101
Yep. That’s right. Lost the ceiling in my kitchen – drop ceiling, light fixture, older (plaster?) ceiling above it, and about 18 inches of blown insulation. I am in the process of getting it fixed. I have shoveled and scooped more insulation than I thought existed in the world!

Anyway, now that the drywall is up for the ceiling (it still needs to be painted), I have to clean EVERYTHING, including the surrounding rooms.
Any ideas?
I have linoleum squares in the kitchen and carpeting in the other rooms.
Kind regards,
The Mess, OMG The Mess (And the Dust did I mention the Dust)

deal with dry wall dust and construction clean up

Heather says:

Let’s just start with the conciliatory message. I’m so sorry, I’m also so very glad that it isn’t me dealing with this. Don’t worry, there’s a TL/DR summary at the end for some of you. You know who you are.

Now, let’s get started on how to tackle the mess that I’m sure is a giant pain in the rear.

Get thee to a hardware store, equipment rental supply store, or maybe even your friend’s basement or garage, pronto. Why? Because you do not want to use a nice vacuum, even or especially rather, with a HEPA filter to clean up the amount of dust you’re about to encounter.

If you are going to spread the clean-up over several days AND have plenty of storage area, go ahead and buy yourself a decent shop vac, it’ll work out to about the same cost. If, however, you have a smaller home and/or live in an apartment and just don’t have the storage, it is possible to rent one.

Whichever route you choose, be sure to get a fine dust bag for the shop vac. This will prevent the dust from blowing right back into the air, where you’ll just have to re-vacuum and then it’ll blow back in the air and . . . (You get where I’m going, right?)

If you have a box fan or window fan go and and set it IN the window of the room, set it to high, and set it to draw the air from the room and blow it out of the room. The goal here, is to get as much airborne dust out of the living space as possible.

After the first round of  vacuuming, get a clean, or better yet new broom -a whisk broom or foxtail would be perfect and whisk down the walls and baseboards. You might as well do the ceiling fan, if there is one, while you’re at it. While you’re in your bedroom, I would place the pillows UNDER the top blanket or add another sheet over the whole bed to keep all of this mess from settling into your bedding. Dry wall dust and insulation in your pillow would, let’s just say, would not be fun. Don’t forget to shower and wash your hair before getting into bed after this job. This mess is tenacious to say the least. (A hat or do-rag (doo-rag? I’m not sure of the spelling, I’ve only ever said it aloud) wouldn’t be a bad idea, either)

Vacuum the carpeting several times. I’m sorry but it’s just not going to be a one and done job. And when I say vacuum, I mean slowly and thoroughly.

Vacuum the linoleum. Twice.

Once you’re done vacuuming, wipe the baseboards and all ledges with damp cloth to pick up the last of the settled dust. Wipe down your counters and the stove hood, the stove, etc. Then damp mop the tiles.

And finally, when you’re through for the day, change the air filter for your HVAC.

You’ve done it

Here’s the short version of how to clean up dry wall dust:

  1. Set a fan in the window to blow dust out-of-doors
  2. Vacuum everything with a shop vac that has a fine dust bag in the collector.
  3. Sweep / whisk down the walls and ledges
  4. Vacuum again
  5. Maybe one more time just for good measure
  6. Wipe everything with a barely damp cloth that gets rinsed and wrung often.
  7. Damp mop the tile
  8. Change the AC filter
  9. Enjoy a beverage of your choice and use the social platform of your choice to brag on how accomplished / exhausted you feel.
house cleaning help

Click the picture for more cleaning help!

There you go. I don’t envy your job, but at least you got a refreshed kitchen out of the deal? Yeah, I know, that’s not really the bargain it sounds. . .Hang in there and thank you for writing in.

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How to Choose and Clean a Mop

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

I have read your post on ‘How to Mop‘ but I have a question for you about the type of mop to use.

I have a string mop and one of those flat mops with a removable cloth that can go through the washer after it is used. I think the string mop is easier to use – gets in corners easier, I can get up on the baseboards, and I feel like it’s faster, but it also feels dirty to me. It feels unsanitary and like I’m just spreading the dirt around my house and then re-spreading the next time I get it out to use.

Is it? I have tile floors and wood floors. What is the best type of mop to use?

Mopping Makes Me Go “Meh”
Heather says:

The key to keeping a cotton string mop from being disgusting, is to clean it THOROUGHLY after each use. As you have noted cotton string mops have some distinct advantages over their sponge mop counterparts.

Wash the mop thoroughly after each use under HOT running water until the water runs clear, wring it thoroughly, and allow it to dry completely.  Some cotton string mop heads can even be thrown into your clothes washer, if it makes you feel better. (Just be sure you remove the metal part of the head or you’ll scratch up the inside of your washing machine which may lead to rust stains on your clothes.

Never leave a cotton mop soaking in dirty mop water, or you’re right, you will be spreading nasty things all over your home. And using a mop bucket with a wringer will make your life easier.

Sponge mops may be a little easier to clean, but they do need to be replaced more often and are not a good choice for textured flooring. Well, not a good choice unless you find shredded mop bits an attractive decorative addition.

Finally, here’s something to remember. We may joke about floors being clean enough to eat off of, but that’s not what floors are for. The only time you really need to worry about the floors is if you have infants who are crawling around. By all means, sweep and vacuum up the dust bunnies and grit (which will harm both your carpet and your hard flooring) and always spot mop anything sticky or greasy -we’re not out to invite unwanted guests here, either, but really try not to stress out too much about germs on the floor.

We wash our hands properly before preparing food and eating for a reason, as humans we do come into contact with germs. It’s normal, unless our immune systems are compromised, we’re built to withstand a little bit of exposure. In fact there is some evidence that we evolved in such a way that NOT being exposed to germs may actually do more harm than good.

Not every surface in our home has to be sanitary. That said, always mop the kitchen first and the bathroom last, just like in the shower or tub, where you wash your face before you wash your butt…

And regarding your hardwood floors, you shouldn’t be mopping often and when you do, it’s a DAMP mop, not a wet mop (that’s where the wringer really comes in). Try to stick to using a dust mop and then spot mopping only when necessary. Tile can take more frequent mopping and thanks to the grout, a string mop is a better choice.

Good luck!

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Warning: There Is No Secret

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Heather says:

I should probably give all readers a clear warning before continuing:

I am a stressed out, hot mess of a person right now. This afternoon at 1pm PST I’m going on an internet show to pitch my startup SpinPicks. I am nervous as can be. The kids’ football season is in the chaotic mess of having two boys on different teams playing games on different nights in different places. Apparently, it’s Open House week and I just had to say to heck with that, between football and the shifts I work, there’s not a chance I can make it. (This is not a plea for pity, just a holy cow I’m stressed vent)

My tact button is broken.

Recently, it was requested that I share the daily chores from the post-it notes on the Home-Ec 101 Facebook Fanpage. So I’ve been doing just that.

The chores and clean house chore chart are a framework. I am purposely not specific with the names of rooms, what time, or how long a person should spend per room because frankly there is no way I can tell you it will take you 30 minutes to clean your living room.

What if you don’t have a living room? I was once asked, with no further detail, how long will it take me to clean my house? In my home, there is a FROG and a Florida Room, we don’t have a basement or a mudroom. We have a dining room and a family room, but no formal living room. My point is there are so many variables -what variables? Read the how long will it take post ^^^- that I could spend days writing up individualized plans, but -and this is selfish- I love y’all, but I just don’t have that kind of time or mental energy.

I’ve told you the secret to a clean home, it’s simple, there’s no secret: put your stuff away. This means the clutter gets put away, the trash goes in the garbage, the dirt goes down the drain, and the laundry gets cycled and put away. Do you not know how to get started with cleaning?

I will always happily answer any specific how to question, but I cannot make you do something you don’t want to do or make you read the content already on the site. If you want a clean house, you’ll work on it, a little each day. You can search the site for specific problems – why is there so much lint in my laundry room, how do I clean enameled cast iron etc. Maybe you’ll find value in the Cleaning 101 series. I don’t live in your home so I can’t tell you to pick up the socks under your bed. Honestly, I try not to stalk any of you, I’m a little weird, but not THAT weird.

Hang in there, I know it’s hard, especially when it feels like no one helps and it feels as though all you do is work and never get anywhere. I cannot emphasize enough how much I do understand. I know it seems like I sit here at the ready to answer your questions,doing nothing else, but I’m out there living life, too.  And life IS messy, I just help tell you how to clean it up.

Cross your fingers for me later today and I’ll continue to be here for you to the best of my ability.

Real Estate Ready?

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Dear Home Ec 101,

I am trying to get my house on the market to sell.  Any cleaning/organizing advice?  My house is atrocious!  I hope you can call that comment a “Sunday Confessional”.  I have a 20 month old baby, work full-time, and no one in the house cleans up after themselves.  I can’t keep the house clean or get it ready for sale.

Any advice?

Frantic in Fresno

Heather says:

First off, I hope the market in your area is better than ours or you may be in for a long ride. I’ve been toying with the idea of selling for 5 years, but the market just hasn’t made it worth the hassle. When you list your home, you do have the option of asking for 24 hours notice for showings. It is important to note that this will make your home less appealing to real estate agents as they now have to factor this into their schedules. Just remember, it IS an option.

From the sound of your email, I’m guessing you are not a single parent, that there is at least one other adult who shares the responsibility of getting the house real estate ready. Sit down with your partner in crime and have a pen and paper at the ready. The two of you are going to make a prioritized list of what needs to be done to be “showing ready.” Start working on that list as soon as possible and keep reminding your partner, it’s a team effort. It’s not just your house for sale.

If you’re looking to get your house ready for the market, put the Home Ec 101 Weekly Chore List into effect and over the next few weeks, it will come together. It does take consistency, though.

Having a toddler in a home does make selling a home far more interesting, but there are ways and means to contain their mess and for better or worse the responsibility for this falls on your (the parents’) shoulders.

Until the house has been sold:

  • Food and drinks stay in the kitchen or dining room. No exceptions. NONE. It’s a hassle, but it is not child abuse to have a specified areas and times for food and drinks. (Water can be available at all times)
  • Use a tarp below the high chair to reduce the number of times a week mopping is necessary.
  • Have a basket in each room for the toddler’s toys and make sure the toys are put away before leaving the room.
    See Cleaning Up with Preschoolers

If you’re already in crisis mode and the house is on the market and you’re just waiting for the phone to ring, start working through the following.

Get rid of clutter

All counters should all be clear as humanly possible, this means both kitchens and bathrooms. In general people won’t be going through your drawers or cabinets in a walk through, so try not to stress over the hidden clutter (except closets) at this time, worry about that when you move.


Few things are as big a turn off as crusty dishes in a sink or left on the counter. Put dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Clean dishes drying in a rack are tolerable, but put away is best.

Hampers for Laundry

There is no way you can always have all of the laundry done, all of the time. Make sure it is at least contained in clothes hampers to reduce the chance of strangers seeing your dirty underwear.

Make the Beds

Get in the habit of making the beds every morning. It’ll be one less thing to worry about in the final run through.

Odor Free

Be extra vigilant about any odors, whether they are stale odors from cooking, mildew in the laundry room,  musty odors, or mysterious pet odors.


Close the lid on the *clean* toilet and make sure the mirror and sink are shining. This means no dried toothpaste spatter. And try to make sure your personal care items are not sitting out.

Make sure tub toys are at least in a mesh bag and hanging.


Should be swept or vacuumed just before the showing. Spot mop if necessary (this is why I suggested a tarp, so it won’t always be necessary).


Make sure there aren’t any burnt out bulbs in your light fixtures. It makes a big difference.

Those are your biggies, you can read up on curb appeal or watch shows on the DIY network to get ideas on staging, but I have a feeling just getting the house in order will be enough of a task. I know there are some real estate agents who read Home Ec 101 and I would love for them to chime in anything I miss in this list.

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