By Renae Chiovaro

Home is where the heart is -- not to mention the dirt, dust, bacteria and mold. "People typically only realize how filthy their house is when they move out," says Richard Symes of Clenz Philly, an eco-friendly home and commercial cleaning service in New Jersey and Philadelphia. "Most people clean what they can see, but there's a lot more to cleaning a home than just wiping down your bureau."

Here are the top neglected spots, the most powerful cleaning tools (that you're probably not using) and how often you need to scrub up. The payoff is better air quality, fewer allergy symptoms, a house you can show off to the neighbors, and best of all, peace of mind.

5 Places to Look

1. Up, down and underneath

Look high -- in ceiling corners, on top of shades, blinds and picture frames, and on the blades of ceiling fans -- to find neglected dust. Look low -- under baseboards, under furniture and in the corners of kitchens and bathrooms -- to find colonies of dust bunnies and layers of dirt and grime.

2. Bedding

Millions of organisms live in your mattress. Their dead cells and feces are the No. 1 cause of allergies in a home, says Symes. Get your bed and pillows steam-cleaned once a year to sterilize your sleeping environment.

3. Showerheads

Potentially disease-causing germs can get trapped in showerheads and grow into biofilm, a layer of slime that delivers a bacteria blast along with your hot water. Clean the showerhead with a wire brush every week and replace it every year to prevent germy buildup.

4. Sponges and dishtowels

Moisture and bits of food on clingy surfaces make these common kitchen items a dangerous source of E. coli, salmonella and other virulent bacteria, not to mention yeasts and molds. Rinse sponges after every cleaning with soap and water, and disinfect them once or twice weekly by zapping them in the microwave for 60 seconds or sending them through the dishwasher.

5. Your front door

According to Symes, 85 percent of the germs and dirt in your house come in through the front door. Don't let them! Station one doormat outside and one just inside the door. Shuffle your feet on the mat before you enter, then remove your shoes once inside.

5 Tools to Use

1. Grout brush

It gives you access to areas that a sponge or cloth can't reach -- corners, under baseboards and around window locks. Just spray with household cleaner, brush and wipe.

2. Steam machine

High-pressure steam naturally disinfects and cleans tile surfaces. It works by flushing the dirt out rather than packing it in.

3. Microfiber cloths

They're made with loops that act like tiny claws, gripping and holding dust -- not kicking it back into the air like cotton cloths do. You don't even need to spray!

4. Vacuum with HEPA filter

Unlike standard vacuum bags, which are fine for collecting small chunks of stuff, HEPA filters suck up dust, retaining 99.9 percent of the small particles they encounter.

5. Clean paper towels

Old T-shirts or rags are commonly used to clean, but if they've previously been used, you will just end up spreading the dirt they removed from another area. Instead, grab a roll of paper towels to ensure the mess isn't spreading.

5 Ways to Keep It up

1. The house

Do a top-to-bottom cleaning every other week (more frequently if you have kids and pets, especially shedders). Pay special attention to wet areas -- kitchens and bathrooms -- where bacteria and mold tend to grow.

2. Bath towels and hand towels

Wash them weekly to avoid mold spores.

3. Sheets and duvet covers

Wash sheets once a week, duvet covers once a month.

4. Carpets and upholstery

Get them professionally cleaned every six months to a year.

5. Curtains

Wash or dry-clean curtains every few months. In between, lay them on the floor and vacuum them lightly or do a couple of passes with a lint brush or lint roller.


Home & Garden - How Clean Is Your Home?