In March, New Englanders open their windows, eager for fresh air. But when they see swirling dust glistening in the sun, they know it’s time to get to work. We chatted with area cleaning professionals to get the down and dirty on 10 different aspects of spring cleaning. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but should get you off to a clean start.
Check for mold
Jonathan Glazer, owner of PowerBees, a mold removal and remediation company, recommends controlling basement humidity with self-draining dehumidifiers. If it smells musty, have the air tested. Check for visual cues, too. “Look up at floor joists: anything white and cottony is probably mold,’’ Glacer says. And check cardboard boxes and Sheetrock for gray or black spots. Mold can grow in attics too, resulting from condensation caused by poor ventilation. Glacer says that soffit vents covered by insulation are the most common culprit. The solution: Pull insulation away from eaves and vents to help get air moving.
“Unfinished attics and basements make terrible storage places,’’ says Christa Hagearty, president and chief executive of Dependable Cleaners. Keep clothing in dark, dry, cool environments in breathable containers to prevent mold from growing. That means no plastic. Hagearty recommends acid-free cardboard boxes, cloth bags, or just a cotton sheet. Also, be sure to clean garments before storing, as organic materials, like sweat or sugar from what Hagearty calls “invisible stains’’ attracts bugs and fungi, and can stain clothing yellow.
To revive feather pillows, says Dependable’s Hagearty, recommends a service that sanitizes feathers by killing dust mites with ultraviolet light, then blows them into new ticking. If you prefer a home remedy: Be sure there aren’t tears or holes in the ticking, wash pillows two at a time in hot water with a bit of gentle detergent, blot with towels (don’t wring, you’ll break the feathers), and fluff in the dryer with tennis balls.
Beat rugs, pre-vacuum carpets
Trung Nguyen, owner of VioClean carpet and upholstery cleaners, recommends that area rugs get a deep cleaning at least once a year. “Rugs hold a lot of dirt,’’ says Nguyen, “So it’s best to get them out of the house.’’ On-site area rug cleaning only pulls up surface dirt. Nguyen uses a vibrating tool that shakes debris free. For wall-to-wall carpet, be sure to pre-vacuum before deep cleaning. Finally, don’t forget about those entry mats. You’d be surprised how much debris a good wiping shakes loose from your shoes.
Clear dryer vents
Dryer Vent Wizard owners Webb Dickson and Bob Dalimonte stress that dryer vents should be cleaned, or at least inspected, annually. Warning signs that a dryer is poorly vented and in need of cleaning or replacement include excessive drying time, hot but damp clothing at the end of a cycle, a dryer top that is hot to the touch, and lint accumulating on the outside of the machine. Glazer of PowerBees advises that professionals with suction hoses clear debris from long dryer vents. If the vent is less than 6 feet, a homeowner maybe be able to do it with a vacuum cleaner, or can just replace the vent altogether.
Clean in & around appliances
Vacuum refrigerator condenser coils at least twice a year, more if you have pets, says Shaban Banushi, service manager at Yale Appliance, since excessive dirt and fur can impede function. If you have a self-cleaning oven, don’t run it right before the holidays, because if something goes wrong, parts can be hard to come by. Every few years have a professional recalibrate the oven. (Note: store-bought thermometers can be 50 to 100 degrees off.) Also, you can use dishwasher deodorizer tablets to banish buildup in garbage disposals. As for dishwashers themselves, use a paperclip to clear debris from holes in the spinning arms.
Soak chandelier crystals
Keith Campbell of Acu-Bright uses his own invention, a handheld ultrasound machine to clean chandeliers. If you opt to tackle your dining-room chandelier the old-fashioned way, Campbell cautions against chemical spray cleaners sold as quick solutions, as they will corrode the protective lacquer coating of the metal components, as well as the circuitry. Instead, after cutting the power and photographing the fixture so you know how to put it back together, remove each crystal and soak in hot water with a drop of dish detergent. Place on clean towels until partially dry, then buff with a cloth diaper. Before reassembling, wipe down the fixture itself with a microfiber cloth.
Change air filters & clean ductwork
Glazer also reminds, “Before you turn on the A/C, change the filters,’’ Glacer says. “Do so again in fall before turning on the heat.’’ Twice a year is the minimum for decent air quality. Clean filters also help H/VAC systems run more efficiently. “If filters are clogged,’’ says Glacer, “the motor has to work harder to push out the air, using more energy.’’ In addition, ductwork needs a professional cleaning every two or three years. Look for services that use machines with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters to clear debris from the entire system, including the blower, the motor, and every supply and return. Glacer cautions, “Some companies, the ones that send those coupons in the mail, do it in 20 minutes,’’ Glacer cautions. “They can’t be trusted. A 1,400 square-foot house should take about 90 minutes.’’
Wax wood furniture
Ted Eayrs, co-owner of Blackburn Building Conservation in Middleborough, laments the current fascination for shine. Eayrs, who has cared for wood finishes at the Breakers in Newport, R.I., says we should leave old furniture alone. “Antiques traditionally have a shellac and wax finish,’’ he says. “Liquid silicone polish - the stuff in spray cans - penetrates and destroys it.’’ A soft cloth dampened with warm water works fine. Occasionally, apply high-quality butcher’s wax, available online and at home improvement stores. “It’s messy, hard work, but it’s the only safe way.’’ More important than cleaning is checking furniture’s condition, especially in New England where there is radical variation in temperature and humidity. If legs are loose or veneer is peeling, bring to a workshop for restoration.
Greg Bishop, co-owner of Oliver Brothers Art Restoration and Custom Framing, counsels: “Keep artwork in stable environments with consistent temperature, low humidity, and low light - light damage is irreversible.’’ Examine oil paintings for cracks, flaking, or waviness by looking closely straight on, and at an oblique angle, lit from the side. Check works on paper straight on, with magnification, for brown or black spots of mold. Use only a soft sable brush to dust oil paintings and gilt frames. Wipe wood and metal frames with dry microfiber cloths. Mira Bishop, who specializes in framing, warns never to use ammonia cleaners on glass or Plexiglass - it will ruin both. And never spray directly on the surface. Instead, spray a microfiber cloth and take care not to allow moisture between the glass and frame.