Most of us know the basic things that should be included on our home and garden fall cleaning checklists (whether we do them or not is another story). Things like: Deep cleaning the house, replacing HVAC filters, installing storm windows, clearing out gutters, and storing outdoor furniture. But there are some areas we overlook that are worth remembering, because they can get really gross.Behold a list of commonly forgotten—but no less important (or grimy)—areas of your home to include in this year’s fall cleaning plan.
For some, this may already be on your list of things to clean at least once a year, and for that, we commend you. But for those who may not purify their sleep haven regularly, here’s your reminder: mattresses are fucking disgusting! Not only are they bacteria-breeding graveyards for our saliva, sweat, and dead skin cells, they are basically a swank gated housing community for millions of dust mites.
And how do these tiny bugs spend their time? Feasting on the all-you-can-eat buffet of our dead flesh, excreting highly allergenic droppings, then dying and leaving their carcasses in our mattress fibers. Another fun fact? Ten percent of the weight of a 2-year-old pillow can be comprised of dust mites—and their poop. Bye, going to throw up now.
How to clean it: Wash all bedding and pillows in hot water. Vacuum your mattress, spot-clean stains, then sprinkle with a liberal amount of baking soda. Let sit for a few hours, vacuum again. Flip the mattress (if you don’t have a pillow top), protect with plastic cover, and outfit with fresh sheets and duvet cover.
In addition to the usual suspects of grease, oil, food shrapnel, and hair, our drains are also home to a host of mold, fungi, salmonella, and other potential pathogens. Not only do these germs cause a nasty smell over time, the black biofilm they create causes clogs that impair proper drainage.
How to clean: Start by plunging—yes, plunging—your drain. Fill the sink or tub with enough water to cover the drain and give it a few quick plunges. Once you’ve removed the debris, pour in half a cup of baking soda, followed by half a cup of white vinegar (some suggest adding half a cup of salt before the vinegar). Let sit for 30—60 minutes, then flush with boiling water. Alternately, you can use a biological or enzymatic drain cleaner like Zep or Citra-Drain.
What’s going on behind my refrigerator, you ask? A crap-ton of dust is collecting on its coils. (Plus, potential moisture that can lead to mold growth.) While this may not seem like a big deal (after all, no one can see it), over time, the buildup of film decreases the appliance’s cooling power and can lead to premature motor failure. Cleaning the coils will increase your fridge’s lifespan and delay the dreaded day when when you’ll inevitably need to drop $500 to $2,000 to replace it.
How to clean: First, unplug your refrigerator to prevent electric shock. Grab a face mask, pull the fridge away from the wall, and locate the condenser coils (metal tubes in a repeating “S” pattern—either in the back, or tucked inside the vent cover at the base.) Remove vent cover and vacuum the coils thoroughly; use an old toothbrush or a coil brush to remove any remaining grime. Vacuum again, then wipe coils down with a mix of vinegar and water on a microfiber cloth.
It might surprise you that an appliance that spins around soap and water for a living isn’t spotless, but washing machines actually supposed to be cleaned once a month. (Please, a moment of silence. We’re in crisis.) Over time, the soap residue and chemicals from detergent create a film that dilutes the efficacy of detergent, traps odor particles, and breeds bacteria. The cruddy combination of dirt, mold, mildew, and microbes manifests as a black film across the rim of the drum.
How to clean: Add three cups of white vinegar to the basin and let it fill up with water on your machine’s hottest setting. After it has agitated 1-2 minutes, add a 1/2 cup baking soda, let it agitate two more minutes, then stop the cycle. Let the cleansing mixture sit for one to two hours before re-starting the machine and finishing the cycle. (You may need to wipe down the rim with a vinegar-primed wet sponge to eliminate any remaining dark smudges.)
It’s almost cozy-up-by-the-fire season again, and your home should be prepared. According to Home Depot, “After extensive use, chimney interiors can suffer from a buildup of creosote, a flammable substance from unburned tar vapors.” This is why the Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends “that open masonry fireplaces should be swept at 1/8-inch of sooty buildup,” as this is enough to cause a chimney fire. While you’ll likely want a professional to do a full chimney overhaul, the fireplace is an area you can manage yourself.
How to clean: Cover surrounding furniture and rugs with trash bags, old towels, or sheets. (You’ll probably want a face mask, gloves, and some protective goggles if you have them.) Remove the andirons and grate and take them outside to be scrubbed with a wire brush. Sweep out ashes and debris in the firebox (sprinkling the area with damp, used coffee grounds can help keep ashes from scattering), then vacuum. If you want to go the extra mile, go ahead and scrub that soot buildup off your chimney bricks.
If these unsightly places have been off your radar, same. We’ll be cleaning these oft-overlooked spots right alongside you.