It is the first really warm spring weekend, the flowers are blooming, the grass is green, the bugs are biting, what a perfect day for a barbeque! Only after dragging out the patio furniture, grabbing a cool drink and pulling a couple steaks out of the freezer do you open the cover on the barbeque. The thoughts race through your mind….. we actually ATE food cooked on this thing? Did winter begin before we cleaned up after our last barbeque? Can we afford a new barbeque?
I actually had a lengthy conversation with a friend on the merits of buying a high end barbeque. His thoughts were, that no matter how nice the barbeque, it still needed to be cleaned. He figured that instead of buying an expensive stainless steel unit, he would just buy a cheap barbeque every other year, and then give it away to charity at the end of the second summer instead of having to ever do a thorough cleaning. This works for him, partially because he has more money than brains, but for the rest of us, we usually have to get that old barbeque to be semi-sanitary again.
Usually the most disgusting part is the grill and the bottom of the barbeque. Remove the grill, and place it on a newspaper outside. Spray it with oven cleaner, and cover it with a plastic garbage bag. Let it sit overnight, and the next day remove the grill and flip the bag inside out to contain the grease and oven cleaner saturated newspaper. Be certain to wear gloves, as oven cleaner is VERY caustic, and it can burn the skin very easily. Rinse the grill off with your garden hose, but try not to wash the chemical into your lawn, as it has a tendency to kill it.
The grill may not be perfect, however the bulk of the burnt on grease should come off with the oven cleaner. As a bachelor, I used the argument that the burnt on residue added to the flavor of subsequent meals. That argument went out the window with my old rugby shirt the day I got married, mind you it is probably for the better. There have been studies finding that the carbon deposits from burnt animal fat can be carcinogenic, so there certainly is reason to keep your grill clean.
If you have lava rocks in your barbeque, remove them (Bang them off, but don’t wash them) to get at the burner and all the gunk at the very bottom. If possible, remove the burner from the barbeque. Spiders love to set up house inside of the venturi tubes (the one or two tubes leading from the temperature dial, to the burner). You can clean the tube up to the burner using a pipe cleaner, and it doesn’t have to be perfect, but the less debris there is to clog up all of the tiny element holes the more even you will find the heating. You can actually go around the element, poking each of the holes with a pin to be certain the gas can get through each opening.
Scrape as much of the grease, rust, lava rock chips, carbon residue, from the bottom of the barbeque. There is likely even a little hole where excess grease will drain down into an old soup can. Be sure it is not clogged, and it is helpful if the collection can is present.
While the whole barbeque is disassembled, you can rinse it down with your garden hose. Keep in mind that you will likely need to clean your patio or deck when you are done, so do your barbeque first! The outside of the cast aluminum or cast iron lid can be cleaned with a mild detergent, and rinsed well. Failure to rinse thoroughly, may leave a white soap residue, however even with thorough rinsing, the barbeque may still look rough after wintering the elements for a few seasons. Most home center’s carry barbeque paint, this time of year, which is a high temperature flat black paint. It will make your barbeque look almost new, however there is no better idea than to protect the original finish with a $20 barbeque cover.
There are several different types of grills, including stainless steel, chrome, ceramic coated metal, and plain old iron. Use caution when cleaning a ceramic grill, as abrasive metal brushes can scratch the finish and cause premature failure. With iron grills, season them before using. After the grill has been cleaned with soap, brush with a light coat of cooking oil, and put the barbeque on high heat for 15 to 30 minutes. Some people recommend brushing your grill with oil each time you cook, as it will prevent food from sticking, however a chef I know told me when cooking a steak, you only flip it over when it lets go of the grill itself. If it holds on, let it cook longer, until it looses its grip. And then you flip it ONLY once. I think the best advice is do what works for your style of cooking and your barbeque.
Re-assemble your barbeque, placing the lava rocks DIRTY side down (to burn off the excess grease) and take it for a test run. Once you hook up your propane tank, get a cup of soapy water, and rub it over the connections and hoses. If there is any bubbling, shut of the gas and do not use the until a professional has checked out the entire assembly (tank and barbeque). When turing on the propane tank, open the knob only half a turn. The barbeque will still get enough gas, and if there is an emergency, it can be turned off with one quick turn, in a matter of seconds. For the first use of the season, it is wise to let the barbeque run on high for 45 minutes or an hour, to burn off all the soap, mildew, bacteria, mold, bugs, moisture, oven cleaner, excess grease, and all of the other things that make barbequing outside the best part of summer!!
The first thing to do is remove excess debris, use a pool skimmer or make a skimmer yourself by stretching an old pair a pantyhose over a wire clothes hanger. If the pond is really bad you should empty the pond and then clean, but do this no more than once per year by removing fish etc and draining the water for a thorough cleaning.
Be sure to use a de-chlorinating agent for the water in the bucket or wading pool you’ll be using as a holding tank for the fish while cleaning (use 50:50 fresh water and pond water). Remove silt and debris from the bottom of the pond (it makes good fertilizer). If you have plants remove and place in a shady area so they do not dry out. Use a brush to scrape down the sides. When refilling the pond pour half of the holding tank water in the pond to inoculate the pond with healthy bacteria for the fish, fill the pond and be sure to use a de-chlorinating agent.
Reintroduce the fish slowly by filling the fish holding tank with water of the same temperature as the water in the pond. Pour in half of the water from fish holding container into the pond, and then re-fill the holding container, and once it is full again, empty another 50% into the pond. Repeat this process to slowly change the water temperature, until the fish pond is full again.
Be sure to also clean the filtration system, this is best done by rinsing with water as any soap residue will harm the fish. Removed much of the pond water before trying to net the fish, as it will be easier than trying to catch them with the water full. You shouldn’t clean your pond more than one per year since it take time for the beneficial bacteria to build up. If you want to clean without going to the extreme of empting the pond then use a rake and pull the debris and scoop it out, but be gentle so you don’t stir up the pond to badly.
The easiest way to keep the algae down maybe to increase the scavengers in the pond and regular skimming of the pond to remove leaves etc. Snails, mussels and tadpoles all remove the wastes created by plants and fish inhibiting the growth of algae. A good rule of thumb is one scavenger per square foot of surface.
A trickling fountain is a serene addition to any backyard, until white or green discoloration gets your blood pressure up.
Scale, the white mineral deposits caused by hard water, and algae are the main issues when it comes to fountains. Sticking to a cleaning routine will help prevent either from taking hold.
Both scale and algae build up over time. The more you prevent their buildup, the easier it will be clean your fountain. To prevent algae, use a commercial algae treatment, available at water-garden and fountain suppliers. Typically applied a few drops at a time once a month or so, these inhibit algae growth without the use of chlorine or other harsh chemicals. You can buy a similar commercial treatment for inhibiting scale,. It works the same way to keep scale from forming on your fountain, fountainhead, and filters. You use 2 to 4 ounces for each 10 gallons of water. If you want to not use the commercial products, clean your fountain as needed, usually once a week. For scale and algae, vinegar is one of the best cleaning agents you can use. Empty the fountain and, using a one-to-one solution of vinegar and water, scrub the surfaces with a nylon brush. The vinegar will neutralize alkaline mineral deposits, plus it has good cleaning qualities. Rinse well by spraying the fountain with the garden hose.
Clean the pump and filter weekly as well. Remove the filter and spray it with the garden hose. If not, algae, especially the filament shaped kind, can clog it. Wipe down the exterior of the pump with a wet cloth.
If the pump has mineral deposits, wipe it down with the vinegar solution and rinse with clean water. If you need to scrape algae or mineral deposits out of the intake valve, use the bottle brush supplied with your pump kit, or use a wooden stick, like a Popsicle stick. Metal can scratch the surface.
Caution: To avoid the risk of shock, always unplug your pump before cleaning it.
The most important thing to remember when cleaning walls is to start at the bottom and work your way up. If you start at the top, dirt water runs down the wall leaving very dirty streaks, however if you start at the bottom, any runs are much easier to wipe off a freshly cleaned wall. Semi gloss and gloss paints can easily be cleaned (this is what most kitchens and bathrooms have on the walls) a flat finish can only be cleaned if it is a light color. Dark colors tend to show marks very badly, and will usually look much worse than before being “cleaned”.
- Before washing, dust or vacuum walls to remove loose soil.
- Most painted surfaces can be cleaned with a mild solution of warm water and liquid dishwashing detergent and then rinsed with clear water. You’ll need two buckets – one for the cleaning solution and one for the rinse water and two big sponges.
- Working in overlapping sections, apply the cleaning solution to the walls by rubbing gently in a circular motion.
- Rinse with a separate sponge reserved specifically for the rinse water.
- After you’re done with one section, proceed to the next area, making sure that the cleaning edges overlap.
- When you’ve done several areas, dry off the excess moisture with an old terry towel.
- If the walls are very dirty, you can use a stronger solution to dissolve the dirt. Use a TSP (Tri Sodium Phosphate) solution, especially before painting. Use caution as TSP will dull all surfaces, and may remove paint, particularly flat finishes.
- Test your chemical in an inconspicuous corner first to make sure that the paint colour and finish are not damaged by cleaning. When using TSP, wear protective eyewear, rubber gloves, and a long-sleeve shirt. Always read the label for proper usage and safety precautions.
- Use a drop cloth when washing walls to avoid soiling your floors.
The yard is probably the most popular place to spend most of your time and can also be the biggest creator of summer projects. To start with, spread the work over a few weekends so it isn’t as overwhelming. For most, because we spend much less time outside during winter, our yards are neglected. There are exceptions, like the fortunate residents of Florida and Hawaii, but for the most part being beneath a foot of snow puts our yards at the bottom of our priorities. Then the snow melts, and you wonder, where did all of THIS come from. Snow carries with it, pollution and dust, which is left behind when the snow melts. The freezing and thawing cycles of winter can push rocks up to the top of the soil, crack concrete patios, and shift improperly built fences and structures.
The first task would be to survey the entire yard. Walk your entire fence line to check for visible damage. Shake the posts to see if they are secure. Check for damaged boards, rotten posts, and evidence of mildew or fungus. There are many products available for cleaning fences and protecting them from future weathering. Some of the best environmentally friendly (safe for lawns and plants) products available is made by Biowash, which can be found at most Home Centers.
Retaining walls should also be inspected for cracks, or movement. There should be material (ie. crushed rock) that drains well behind retaining walls, so excessive moisture does not build up and cause damage during freezing cycles. Water is also very heavy, and may stress walls if there is no means for drainage.
The best general cleaning of a yard involves removing fallen branches and twigs, sweeping and hosing down driveways and walkways. Check driveway for fluid leaks from vehicles; absorb as much as possible using a non clumping kitty litter, or a commercially available absorbent powder. Remember antifreeze tastes sweet and attracts pets, however it can be very fatal to pets that lick it up.
Gutters help move all of the moisture that collects on your roof, away from your home. Pretty straight forward, but usually the only time we even look at our gutters is when they aren’t doing their job, or when we hang our Christmas lights. Regular maintenance will ensure that you gutters don’t leak, get clogged, or cause damage to your roof.
In the fall, after the bulk of leaves have fallen, BUT before the snow comes, you should check your gutters. A clogged gutter can cause snow and water to back up underneath the shingles. This, with the freezing and thawing cycles of the spring and fall, can cause serious damage to a roof. It is also helpful in the spring to be sure they have not been damaged by these winter freezing cycles, and to be certain they will be ready for “April showers”. Use an approved ladder, preferably with an assembly that will allow the ladder to lean on the roof itself, instead of against the gutter.
Most gutters are thin gauge metal, or even plastic, which can be badly damaged by leaning the ladder directly on them. Before starting, it can be a good idea to use a garden hose to wash any loose debris from the roof into the gutters. Take a small pail, or plastic garbage bag up the ladder with you. Wearing rubber gloves, scoop any debris from the gutter into the pail or bag. A two inch putty knife can be a great help in removing stubborn collections of gunk. Work your way along the gutter, and never stretch beyond a comfortable reach when standing on a ladder.
A final rinsing with the garden hose, can remove small bits of debris that you may have missed. While you are checking the gutter, it is a good idea to tighten screws or tap in nails which have loosened.
If the downspout is slow to drain, or plugged completely, use a garden hose to push the debris out with a strong stream of water. If the downspout goes directly into a drain, you should undo the connection, to avoid pushing the debris into the drain itself.