Clean & Organize The Garage

Treat the attic of a detached garage like the attic of your home, if it is insulated. If it is not insulated, the garage itself is likely not heated. If the garage has a musty smell, try to increase circulation by adding vents.

Check for pests, such as termites on the sill plate and sills. Check for rodents inside, and if you find evidence there are a variety of different controls you can use from poison to traps. However you choose to remove them, be certain to seal up the way they entered your home to start with. Inspect weather seals, stuff mothballs or steel wool into cracks and holes.

Sweep floor. Apply cat litter to spills of oil, antifreeze, etc to absorb substance. Use a heavy duty degreaser and damp mop garage floor to remove salt.

Check for the storage of chemicals. Do the containers have labels? Are they out of reach of small children? Are the products still effective, or have they expired?

Check you garage door opener. Lubricate rollers on door, hinges, and drive train. Put a 2 X 4 on the ground under the door. Close the door. Does it stop and rebound? Does it stop at all? If there is an infrared sensor, be certain the beam is lined up correctly, and that the wood interrupts the beam. If this is the case the door should not even start. This is the single largest moving piece of equipment in your home and you use it twice per day. Be certain it is safe and maintained and it will serve you for many years.

If your garage is heated, clean furnace, change filter, and shut off gas for the summer.

Check the drains around your garage. Is there a floor drain? Is there a drain in a below grade entrance? Is there a trough at the entrance (usually found when there is a drive way which slopes down into the garage) that needs to be cleaned?

If you have a detached garage, check gutters, shingles, and the condition of the paint.

Check CO2 and smoke detector batteries. Also check gauge or “Test” button on fire extinguishers. ABC dry chemical extinguishers should be turned upside down and tapped lightly to move around the chemical inside. Confirm expiry date. If expired, take to be re-charged and tested, or purchase a new extinguisher.

Auto Interiors

With our active lifestyles and the amount of time we spend in our cars, the average car interior is easy prey for a myriad of stains and odors.  Stain and odor removal is almost a science into itself. Upholstery fabrics and carpets widely vary, as do the composition of stains.  However, in my experience, there is a correct method and a suitable cleaner for most car interior problems.

Protection is Worth a Pound of Cure
Common upholstery fabrics are more likely to stain than vinyl or leather. To best prevent stains altogether, it is necessary to properly treat upholstery, carpet, vinyl and leather. The best treatment for carpet and fabric is a spray on fabric guard product. The Scotch Guard„brand products are the best know, and most widely available.  Other products, like 303 Hi Tech Fabric Guard, offer newer fabric protection formulas.  To protect vinyl and leather, simply use your favorite cleaner and protectant on a regular basis. Some leather protectant products, like Eagle One Leather Conditioner, contain mink oil, which is excellent for protecting against stains.

When the inevitable happens, and your three-year-old drops (or barfs!) his mustard-loaded hotdog on your brand new velour upholstery, stay calm, and remove as much of the spill as possible (by blotting, not wiping, with paper napkins, paper towels, etc).  Then, don’t let the stain sit too long before you get to work on it.  Within a day or two, most spills will set and permanently stain your upholstery or become very difficult to remove. It will only take one such incident for you to realize that a  $15 investment in fabric and carpet protection is worth every penny.

Stain Removal Basics
Even without protection, you would be amazed at how easy it is to clean up most stains with nothing more than a neutral detergent and water.  A neutral detergent has a pH of 7 (on a scale of 0 to 14).  A detergent with a pH less than 7 means it is acidic, whereas a pH higher than 7 is alkaline. Neutral detergents will not bleach fabric or remove fabric protection.

When cleaning a stain, try detergent and water first. If this does not remove the stain, then go for a cleaner with a little more oomph!

Common cleaning agents for interior stains include:

Neutral detergent (Ivory Liquid) & water (1:20)
Mild ammonia & water solution (1:5)
Distilled white vinegar & water (1:1)
Dry-cleaning fluid (Carbona, Renuzit, Perk)

Tools you’ll need to remove interior stains include:

  • Spatula or putty knife
  • Clean, white terry cloth towels
  • Soft bristle scrub brush
  • Wet-dry vacuum

Some stains, no matter what you try, will be permanent. If an indelible stain has penetrated the fibers of a material, they will not come out. You might be able to make the stain less noticeable, but no cleaner or method will remove all of the stain.  You will have to live with it or have the section of carpet or upholstery replaced.  In some cases, leather and vinyl stains can be fixed by color matching the area with a leather or vinyl repair system (a job for a professional).

Removing Odors
I get a lot of questions about removing smells.  The most common questions are How do I remove the smell of cigarette smoke? and My child vomited, how do I get rid of the smell? Most bad smells in cars are organic (i.e., food, urine, vomit, tobacco, grass, mold, mildew, etc.).  I recently had a professional detailer tell me a client had spilled fish in his car, which I know from experience is not pleasant. As a teen I hid an open can of sardines under the seat of a neighbor’s car. They had to sell the car to get rid of the smell!

Smell problems are pretty easy to take care of with some of the new cleaners on the market. My favorite is called Kids & Pets Brand Stain & Odor Remover, by Paramount Chemical Specialties (www.kidsnpetsbrand.com).  This cleaner, and others like it, use enzymes, a surfactant, and denatured alcohol to remove stains and kill odors. The enzymes kill odors in their tracks by stopping the organic material from decomposing. So, spray this stuff where your girlfriend just heaved her guts all over the front seat, and the mess and stain are gone.  Don’t use it, and you’ll be smelling that night for a long time.  Other products that also work okay for dealing with organic smells and stains include Febreze (Proter & Gamble) and FreshCare (Clorox).

Tobacco smoke is one of the most difficult smells to remove from a car.  The smoke permeates everything, including the foam rubber used in seat cushions.  You can successfully remove most of the tobacco smell by shampooing the carpets and upholstery with Kids & Pets Brand Stain & Odor Remover, and wiping down all other surfaces with a sponge and Kids & Pets Brand Stain & Odor Remover. After the carpet has dried for 24 hours, sprinkle baking soda on the carpet, rub it in with your hands, and leave it for a week. After a week, vacuum your carpets.  The baking soda will absorb the remaining odor in the carpet.  Don’t forget to scrub the headliner, as this is the source of a lot of the smell.

by David W. Bynon Copyright (c), 2000, Autopia Car Care — All Rights Reserved

Dirty Flooring Cleaning Tips


There are dozens of types of flooring material found in homes. Many specialized materials have very specific care instructions from the manufacturer, which should be followed as closely as possible. Woven flooring tiles, commercial grade marmoleum, terrazzo, or finished concrete are occasionally found in homes, although because they usually require professional care, we will not go into detail with these types of floors. The other more common surfaces we will detail are wood (real and synthetic), carpet, vinyl, ceramic tile, and unfinished concrete.

Regardless of the type of floor, the two commonalities are that clean floors look better, and clean floors last longer. For example, imagine a particle of dirt in a carpet. As the particle is stepped on, and ground in, it will rub against the carpet fibers. This abrasion will eventually damage the fiber beyond repair, which will effect the overall appearance of the carpet. The same holds true with wood, tiles, vinyl, and even unfinished concrete. Make it last by keeping it clean.


Hardwood floors are protected by a sealer, which penetrates the wood pores, and a coating of polyurethane, shellac, or varnish. Some of these finishes on newer floors are applied in a factory, others are finished after being installed, and others still, are protected by only by wax. As with all floors, vacuum or sweep frequently to keep dirt from being ground into the floor’s finish. Clean spills or mud immediately using an absorbent cloth. Avoid apply too much water to any floor, the surface may be water resistant, however if the substrate is damaged so will the floor itself.. Dry them off with a clean towel to remove excess moisturel.

Do not wax a urethane finish. The wax prevents future recoating, which is how you renew a dulled finish without stripping, sanding, and refinishing the floor. Likewise, choose cleaning products carefully. Use a cleaner recommended by the manufacturer of your floor or your floor’s finish. If you don’t know the type of finish or its manufacturer, use a general cleaner, like Woodwise Floor cleaner, available at wood flooring distributors, or most Home Centers. For wax finishes apply the same logic and use a wax recommended by the manufacturer.

Never use a water-based cleaner. It can stain the wood white. To remove white water spots on a wax finish wood floor, rub gently and in a circular motion with an extra-fine (#000) steel wool and a small amount of mineral spirits. Always follow the chemical manufacturers safety precautions, and be sure to work in a well ventilated area.

Synthetic wood floors, look like wood, but it is just a printed picture of wood glued to a particle board backing. The finishes on these styles of flooring are VERY durable. The don’t scratch, and will keep there appearance for many years.

Usually a quick sweep or vacuum will clean them, although mopping will be required occasionally to remove spills or stains. When mopping the floor, use a mild detergent and, being sure not to use too much water, go over the entire floor. If excessive moisture leaks between the planks, it can badly damage the backing. Then using plain water, rinse off the floor to avoid leaving a detergent film.


Carpets act as filters for an entire house. All of the dust particles in the air eventually settle into the carpet, where they are vacuumed up and removed from the home. Carpets should be vacuumed weekly to maintain their efficiency in collecting dust, and it doesn’t hurt appearance wise either. High traffic areas or entrance areas from outside or a dirty garage might require more frequent cleaning.

Choose a good quality vacuum, and select a unit with a beater bar (or power head) and a HEPA grade filter if you or any members of your family have bad allergies to dust. Keep your vacuum cleaner itself clean and in good working order. An excellent choice for a vacuum is a built in canister style. These are great because they remove the dust completely away from the main living area.

For spot cleaning check out our Do’s and Don’ts of carpet cleaning. Always be sure to blot the stained area, and check for special instructions for removing different types of stains.

Do not overwet wall-to-wall carpeting – excessive wetting can cause the fabric backing to shrink. Sometimes this shrinkage can even cause tears in the carpet. For many non oil-based stains on water-treatable cotton and wool rugs, a good solution to begin with is ¼ teaspoon clear dishwashing liquid and 1 cup warm water.

Dirt is a lot easier to get out than mud. That means if your kids track mud over your Oriental runner in the hallway, let it dry first. Then lift up as much as you can with a dull knife or the handle of a spoon and vacuum the rest. If there is still a residual effect, like a slight shading where the mud was, use the above detergent solution.

Deep clean your rug every 12 to 18 months, either by hiring a professional or doing it yourself. If you use a wet method, like shampooing, remove the furniture from the room beforehand. Or, to prevent rust or other stains from leaking into the rug, place plastic food wrap under and around the legs of chairs and tables. Follow all instructions carefully. Never exceed the recommended solution strength. When you are finished, remove all shampoos, detergents and moisture, which cause dirt to stick to the rug.

Follow the instructions on the product label for proper use and safety precautions. Oriental rugs, which are the most fragile of all area rugs, can be vacuumed safely – and should be as often as other carpets to keep them in peak condition. Vacuum as usual, except when approaching the fringe. With an upright cleaner, tip up the front of the cleaner slightly and push it completely off the carpet. This cleans the fringe without catching it in the agitator. With a canister use a floor brush or upholstery attachment for the fringe. Send antique area carpets out to a professional for implant cleaning.

Linoleum and Vinyl

Linoleum floors were once very common but until very recently were little used in residential flooring. Lately more linoleum is being laid due to its environmentally friendly nature. A pressed type floor traditionally made from natural ingredients, linoleum is very tough. Newer linoleum floors have a tight surface, which is very water, and stain resistant. However, as it ages and wears down it becomes very porous. This, in turn, creates the need for finish to protect the floor.

We recommend sealing a linoleum floor even when it is new so any wear occurs with the finish and not on the floor. Once a linoleum floor becomes porous it is almost impossible to finish it properly. The porous surface will absorb almost any liquid put on it. Also it is very important not to use any alkaline products on linoleum. These will yellow the floor. Use mild detergent to clean and a very light coat of finish to seal. Stripping should be avoided. To prepare the floor for new finish scrub it with a brush and detergent. Rinse with clean water and let dry completely before applying finish.

Vinyl flooring, typically called a no wax, or a no maintenance floor, they appear commonly in kitchens and bathrooms. These large sheets have a variety of patterns and colors, and are factory finished with a tough polyurethane type finish. These floors are very inexpensive, and are simply glued down.

Usually a quick sweep or vacuum will clean them, although mopping will be required occasionally to remove spills or stains. When mopping the floor, use a mild detergent and, being sure not to use too much water, go over the entire floor. Then using plain water, rinse off the floor to avoid leaving a detergent film.

Although called called no maintenance, these floors can loose their luster over time. This can be restored with an acrylic floor polish, that is applied in a very thin coat. Check your local home center or janitorial supplier. These floors are soft, and easily damaged, especially in the kitchen where we all tend to drop pots and knives. Expect to replace these floors every 7 to 10 years under regular use.

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic is very resilient, and while it is very tough a sharp blow can crack or damage the tile.

Usually a quick sweep or vacuum will clean them, although mopping will be required occasionally to remove spills or stains. When mopping the floor, use a mild detergent and, being sure not to use too much water, go over the entire floor. Then using plain water, rinse off the floor to avoid leaving a detergent film.

These floors can be scrubbed with a machine, cleaned with chemical stripper, and maintained with wax. Some finishes are durable enough to not require any waxing, and in fact wax is likely unnecessary in most residential applications.

Unfinished concrete

The unfinished basement and the garage both are considered dust or dirty. This doesn’t have to be the case. Concrete collects dust like other surfaces, but how often do we vacuum our garages? Treat them like other floors, sweep or vacuum and give them a good mopping once a month. It does wonders for the space visually, and will help keep your house cleaner. There are a number of superior concrete finishes, both clear sealers and paint or epoxy finishes. These are excellent for providing an easy to clean surface, and most are simple roll on applications.

Cleaning The Gutters

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 you 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.

Yards & Lawn

The yard is probably the most popular place to spend most of your time and also is probably 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 drives and walks. Check driveway for fluid leaks from vehicles. Absorb as much as possible using, non clumping kitty litter, or a commercially available absorbent powder. Remember antifreeze tastes sweet, and attracts pets, however it can be fatal for pets that lick it up.

The Attic

Attic’s are a very important part of our homes, however people tend to ignore them until they have no choice but to inspect them. Come the spring thaw, when your roof begins leaking, damaging drywall, paint, and furniture, it is too late for a preventative inspection.

Attics are a buffer in two very important ways. The attic is NOT heated. In fact, outside air should circulate freely within an attic for proper circulation. This does the important job of keeping moisture levels down, which is the second way an attic acts as a buffer. Every attic should have vents to permit air flow. Most of these vents are in the eaves, and in many cases they are assisted with a “whirly bird” attic vent on the roof itself. A dry, cool attic is a functional part of every house.

A dry attic should not have a pest problem, however a warm, moist attic is a recipe for not only mold and mildew, but insects and rodents can thrive. The other common pests are birds and bats which can enter very small holes to nest. It is a good idea to have all vents screened to prevent this problem.

Rodents can be particularly harmful in an attic. They can gain access to much of your home, their urine smells and will permeate through the ceiling, and they can damage everything from electrical wiring to vapor barriers.

When inspecting your attic, pay special attention to the wooden structure of the roof itself. Watch for variations in the coloring to look for possible breaches in the exterior water proof membrane. This is most common around chimneys and plumbing vents. As well, on the bottom 3 or 4 feet of the roof above the eaves, and in valleys where 2 roofing surfaces meet are critical areas. Cycles of freezing and thawing found in the spring can sometime cause water to flow UP, underneath the shingles or tile, and leak into the attic.

Check the seal of your attic hatch using a candle. Light it, and then blow it out so it will smoke. Run the candle around the perimeter of the hatch to see if the smoke is drawn in, or blown out. If either occurs, add a strip of foam weather seal to the hatch.

Check for the storage of chemicals. Do the containers have labels? Are they out of reach of small children? Are the products still effective, or have they expired?

Dirty Walls

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, dirty 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 dust and soil.
  • Use a drop cloth when washing walls.
  • 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 a terry cloth or 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.  Caution: 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.

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