By Denise Irvine
It's that time of year when traditionally we let the spring air in and tackle the cleaning jobs that have built up over winter, Denise Irvine dons the marigolds and shares some top tips.
Early morning last week, when I was only half-awake, I was scrubbing a build-up of soapy particles in my shower that I'd been ignoring for ages.
A little later, I tried the One-Hour-Cleaning Method as described on TikTok, a simple strategy where you spend an hour each day cleaning or decluttering a particular place in your home. The goal is to do it in that timeframe so you don't get overwhelmed, and then reward yourself with a treat.
So, this was the balcony off my bedroom, unloved during winter and now messy with leaf litter, spiders and cobwebs, and green gunk on the deck. It was the perfect fit for an hour's cleaning (I set a timer, as suggested on TikTok), and the reward was coffee and a biscuit.
Cleaning, of course, is well-researched as contributing to relieving stress and adding to feelings of calm, and being in control. It's working for me at present although I'm not sure for how much longer. But it is spring and the sun is shining on previously dimly lit surfaces, exposing some neglect and prompting direct action.
I've also been talking to inspiring experts about spring-cleaning, and testing some useful and useless online hacks: yes to sticking a lemon down the waste-gobbler to freshen things up, and ditto to a slurry of coarse salt and water (and a good scrub) on a cast-iron frying pan. But a big no to Coca Cola as a toilet cleaner, and to putting scrunched up tinfoil in the dishwasher cutlery basket to brighten your knives and forks.
Spring-cleaning is rooted in ancient religious and cultural traditions. One of the best-known domestic goddesses from the late 19th century was English writer Isabella Beeton; her weighty Book of Household Management instructed an army of maids in spring to replace warm winter curtains with cheerful muslin ones, take up and beat the carpets, wipe walls, sweep every inch of flooring, clean and store lamps no longer required over summer, and more.
"It is hardly necessary to repeat," said Mrs B, "that on this occasion every article should be gone over."
Fast-forward to the 21st century, and it's fair to say that spring-cleaning continues to be a thing (although no longer about beating carpets and changing the curtains), reinvented for a new age by bucket-loads of online videos and advice. For some people at least, it's moved from perhaps dreaded household task to aspirational social media content. In TikTok's #CleanTok community, avid #Cleantockers connect and share cleaning hacks, tips and go-to products. Their viewing figures run way into the billions.
It's unclear whether the majority of its audience are women but a safe enough bet that they are: although gender equality has come a long way, studies at home and abroad continue to show women carry a heavier load on domestic labour and childcare than their male partners.
Locally, there have been one million views on a TikTok video of Auckland social media influencer Jess Owen cleaning her kitchen. She sprays, wipes, polishes and dusts, and the result is a magically clean space.
Owen, the owner of Just Jess Boujee Bakery, with stores at Huapai and Takapuna, likes watching cleaning videos herself. "It motivates me to clean. I might watch something then tackle a job. And it is really satisfying to see a place go from clutter to clean. You also learn a lot from others. My husband built our house and I love cleaning it, we are so proud of it. I am very thorough in my business as a baker, you have to clean to a very high standard, and I take that home."
Owen says her millennial generation is buying homes and renting, and they're watching how others do things. "And cleaning became a big thing during the Covid lockdowns because many people had nothing to do so they cleaned their houses, and watched how others did it."
There is a long history of cleaning in Owen's family. She says her mother and grandmother are cleaning queens. Owen's father is a keen fisherman and Jess recalls that sometimes he'd go away for a few days and her mother would clean every inch of the house during that time, often in spring.
"She'd wash walls, clean out cupboards, everything. She is so organised and a great cleaner. If she doesn't know how to get a stain out of something she'll phone my Nana. They are my go-tos. Nana's key to everything is Sunlight soap and Mum's is Jif. Jif is great for so many things."
Owen spring-cleans, too. "As soon as the sun comes out, I turn everything out: mattresses, bed linen, I air things, let the sun in. I've started already."
Rachael Quin also embraces the beauty of cleaning. She is the owner-operator of The Housekeeper, an Auckland-based bespoke home management and cleaning service. It is a one-woman enterprise, physical but satisfying, her dream job: "It is absolutely fulfilling, I see the pleasure that clients get coming home to a clean and tidy environment. People find it very calming, they genuinely appreciate someone's time in this and I am earning a living in a way that I really, really understand and want to do my absolute best in."
Instagram videos show Quin wielding a dusting wand to get into a hard-to-reach grime-collecting space between a washing machine and bench, and doing delicate cleaning around oven switches with a bamboo skewer and microfibre cloth. Once seen you've seen Quin in action, you can't unsee her, and I've added skewers and a dusting wand to my shopping list. I've also become obsessed with good-quality microfibre cloths.
Quin doesn't spring-clean her own home because she keeps on top of everything day-by-day. "I wipe down the shower every day after I've used it, and the same with many other areas of the house. I do something every day - it might be the hand-basins, folding laundry immediately it's dry and putting it away. I wipe down the kitchen cooktop and other surfaces after I've used them. I do two things at once, like clean the basin and the taps and under plugs at the same time."
She suggests that families make a housekeeping schedule that everybody contributes to, and this has the added effect of teaching valuable life-skills to younger family members.
In the Bay of Plenty, Megan Catley owns the Posh Cleaning Ladies company, which mostly has residential clients. Catley bought the 15-year-old Posh business last year. She employs nine women, who wear pink t-shirts and drive black cars inscribed in pink with Posh Cleaning Ladies insignia.
Catley says that while she doesn't employ male cleaners, "we're Posh Cleaning Ladies", she is aware of men cleaning in big commercial companies. And her husband does a good job of cleaning the kitchen, a task he likes.
"Our clients love coming home to a clean house, and the smell of clean. We always mop floors last and that's what they smell when they walk in.
For a spring-clean, there is a team of "three amazing women" on the job; one on bathrooms, another on vacuuming, cobwebbing and dusting, another in the kitchen, top to bottom. They'd also typically do areas like window frames and interior windows, skirting boards and spot-cleaning of things like light switches and door handles.
Catley says there's not a lot of difference between a spring-clean and a deep clean, and her mantra - a bit like Quin - is to work smarter not harder.
"If you're dusting glass surfaces with a damp cloth, have a dry microfibre cloth in the other hand and dry the damp surface as you go. Rinse and sponge down the shower each time you use it."
At home, her three children - two daughters and a son, aged 17, 14, and 12 - share the cleaning on a weekly roster. "No child is ever too young to learn to clean."
Catley does a bigger clean as needed in her own home, although not necessarily a spring clean, and again, like Quin, she says if you stay on top of things it's never so overwhelming. (I think that's why the One-Hour-Cleaning Method will be my handiest hack, a little bit at a time.)
A final word from Catley: "Get into a rhythm and stay on task."
Spring cleaning tips from the experts
Posh Ladies' cleaning company owner Megan Catley
A squeegee is your friend in the shower: buy a bigger than normal one to make the job quicker and easier.
When dusting windowsills, clean the catchment area where condensation sits and sometimes turn to mould. Mould grows mould. Let some air in during winter, put windows on the safety catches.
An inexpensive gizmo for cleaning slatted blinds is great: we use one that looks like kitchen tongs with microfibre slipcovers on the ends.
Basic things work: dishwashing liquid and hot water is very effective, makes things sparkle.
Change the toilet brush every six months.
Just Jess Boujee Bakery owner and avid cleaner Jess Owen
Hot soapy water, dishwasher liquid and a microfibre cloth are my go-tos. I like eco-friendly products.
Find a routine that works for you: I start with the kitchen, it's the most satisfying and easy to clean, then the bathrooms, my least favourite, and I leave the bedroom and bed-change to last because I love seeing it all look beautiful.
Keep it simple: boiling water and a soft little brush are your friends. Also microfibre cloths, and bamboo skewers to slide out crumbs around cooktops. Distilled white vinegar, baking soda and a detergent like Sunlight liquid are good, too. Don't get caught up in the supermarket aisle buying spritzers and sprays that you don't really need.
Once your spring clean is done, keep on top of it. Start the clean-as-you-go process. For example, wipe out the fridge as you go, and check expiry dates on all jars.
Have a plan that includes bedding, all appliances, filters and drains, and the oven. Make cleaning lists, if something's on a list it will get done.
Who is doing what? Everyone who lives in the house can contribute to everyday cleaning. Younger children can feed pets, put their clothes in the laundry and take the rubbish out. Teens can prep food and vacuum.
Denise Irvine is a Waikato journalist.