Expert Advice: Our Editors’ Most Pressing Cleaning Questions, Answered (Including How to Clean Stainless Steel Surfaces)

No surprise: We are a domestically inclined bunch here at Remodelista, Gardenista, and The Organized Home. We all truly enjoy scouting inspiring interiors, discovering new home products, learning how to garden better, and figuring out how to run our households more efficiently. But that’s not to say we love everything having to do with beautifying our homes. (Does anyone truly enjoy taking out the trash?)

Each one of us can list numerous household chores that we loathe and haven’t been able to master. Which is why we were all quite excited to be able to bend the ear of Becky Rapinchuk, founder of the Clean Mama blog and author of The Organically Clean Home (2014) and Simply Clean (2017), Clean Mama’s Guide to a Healthy Home (2019), and Clean Mama’s Guide to a Peaceful Home.

Rapinchuk actually likes the process of cleaning (unlike some of us who just enjoy the end product). In her former life as an art teacher, she used to clean her colleagues’ houses “just because I really enjoyed cleaning!” she says. And after becoming a mom, she would often find herself obsessing over different cleaning solutions and getting lost in a rabbit hole of information online. “So I started blogging about my cleaning routine,” she says, to make sense of all the information out there. That was in 2009, and not long after, the blog took off.

Rapinchuk has always been a proponent of using natural and nontoxic cleaners, and here, she helps us solve our biggest cleaning conundrums—without resorting to harsh or environmentally unfriendly solutions.

Featured photograph by Max Kim Bee, courtesy of Ellen Hamilton, from A Modest Beach Cottage on Martha’s Vineyard Goes from “Bad Seventies” to “Good Seventies”.

Q: How do you get cooking grease off the vent?

A: I tend to just use hot soap, water, a microfiber cloth—and a little bit of elbow grease. Basically, if you can use dish soap to remove grease from your dishes, then you can use it to remove grease elsewhere. After it’s all clean and dry, I’ll use a little olive oil to buff it. The filters are often removable. I’ll soak those in a sink filled with soapy water.

Q: How do you clean stainless steel surfaces?

A: I like a two-fold approach. I’ve tested every semi- and all-natural solution on the market, and what works best for me is white vinegar and a microfiber cloth. Pour it directly onto the cloth and wipe with the grain of the stainless steel. Then add a couple drops of olive oil onto the paper towel and buff it up. You could also use almond oil.

To give your stainless steel surfaces a shine, simply buff them with some olive oil, says Rapinchuk. Photograph by Daniel Dent for Remodelista.
Above: To give your stainless steel surfaces a shine, simply buff them with some olive oil, says Rapinchuk. Photograph by Daniel Dent for Remodelista.

Q: How do you get water marks off wood surfaces?

A: I’ve used the ironing method and it has worked for me. Just place a clean dish towel directly over the mark, then iron on top of the towel for a minute or two on low or medium heat. Keep peeping under the towel to see if it’s working. Then use a beeswax polish to replace the moisture lost.

Q: What’s the best way to spot clean carpets?

A: Anytime there’s a carpet stain, it’s always best to absorb everything first. Pile up a towel and stand on top of it to encourage absorption. Pour white vinegar on the area and press it again. If it’s red wine, use club soda and pour that over the stain. And as a last resort, put hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle and spray the stain. But definitely test that first on a small patch of carpeting where you won’t see it.

Q: Any hacks to replace Swiffer pads?

A: Use a large microfiber cloth! They work just as well on floors. I use them to clean every surface—for the bathroom and cleaning appliances. You can use them dry to dust or add a cleaning solution to mop. When I’m done using one, I drape it over a bucket and let it dry thoroughly. When there are enough dirty cloths for a load, I wash them on the “sanitize” setting. Just make sure to wash them separately from other cloths as they will attract other fibers. And never use fabric softener on them.

For more natural cleaning tips, check out these stories:

N.B.: This post is an update; it was first published November 2020.

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