Deep cleaning some of the hidden, hardworking parts of your house might be a dirty job, but you've got to do it. Tackling these cleaning tasks regularly will help keep your home humming. When neglected for too long, grimy buildup in the wrong places can lead to appliance breakdowns or even home disasters like fires or floods. Here are six of the most important areas to clean regularly to ward off emergencies.
Dusty condenser coils make your fridge work harder, making it less energy-efficient and shortening its life span. (There goes your ice cream budget.) Note that some refrigerators require special DIY cleaning techniques; others should be cleaned by a professional. Refer to the owner's manual before you begin.
Twice a year; more often if you have pets.
Find the coils. They're usually covered by a panel at the bottom front or on the back of a freestanding fridge and at the top of a built-in model. Unplug the fridge or turn off the power. If it's not built-in, pull it away from the back wall. (Transferring food to a cooler lightens the load and gives you the chance to clean and organize inside.)
Take off the protective panel, put on a dust mask, and gently scrape across and between coils with a long-handled refrigerator brush ($10, The Home Depot). Follow up using the crevice tool attachment on your vacuum. And because you're already up to your elbows in dust bunnies, clean the floor behind the fridge.
If your dishwasher has a manual-clean filter and you don't take care of it, at some point you'll notice an odor or food specks on your clean dishes.
Once a month.
Look under the bottom rack for the filter. (Some have two removable parts: a cylinder and a flat mesh screen. Check your owner's manual for specifics.) Twist to remove it, then scrub it under hot water using an old toothbrush. For greasy grime, handwash with dish soap.
Thumbs up if you clean the lint trap before drying every load of laundry. However, you should also deal with lint buildup in the dryer duct; it's an energy suck and a fire hazard. You can also cut down on future fuzz by installing a rigid metal duct, which won't trap lint the way flexible ducts can, and routing the duct directly from the dryer to the outside.
At least once a year.
Pull the dryer away from the wall and unplug it. (If it's a gas model, shut off the gas.) Disconnect the duct from the dryer and the wall, then loosen the lint inside with a long-handled brush or drill-powered cleaning kit designed for dryer ducts ($20, The Home Depot). Using a vacuum with a crevice tool attachment, suck up the lint on the floor and from the holes in the dryer and the wall. Brush and vacuum the vent outdoors, too.
Does your washing machine have a lint filter or a drain pump filter? You'll find the answer in the owner's manual. (If the filter is self-cleaning, you're off the hook for this task.)
Once a month.
On a top-loading machine, the lint filter will likely be inside the drum or on the back. Most lint filters can be removed and rinsed under hot water.
A front-loader's drain pump filter and hose are typically on the front. (Look for a little door.) Put a towel under a shallow pan on the floor, then remove the hose plug and let the water flow into the pan. If you haven't done this for a while (or ever), expect as much as a quart of smelly water along with some crud. Then slowly unscrew the drain pump filter (water might flow or dribble out) and pull it out. You'll probably find some slimy stuff; you might find loose items from pockets. Dump out the filter and wash it with water and a toothbrush.
Related: How to Clean Your Washing Machine for Fresh Clothes and Linens
You probably don't think about cleaning your shower drain until you realize you're standing in water after every shower. If your only problem is standing water, a hair clog is the most likely cause. If you notice an odor that won't go away or you're having the same problems with other drains, you could be facing a bigger issue and it's probably best to contact a plumber.
When to Clean
Before the water is ankle deep.
You'll need a screwdriver, flashlight, wire hanger, and disposable plastic bag; you'll want rubber gloves. Turn on the bathroom ventilation fan; it could get stinky. Remove the drain cover. Pull out the hair and gunk you can reach with your gloved fingers. Bend the wire hanger into a pole with a hook on the end, then fish around to see if you can snag anything else. Before putting the drain cover back on, you might want to install a special strainer that catches hair and gunk (ShowerShroom Hair CatcherDrain Protector, $13, Bed Bath & Beyond).
Clearing out gutters is a spring and fall job, but if you can't remember the last time you did it and you don't mind being on a ladder this time of year, do it now. Clogs can cause ice dams that damage your gutters and roof. Worse, when ice melts and doesn't drain, it finds a way indoors. (Hello, wet ceilings.)
When to Clean
At least twice a year.
Put on work gloves and set up a ladder. Scoop out the leaves, twigs, and other junk with your hands and a trowel. Drop them in a bucket attached to the ladder or onto a drop cloth on the ground below.
Check for downspout clogs. Starting at the end farthest from the downspout, flush the gutter using a hose with a sprayer. If the water doesn't rush out below, spray up the downspout or remove the downspout and flush it out.