The Ultimate Guide To A Clean Home During The Holidays

It’s coming: the onslaught of relatives and visitors who stampede into your home during the holiday season. Sure, we love them. Sure, we’re really excited to finally have everyone in one place. But when it comes to cleaning, most people are in a lose-lose situation. We lose when we don’t have the home clean enough, to the disgust of prissy and persnickety relatives. (Does anyone else have a relative who swipes random surfaces to see if there’s dust?) We also lose when we have to police our guests on taking off their shoes, using a coaster, and avoiding spills. So we should keep things clean, but we shouldn’t do anything while people are around to ensure that things are clean.

The holidays can be a really tumultuous time for your rugs, surfaces, and kitchen. Just because you’re playing host doesn’t mean that your whole home has to suffer. But it doesn’t mean you have to slave away without enjoying yourself during the actual parties, either. If you think ahead and have a game plan, you can break out of that lose-lose situation and stress less during that time between Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas.

The Carpet:

  • Keep your entryways and high-traffic areas clean easily. The secret is throw rugs. Really! Just get two different decorative holiday rugs and switch them out after the family has left.
  • You can also put door mats both in outside and on the inside, and encourage your guests to wipe off the salt before stepping inside.
  • Brush your dog outside. Do a deep clean of pet hair before people come over.
  • Oh, no! Your guests dropped their wine glass. Blot it with a homemade detergent of one teaspoon of clear dish soap without bleach in a cup of warm water. If it’s red wine, follow that up with three-percent-strength hydrogen peroxide.

The Dining/Living Rooms:

  • A few days ahead of time, clean your china and glassware.
  • Polish your fancy silverware. Remember, never put silver in the dishwasher. Hand-wash it separately from stainless with non-lemon-scented dish soap.
  • Set your table with chargers for about a week ahead of time. Then, when you go to set it, just wipe away the dust. This tip is less about cleaning and more about training your family and early visitors to not use the dining table as a dumping ground for bills, mail, homework, and etc.
  • Deep-clean these rooms: It’s where your guests will be spending the majority of their time. Dust all surfaces. Then, polish wooden surfaces with this cheap DIY wood polish. It makes messes easier to clean later.
  • De-clutter and dust before your decorate. Decorations get in the way of dusting your surfaces, so pick them up and clean them before you put stuff there.
  • Switch out your tree skirt. One can get covered in pine needles or just filthy from tree water, broken ornaments, and spills. Keep a separate, laundered one for the big day.
  • If someone gets sap from the tree on your upholstery, blot it with rubbing alcohol.
  • For those with metal menorahs, stick them in the freezer and flick off the remaining wax.

The Kitchen:

  • Before you get ready to stuff tons of food into your fridge, give it a deep clean. Toss out old or unnecessary condiments, and wash surfaces. This will leave more room for leftovers later.
  • Make sure your garbage disposal is clean and works well. It’s likely going to get a lot of use. Also, make sure all drains aren’t clogged by using this homemade drain cleaner recipe.
  • When you inevitably spill something on the stove, don’t stress. Pour salt on the mess. Let it soak up the liquid, and then wipe it away after your guests have gone.
  • Have someone take out the trash before, after, and during the hullabaloo. Sprinkle some baking soda in the bottom of a fresh bag to avoid bad smells.
  • To make your entire home smell good in the morning, brew good-quality coffee. Your guests will probably want some, and it hides unpleasant aromas. Another way to keep your house smelling amazing is to have a simmer pot on the stove.
  • When working with poultry, clean everything multiple times and wash your hands thoroughly!


  • If you have the option, encourage your guests to stick to one bathroom. Then, give that one a really deep clean both before and after.
  • Your towels might be a bit musty, especially when you have special, decorative towels that come out once a year. Freshly launder your towels. To get rid of the musty smell, wash them twice, first with baking soda, then with regular detergent. If they’re clean but you just want them to smell nice again, just put them in the dryer for 15 minutes with a fresh-scented dryer sheet.
  • Clean the toilet with leftover soda. Let it sit and then brush it away.
  • Be kind to your guests by leaving a fancy candle, air freshener spray, or some other way to hide any smells.
  • Also, make sure they have plenty of liquid hand soap. Here’s a cheap recipe for it.
  • Clean out your medicine cabinet. Yes, people will look. Remove everything, wipe down the shelving, and put back cleaned items that haven’t expired. Make sure to buy medicine people might need, such as basic first aid supplies and antacids.
  • Wipe down your mirrors with vinegar and newspapers.

Guest Bedroom(s):

  • Launder the sheets and bedspreads and maybe even the pillows if they smell moldy.
  • Remove clutter and make sure your guests have room and safe surfaces to place their things.
  • Baseboards are noticeable and usually gross. Wipe them down with a dryer sheet.


  • Wash your windows. When the sunlight comes streaming in, the fact that you forgot to clean them becomes very obvious. Also, launder or vacuum your curtains.
  • Make sure your guests have a place to hang their coats: Make space on your coat rack or in your coat closet.
  • When opening presents, have extra bags ready to contain discarded wrapping paper. Also, encourage children to both open presents and play in one area of the house. This will allow you to catch up on cleaning without finding random toys everywhere.
  • Blow-dry your wreaths on the cool setting to get rid of dust.
  • Polish doorknobs and knockers. Welcome your guests from the moment they knock on the door!

How to Clean Your Fireplace, Woodstove, or Chimney Before the Winter Freeze

The big winter freeze is coming. During it, you’ll likely want to harness the cozy comfort of your fireplace. If you want to enjoy the warm glow during the holidays, it’s best to maintain and clean your chimney, woodstove, and fireplace now. At least once a season, you should give everything a good cleaning: Un-inspected and unclean chimneys are the one of the top sources of residential fires in New York state. To increase the efficiency of your fires and make your home safer and more comfortable for everyone, clean these items thoroughly before starting to use them again.

Cleaning the Chimney

Let me be clear here and state that this is not a DIY project. Even the DIY Network doesn’t recommend doing this yourself. There are several reasons why: You’d need to climb on top of your roof. The stuff that you’d be cleaning up is a caked-on residue of ash and soot called creosote, which can irritate the skin and eyes, so proper masks are needed. And everyone’s chimney is a little bit different, and expert knowledge is required to find the problem areas. (Remember, if it’s not cleaned and inspected properly, a clogged or damaged chimney can cause a fire.)

Before a professional pulls in the drop cloth and starts to suck up the debris with a high-powered vacuum cleaner and those characteristic bristles (which always remind me a bit of a Charles Dickens novel), they’ll inspect the lintel, bricks, and damper, and they’ll look at the inside and outside of the chimney for cracks. This routine inspection is important because a damaged chimney can be even more problematic than a dirty one.

How often should you call a professional to check it out? It depends on a few things, including the frequency of use and the type of wood burned. It should at least be done once a year, or when the caked-on creosote is about a quarter of an inch thick.

Cleaning a Woodstove

The actual woodstove may be something you can clean yourself, on the other hand, and a dirty stove won’t operate as efficiently as a clean one.

Cleaning a woodstove’s chimney, called the stovepipe, may be another process that should involve a professional once a season, as this also involves getting up on the roof. It’s a bit simpler than a proper brick chimney, though. Just be sure to take the proper safety precautions and to don safety equipment (such as gloves, goggles, and a mask). After removing blocking firebricks, then removing the top of the pipe on the roof, you’ll need to scrape the creosote with a putty knife at the top and then use a chimney brush to loosen buildup. This will fall into the woodstove, which can be scooped up as you clean the box.

The secret to cleaning the stove itself is to let your stove and its contents cool completely, so that it’s cold to the touch and there are no embers inside. (To be completely sure, knock around the ashes a bit to see if there are any embers.)

  • Dumping out the ashes: Make sure that you have a drop cloth around the stove and that your receptacle is metal rather than plastic. It should have a cover, so that any potential embers can be smothered. Scoop out the ashes into the container, close it, and then let them sit for 48 hours before throwing them out. Sometimes, stoves like this might have a tray for the ash: If so, check that as well.
  • Cleaning the glass: Here’s a little trick for you: Dampen some newspaper and place it in the white ash. The white ash contains calcium carbonate, which is a mildly abrasive liming agent, so you can clean with it. Take your damp newspaper covered in the ash and rub it on the glass of your stove. Then, wipe the excess away with a clean, soft towel.
  • Vacuum the box: Using a heavy-duty vacuum, you can suck up the debris around the corners of the box and around the seal. Also, check out the smoke shelf while you’re doing this (which is at the back and top of the woodstove).
  • Clean the exterior of the stove: Using a combination of vinegar, water, and soap, clean the exterior if you have a ceramic stove. If your stove is cast iron, don’t use this solution: Use a stiff brush and a vacuum cleaner instead.

Cleaning the Fireplace

Cleaning up your fireplace is the simplest thing to do yourself and can help your fireplace be more efficient and safer. That being said, it’s still a good idea to don a pair of rubber gloves and put on a face mask and goggles so you don’t irritate your skin or eyes with the creosote.

  • Safely removing the ashes: When you’re cleaning a fireplace, use some of the same tips as with a woodstove. Make sure the ashes are dead and cold, and then gather them into a metal container with a lid and let that container sit for 48 hours before throwing them away. Be sure to sweep the sides of the fireplace, and suck up the rest from corners and tight areas with a heavy-duty vacuum.
  • Clean the grate: Remove and scrub down your grate with a wire brush for a bit. That simple motion will remove the majority of the gunk.
  • Clean the doors: If you have glass doors, you can use the same technique as above: Use a damp cloth and white ash, and then wipe away the excess. I’ve heard you can also use a solution of vinegar, water, and ammonia, but the ash works fine.
  • Clean the exterior: For firebrick exteriors, create a cream out of equal parts dish soap and salt. Place it on the exterior and let it sit about ten to 15 minutes. Then, scrub it away with the wire brush.

With all of these different cleaning tips, the best tip is to be proactive: Burn the right types of woods. Don’t burn “green” wood, wet wood, pressure-treated wood, particle board, or any woods with chemicals applied to them. Seasoned, dry wood is the way to go. Doing this will often result in less creosote.

Secrets To Making Your Stove And Oven Look Like New Again

Once, I was helping a friend’s daughter move out of her first apartment when she graduated from college. She had worked really hard to make the whole place spotless when she left; she wanted to stay on good terms with the landlord because her friend was moving in to replace her. She had done a great job, but then I caught sight of the blackened, crusty stove top. “Oh, you’re supposed to clean that?” she said. I’m not an emotional man, but I was nearly brought to tears.

Not only can you clean your stove, but you absolutely should as frequently as possible. Not doing so can cause the excess buildup to cause a fire in your kitchen. (If that ever happens on your stove top, by the way, don’t toss water on it: Turn everything off and use baking soda to smother small flames. The buildup is made of grease, and grease fires will only spread with water.)

Let’s give the most-forgotten item to clean in your kitchen a little love. Whether you have a gas stove top that comes apart easily or an electric one that wipes clean, this is a safety hazard that should be taken care of.

How to Clean Your Stove Top

The first step is to take your stove top apart. If you have a gas range, remove the burner caps, grates, and knobs and before you begin scrubbing; just let them sit in hot, soapy water in your sink. If you have an electric burner, don’t submerge your coils, but everything else, like the drip pans, is OK.

To clean an electric coil, wipe it down with a damp cloth and mild dish soap, taking care to not get the electrical connection wet. Make a paste of baking soda and water and spread it on the toughest grease you can’t get out. Give it about 20 minutes, and then rinse it off.

When you’re cleaning an electric stove, remember: Most electric stoves lift up like the hood of a car! Clean what’s underneath that way instead of trying to clean through the holes.

While you’re cleaning a gas stove top, check out the little holes by which the flames come through. Clear out blockages with a pin.

If have a ceramic stove top, just wipe your stove off right away. If a spill happens and burns, scrape the residue off with a scraper. Use baking soda to clean the top.

Some Cleaning Hacks for Cleaning Your Stove

Sure, you can get this done with just soap, water, and patience, but it takes a great deal of time. I know many people like to use specific cleaning products for this purpose, such as a Magic Eraser. It’s pretty good, but as a frugal person, I tend to cringe at the idea of buying one separate cleaning supply for just the stove top. So here are some hacks and DIY ways to get it done:

  • Using ammonia and a large plastic bag, you can clean your non-electric grates. Let them rest overnight, and then just wipe the grime away!
  • Get out grease stains more easily with oil. Use vegetable oil on a paper towel and getting the grease to come off will be much easier. Once you’re done, just wipe that oil off with soap.
  • To prevent stains in the future, you can actually treat your stove top with all-natural wax. Do the old standby of “wax on, wax off” and grease stains won’t go so deep anymore.
  • Let’s say you’re cooking for everyone during the holidays and you have a food spill. After turning off your burners, pour salt on your spills. It will absorb the liquid and make it easier to clean later once your guests have gone.
  • For your toughest, caked-on stains that seem to have become a permanent part of your stove, create a paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda and then scrub the problems away.

How to Clean Your Oven

While many ovens have a cleaning function, relying only on that is a bad idea. Every once in a while, like before the holidays, I like to do a deep clean and make sure everything is safe.

First, take out your oven racks. Like your stove drip trays, they can soak in hot, soapy water. Also remember to take out your oven thermometer and clean that, too.

Oven-Cleaning Hacks

You don’t have to waste money on expensive chemical oven cleaners.

  • Make a paste out of baking soda and water. Coat the inside of your oven with the paste. Then, turn the oven on for about five minutes (or, if you’re nervous about doing that, just let it sit overnight). Open the oven and let it sit. Then, just wipe away the grime. Spray on vinegar and wipe it off to clean up any residue and leave the oven fresh and clean.
  • Another thing I’ve seen people do is leave half of a cup of ammonia in a cold oven overnight. Like the trick with the stove grates, the ammonia will make it so you can just wipe your oven clean.

Blue Dawn Dish Soap And The Many Uses For It

Blue Dawn Dish Soap

Clean dishes, kill ants, rescue wildlife … what can blue Dawn dish soap not do? Photo by International Bird Rescue Research Center (Flickr)

Dawn, the dish soap, is a very useful product. The soap destroys a lot of things in its path, especially oily things. As a multipurpose cleaner, the mix of water and Dawn can clean numerous things in the bathroom and kitchen. In fact, some people have been known to use it almost exclusively as a cleaner. However, there are many other innovative ways you can use blue Dawn dish soap that you may not have thought of before.

The Best Bathtub Ring Destroyer Ever

Heat up a bowl of white vinegar in the microwave for 45 seconds. Carefully pour into a spray bottle halfway. Fill the rest with Dawn, then shake. Directly spray this onto your shower and let it sit, then wipe it away. Trust me, this is like magic. In general, mixing Dawn and vinegar creates a high-powered solution that works like gangbusters on a lot of things.

Cheap Bubbles for Kids

Mix a half of a cup of Dawn, a half of a gallon of warm water, and one tablespoon of white Karo syrup and stir for a cheap solution that will give the kids hours of enjoyment.

Reliable Hair Repair Shampoo

If you have excess oil on your scalp, a greasy hair issue, or buildup of expensive styling products, you can use Dawn just once a month to cut through the grease and remove buildup on your scalp without damage. Use it exactly like shampoo and rinse.

An Affordable Ice Pack

Instead of going out to buy an ice pack, just fill a strong zip-top baggie with Dawn, which can be frozen and refrozen many times. It also stays cold for quite a while.


One of the most popular old-school uses for the dish soap is to mix it with water and spray it on counters, floors, and sinks. The sticky residue is hard for ants to walk across. Also, if you spray the solution directly on ants, it will kill them.

Flea-Killing Pet Shampoo

In addition to killing ants, it also kills fleas and other bugs that seem to enjoy pestering your dog. Bathe your dog in a Dawn solution (which is one teaspoon per gallon of water for big dogs) for a cheaper alternative to expensive flea-killing shampoos. It also makes them smell really good. Just be sure to completely rinse your pet so the leftover soap doesn’t irritate their skin.

Poison Ivy Reliever

Poison ivy spreads with its oil, which can be easily stopped in its tracks by the all-around oil-killer: Dawn dish soap.

An Auto Mechanic’s Best Friend

Where there’s motor oil, there’s a way to clean it with Dawn. You can put dawn and water in a tub and just let your greasy tools soak there. You can clean motor oil stains on the driveway with it. You can also use it as a really reliable way to clean your filthy, oily hands after a project.

A Before-Calling-the-Plumber Unclogging Solution for Toilets and Drains

Boil three to four tablespoons of Dawn in a full pot of water, and while being careful not to burn yourself or anyone in your path, dump it down your sink. This will break down most clogs. For your toilet, dump a cup of Dawn in and allow it to sit for 15 minutes before dumping the hot water in. Pour it from waist height and it’ll clear up.

Salt-Free Sidewalk De-Icer

One of the worst aspects of wintertime in New York is that people track in a salt mine from everywhere. It can be bad for your plants and the environment and make your house look constantly dirty. For a cheap alternative that won’t refreeze, mix one teaspoon of Dawn, one tablespoon of rubbing alcohol, and half of a gallon of hot water. Pour it over your steps or walkway.

The Recommended Glasses Cleaner

In the wintertime, glasses are constantly getting fogged up as people walk in and outdoors. Rub Dawn on them; it works as a defogger and can clean your glasses really well.

A Tool for Finding Leaks

As we winterize, homeowners look for small air holes and leaks. When you place a bit of Dawn over where you think there may be a leak, you’ll often see bubbles at the exact location. This works really well with tires, too.

A Wildlife-Saver

I’ve seen the commercials; you’ve seen the commercials, too. Using this dish soap to cut through the oil and grease that damages wildlife is one of the best (and, admittedly, cutest) uses of this product.

12 Hacks To Keep Your Home Smelling Great!


Learn about DIY potpourri, sachets, simmer pots, and more! Photo by Mathieu Plourde (Flickr)

I do love buying candles (especially during that financially dangerous time of year between Halloween and Christmas), but I’d go bankrupt if I bought every single candle or scented wax contraption I found attractive. Also, I know many of my customers in NYC can’t even light candles due to policies in their apartment complexes. So I’ve complied this list of more affordable and more innovative ways to make your home smell much better without having to use pricey sprays or devices. These are some of the top hacks I’ve tried: Some will introduce a new great scent, and others will take away bad scents.

Infuse Better Scents With Simmer Pots

Once upon a time, this practice used to be far more common. I remember seeing these a lot as a kid. All it involves is putting a small saucepan or pot on the stove, placing ingredients in it, and then letting it warm (or simmer, hence the name) and infuse the whole house with a nice smell. It’s one of the things grandmothers like to do around the holiday season, but it seems like it could be coming back in style. During the summer months, you can mix rosemary and lemon to deodorize your house. During the winter, mix cinnamon sticks, orange peels, bay leaves, a handful of pine needles, and cloves for an amazing Christmas-like smell. (Just be sure to remind your guests that that pot is not for eating or drinking. It’s almost gotten me into a lot of trouble.)

Use the Pure Power of Baking Soda

Baking soda is magical. It is the deodorizer and can make just about anything stop smelling bad. As I’ve pointed out on my blog before, you can sprinkle it on a carpet or bit of furniture and then vacuum it up for a deeper clean and a better smell. Some people have taken to leaving it cooking in a slow cooker all day so it can suck up the bad smell of an entire room.

Hack Fans or Air Filters to Blow Your Favorite Scent Around

Put nice-smelling dryer sheets on top of your fan. You can also add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to your air filter. It will blow around your favorite scent for a few weeks.

Make a DIY Spray

I’ve seen a bunch of recipes for this and have tried a handful of them. Simply mixing some essential oils with water works perfectly fine. I also like this recipe; it mixes lime juice, water, and the all-powerful baking soda.

Use the Best Part of Waking Up

Coffee beans offer a cute way to decorate, and they also can infuse your home with a fresh scent. Get a plain glass container (almost any shape will work here) and put whole coffee beans in it. For added power, put a tea light in it. When the light is lit, it will warm the beans.

Sew Simple Sachets

Here’s another thing that fell out of style and is gaining steam again: sachets. I’ve made some, and I like to leave them around in my dresser or closet. Some people put them in their shoe rack, which is a good idea, too. Fill a small cloth bag with whatever herb you like. I tend to just mix rice with a few drops of essential oils. Sewing these things is pretty easy.

Create Smudge Sticks

Smudge sticks tend to have a spiritual component. They’re for basically smudging out bad spirits from the home. But for a humble cleaner who tends to follow his nose, they just infuse the home with a great smell. Just bundle rosemary and sage together into a stick using string, then either hang it up or burn it for a smell so good it’ll chase away spirits (spirits of stink)!

Hang Eucalyptus in Your Shower

This trick has been circulating online for a while, but it works! Hang a bundle of fresh or dried eucalyptus from your showerhead. It’s like a menthol tablet for your bathroom.

Make Your Own Potpourri

Mix dried lavender and rose petals. Sometimes, potpourri is that easy. A cheaper alternative might include bringing in fresh pine cones and arranging them artfully in a bowl.

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures: Use Vinegar

For when your house is incredibly stinky, leaving out a bowl of vinegar can suck the smell out. It’s super-powerful for when you’re in a bad-smelling situation. It also stinks itself, so don’t do this right before friends come over, please.

Target Your Worst Offenders With Cat Litter

Some places in the home naturally become horribly stinky over time. Leaving out fresh cat litter might seem a bit strange if you don’t have a cat, but it works just as well as baking soda. Put some in a sock and then put it in your mud room or with your stinky shoes.

Use the Cheapest Hack Ever

Something that works as well as baking soda and cat litter is something that might be hanging around your house as garbage: newspaper. Crumple up newspaper in balls and stuff them in your most stinky containers to get bad smells to go away.

Schools Back In Session, But Germs Won’t Be With These Tips!

Kids washing hands

Teaching kids to wash their hands is the top way to defend against the “back-to-school plague.” Photo by Christian Hartmann (Wikimedia Commons)

When kids have to return to school after a long summer of having fun, they’re suddenly crammed into buses, classrooms, and hallways full of bacteria. From day one, their immune systems are under attack. Children tend to get a cold during the first month of returning to school. So many people are affected that some have taken to calling it the “back-to-school plague.” Our cleaning team certainly tends to get more calls at the beginning of the year for major cleaning projects due to so much illness.

There are many different ways to curtail this sudden wave of germs. Here are some good ideas for parents as they’re helping their kids avoid the “plague”:

  • Reinforce good cleaning habits, especially hand-washing. According to a survey of school nurses, hand-washing is the number one recommendation for avoiding illness. If your child is young, make sure you watch when they wash their hands to make sure they’re using proper technique (not just running their hands under cold water, for instance) and also quiz them on when and how often they wash their hands.
  • Make sure they avoid germ “hotspots.” Those hotspots may not be where you would expect. Actually, the germiest place in school might be the water fountain because it’s not cleaned frequently enough and kids will often put their mouths directly on it. Of course, as a parent, I was never really a fan of making kids super-paranoid. Perhaps making sure enough liquids are in their packs and lunches without them needing to use the water fountain is a good idea.
  • Give their immune system a boost. I have friends who will give their children extra vitamin C for the first few weeks before school. Yogurt and oats are also good breakfast choices that can help protect kids. Eating a nutritious breakfast in general is a good idea!
  • Prevent letting them stay up or stress out. Stress and a lack of sleep can negatively impact the immune system, too. Make sure the kids are getting enough sleep. Also, if you child is under a lot of stress, perhaps give them a good avenue to let off some steam, like playing ball outside for a few hours.
  • Practice the elbow-sneeze. Proven in one of my favorite shows, Mythbusters, in their episode “Flu Fiction,” nasal secretions can get everywhere. (Have your kids watch that; it’s gross and educational.) They also found in “The Sneeze Spray” that the best policy for stopping the spray of mucus is to sneeze into one’s elbow. This will lower the likelihood of spreading germs to other kids. Even if they’re not the ones spreading the germs, other kids may see and copy what your kid is doing. Monkey see, monkey do!
  • Let them stay home. It’s actually OK if a kid gets sick every once in a while. That way, their immune system will learn how to battle bacteria. But if your kid does get sick, do the other parents in your kid’s class a favor and keep them home! Let them stay home and sniffle, and wait until they’ve recovered to let them go back.

Of course, other parents have other ideas, too. You can also make sure your child has had a flu shot, for instance. But here’s a final tip: Talk to the teachers. They’re the ones most often found with wipes and hand sanitizers and observing kids’ bad hygiene behaviors. Ask your child’s teacher if there is a way for you to help reinforce good cleaning habits at home.

Make Your Grill Gleam With These Cleaning Tips


This is pretty gross, huh? Don’t winterize your yard with your grill looking like this! Photo by Ken Bosma (Flickr)

We’re well into fall now, so it’s time to winterize the things you may have forgotten. While grilled squash is amazing, fall is a time when your outdoor cooker goes a bit unused. So now is the perfect time of year to clean it up and put it away.

What’s my secret ingredient for keeping the grill clean? Heat! Starting when the grill is a bit warmer makes getting the grates clean that much easier.

How to Clean a Propane Grill

This is the easiest and fastest way to do this that I’ve found:

  • Use aluminum foil to cover the top of your grill’s grates, and then turn your grill on. This may seem counter-intuitive, but getting your grill hot will turn much debris to ash and make it easier to clean. Shut the grill and leave it on for 15-30 minutes.
  • While it’s “cooking,” grab your supplies: work gloves, a big bucket of hot, soapy water, an old, clean towel, some tongs, more aluminum foil, a grill brush, and a stainless steel cleaner should your grill have a stainless steel exterior (WD-40 can be used for this, but something gentler like mild dish detergent also works).
  • Turn down the heat and let your grill cool. Use tongs to safely remove the foil. While the grates are still warm, you can simply use a slightly damp old towel to wipe away and debris. You also might want to flip the grates over and do each side. It’s much easier and faster to do this while they’re hot, huh? I’ve also heard that using half of an onion to clean the grates is very effective.
  • Let the grill continue to cool until it’s now only slightly warm. Turn off and disconnect the propane tank. While you’re down there, double-check your connections to make sure there’s no rust or issues. If there are, items might need to be replaced.
  • Next, you’ll be pulling your lovely grill apart, layer by layer. (Don’t be a doofus like me and forget how it all goes back in the end: You might want to make a chart as you go if you think you might do this.) Using the tongs, take off the grill grates and put them right in the soapy water bucket. There might be metal plates under your grill grates; do the same with them, too.
  • Now that your grill has cooled down, wearing work gloves, use the foil to protect your heating elements.
  • Go to town with your grill brush! Clean everywhere you can! Don’t do what a lot of grill owners do and forget about the flaky buildup on the hood: The hood can have a black buildup of smoke and grease. Clean the inside walls of your grill. After scraping away the grime with a grill brush (or a putty knife if you’re really having trouble), use your damp towel to wipe away excess. If you’re still having quite a bit of trouble here, a bit of vinegar can go a long way.
  • Take the foil off of your heating elements. Once you do, give them a good, hard look: Nothing should be clogging the holes for the flames. If there’s debris clogging them, brush it with your grill brush or poke holes in it with a thin, sharp nail.
  • Now for the really gross part: the drip pan. Dump it out into the trash, and then put it straight into the soapy bucket.
  • Clean the exterior of your grill with a gentle dish detergent solution and a sponge. If your grill has a tray or cabinet, get that clean, too.
  • Almost done! After giving the stuff in the soapy bucket another scrub with your brush, lean it against a wall to dry off.
  • Once everything is completely cool and dry, put it all back together, and then cover your grill with its cover. (We live in New York, and grills are expensive; get a cover!)

How to Clean a Charcoal Grill

If you’re like many New Yorkers, you probably have a small charcoal grill. Cleaning it is really pretty easy, and it’s much faster and easier than doing a propane grill:

  • Dump out the ashes from the base and the ash catcher at the bottom.
  • Put the entire grate in a bucket of hot, soapy water and attack it with a grill brush.
  • Wipe out the bottom of the grill and the lid using hot, soapy water; grab a bristle brush or even a putty knife to help you if you have trouble.
  • Once it’s clean, let it dry for a while.
  • Put everything back together, and then store it in a dry, safe place away from the snow.

During the summer season, continuously clean the grill every time you use it, and cleaning it at the end of the season will be much easier!

The 5 Best Leaf Peeping Day Trips Outside Of New York City


Grab your camera: It’s almost time for leaf-peeping season! Photo by joyruH7 (Flickr)

If you are as much of a fan of fall as I am, you’ll probably want a break from the steel buildings of the city to see the leaves changing color. I could say to pick a direction and start driving; you’ll be likely to see the leaves changing color anywhere outside of New York City. But some places are simply better than others.

Before you go, be sure to check the fall foliage schedules for your destination, as many regions differ from one another on the best time to visit (though it is often in mid-October). Also, be sure to bring a blanket and pack a basket for a picnic, and don’t forget a warm sweater and, most importantly, a camera (hopefully one that’s better than your phone).

These are the five top places you can visit that I’ve found in my wanderings:

For Those Looking for the Most Scenic Drive: The Mohawk Trail (Route 2)

This is a long drive away, but it’s so worth it! I’ve seen Japanese tourists taking pictures there; this route is world-famous for its beauty during autumn. The Mohawk Trail, along Route 2 and Route 2A in Massachusetts, maps an old Native American trade route. It cuts through Savoy State Forest toward the small town of North Adams, which is very close to the New York border and holds its own fall foliage festival. Not only do you get a nearly constant view of the beautiful Berkshire mountains, but you also see streams, waterfalls, and many quaint New England towns.

For Those Who Don’t Want to Drive: The Metro North (Hudson Line) and Hudson Valley

For those who are currently car-less who want to see some great fall foliage, the MTA offers a solution. It might seem counterintuitive, since the Metro North is not the most comfortable, luxurious train service. However, when one is stuck with public transportation, this is a very nice day trip that allows you to take in an area that inspired an entire art movement in the mid-19th century. The Hudson Line travels all the way up to Poughkeepsie and is largely parallel to the Hudson River (which gets cleaner the further up you go). You can see some of the greatest views of the mountains and their reflection in the blue water while sitting comfortably in your seat. When you’re in Poughkeepsie, journey by foot on the Walkway Over the Hudson, which is a pedestrian bridge that allows you get out, stretch your legs, and take pictures.

For Food and Wine Fans: The Finger Lakes (Route 20)

There are numerous regions of upstate New York that are great for leaf-peeping: Honestly, the whole state is full of beautiful places to visit. However, one of the best drives is Route 20 from Albany west into the Finger Lakes region. If you travel to upstate New York, be sure to indulge in great food and drink as well. The Finger Lakes area is known for its wine country, which is a ton of fun to visit in the fall. And if you’re going upstate and you’re a food fan, make sure to stop at an orchard along the way to go apple-picking! Did you know that New York is the second-largest producer of apples in the U.S. and produces 29.5 million bushels annually? Visit one of the thousands of orchards and also get other fun stuff like cider doughnuts, homemade pies, and more farm-fresh treats!

For History Buffs and Enthusiasts: Route 169 in Connecticut

If you have a history buff traveling with you on your day trip, take them to the gorgeous and interesting Route 169. Often called “the quiet corner” of the state, this region is notable not just for the amazing foliage but for the general fall ambiance. Stone walls, Gothic houses, and 17th century buildings also pockmark this route. When leaving Brooklyn, make sure you visit Brooklyn: Brooklyn, CT, that is. Also, be sure you check out the old architecture of Pomfret, the Prudence Crandall Museum, and Roseland Cottage.

For Those Who Want an Active Adventure: The Poconos

More than 100 varieties of trees decorate the landscape of the Poconos, which are only about two hours away from New York City in Pennsylvania. You can simply take Route 507 around Lake Wallenpaupack for a lovely drive, or you can indulge in some of the fun activities in the area. For those with small children, enjoy The Great Pocono Pumpkin Festival. You can also go canoeing or kayaking in the area with Kittatinny Canoes or even enjoy ziplining through the fall foliage for a really crazy time at the Camelbeach Lodge’s adventure course. There are numerous ways to enjoy an active leaf-peeping excursion, and the Poconos are close enough to still make it a day trip.

For Those Who Want to Stay in NYC

Bloomingdale Park is a huge, gorgeous, 138-acre park in Staten Island. It’s a stretch of land that has the color and calmness you’re looking for without the long drive. For free, on October 25 at 1 p.m., you can join in on a fall foliage hike that’s guided by naturalists. You’ll still need to take a ferry, but the beauty of the leaves will make you forget that you’re actually still in NYC. Central Park also has some lovely foliage this time of year as well, so if you’re really trapped in Manhattan, that’s the best place to go!

I must insist that if you’re an enthusiast, just take that extra day, though. Stay at a bed and breakfast and explore more of the regions that are world-famous for their foliage that are just a little too far away for a proper day trip, like Route 100 in Vermont (or any other major highway in Vermont, really), the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire, or Route 1 in Maine.

Take the time to enjoy the season this fall!

Share A Coke With Your Home: How To Clean With Coca-Cola


Are you ready to get cleaning with a cheap and often readily available substance? How about the world’s favorite soda? Photo: Photo by Oilpanhands (Wikimedia Commons)

Have you ever looked at the nutrition facts of dark cola? Don’t. It’s scary. Besides a copious amount of corn syrup, caramel color, and carbonation, this sticky-sweet beverage also has a high acidity. For us creative cleaners out there, that means that the fizzy drink actually makes a very good cleaning solution. As a child’s beverage, it might not be the best choice. As a miracle cleaner, though, it’s excellent! To quote the great Willy Wonka, “Few people realize what tremendous power there is in one of those things!” I’ve had fun learning about how many ways you can use cola to clean items around the house. Here are some of the uses I’ve found.

A Toilet-Cleaner

Yes, you can use this miracle beverage to clean the john. Pour a can into the bowl and wait an hour. Scrub with a brush, flush, and a sparkling toilet remains.

A Bug-Killer

This one is kind of scary, huh? But yes, it kills bugs; they try to consume the sweet drink, and it will often destroy them. Spray it on hills in your garden or even in your cupboards to get rid of ants. Farmers in poor countries have actually used Coke as a cheaper pesticide that they spray directly on plants.

A Rust-Destroyer

Demolish rust stains on your outdoor furniture, your tools, a rusty nail or screw, or other metal items around the house. Cola has phosphoric acid, which causes the rust to loosen. You can even use a mug of soda to get rid of the tarnish on pennies. (I’ve done that before. Shiny pennies just make me happier, and they seem luckier!)

A Paint-Remover

Have you ever been in the middle of a painting project and just a tiny drop falls on a bit of metal furniture, a sink, or a cupboard? I’ve been there, and it can be very frustrating, especially if you’ve found the spot after it dried. Put some cola on a towel and rub the spot out. It’ll be gone in a few seconds. Then, go back over it with soapy water so that it doesn’t leave a sticky mess behind.

A Dish-Washer

If you have those burnt, crusted-on pans and pots, pour some cola into them and let them sit. The grime will flake away, and you’ll have to do much less scrubbing.

An Oil-Eraser

Garage floors, driveways, and sometimes even kitchens get marked with those deep oil stains that seem impossible to get out. Cola eats away at tough oils quickly. Pour it on the area, let it sit, and then wipe it away. I do this on my driveway every once in a while and spray it away with a hose until it’s good as new.

Photo: Photo by Christopher Sessums (Flickr)

A Stain-Remover

Instead of an expensive stain-remover, used relatively cheap Coke to remove stains and deodorize areas. It’s especially effective against deep oil stains and can even get gum out of hair or fibers! Creepily, it’s something used in crime scenes because it’s so effective at cleaning up blood. And if you’re ever in a situation where a skunk has sprayed your clothing, use cola to get it out.

A Grout-Cleaner

Those dirty spaces between tiles frustrate me because they’re hard to clean and naturally become gray and dingy over time. I get them to shine like new again with Coke!

These are just a handful of ways I’ve experimented with cleaning with Coke. I’ve also heard that it can clean car batteries and be used as a last-minute defroster for your windshield. I might not want to drink the stuff after making these discoveries, but I’ll continue to use it as a great at-home, DIY cleaning solution!

Winter Is Coming: How To Prepare Your Yard

The Starks are always right eventually: Winter is coming. I don’t know about you, but fall has certainly snuck up on me. I often find myself panicking shortly after Labor Day, trying to figure out what to do next. Should I make an apple pie? Should I hang cinnamon sticks in the doorways and decorate for Halloween? When are the pumpkin lattes back? One of the first things to do with fall preparation, however, is to prepare the yard for winter. Doing so now while the weather is still fairly agreeable is a good way to stay ahead and avoid headaches during winter.

Got perennials? Use the three p’s: prune, plant, and protect.

If you have perennial plants (or plants that flower for more than one season), now is the time to take care of them. Older shrubs and plants need to be pruned down so that they can flower next season; do make sure you read the instructions for your specific plant, however. Transplanting and planting of perennials also happens now. Lastly, take care of your beautiful shrubs and flowering plants with a thick layer of fresh mulch, which can protect your plants’ roots.

Mow the lawn until the first frost.

Homeowners often make the mistake of not mowing after Labor Day. Most grasses are still growing throughout the fall until the first frost. While you don’t want to clip it too short, you also don’t want to keep it long, as potential fungi and diseases will often spread under long grasses. Owners who really love their bit of green will want to aerate their lawns as well during this time.

Look out for dead trees and limbs.

Dead trees can be very dangerous in the wintertime. They can fall on wires and do untold damage to one’s property. See if you can notice which trees are dead, and be sure to take care of them now. Most tree removal services don’t operate in the winter, so contact them now. You’ll need wood for your next fall bonfire, right?

Put away gardening supplies and dry out hoses/tubing.

Don’t waste all of your hard work setting up an irrigation system and wrecking it or accidentally destroying a hose. Make sure your water supplies are drained and dry; otherwise, they’ll likely crack due to freezing. Some overachievers I know actually use an air compressor to blow out their irrigation systems. Also, make sure your gardening supplies don’t get needlessly damaged due to rust by tucking them away at the right moment.

Fertilize your garden and get a grip on weeds now for a better spring.

Many experts I’ve talked to tell me that now is the time to get ahead on weeds. Attack them now before they get away from you in the spring. Put out weed control and fertilizer now. I know, it seems like a waste. But this will give your lawn the nutrients it needs to survive the winter.

Rake consistently.

This is not going to make me a popular guy among all of the dads out there, but waiting to rake until all of the leaves have fallen is generally a bad idea. Fungus, suffocation, and a bad lawn can result from waiting too long to rake. (You can always do what I did and have the kids help. They’re fond of diving into piles of leaves, anyway.)

Protect potted plants with blankets.

Living in New York, I’m often a fan of simply bringing potted plants indoors, if that’s at all an option. If it’s not, you’ll want to go to great lengths to try to protect them. Place the pot on soil instead of pavement, and keep it on the shady side of your house. This can sometimes prevent the horrible freeze/thaw cycle of winter and spring. Yes, some people really do use blankets to protect their plants. Note that some species are hardier than others, so for some, this hardening off can be much easier than for others.

These are some of my tips for taking care of your lawn during the fall. Get this done quickly, and then move onto the really fun stuff about fall (like pies and lattes)!

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