When I got a custodial job at my high school, I realized just how little I knew about the dark janitorial arts. I’d spend hours cleaning every crevice of every desk, fan, furnace and window of a balmy classroom on the fifth floor, only to have the head janitor stroll in, momentarily scan the room, swipe his finger along the top ledge of a chalkboard and watch a year’s worth of plaster and dust cascade to the floor.
It was humiliating, but if nothing else, it instilled in me an obsessiveness when it comes to cleaning up around the apartment. That said, it’s been a long time since I’ve mopped a classroom, and with spring-cleaning season around the corner, I wanted to consult with the real experts — i.e., career janitors — on all the proverbial top chalkboard ledges I’ve missed in the meantime.
Don’t Just ‘Vacuum’ Your Carpets, Power Wash Them
Dan, Maintenance Crew Member for Commercial Buildings: I took over for a guy who’d worked here for about 20 years and was retiring. He showed me all the basics of cleaning the buildings, but one thing I found he never did was clean the carpets in the entryway. He vacuumed them, sure, but our buildings get a lot of foot traffic, so dirt and dust really get caked into the carpets beyond anything a vacuum can do.
We’d just bought a power washer to clean the sidewalks, so one day I pulled the carpets out and hit them with it. For about 10 minutes, the power sprayer pushed water from the carpets that was pure black. After seeing those carpets change from being a dark burgundy back to bright red, their original color, I started doing the same thing at home. Vacuums and shaking the rugs only get you so far, and you don’t want to risk breaking your washing machine with a bigger carpet. Next time you rent a power washer, spare some time to clean your carpets, you’ll thank me later.
Don’t Buy Expensive Cleaners
Jeremy, Former University Custodian: I’ve got a few feathers in my cap from my years spent cleaning out the dorms at one of the nation’s top party schools. Above all else, name-brand cleaning products aren’t anything special. Windex costs $2 more than the tube of random yellow liquid next to it and does just as well. Baking soda will kill the smell of puke on a carpet just as well as it kills the smell of rot in the fridge. In fact, baking soda in general is your friend in many cleaning scenarios, so keep it handy.
Next, if you’ve got sticky crap on your floor and don’t have Goo Gone, splash a little lighter fluid on it. Be careful, of course, but lighter fluid will get anything to wipe right up.
Finally, if someone draws an unflattering dick on a whiteboard with a permanent marker, don’t waste money on an expensive whiteboard cleaner. Just draw over that dick with a dry-erase marker and it’ll wipe right off. Then you can draw a much more flattering, veiny dick in its place. One that you’re proud to have on the whiteboard in your home.
Vacuum everything. EVERYTHING.
Doug, Lifelong School Janitor: Most people at least know to switch out the filter in their HVAC system, but every once in a while, you should clean around the furnace itself, as well as open up the individual vents around your house.
Every spring I make a point to clean out the individual heating units around the school. They go through a long winter, and when I clean them out, I pull out about three inches of dust, dirt and garbage that’s accumulated in and around the units. At home, I vacuum out all the crud in the ventilation pipes that’s either got in there from the air or fallen through the floor vents. You should do this too, and afterwards, you should wipe the vent itself and move to the next. You’d be surprised how much can accumulate in there, and you don’t want to be breathing that stuff in.
While you’re at it, vacuum out your window sills, your couch cushions, your walls, your curtains, the blades of your fans and your cabinets. People think they just need to vacuum the ground. But dust gets everywhere. Everywhere.