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Keeping it clean

| Saturday, March 22, 2008

Over there, behind you, in back of that pile of newspapers that go back to the Steelers-Jacksonville playoff game, there's a pile of dirt that needs cleaning.

No big deal. It's been spring since Thursday, and that means it is time to start redding up, as they say.

But professional cleaners and organizers think spring cleaning really needs to go away. It could be avoided easily, they say; sometimes it already has been replaced by fall cleaning.

"The easiest thing to do is keep the house neat all the time." says Lynn Komoroski from the Cleaning Authority in Hampton.

Maryann Dougherty from the Neat Fleet in Valencia, Butler County, says if homeowners spent even 20 minutes a day regularly straightening up their houses, they "wouldn't have to worry about it" at any special time of year.

The signs of guilt

It is easy tor cleaning to be a chore when a whole house is the battleground.

Professional organizer Patty Kreamer from Beechview says she wishes there wasn't a concentration on spring cleaning. She says it points out a lack of cleaning at other times of the year.

"That's what makes spring cleaning the chore it can become," she says.

Clutter that is everywhere generally is the biggest problem, Komoroski and Kreamer say. Stacks of papers and magazines, sheets of paperwork that are finished or waiting, and a variety of personal belongings all mask the way a room should look and hide collections of dirt.

Fran O'Neil, owner of The Butler Did It in Greensburg, says kitchens and bathrooms are the spaces that need the most help, largely for the same reasons. They both require down-low attention that never is pleasant.

Floors under appliances or behind toilets are not easy to get to, and simple to forget.

Naturally, that becomes an even bigger problem as a homeowner ages. O'Neil says these areas are prime concerns for older clients.

In the past five years, he says, his older clientele has increased. He believes that is because younger residents are moving away from the area, but calling him and other services to take care of their parents' homes.

Dougherty agrees kitchens can be overlooked places -- by choice.

Coils of refrigerators often are laden with dust because the homeowner hasn't pulled the appliance out in a year. Similarly, the floor under stoves can be dirty and even spotted with grease.

The areas below sinks can show the signs of nearly imperceptible leaks that have been missed because cleaning hasn't been done there.

She also points to irregular cleaning of door-mounted water and ice dispensers contributing to mold.

"That is one of my big things," she says. "If the tray in those dispensers isn't cleaned, water sits there and turns into mold."

Organizer Vickie Dellaquila from the McCandless firm of says mold is a bigger issue in other parts of the house.

Homeowners often forget about areas where water has collected for any number or reasons.

"A lot of times, you can't see those places, so they get overlooked and mold begins to grow," she says.

She urges homeowners not to overlook these types of areas in their cleaning.

But simple advice doesn't make the task any easier.

"People just don't have the time," she says.

Sidestepping the chore of spring

Many people have moved away from a big spring cleaning.

Dougherty says many of her residential customers are booking services in the fall or prior to the winter holidays.

Even the marketing coordinator of a firm that makes chemical-free cleaning products sees a spike in the pre-holiday season that rivals that of spring.

But Kipling Rutherford from Ecover, a Belgian firm with U.S. headquarters in Long Beach, Calif., says spring still ranks as the top cleaning season.

"Besides the tradition, you have Earth Day reminding people it's time to get clean," she says.

Earth Day, with its orientation toward environmental and other sorts of cleanliness, is April 22.

O'Neil says there is a divide between those older and younger than 50 in relation to pre-holiday and spring cleaning.

Those older than 50 concentrate on the work this time of year because of a tradition that encyclopedias say dates back thousands of years. Spring was the season people were opening homes that had been closed up all winter.

Meanwhile, people younger than 50, O'Neil says, concentrate more on fall cleaning, which gets the house in good shape for the holidays.

"People are going to be at home more in the fall, and there are going to be visitors coming in and seeing what the house looks like," he says.

There's also a difference between the traditionally minded, who want to do the work themselves, and the younger set, who simply want it to be over.

"Most people would rather spend time with friends and family than cleaning," Komoroski says.

She says many customers call for a one-time clean, either in the fall or spring, but that leads to regular, often every-other-week, visits.

Prices range depending on the size of house or special consideration, the cleaners say. For Komoroski, regular visits go from $70 to $220, while Dougherty suggests $80 to $150 and O'Neil quotes $70 to $150.

The one-time visits can be much higher, with O'Neil saying they can go as high as $750.

Maybe a little regular cleaning wouldn't be so bad after all.

Common goals

Hints about dealing with spring cleaning overlap each other like layers of dirt in neglected areas.

When they talk about cleanup strategies, house-care professionals offer ideas that often echo the words of their colleagues.

Here are some ideas on dealing with spring cleanups from Lynn Komoroski from the Cleaning Authority in Hampton, Maryann Dougherty from the Neat Fleet in Valencia, Butler County, and Fran O'Neil from The Butler Did It in Greensburg.

• Always think in terms of thoroughness.

• This is a great time to take down and clean draperies and blinds.

• Hire a professional to get the dirt out of ductwork and make sure to change heating and air-conditioning filters.

• Less is more, so clear away the clutter to see what to clean.

• Make sure to use tools included with appliances such as vacuum cleaners to attack the jobs better.

• It is possible to make cleanup a family project and spread the workload around.

• Establish goals to accomplish each week.

• Try to establish organizational ideas to make next year better than this one.

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