It's almost December and you hardly notice those cobwebs on the chandelier, dust bunnies multiplying on the living room floor and grimy buildup on the baseboards.
But chances are, your guests will. As friends and family head to your house for the holidays, they may not say a thing. But don't you take note of a home's dusty shelves and dingy floors when you visit?
Remember the wax drippings on the formal tablecloth you hastily stuffed into a drawer last summer? And what about the silver dulled from a year of nonuse?
Whether your holiday visitors are arriving this evening or in the coming weeks, you can make what little housekeeping time you have pack a big cleaning punch. A quick holiday home cleaning will have you feeling more confident, and your guests feeling more comfortable.
The key to getting all - or most of - your holiday home cleaning done quickly is to break the chores down into manageable loads, then tackle them over several hours, days, or weeks - depending on your holiday entertaining schedule.
Start by focusing your efforts on the big pieces and on the place that you and your guests are likely to notice right away: the entryway, furnishings, floors and carpets.
Also take stock of which cleaning tasks you can skip.
Who is going to notice that your bedroom closet is a jumble of sweaters or that the miniblinds in your bathroom are dusty? Save these tasks for later.
The following house cleaning list will have your home primed for the entertaining season ahead in no time.
Make front door mats welcoming. Shake 'em, wash 'em, swat 'em with a broom. Give them the toughest cleaning they can take.
They're your front line against tracked-in dirt and the absolute first impression, so keep front door mats clean enough to function at peak efficiency and look presentable.
To get your furniture and hardwood surfaces shining and dust-free, you don't need fancy cleaners. They often leave a residue that will attract more dust than if you hadn't used them.
Instead of a fancy product in a spray bottle, use a soft cotton or terry cloth, a cotton diaper or a cleaning cloth. Lightly moisten the cloth with water and gently buff the surface along the grain. This technique will remove most spills, fingerprints and dust from everything from picture frames to table legs.
To remove white water rings and marks from oil-finished woods such as teak, coat the spot with a thick film of cooking oil, then gently rub with fine steel wool or a light-duty plastic scrubber until the stain fades. Buff the area with a clean cloth or a soft paper towel.
Don't be done in by dust bunnies. One of the first things guests will notice upon entering your home is the carpet or floor.
There really is more to vacuuming than just plugging in the machine and giving your rug or carpet a once-over. To suck up all the dirt and dust bunnies - both the obvious and those hidden between the fibers - you need to spend about 20 seconds or so going back and forth over each area of the carpet or entrance rugs.
Sweep, vacuum or dust mop wood floors before your guests arrive. If you're sweeping, use a broom with fine ends to trap dust and grit effectively.
Be careful - a vacuum with beater bars can cause dents and scratches in your floor's finish. Use the appliance's long-handled attachment, or a canister vacuum with a special bare floor attachment.
That's the sure way to get rid of all the dirt and dust. (If you're in the market for a new vacuum, Choosing A Vacuum can help you make the right choice for your home's needs.)
Finally, place front door mats at each entrance to your home. That way you can trap dirt and dust before it gets on your floors - and they'll look clean longer as a result.
To make your linoleum floors shine, wax or apply a sealant following label directions. The simplest method: Use a combination wash-and-wax floor cleaner. Don't feel guilty about saving time!
This will also protect it against the inevitable scrapes and scratches caused by holiday traffic.
No-wax floors don't need a polishing treatment, but an occasional makeover will keep them looking fresher. Add a protective buffer that could help them last longer. Use a floor cleaner that cleans, shines, or both. It's best to follow label directions for proper use of each product on your type of floor.
If you've just discovered wax drippings on your favorite washable tablecloth, here's a quick and easy way to get rid of them: Scrape off excess with a butter knife or plastic knife.
Apply a prewash stain remover to the blight, and then toss in your washing machine's soak cycle, using the hottest water safe for the fabric. Follow with a run through the prewash cycle. Repeat until all wax and any color residue has disappeared. (Be patient, it may take up to three time to remove settled-in staining.)
Wash as usual and dry. This also works for holiday sweaters, dresses and shirts that may have been inadvertently stashed away soiled.
For dry-clean only and delicate table linens, remove as much wax as you safely can. Deliver to your favorite neighborhood dry cleaner.
You'll need silver polish - either a commercial brand or ordinary white toothpaste will work. Put a bit of polish on a damp cloth or clean cotton sock.
Socks make ideal polishing cloths - apply polish with one side then turn the sock over and buff with the other side.
Use up-and-down rather than circular strokes to polish the item quickly and effectively in less time.
Use a twisted bit of rag to get between silverware tines and other tight places. Finish the job with a few strokes using a clean dry cloth (or the clean side of the sock.)
To keep future polishing to a minimum, store silver behind glass, in cloth or plastic bags, or in plastic wrap. Resist the urge to bundle your silver in rubber bands: rubber can cause discoloration.
Lose the Halloween look - cobwebs are officially out of season! Here's a quick and easy way to get rid of the gauzy stuff as well as dirt from ceiling fixtures such as fans and air conditioner/heater vents.
If you have a portable or lightweight vacuum, grab the soft nozzle attachment and run it over the fixture's surface. Gently remove any remaining dust or crevice dirt or cobwebs with a soft, damp cloth.
A few minutes with a stepladder, an all-purpose cleaner, a sponge and a polishing cloth will give new light to your life. If your home has skylights or tall ceilings, consider investing in a stepladder and extended-reach dust-and-dirt removal tools.
The walls may not look as if they need a bath. After all, dust and soot fall to the floor, right? Most of it does, but just enough clings to vertical surfaces to warrant a holiday bath.
Use a sponge and hand dishwashing detergent, washing the surface in sections. A sponge mop makes it easier to reach higher up spots. Use two buckets: one for the dishwashing detergent solution and another for wringing out your sponge. Dry the walls and woodwork with a clean cloth.
Once you've covered these major hot spots in your home, you'll have holiday cleaning all wrapped up. And then you can sit down, relax and enjoy your family and friends.