It's almost December, and you hardly notice those cobwebs on the chandelier, dust bunnies multiplying on the living room floor, or the grimy buildup on the baseboards.
But chances are, your holiday guests will. After all, don't you take note of a home's dusty shelves and dirty floors when you visit?
Here's how to get the holiday cleaning details done right - and in the Nick of time.
The key to getting all - or most of - your holiday cleaning done in time is to break down the big cleaning chores into smaller, manageable tasks, and tackle them over several hours, days, or weeks - depending on your holiday entertaining schedule.
Start by focusing your efforts on getting the main areas in your home guest-ready: the entryway, your furnishings, the floors, and carpets.
Also, take stock of which cleaning tasks you can safely skip this time around. After all, who is going to notice that your bedroom closet is a jumble of sweaters and tees, or that the miniblinds in your bathroom are dusty? Save these tasks for later - or perhaps the new year.
To get 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 at all.
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 surfaces 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 is more to vacuuming than just plugging in the machine and giving your carpet or floor a quick once-over.
To suck up all the dirt and dust bunnies languishing there - both the obvious and those hidden between the fibers - plan to spend about 20 seconds or so going back and forth over each area of the carpet. Sweep, vacuum or dust mop floors before holiday guests arrive.
Be careful when vacuuming hardwood floors - a vacuum cleaner with a beater bar can cause dents and scratches on your floor's finish. Use the appliance's long-handled attachment, or a canister vacuum with a special bare floor attachment to clean floors safely and thoroughly.
If you've just discovered wax drippings on your favorite tablecloth, here's a quick and easy way to get rid of them: Start by scraping off excess wax with a butter knife or plastic knife.
Apply a prewash stain remover to the area, and then toss in your washing machine's soak cycle, using the hottest water safe for the table cloth 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 times to remove settled-in staining.) Wash as usual and dry. For dry-clean only and delicate table linens, the safest bet is to deliver them to your favorite neighborhood dry cleaner.
You'll need silver polish - either a commercial product or ordinary white toothpaste will work. Put a bit of polish on a damp cloth or clean cotton sock.
Old socks make ideal polishing cloths - you can apply polish with one side, then turn the sock over on your hand and buff the other side. Use up-and-down rather than circular strokes to polish your silver quickly and effectively.
Use a twisted bit of rag to get between silverware tines and other tight places on silver. Polish clean and dry using a clean, dry cloth (or the clean side of a sock.)
To keep future polishing to a minimum, store silver behind glass, in cloth or plastic bags, or plastic wrap. Resist the urge to bundle your silver in rubber bands: the rubber can cause discoloration on silver.
Time to lose the Halloween look - cobwebs are officially out of season!
Here's a quick and easy way to get rid of the gauzy stuff 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, crevice dirt, or cobwebs with a soft, damp cloth.
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 holiday cleaning hot spots in your home, sit down, relax, and enjoy the festive season ahead with family and friends.