Holiday House Cleaning with the Queen of Clean

Last Editorial Review: 12/9/2004

WebMD Live Events Transcript

The holidays are here and your house is a mess! How will you ever get it clean before the relatives arrive? And how can you keep it clean without turning into June Cleaver? Don't stress! Whether your dealing with pine needles in the carpet or candle wax dripping on the table, Linda Cobb, the Queen of Clean, can help. She joined us on Dec. 1, 2004, to share tips for getting things sparkling without extra stress or extra chemicals.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Welcome to WebMD Live, Linda. Thanks for joining us today. The holidays are great fun, but there's a lot of time pressure and pressure to keep the house extra clean. But this is no time to do spring cleaning! Can you give us some clutter-busting ideas before we get into questions about specific messes?

A general thing, because many people have guests dropping by, some unexpectedly, is to take a laundry basket and go room to room and pick up everything that doesn't belong and put it all back where it does belong. At this time of the year, giving yourself an extra 15 minutes in the morning to just go through and tidy up will prevent a lot of frustration later in the day.

Then on Saturdays, or whatever day you choose, set the stove timer for an hour or an hour and a half, depending on the size of your house. Then get everybody involved, including the kids. Do a good clean-through, and when the timer goes off, everyone is free to leave. There's light at the end of the tunnel that way.

If unexpected company calls and says they're on their way, make sure the guest bathroom is cleaned up first, because that's where people have the most time to sit and observe your cleaning. Then grab that laundry basket, pile in anything that doesn't belong where it's at now, turn up the lights, because that gives the house a cleaner, more welcoming look, put a pan on the stove with water and cinnamon sticks to simmer, and when you open the front door the house looks neat and smells great. Don't forget to tidy yourself up, too.

Hanukkah time means frying latkes in our family. But the grease! Any tips on cleaning splatters off of walls?

Yes. For grease on wood cabinets, use Avon original Skin So Soft bath oil. Wipe it down and the grease will literally roll up. It puts a great luster on the cupboards, the kitchen smells great, and you won't have any mosquitoes!

For surfaces such as the painted wall behind the stove or things like that, you can use trisodium phosphate, TSP at the hardware store. Just mix it according to directions. It's a great grease cutter. Also try undiluted dish soap on a wet cloth. Wash the area and then rinse it really, really well. That also will generally work.

When you're doing a lot of frying, they have these splatter guards that are like three-sided walls that you put around your frying pan, and they actually work very, very well to control that.

To control the odor of fried food in the house, keep a dish of undiluted white vinegar next to the skillet, either on the counter or on the stove next to it and that will take care of the smell of grease. Also use your exhaust fan if you have one.

How about dealing with the lingering grease odor that fills the house the next day?

Especially during colder weather, smells are drawn to the cooler areas of the house. That's why sometimes you'll go into your bedroom or bathroom and you can smell the bacon or whatever. Of course the white vinegar in the pan next to the stove helps.

Also try microwaving vanilla extract in a bowl. Let it come to a boil, and then using potholders take it out of the microwave, and sit it in the room you were frying in.

Another thing is take a pan of water, bring it to a boil, add lemon juice or sliced lemon to it and let it simmer for about an hour on the stove.

I have these dumb frying pans that have bumps on the surface to help air circulate, but food gets stuck to them more often as a result. How can I get fried foods unstuck from these supposedly nonstick pans?

There are several things you can do:

  • First is to fill the pan with hot water and drop in a used dryer-fabric-softener sheet. This softens the food and brings it right to the surface so you can wipe the pan out. With holiday casseroles with burned-on food, the dryer fabric softeners work perfectly. No scrubbing required.
  • For really bad problems, put water in the pan to fully cover the area of burned food, add about a cup of white vinegar and let it simmer.
  • Or take the water, put it in the pan the same way, bring it to a boil, and add about two tablespoons of baking soda and simmer.

Another Hanukkah question for you: We always seem to get candle wax from the menorah on either the carpet or the painted mantel. What's the best way to get candle wax off of various surfaces?

For hard surfaces take your blow dryer, aim it on an angle at the wax turned to high, and use a dull straight edge such as a used or overused credit card, to just pop the wax right off. It comes off almost instantly. Follow up with some Weiman Wax Away to remove any residue. Weiman products are available in grocery stores, hardware stores, and most places candles are sold.

For fabric, put the fabric in a baggy in the freezer for almost 24 hours. Take it out and immediately chip off all the wax that you can. Then lay a pad of paper towels on your ironing board, heat the iron to medium hot, lay an old light-colored wet rag over the wax, and press firmly with the iron. This works like a blotter to draw the candle wax out of the fabric. Then pretreat and launder as usual.

For wax on candleholders, place them in the freezer for a day or so, chip off all the wax you can when you take it out, and then use Weiman Wax Remover to remove the residue.

Will the hard surface method work for wall-papered walls?

It works fairly well. On a wall-papered wall you have to occasionally use an old toothbrush while you're heating it.

Pine needles! The yearly curse of the Christmas tree. What's the best way to get rid of them? I always vacuum, but there are always some that just won't come out of the carpet.

First of all, when you bring your tree home put a plastic tablecloth under the base. That will help to catch the needles and it also keeps any water from going through to the carpet when you water the tree. Then cover that with your favorite tree skirt.

To remove the runaway needles, use just the suction hose on your vacuum cleaner to draw them out of the carpet, and be sure that when you're vacuuming always use a vacuum that has a beater bar, because that's what brings the dust and needles out of the carpet so you can get at them.

When you're watering your tree:

  • Use a turkey baster, because that keeps you from pouring water all over when you're doing it.
  • Use an ounce or two of antibacterial mouthwash in the water each time you water. It keeps the water from getting mildewy.
  • Another thing that's good is maple syrup.
  • A nourishing solution you can make yourself is one quart of water, two tablespoons of lemon juice, one tablespoon of sugar, and one-half teaspoon of liquid bleach. Now obviously you don't want to spill that on the carpet. That's why I like the turkey baster. That keeps the growth of the mold and mildew down.
  • Always water your tree daily.

The other thing I like to do is spritz the tree with fabric sizing or spray starch before I decorate it and it's still outside. It seems to keep the needles on the tree longer.

One thing about artificial trees, if you take them outside and shake them up, that gets out the dust and freshens them up. If you have a tree that has branches you have to stick in, you want to rub on a little petroleum jelly, because it makes them easier to put in and take out so you don't break the tree.

If you run out of hooks for your ornaments at the list minute, you can use paper clips, bobby pins, twist ties, pipe cleaners, or dental floss. There's nothing more frustrating than running out when you're in the middle of decorating.

If you are a person who likes to decorate with artificial snow spray on your windows, spray the area first with nonstick cooking spray, then put the spray on and it will wipe right off without any scrubbing or scraping.

My problem every year is Christmas tree sap. How do I get rid of it when it gets on the rug or on the walls?

You can use glycerin. You buy glycerin in the hand cream section of the drugstore. Mix it with a little warm water, about a half-and-half mixture, apply it to the sap, and let it sit until it dissolves. Then on the wall use a dull straight edge to wipe it up. On the carpets gently pull up with some paper towels to remove the sap and then spot clean with your favorite carpet spotter.

I had my hardwood floors refinished this year, but they already have a dull film of dirt on them that I can't get off just with the wood cleaner spray and dry mop. I was told not to put water on them, but I can't think of any other way to try to get them as shiny as they were when they were redone. What can I do? I'm having the neighborhood holiday party this year and want them to look great.

First of all, not using any water on wood floors is sort of a fallacy. You don't want to put a lot of water on them, but damp cleaning them is fine.

My favorite solution for wood floors is to brew a pot of tea using about four or five teabags. Let it come to room temperature, then wring your mop or cloth out in the tea so that it's just damp and go over the floors, changing the mop head frequently or keeping it clean. The tannic acid in the tea is really, really good for wood.

There is a product called The Act Natural Microfiber Mop. It uses nothing but water to clean with; you use it damp. It leaves no residue, has a warranty for two years, and the mop head pulls off and goes into the washing machine every time you use it so it's clean. You can go to to see one. I've had my mop for five years -- the same mop. It's good on any hard surface.

If I might add, particularly if you have tile, you don't want to use a sponge mop, because it acts as a squeegee and pulls the dirty water into the grout lines. If you have tile countertops, then you want to use an Act Natural cloth. It actually will trap 99.9 percent of the dirt, germs and bacteria, so you can wash them away. It's all-natural. If you're a home that has allergies, it's a fabulous solution. And it makes a great gift.

Since I'm having the holiday party this year, as I mentioned, help me be prepared to clean up wine spills, both on hardwood and on my area rugs, which are wool. Thanks!

This one is easy, easy, easy. If you're serving red wine at your party always serve white wine too. You can pour the white wine on the red wine spill, blot, and it will neutralize the red wine.

Another thing to be prepared with is a product called Wine Away Red Wine Stain Remover. You can buy that at places like Nordstrom's, liquor stores, or you can call 1-888-WINE-AWAY and they can give you a store location. It is 100 percent natural and removes red wine, grape juice, cranberry juice, strawberry juice, etc., like it was never there. It will not harm floors or rugs.

When you're entertaining, keep several large bottles of club soda on hand. You can pour it on anything you can put water on. The carbonation will bubble up the spill and the salts will keep it from staining.

In a real emergency, for floors, carpets, or table linen, pour salt on to absorb and keep the spill from staining.

What are some cool cleaning gifts to give that don't imply that your friend or loved-one has a dirty house? (Besides your books, of course, which obviously are great to give!)


Allergies can best be described as: See Answer

The Act Natural Microfiber products make great gifts. A new vacuum from Hoover, called the Empower, is an amazing vacuum. It comes in four great colors, including orange and green. The handle folds down for easy storage, and it has a canister rather than a bag. It has onboard tools, too, for upholstery.

Also the lamb's wool products, such as a duster and dust mitt, are excellent. You can check those out on my web site,

My books are available on my web site and bookstores. Sometimes when you're giving a cleaning product as a gift, if you give a book with it, it softens it. When you're buying a cleaning product, make sure that you're giving it to a person who will appreciate it, not someone who has never vacuumed in her life. That will not be appreciated.

Speaking of gifts, my mom has asked for a steamer. What do you think of those? They seem so hot now (pun intended). I love the idea of not using harsh chemicals, but are these things too good to be true?

I am not a fan of steamers. I actually tested probably ten different kinds of brands. Steam is so hot and it's something you can't see until it's too late. You have to change the heads on them and they are very cumbersome to get out and use. I burned myself quite badly with one once and had second-degree burns. The head blew off and the hot steam went all over my hand. Steam burns are very dangerous.

My findings with people who have bought the steamers is they're cool for about a month and then they're like that piece of exercise equipment that's in the closet. If you're looking for a safe, chemical-free way to clean, check out the Act Natural Microfiber products.

You mentioned a vac, so I have to ask about getting the smells out of a vac, especially dog smells from sucking up fur. Do canister vacs smell less than bag vacs? Can I vacuum up baking soda to kill odors in the vac?

You will find a canister vac does not smell as much as a bag vac. To maintain the suction, empty out the bag every time you vacuum. For smells, there's a product called OdorzOut available at Pet Smart and other stores. It is 100 percent natural and you can either vacuum it up or sprinkle in the canister each time you vacuum. A little goes a long way. I would sprinkle it in after you empty it.

You can sprinkle it on carpets for urine and sprinkle it on furniture for the doggy smell. Because you use it dry you don't have to have everything wet.

For doggy smells, a great thing, including even skunk on a dog, is using Massengil douche. You're going to wet the dog down with it, let him shake it off and dry, and he will be springtime fresh, or any fragrance you want him to be. The best time to do it would be in the spring outside, but in the shower works, as well.

Our dog always ends up getting into some kind of holiday candy and barfing. What are your ideas for cleaning up dog yack and eliminating the odor?

When the cat has a hairball or the spaghetti doesn't agree with the dog, reach for the baking soda. If it is on carpet, do not try to wipe it up. Instead, sprinkle on a really heavy layer of baking soda. Let it sit overnight until it dries, then using the suction hose on your vacuum, vacuum it up. Generally, you will find there is almost nothing there. Use your favorite carpet spotter to clean any remaining spots. For odor, the OdorzOut works perfectly.

Some notes of caution:

  • Chocolate, candy, and table scraps are not good for cats and dogs. If you want to give them a treat, give them a small piece of turkey, but no gravy. Chocolate can be particularly deadly to cats.
  • To avoid a tinsel upchuck, do not put it on the lower branches of the tree.
  • Remember, holly, poinsettia and mistletoe are toxic to not only animals, but also children.
  • Your pet may not be the party animal you think it is, so when you have a lot of people over, confine your animal to one area.

Those are all tips from the Palace Pussy Cat, Zoey Elizabeth.

My kids used scotch tape to hang some decorations last year and it pulled paint off the wall. They did it again at Halloween, but I left the tape up instead of trying to remove it. I bet you can help me get it off without ruining my paint again.

Yes. Use either oil, like baby oil, and saturate the tape with it, then peel it up, or use a product called Un-Du. Buy it at office supply stores. It will take the tape right off.

Also, there are hooks available that by pulling on the tab when you're ready to remove them, they will come off the wall. If you're using the tape to hold up something up that could be hooked, then use the hooks.

What can I pack into the decorations box at the end of the season so they don't smell musty when we unpack them next year?

You can put the OdorzOut in the bottom. I also save my used dryer-fabric-softener sheets and use them to cushion my ornaments. Not only is it a great wrap, but it also keeps the dust off and gets rid of static electricity. Using a plastic storage box instead of cardboard helps. If you store your boxes in the basement or damp area, store them on some bricks or 2-by-4s to keep them off the floor.

We are almost out of time. Before we wrap things up for today, do you have any final words for us, Linda?

Don't stress so much over how clean your house is through the holidays. Give yourself permission not to be perfect, and enjoy the important things -- the gathering of your family and friends.

If you're looking for a great little stocking stuffer, my newest book, Talking Dirty with the Clean of Queen, New and Improved , is in stores or available on I wish everybody the happiest of holidays.

Our thanks to Linda Cobb, The Queen of Clean, for joining us.

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