When true spring weather finally arrives and windows are thrown open to the warming breezes, some of us — assuredly not me — think of cleaning. My former mother-in-law, already mistress of the world’s cleanest house, was a big proponent of this semi-annual event, the polar opposite of fall cleaning. Nothing made her happier than cleaning baseboards or vacuuming refrigerator coils, but I’ve wondered recently if spring cleaning has gone the way of the dodo — or the curtain stretcher or rug beater. If you were born after 1950, say, you probably have no knowledge of curtain stretchers, which were used by my grandmother in her annual orgy of spring cleaning, back in the 1940s. These collapsible wooden frames looked like yardsticks with sharp pins at one-inch intervals. On a sunny and breezy morning, Nana would take down all her lace and organdy curtains, wash them, dip them in starch and then stretch them on the frames and put them out to bleach in the sun in the backyard. At the end of the day the dazzlingly white crispy curtains would have dried wrinkle-free and could be returned to the windows, which had been polished clean in their absence, once the heavy wooden storm windows had been removed and screens put in their place.

I don’t even have curtains, and in these days of wash-and- wear everything, laundry starch is rarely used for anything. My hardwood floors are rugless and are cleaned with a state-of-the-art vacuum cleaner, a tool I still regard with suspicion, as I feel they are all just waiting for the chance to whiz up behind you and clip you in the ankle. But my point is, since we have very stripped down surfaces all over the house — laminates, tile, washable wallpaper and paints and Scotchgarded upholstery — do we need to take part in the rites of spring cleaning? Probably not.

If you are a reasonably tidy person or family, you already wash dishes regularly, keep up with the laundry, vacuum the dust bunnies and mop the floors when they feel grungy. Bathrooms are also given regular wipe-downs. You probably remember to clean the refrigerator every month or so, ditto the oven and microwave. In short, your house is not in need of some gargantuan effort come spring. But once the weather is warm, it’s a good time to wash and store all the winter mittens, scarves, hats and jackets. Discard any woolen socks with holes or missing mates as well as any boots that are outgrown, worn out or too sad and dirty to see another season.



Spring is also a good time to wash your pillows and mattress cover, two things that see lots of use during those long winter nights. While you’re laundering the linens and pillows, vacuum your mattress surface with the upholstery attachment on your vacuum cleaner, paying special attention to seams and crevices where dust and other icky stuff can collect; using your vacuum’s crevice attachment can help get in even deeper.

What’s another once-a-year task that you might as well do in the spring? Vacuuming your refrigerator coils. Sounds major, but really, refrigerators are very low-maintenance overall, and cleaning the coils of dust and pet hairs isn’t a difficult chore. First, you need to locate the coils. Older models have exposed coils mounted on the back of the refrigerator. Newer models place the coils at the bottom behind a toe space panel or at the back behind a rear access panel. Once you expose the coils, vacuum them with that handy crevice or upholstery tool, sucking up the dirt on, above, and below the coils. While you’re at it, vacuum the floor under and behind the fridge, too. Then shove a duster between the coils, and clean the rest of the dust, hair, and dirt still clinging to them. Position your vacuum under the duster to catch falling debris. Reinstall any removed panel and you’re done for the year.

After these two jobs, what’s left to do? In a word: windows. Whatever your heating source, windows are grimy by the end of the winter, so that’s a must-do for the spring-cleaning rota. Fortunately, it’s not a big job if you have a sponge, a squeegee, a soft lint-free cloth and a bucket. For outside window cleaning you’ll need a scrub brush, like a soft deck brush, with an extension pole if necessary, and a water hose with a sprayer attachment. For both inside and out you’ll use the same mixture. In a bucket mix two cups water, 1⁄4 cup white vinegar and 1⁄2 teaspoon of dish detergent. Rub each window pane from left to right, top to bottom, working the sponge edges into the corners to loosen dirt. Starting at the top left, pull the squeegee across the soapy pane. At the end of each stroke, wipe the squeegee blade clean with the rag. Old pillowcases or napkins are perfect for this task; just tuck a corner in your pants pocket to kep it handy. Be sure to dry the windowsill after you’ve finished the glass. Using the same cleaning mixture proportions for the outside, dip the brush in a bucket of the solution, and scrub it on the window. Before it has a chance to dry, spray and rinse it off with clean water and let it drip dry. There, now you can see those nascent tulips and daffodils with a lot less effort.