The Very Few Things You Need for a Very Clean House

As with exercise equipment and self-help books, people like to buy cleaning products more than they like to use them. That cool feather duster, the shower cleaner that does the scrubbing for you, the aromatherapy combined with your floor cleaner. I know it all sounds appealing. The truth is you only need a few pieces of equipment and a small number of products to keep your house really clean. Buy fewer products. Then use them more.

Here’s what you really need for the average house.


  1. Rags and sponges. You’ll need a large pile (20-30) of cleaning rags. They should be roughly the size of a washcloth. I buy the car wash rags from my big box store. Old washcloths and handtowels cut in half will work, too. These are your cleaning workhorses for counters, bathrooms, floors, walls, and everything else. Change them out frequently as you’re cleaning so you don’t spread germs and dirt from one surface to another. If you use one to scrub a toilet, for example, grab a clean one when you move on to the bathroom vanity. I run a small laundry load of rags each week. Wash them in hot water with a touch of bleach.
    You’ll also need a small regular sponge to keep in the kitchen for quick spill clean up and counter wipe downs. Rinse it and squeeze out the excess water after every use and keep it where it can dry out between uses. Replace it when it gets worn or smelly. The second type of sponge you need is a scrubbing sponge. Use these cut in half for dishwashing or full size for scrubbing showers, bathtubs, and toilets. Be careful with the scrubbing side – when new it can really scratch.
  2. A couple 2.5 gallon buckets. I use one to carry bathroom cleaning supplies and the other to make a bucket of soapy water for washing floors.
  3. A mop.
  4. A quality broom and dustpan.
  5. A vacuum that works well and suits your house and carpet types.
  6. A toilet scrubber. No one needs to see a picture.

Cleaning Products

  1. Dishwashing soap. If I had to choose a single cleaning product to keep in my home, this would be it. Use it full strength to degrease a cook top or diluted to wipe down counters, scrub tile, or wash baseboards.
  2. Empty spray bottles. You can buy these at any hardware store. Use one to make a kitchen cleaner out of your dishwashing soap. Put a good squeeze of soap in the bottom and fill the rest with warm water. You have a cheap, effective all-purpose cleaner for the kitchen and other hard surfaces in your home.
  3. An abrasive cleaner for bathrooms, walls, and kitchen sinks. I’m partial to Soft Scrub because it has some bleach for disinfecting and is less likely to leave a gritty residue. Use this only for toilets and showers and baths if you need to scrub away mildew or soap scum. Put a dot on one of your damp cleaning rags to scrub handprints and marks off walls. And use this to clean and disinfect your kitchen sink. *
  4. Floor cleaner. My house is mostly hardwood floors so I turn to Murphy’s Oil Soap. If you have more tile or linoleum, find a good, environmentally friendly general purpose cleaner. I also add the Murphy’s Oil Soap to the bottom of one of the empty spray bottles, fill the rest with water and use this to barely dampen a cleaning rag for dusting.
  5. A glass cleaner. You can use diluted vinegar for this task or turn to microfiber cloths like this one, which clean glass with just water.


  1. An old toothbrush for scrubbing in tight spots like around bathroom fixtures and in shower corners. 
  2. Paper towels. Use these sparingly. They are expensive and wasteful, but can be good to have on hand for glass cleaning and germy spills where you won’t want to use your sponges.
  3. Scrub brush. Use this wet to scrub tiles or dry to clean wicker or woven furniture.
  4. Dry sweeper. Again, use these sparingly as they are expensive and disposable, but these are great for getting under beds and furniture and quick clean ups if you have a lot of hardwood in your house and are especially useful if you have pets.
  5. Disinfecting wipes. If you have kids, these are a necessary evil. With babies, I used them to disinfect diaper pails and changing tables. Now that my kids are all potty trained, I hand these out like prizes in the who missed the toilet game.

* This is a strong product so use it with care and test it first. It will damage wood and soft natural surfaces like marble. It will also bleach your clothes if it lands on you!