The Must-Have Guide for Cleaning Your Home (It’s Beginner-Friendly!)

published Mar 20, 2024
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vacuuming rug in front of bookcase
Credit: Joe Lingeman

I have a confession to make: I’m 40 years old and I’m not good at cleaning my own home. Sure, I’m a neat and tidy person. But really getting into the weeds of it? I’m kind of at a loss. I don’t know for sure what cleaners to use where, what to do with the ceiling fan so the dust doesn’t all fly into my face, or how to properly get stains out of the carpet.

There are a couple of reasons for this. One, I generally just don’t like doing chores; I’d rather spend my time with something more interesting. And because I’m typically a clean person, these messes don’t pile up quickly in a noticeable way. Two, I have a house cleaner. She’s better at cleaning than I am, and I’d rather have an expert do it so I can focus on other things.

That being said, we’re trying to have a kid so I know I won’t always be able to afford a cleaner. This means I’m going to have to start figuring this stuff out — and that seems like a monumental task.

If you’re in a similar position of needing to learn exactly how to clean, you’re in luck. I spoke to several experts to share a beginner’s guide to getting your home cleaned. Remember, though, that cleaning doesn’t look the same for everyone. All people start at a different skill level and with different knowledge. Some people never learned because an adult figure in their life never taught them, or they’ve dealt with mental illness that affects their home’s cleanliness. The reasons behind not knowing how to clean are endless — and there’s no shame in it.

No matter where you are in your cleaning journey, this guide is the perfect place to start. 

How to Begin

Dip your toes in by hitting some virtual resources for cleaning inspiration. You may watch TikToks or Instagram Reels of people organizing, like I do. Delah Gomasi, CEO and director of MaidForYou, turns to Reddit and YouTube.

“YouTube channels like ‘clean my space,’ and subreddits like r/cleaningtips and r/homemaking are forums that I frequently use to trial the latest and greatest in cleaning tips and tricks for us to add to our standard operating procedures,” she says.

And remember to start slow, says cleaning expert and CEO of Empathy First Media, Audrey Boyce. You don’t have to dive in for the deep clean right away. Start with a small space and see how it goes, then expand from there over a week or month. Spend some time at the store, too, looking at labels of different cleaners. It’s the best way to learn what cleaner to use where. 

Why You Need to Declutter First

Before you start your deep-cleaning journey, you’ll want to declutter. Don’t worry — you just have to put things away and get rid of things you don’t want to keep. And that simplicity makes a world of difference.

“When you have excess, it’s hard to create a ‘home’ for all the items in your house,” says Katie Barton, head of cleaning at Homedit. “Keeping extra stuff also means extra cleaning. Make it a routine to go through your house on cleaning day and get rid of the things you don’t love, need, or want.”

Decluttering will also make the cleaning process easier in general. “With a lot of clutter, you will spend more time working around the clutter versus actually cleaning,” Boyce says. Plus, it’ll help clear your mind and boost your mood, adds Aaron Christensen, cleaning expert and VP of growth at Homeaglow. And don’t wait to do it until the once-a-year spring or fall cleaning. By that point, it’ll be too overwhelming. Try to declutter a little every day.

Instant Gratification Spaces

When I first began cleaning my home, I learned a trick that keeps me going: Use instant gratification spaces. Start with a place that’s super easy to clean, then do one more complicated, then another super-easy one, and continue like that. Boyce recommends beginning with a small space like a laundry room, guest bathroom, or closet because it will “motivate you to keep going and tackle larger spaces.” For Christensen, the best place to start is a high-traffic place like the kitchen or bathroom, particularly when it comes to decluttering and wiping down counters. Barton suggests the living room, as it tends to not as many surfaces to clean. Look around your space and see what the easiest spots are to clean up, and slot them into your schedule.

Creating a Schedule

The best way to make sure you stick to cleaning regularly is by making it a habit or a routine. Turn it into something natural, like brushing your teeth every morning, to make sure your home always stays nice and tidy. It can have mental health benefits, too.

“​​Cleaning regularly always alleviates the stress of having to do a big cleanup, and a clean space for me means a mind that’s free from too many distractions,” Gomasi says.

Barton says that at the minimum, you’ll want to do some tasks daily, like throwing away garbage and washing the dishes. Leave the weekends (or another day that works) for larger jobs like dusting, washing your sheets, cleaning the bathroom and kitchen, sweeping, and mopping. Then every month, do things like cleaning the windows and baseboards and dusting light fixtures and ceiling fans. There are also cleaning tasks that should be done seasonally, like cleaning or replacing the filters on your HVAC system.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

What You’ll Need to Clean

These are the supplies you’ll need and the steps to start cleaning.


  • Vacuum with a HEPA filter, bristled brush attachment, and baseboard attachment
  • Microfiber cloths — one color each for kitchen, bathroom, and living space
  • Broom and dustpan
  • Mop (steam or regular)
  • Bucket
  • Sponges
  • Duster
  • Paper towels
  • Toilet bowl brush
  • Caddy to carry everything

Sprays and Solutions

  • Multi-purpose cleaner
  • Glass cleaner
  • Disinfectant
  • Toilet bowl cleaner
  • Tub and tile cleaner 
  • Stainless steel cleaner
  • Bathroom cleaner
  • Washing machine cleaner
  • Dishwasher cleaner
  • Dish soap
Credit: Apartment Therapy

How to Clean, Step by Step

  1. Gather everything you need. Easy-peasy — just get the stuff from the list above.
  2. Declutter the entire home (or a single room if you’re just starting out). Throw out all the garbage. Pick up anything on the floor or anything that’s out of place. Put it all away, whether that means it goes to its rightful home, a donation box, or a dishwasher or washing machine.
  3. See what else needs to be washed. Look at kitchen towels, shower curtains, bath mats, bedsheets, pillowcases, throw blankets, and anything else that can go in the washing machine. They could probably all use a refresh.
  4. Dust all the surfaces in your home. Start at the highest point of the room and work your way down, so no dust falls onto a surface you’ve already cleaned. This includes light fixtures, ceiling fans, knickknacks (and under them), and anywhere else dust may accumulate.
  5. Vacuum all the carpets in your home. Don’t forget to use the baseboard attachment for the baseboards and the bristled brush attachment for the couch, beds, and other smaller surfaces.
  6. Clean the hard surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom. Use sponges for the surfaces that need to be wet, like the sinks, tub, and inside the microwave. Microfiber cloths are for the hard surfaces that stay mostly dry, like countertops and the exterior of appliances. Use a cleaner specific to the surface you’re cleaning — like tile and tub cleaner or stainless steel cleaner. For any natural stone surfaces, use soapy water instead of a pre-made cleaner. And don’t forget to clean underneath anything on your counter. It doesn’t count if that area is still dirty. Go over every hard surface with a disinfectant, as well.
  7. Clean all the glass surfaces like windows and mirrors. Use glass cleaner and paper towels.
  8. Vacuum again. This will pick up any new dirt that’s fallen on the floor. 
  9. Sweep the hard floors and mop. This will get all the little particles off the floor before you mop. If you have any outside spaces, like a deck or patio, sweep those too. Then, mop the floors. For anything tough, use a sponge and some soapy water to scrub it away, then mop over the spot.
  10. Put everything back together. All the stuff you put in the washing machine or dishwasher should be finished and put away. Then, use dishwasher and washing machine cleaner tablets to run a cycle to wash the inside of those appliances. If your oven has a self-clean setting, run it. (Make sure you stay in your home until the self-clean cycle is finished to ensure there aren’t any emergencies.)

    And that’s it! Now you have a fully cleaned home.