Cleaning Hacks You Can Only Get From A Professional

Photographed by Levi Mandel.
There are those who are clean. Their apartments and houses shine with the sparkle of frequent care. Their bed corners are always tucked. Their dishes done. Then there are the people who don't own vacuums or toilet brushes; whose dishes pile into a Tetris game of grime.

I would like to think that I lie somewhere in the middle. Neither fastidiously neat or slovenly, some of my rooms are usually clean some of the time. They're just never clean at the same time. My bed is usually made, just don't look at what's crammed underneath it. It's totally passable, and if you came by for a drink, you wouldn't recoil in horror. (Well, unless you're my mom, and I've given up on ever having a house clean enough to meet her standards anyway.)

I think most people, or at least most people in their 20s, feel similarly about their cleaning abilities: Not the best, but not in danger of being declared an environmental disaster, either. But I would like to be better, because even if you, my theoretical drinks date, don't notice the ring on the tub or dust on the shelves, I know it's there. And even when I do dust or scrub, I never get the true deep-clean spark that I want. I am ready to graduate from having a fairly clean apartment to a really clean one.

So I asked the best person I could find: Joshua, a professional cleaner and founder of Broadway Maids. His team of NYC artists and actors in need of a side hustle have been scrubbing and sweeping New Yorkers' apartments since 2015, and I was eager to see what tips he could give me.

As it turns out, a really, really clean apartment was within my reach — and if you keep reading, it'll be within yours, too.
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
This is my "Yay, I'm about to clean!" face, which I can only attribute to Joshua's positive energy — I love a clean apartment, but I hate cleaning.

The night before, I lined up every possible cleaning implement I could find: shower cleaner, toilet cleaner, counter cleaner, floor cleaner... and some cleaners I wasn't even sure about.

When I showed Joshua the lineup of sprays, scrubs, and polishes, he wasn't impressed. This was my first lesson: you only need a few good products. And here are a few of Joshua's favorites: Ajax, any spray cleaner with bleach, a sponge, and a scrub brush.
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
Here's the before: not great, but not horrible, right? (Mom, don't say anything.) I showed Joshua what I usually use to clean the counters (Lysol wipes) and he said that it's perfectly okay — to use between cleanings. Whoops.

First, we tackled the clutter by actually putting up all the clean ones, and moving all but the most used oils and seasonings back into the shelves. Then, we made sure EVERYTHING was temporarily off the counters so we wouldn't miss any surface space as we scrubbed.
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
Ovens are a gathering place for grease, grime, and splatters. It doesn't help that my prewar apartment has appliances that occasionally feel a century old, too. Sometimes, its easy to think all the cooked-on goo is part of the patina of my ancient stove.
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
We started by removing all the grates and soaking them in hot, soapy water in the sink.
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
Then we sprinkled liberally with Ajax. It's not something I have ever kept in my cleaning arsenal, but the grit from the bright blue powder really allowed us to get off all the accumulated grime that a normal cleaning spray wouldn't get.
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
Joshua explained that, especially with dirty surfaces found in the kitchen, he cleans in layers: first, a wipe-down with paper towels to get loose dust and debris, then a layer of Ajax or similar gritty cleaner to really get any caked-on grime. The spray cleaner comes last for a bright, cleaning shine I crave so badly. And, as a final flourish, we dried off the just-sprayed counters to make it look really professional.

We then gave the oven grates a scrub and a wipe down and put them back on the stove. Ta-da!
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
Next, onto the bedroom. Here, my biggest problem is dust and clutter, meaning we wouldn't need to scrub quite as heavily as we did in the kitchen.
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
When he tackles a room, Joshua cleans from the top down. By starting high and doing the floors last, you don't have to worry about accidentally getting stuff on the floors after they've been freshly cleaned.

So we started with dusting the shelves. While we didn't take out every book, for a true deep clean, Joshua would remove everything at this step, wipe it down, and put it back up.
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
In the process, I found out a LOT of dust had accumulated in areas I don't even think about — like on the shelf beneath my makeup counter. My face here pretty much sums it up.

I dust infrequently, and usually with a disposable duster, which seems easier. It actually means I put off buying refills by using the same duster for waaaay too long. Joshua's method (surprise, surprise) was a whole lot easier. He uses microfiber cleaning clothes, which are reusable, effective and cheap. (Seriously, you can get 50 for $19.99 on Amazon. That's pretty much a lifetime supply.) You can wipe, dust, and dry to your heart's delight with these and just toss 'em in the wash afterwards.
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
While most of my counters needed just a dusting, the side table I use for makeup actually did have a fair amount of splatters and stains from various beauty products. After removing all the makeup (no small feat, as you can clearly see), we dusted the surface, then sprayed it down with a counter cleaner, dried it off with the microfiber cloth and put everything back on neatly. The microfiber cloth was also great for quickly wiping off anything sitting out, like my ring bowl and picture frame.
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
I'm actually a religious bed-maker — crawling in between two crisp, clean sheets after a hard day's work is the best reward there is. However, even I had a thing or two to learn. While putting fitted sheets on a bed against the wall, like mine, Joshua starts with the hardest to reach spot: the corner of the bed that's flush against the corner of the room. Once you have that part tucked in neatly, it's easier to pull the fitted sheet on the other corners, rather than wrestling to get the fitted sheet on the far corner at the very end.
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
And finally, we ended with the room I was dreading: the bathroom. Joshua explained that, as the wettest place in most homes, it's also the one most likely to attract to mildew and mold. (This also makes your kitchen sink high on the list of dirtiest spots, too!)
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
I'd like to say that I really let the bathroom get gross to test Joshua's cleaning prowess, but that's only half of the truth. In reality, I usually go far too long between really scrubbing every inch of our bathtub..
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
To start, we took everything out of the tub and gave the entire area a heavy spray-down with a cleaner that included bleach. We then sealed off the bathroom to really let the bleach do its work.

After letting it sit for a few minutes, we cracked the window so we wouldn't be inhaling too many bleach fumes. Joshua then used a large soup container from the kitchen (though any larger cup or tupperware would work) to wash off the bleach. Again, we started high and worked our way down, using Ajax on the really grimy spots, like the basin of the tub.
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
Since it had been a long time for the sink to get a good scrub (and because my bathroom is tile, tile, tile as far as the eye can see) we also did a healthy spray of the sinks and entire toilet. Like in the kitchen, after scrubbing with a sponge, we did a final pass with a microfiber cloth to give everything a clean sparkle.
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
Cleaning down, the last thing we tackled before the floor was the toilet. Even here, Joshua isn't big on one-use cleaning items. The entire toilet got the same scrub-down: more bleach spray and a sponge. Joshua started at the top of the toilet and worked down, wiping everything towards the basin as he cleaned.

Having only ever touched that part of the toilet with a brush or plunger, I was hesitant to try it. But, initial disgust aside, it wasn't bad at all. The toilet water was cold because, duh, it comes from the same place the sink water comes from, but it still surprised me. When I reacted with surprise, Joshua said that's why dogs often like to drink out of toilets — it's refreshing. I won't be drinking out of one any time soon, of course, but it wasn't nearly as gross as I thought it would be, and it's a much easier way to actually get every inch clean, not just the basin.

Using just a sponge also allowed me to get really into the nooks and crannies and get it even cleaner. I didn't think that sticking my hand into a toilet would be a lesson that stuck with me (pun intended), but months later, I'm still doing it (usually with gloves on).
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
Even freshly scrubbed, my bathroom isn't much to write home about. But here is where Joshua shared another one of his cleaning wisdoms: "Clean isn't pretty, it's clean." It was a good reminder that the real point of a clean house isn't shiny surfaces, it's doing the work to keep things like mold, bugs, and bacteria at bay.
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
Finally, we gave the entire apartment a vacuum. Compact vacuums and Swiffer-style sweepers are great for touch-ups, but you want a more all-terrain vehicle for big cleans. It's also good to have a removable hose with a brush attachment to also clean off baseboards and corners, where dust tends to gather. Here, my current model, a Shark Navigator, got high marks. I also got a good grade from Joshua for my vacuuming techniques — now I just need to remember to do it more.
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Photographed by Levi Mandel.
And finally, the cleaning was done and I could rest. The place was spotless, and there is truly nothing better than sitting (or sleeping) in a really clean room. (I am convinced this is why hotels are so amazing.)

I had learned a lot. But, to get that shiny-clean, I had cleaned for hours — with Joshua's help. I had also learned that, budget permitting, I'm leaving it up to the experts next time.
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