Make your mornings calmer with these back-to-school cleaning tips

There’s back-to-school shopping, and then there’s back-to-school cleaning.

With kids heading back to in-person learning, you’ll need to think about what to do in your home to transition to the new school year. Coming and going from the house every day will mean heavy use of mudrooms and entries, pantries and kitchens for lunch prep, closets for clothes, all high-touch areas — and even, or maybe especially, the car. We asked a housecleaning expert, an organizer and a minimalist mom how to get these spaces clean and ready. (No kids in the house? These tips help with heading back to the office, too.)

To get started, “we typically recommend decluttering and organizing the areas you plan to clean first,” says Leanne Stapf, chief operating officer of the Cleaning Authority in Columbia, Maryland. Then perform a deep cleaning, which might include interior windows, floor mats, the tub and shower, throw pillows and comforters.

Ideally, a deep clean happens once a month. Stapf also suggests a weekly routine of cleaning the sinks, bathroom mirrors, stovetop, knobs and trash cans. Biweekly, she says, focus on the toilet, floors, hand towels, microwave and rugs.

For other high-use areas, follow this cleaning advice from the experts:

A hard-working entry

Organize the space: The last place you leave and the first place you come home to — the entry or mudroom — gets hit the hardest during the school year. Assess where this zone is for you and clean it out. Make sure that everything has a place: backpacks, shoes, keys, coats. “Even just a shoe shelf and some hooks on the wall will ensure clutter is somewhat corralled,” says Bridget Stralko of Unclutter It, a Detroit-based organizing company. “It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but everything that comes in should have a place to live while it’s there.” Take a minute to reset the space once a day.

Contain shoes: Stralko recommends buying a plastic shoe mat, so your kids can leave one set of shoes by the door each night for the next day. “Periodically spray the mat down with soap and water to wash away those germs,” she says. Ensuring there aren’t too many shoe options also eliminates decision fatigue in the mornings, says Diane Boden, host of the “Minimalist Moms” podcast.

An organized entry or mudroom will help corral coats, shoes and backpacks. Even a few hooks and a simple shoe shelf can contain clutter. (Getty Images)

Wash backpacks: Every now and then, turn backpacks inside out and throw them in the washing machine, Stapf says. Use a small amount of detergent and wash on a gentle cycle in cold water, then lay out to dry.

Kitchens for busy mornings

Wipe with vinegar: Prep the kitchen and pantry for early breakfasting and quick lunch packing. Vinegar is your friend, Stapf says. Scrub countertops and mop floors with a mixture of a half-cup of distilled white vinegar in a half-gallon of warm water. Use a half-vinegar, half-water solution to wipe trash cans of germs and odors.

Get the food ready: Go through the fridge and pantry next, and toss out anything expired or left for months, says Boden, who recently went through her own kitchen. (The fridge also could benefit from a vinegar-and-water wipe-down.) When putting food back, make sure lunch essentials are stocked.

Make a lunch and snack station: Stralko suggests setting up an easy-to-use station for meal prep, including a drawer set aside for food-storage containers and water bottles. Find a place for quick after-school snacks. “Make sure lunchboxes get emptied out and wiped out each night,” she says.

Check filters: Prepare for daily water-bottle filling by checking whether the filter on your faucet or in your water dispenser needs to be replaced.

Reset the space daily: To really make all this hard work pay off, Stralko says, “spend at least 10 minutes each night or first thing in the morning resetting your kitchen: wiping down counters and reassessing the contents of the fridge, pulling leftovers to the front so things actually get eaten.”

Very messy vehicles

Think outside your house: “The car definitely counts” when it comes to school-prep cleaning, Stapf says. “It’s the first place your child will be once picked up from school, so a lot of germs will likely be transferred there.”

Remove car seats: Consult the user manual for cleaning instructions, Stapf says. For most car seats, the fabric pieces can be washed on a delicate or hand-wash setting with cold water. (Pro tip: Snap a picture of the seat and how it was assembled for easier reassembly.) Hang to dry. Vacuum crumbs out of the base of the car seat, and use a microfiber cloth to wipe the base and straps.

Clean the interior: You can do this yourself or use a service. Then stock your car with cleaning wipes for frequent touch-ups on the steering wheel, knobs, seat belts and door handles.

Clean and dirty clothes

Check sizes: Having clean, organized clothes can make mornings less hectic. “Make sure all your clothing is the right size,” Boden says. “Kids can grow so quickly, especially when they’re younger.”

Stow smartly: Put clothes where children can reach them, and show them where to put items back. Boden’s son has three drawers: one each for shirts, pants and pajamas. “I just rotate it out if he needs shorts or short-sleeve shirts,” she says.

Corral laundry: Establish where dirty clothes will go. Do you need a hamper in the kids’ rooms? At the bottom of the stairs? In the laundry room? Wherever they get undressed makes the most sense.

High-touch zones

Keep disinfecting: “Your hands have touched so much throughout the day,” Stapf says, so to avoid spreading germs, it’s important to disinfect areas that are touched by everyone in the household at least once a week. She lists doorknobs, light switches, faucet handles and remote controls. Use a microfiber cloth or another cloth with a vinegar solution.