the art of caring for your aging loved one

House Cleaning

When was that bed moved last? Is there an inch or more of "white snow" under it? Yes? It isn't unusual. Try not to gag and, better still, keep quiet about it. How does the bathroom look? Is there a layer of gunk around the taps? Is the toilet sanitary?

Housework chores are just that: chores. The older we become the tougher they become.

Perhaps that's the reason some of us develop cataracts.

We can't see the dirt, so it mustn't be there!

Do you have the time and energy to dive in and give the rooms their long overdue spring-cleaning? The hat's off to you. Sometimes it's more interesting to clean someone else's home than our own. All you really need is a big jug of vinegar. Mix it with equal parts of water. It is also a way to visit, to keep someone company and to make improvements at the same time.

A cleaning woman/man/team is a splendid resource.

Here it comes:

"No way! I'm not paying that kind of money for someone to vacuum!"

"They steal things."

Deep breath.


"Dad, we need help for a few weeks to get into the corners." End of chat.

Remember ... someone sent out a signal or a call for help.

Find a Cleaner

Ask neighbours and friends to recommend a cleaner if you can't find one on your own. Word of mouth works best. The Yellow Pages will have ads for bonded and insured companies. Expect to pay $25+/hr., minimum two hours. This is enough time to strip the bed, wash and dry the sheets and towels, then make up the bed. Insist that the lint filter in the dryer is free of lint after each use. Meanwhile, most cleaners will clean bathrooms, empty the waste paper baskets, vacuum, and dust. If you wish the cleaner to spend an entire visit in one room only, for deep cleaning, ask her.

Many competent, dedicated cleaners are new to our country. They may have a limited ability to speak English. They may not read English. It is perfectly fine to ask the cleaner. Smile, then slowly and gently say, "You are learning English. [pause] It is a difficult language. [pause] Do you read English?" Notice that you haven't asked if the cleaner reads her own language. Many immigrants are non-readers, even of their first language. This isn't important for your purposes. If you find that the cleaner does not read English, a written list of chores is useless. You may have to come up with a way of describing the work that must be done. Pictures? Talk to the owner of the company for which the cleaner works? Ask someone to translate?

Cleaning Schedule

Two hours every two weeks is suitable for only the most minimal, basic housework. Clean the bathroom and run a cloth around the kitchen. It doesn't give a cleaner much time for extras.

The following is a guide to some ongoing housecleaning jobs. Work with the housekeeper to create a schedule for her to follow. She could do routine work such as changing the bed, cleaning bathrooms and kitchen, and then do one special job. Once each month, consider paying for an extra hour or more to do this.

An extensive cleaning routine from Real Home Ezine is included with permission. Adapt it to suit the situation.

Every Chance You Get

Declutter: Never miss an opportunity to throw something away. Straighten. Spot clean walls, carpet, upholstery, glass, etc.


Straighten (pick up toys, clothes, papers). Clean kitchen (stove, sink, wash and put away dishes, wipe counters). Sort, recycle mail. Take out trash. Feed, water, clean pets' bowls. Hang up clothes. Spot clean as necessary.


Sweep. Mop. Dust (tops, sides, legs). Vacuum. Straighten. Clean kitchen thoroughly (scrub sink, clean stove and microwave, wipe counters down, remove items from counters). Clean bathrooms (shower, tub, toilet, sink, mirrors). Change sheets/towels. Spot treat (keep a damp microfiber towel to clean spots on the walls, trim, switches, etc.). Sweep porches. Recycle papers, magazines, etc. Laundry.


  • Clean garbage cans/waste baskets.
  • Change A/C and/or furnace filters.
  • Vacuum A/C or furnace vents/returns.
  • Clear out fridge of old food, wipe down shelves. Change baking soda in fridge/freezer.
  • Clean vent hood filters.
  • Straighten pantry.
  • Wipe cabinet fronts.
  • Dust ceiling fans.
  • Vacuum and flip cushions on sofas and chairs.
  • Vacuum blinds and lampshades. Run vinegar through coffee maker.
  • Clean baseboards (great for kids to do!).
  • Spot clean windows.
  • Clean the crumbs from the cutlery drawers.


Vacuum mattresses, flip; wash mattress pads. Straighten, organize drawers. Dust ceiling corners of cobwebs. Change toothbrushes. Check salt in water softener.


Wash windows (spring/fall). Check filters (house filters, water filters, refrigerator ice filters). Get carpets steam-cleaned. Clean gutters. Clean personal files. Clean light fixtures, wash glass fixture shades. Clean oven and under the sink. Replace smoke alarm batteries. Clean out garage. Dust/clean chandeliers. Dust inside china cabinet. Move furniture and appliances and dust behind/under. Vacuum refrigerator coils. Wash pillows. Dry clean comforters, bedspreads, quilts. Clean garage.


Clean exterior of house of cobwebs, stains, mud, etc. Pressure wash sidewalks. Hold garage sale/donate items to charity. Clean walls if needed. Check or reapply grouting and/or caulking as needed in tubs, sinks, etc.

A Different Schedule

This is less strict, perhaps, and open to variations. Adapt it to suit your situation. Add and subtract as necessary.


Vacuum the bathroom exhaust fan grill, the smoke detectors, and the backs of the refrigerator and freezer. (Unplug the appliances for a few seconds while you do this to avoid a hefty electrical shock.) Empty and clean the drip trays.


Clean the drains in the dishwasher by running an empty cycle with 2 cups of vinegar.

Wash bed pillows. Synthetic pillows may be washed and dried in the machine. Feather pillows may be washed by hand, with special soap for down pillows and then dried in the machine. If washing isn't an option, at least fluff them up in the dryer on the "air fluff" cycle. Run two cycles for good measure.


Clean the inside of windows in living room, bathrooms, and kitchen. Wash the woodwork around windows. Wash or fluff up favourite lap robes or blankets.


Clean the inside of windows in bedrooms, hallways, dining area. Wash the woodwork around windows.

Install and test new batteries in smoke detectors.


Wash the fan filter above kitchen stove. Soak it in ammonia and water to cut the grease. Clean the drawer of the stove. Replace the vacuum bag or otherwise empty and clean the vacuum.


Go through the food cupboards in the kitchen and/or pantry. Discard "mystery packages" or those that have been opened and not sealed properly. Mice will tell each other about such places.


Wash bed blankets or fluff them in the dryer. Do the same with any curtains. Freshen things up. Sweep and tidy outside the front door, brushing away cobwebs.


Clean the outdoor garbage/trash cans.

Vacuum smoke detectors.

Home heating system:

  • Book a chimney sweeper.
  • Electric baseboard heaters—vacuum thoroughly.
  • Forced air—Remove grilles and vacuum up, down, and all around.


Wash and dry all waste baskets. Clean the cupboard under the kitchen sink. Discard bottles that contain shriveled, ancient cleaning products, and the collection of mystery rags. Three decent cleaning cloths are enough.


Defrost and clean the refrigerator freezer. Discard anything that cannot be identified. Also discard anything that is obviously ancient. Health is an issue.

Install and test new batteries in smoke detector.


Clean the clothes washer and dryer. Eliminate the gungees. Run a washer cycle, minus clothes, with 2 cups of white vinegar.

Clean the cupboards under the bathroom sinks.


Wash or fluff mattress pads and wash bathroom scatter rugs.


Remember the cleaner at holiday time with a card and a gift of your choice. Consider the cleaner's lifestyle. A gift certificate for a facial or spa treatment might be over the top for someone who is struggling to feed and clothe a hungry, growing family. A gift certificate to a grocery or clothing store may be more suitable. Or gas coupons, or bus tickets ... think of what she needs, how she spends your Aging Loved One's money.

Never let down your guard when someone regularly comes into the home. Seniors can be victims of ingratiation and all kinds of elder abuse.

Hiring Family

Try to avoid paying a family member. The chances are good that the work won't be done. It happens often. You want the work done efficiently. You need the option to switch cleaners if you are not satisfied with the work. It's tough to dismiss a niece or granddaughter.

Hiring Students

On the other hand, if you need a one-time blitz, consider asking a local high school to recommend 2 or 3 energetic students. They will be happy to earn some money, they are strong, and they won't mind doing almost anything you ask ... a good resource when you need it.


Here is a motto that can apply to all of us: discard something every day.

Ideas? Old nail polish, rusty screws and bolts, an oversized collection of elastic bands, shoes that may be unsafe, twist-ties, pens that don't work, styrofoam meat trays (might come in handy one day), etc.

Make good use of the re-cycle box.

A Giggle for you


(Thanks to the Internet for this.)

DIRT: Layers of dirty film on windows and screens provide a helpful filter against harmful and aging rays from the sun. Call it an SPF factor of 15 and leave it alone.

COBWEBS: Cobwebs artfully draped over lampshades reduce the glare from the bulb, thereby creating a romantic atmosphere. If your husband points out that the light fixtures need dusting, simply look confused and exclaim "What? And spoil the mood?" (Or just throw glitter on them and call them holiday decorations.)

PET HAIR: Explain the mound of pet hair brushed up against the doorways by claiming you are collecting it there to use for stuffing hand-sewn play animals for underprivileged children. (Also keeps out cold drafts in winter.)

DUSTING: If dusting is really out of control, simply place a showy urn on the coffee table and insist that "This is where Grandma wanted us to scatter her ashes."

GENERAL CLEANING: Mix one-quarter cup pine-scented household cleaner with four cups of water in a spray bottle. Mist the air lightly. Leave dampened rags in conspicuous locations. Develop an exhausted look, throw yourself on the couch and sigh, "I clean and I clean and I still don't get anywhere."

If unexpected company is coming, pile everything unsightly into one room and close the door. As you show your guests through your tidy home, rattle the door knob vigorously, fake a growl and say, "I'd love you to see our den, but Fluffy hates to be disturbed and the shots are SO expensive."

Light the oven, throw a teaspoon of cinnamon in a pie pan, turn off oven and explain that you have been baking cookies for a bake sale for a favorite charity and haven't had time to clean.

Always keep several get well cards on the mantle so if unexpected guests arrive, you can say you've been sick and unable to clean.