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updated 5/6/2005 3:57:44 PM ET 2005-05-06T19:57:44

Spring is traditionally the time to open the windows and clean out the cobwebs. Although it may seem like a daunting task, it doesn't have to be. Real Simple magazine’s Elizabeth Mayhew was invited on the "Today" show for a three-day series to talk about easy ways to break big chores down into simple steps, as detailed in the May issue. Here is the first excerpt:

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DAY 1: GENERAL LIVING AREAS

General dirt
Take off your shoes when you enter the house. Eighty-seven percent of the dirt in our homes is basic tracked-in soil and dust.

Keep an assortment of comfortable house slippers by the front door to encourage family members and guests to take their shoes off. Of course, if you’re entertaining a large group of people in your home, this isn’t always possible. You have to expect a certain amount of mess in these situations — just dust and vacuum after everyone’s gone, just as you clean up dishes.

Tracked-in dirt can almost always be removed dry, so you can put off the need for professional cleaning as long as you vacuum and dust regularly.

Dusting
At Real Simple, we love microfiber cloths, the no-chemical alternative to dusting. They’re great for the environment, just throw them in the wash and re-use.

When you dust, let gravity work for you. Start up high, and work your way down, saving vacuuming for last. This is the most efficient way to clean.

The Starmop ($17, www.starfibers.com) is a good tool for cleaning dirt off the floor. Its microfiber cleaning pad attracts dirt without leaving a dusty trail. For really dirty floors, combine it with a floor cleaner, like Earth Friendly Products Floor Cleaner, or Murphy’s Oil Soap.

Upholstery
If there’s a W on the care tag, you can clean the piece yourself.  We recommend doing it once or twice a year. If there’s no W on the tag, play it safe and consult a pro, getting it professionally cleaned about once every two years.

1. Add two capfuls of Woolite to a bucket of cool water. Dip in a sponge and wring it out well, then rub a thin layer of the solution onto each cushion, starting with the dirtiest side.
2. Balance the cushions against one another or the wall to dry. Put colorfast towels or white paper towels between points where pieces touch, leaving as much surface area as possible exposed to the air.
3. Clean the body of the sofa or chair, wringing the sponge out well so you’re using as little liquid as possible. Let all pieces air-dry before reassembling to prevent mildew. 

Super Sponge – This dry-cleaning sponge is a cellulose foam-latex pad that cleans without water or any harsh chemicals. When we consulted cleaning experts for this story, this was the one product that won unanimous praise. The foam-latex attracts particles of soot, dust and pet hair from upholstery, fabric shades and lampshades. It’s like an eraser, and best of all, there’s absolutely no toxicity associated with this product. But don’t expect it to remove stains.

After vacuuming the fabric, run the sponge across it in short, even strokes, being particularly gentle with delicate silks and wools, which can stretch if pulled. When the sponge starts to show dirt, wash it with soap and water, wring it out, and let it air-dry. (Ace Professional Soot & Dirt Remover Sponge, $4 at Ace Hardware stores)

Drapes
It’s a good idea to have your drapes professionally cleaned once every couple years. Giving them a regular, thorough dusting will limit expensive trips to the dry cleaner.
1. Gently tug drapes to open pleats. Vacuum each panel, using a low setting and the brush attachment. Hold the brush an inch away to avoid pulling on delicate or loosely-woven fabrics.
2. Pay extra-attention to the lower foot of the drapes, where dust and dirt accumulate close to the floor.
3. To remove smudges, apply a bit of baby powder to a clean toothbrush and gently brush the spot. The powder protects the fabric and helps lift dirt.

Rugs
You should have area rugs professionally cleaned once a year, but to minimize dirt buildup in between cleanings, here are three easy steps.
1. Place the rug facedown on an old, but clean sheet, and vacuum it thoroughly. Turn it over, and vacuum the other side.
2. Using a sponge or a clean, damp towel, gently blot dirty areas several times. Alternate with a dry towel to keep the moisture to a minimum.
3. Work carefully over the damp areas with a soft, clean carpet brush to raise the pile and expose the fibers to the air. The agitation will dry the fibers and lift any remaining dirt.

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