Molly Maid's guide to cleaning your house in a rush

Tips for tidying up when you’re short on time.

You’ve just arrived home from work, ready to unwind, when your hubby drops a bombshell: That dinner thing with his (oh-so-critical) sister and her family that was planned for Saturday? It’s been moved—to tonight. They’re arriving in 20 minutes.You sweep your eyes over the piles of unfolded laundry on the sofa, the newspapers smothering the kitchen table and the crusty spots on the stove and break into a cold sweat. But there’s no need to panic: The key to cleaning when you’re crunched for time is to focus on areas that guests will see: the dining area, kitchen and powder room, says Kim Dunn, owner of the Molly Maid franchise in Aurora, Ont. “Nobody cares about upstairs.” Here’s what she recommends…If you have 10 minutes…

Collect clutter: It makes a home look dirty, so grab a laundry basket and go through areas that guests will see, picking up things like magazines, books, toys and clothes. Decluttering first also makes cleaning easier.

Whisk away dust: Run a duster over shelves, furniture and baseboards, getting into the nooks and crannies. “It’s not a proper dust, but it’s good in a hurry,” says Dunn, who recommends lambswool dusters because they capture particles well.

Freshen the air: If your home smells clean, people perceive it to be clean. Here’s one of Dunn’s favourite tricks: Cut up a lemon or orange and boil or microwave it with water for a few minutes. “People associate that smell with cleanliness.”

If you have 20 minutes…

Tackle the kitchen:
Put away cereal boxes, ketchup bottles and other food items. Stash dirty dishes in the dishwasher or oven, clear off counters, wipe the stovetop and clean the sink. “If the sink looks clean and shiny, there’s a perception that everything is clean,” says Dunn.

Beautify the bathroom:
Give the bathroom faucet, sink, mirror and toilet a quick cleaning. (Dunn suggests keeping a skin-exfoliating glove or loofah under the sink—with a little water, they’re great for removing hard-water buildup on faucets, and hairspray from mirrors.) Finish off mirrors with a microfibre cloth.

Clean up the counter: Wipe down any knick-knacks on the bathroom counter, such as perfume bottles. “If they’re dusty, that gives the perception that you don’t clean,” says Dunn. If you have a few minutes left, do a quick floor sweep.

If you have 30 minutes…
Follow the tips above and also:

Bust out the vacuum cleaner: “Don’t be afraid to use the tools that come with it,” says Dunn. “The round upholstery brush is your best friend—it can be used on blinds, fan blades, baseboards, doorframes and lamp shades. Just zip around the room, top to bottom.”
Use the crevice tool (the long, skinny one) on your vacuum “where places meet”: where walls meet ceilings and floors; between walls and appliances; and along stairs. The short brush is good for sucking up hair, pet dander and dust on furniture.

If you have 1 hour…

Spot-clean the main floor:
If you have more time, tidy the living room—arrange the sofa cushions and clear off the coffee table. Wipe the light switches, door handles, kitchen backsplash, refrigerator door and cabinets. Run the duster over pot lights and hanging light fixtures.

Focus on finishing touches: Provide guest hand towels in the bathroom. “Add a fresh spray of flowers from your garden to small bud vases around the house,” says Dunn. “Don’t forget to put some in the bathroom. It’s always a nice touch!”

And for the grand finale:
Order take-out, pour yourself a glass of wine and give yourself a pat on the back.