Fighting Back Against That Lived-In Look

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Hi Home-Ec 101,
I admit, I am a terrible housekeeper, but I am trying to improve, and I long for a house I can be proud of.

We have lived in our 1957 Cape Cod home for 8 years. It probably came with a certain amount of wear and tear, but our 3 kids, 2 dogs and poor housekeeping skills have taken a toll. I’m doing better at regular maintenance cleaning, but there are YEARS of dirt and grime that have built up in some places and maintenance just isn’t cutting it. Not to mention how discouraging it is to spend time cleaning only to have it not look clean.

The biggest areas I struggle with are:

1) The linoleum (vinyl? –the cheap stick-the-tile-down kind) kitchen floor. There is gunk in the corners and along the edges and seams that won’t budge. Dried food and spills plus regular dirt. I’ve mopped– even on my hands and knees– with unimpressive results. The grime is still there and once the floor dries it looks dull and sad.

2) My carpets. Is there a way to freshen up a carpet that’s been under-vacuumed over the years? Even after vacuuming now it looks kind of beaten down.

3) The toilets. Even though I clean them more regularly my “dark years” have left stains in the bowl, under the rim and a gross-looking black stain all over the main “exit pipe” (is this rust?). I tried donning gloves and a pumice stone to clean the latter but didn’t have a lot of luck. (BTW, I had no idea toilet water was so cold!)

Any advice would be so helpful. Cleaning does not come naturally to me and I’m pretty ashamed of myself for letting it get this bad. And it’s all made worse because since I don’t see the results I’d like I’m even less motivated to do it.

Recovering Slob

how to fight back against that lived-in look

Heather says:

First things first, work on letting go of before. When the what ifs, or should haves start up and get loud, take a deep breath and identify that voice for exactly what it is, completely unhelpful.

Mentally respond with something along the lines of:  Thanks, I’ve got it from here.

Will that ever shut the annoying voice up? Maybe not, but with practice it’ll get easier to make it pipe down. Yes, I’ve gone to therapy and yes, I really like Brene Brown. If you’ve never seen her TED talk take a moment to watch it and she’s got a great book on imperfection and shame.

The good news is you’re not in crisis mode like Feeling Desperate, Completely Overwhelmed, or My Daughter is Desperate.

You’re not behind, you’re just where you are.

Grab the chore chart and print it out. Remember, you don’t have to do these things on the day I assigned, you can shuffle it around to meet your schedule and needs. The important part is to do each of these things on a regular basis, especially as you complete each of the projects below. The good part is regular cleaning is a way to be able to really postpone the big projects.

Let’s start with the kitchen:

The good news is that you can restore some shine to your flooring, but it will not be like new. The goal with this project is let’s make it look better. No one eats off your floor except the dogs and well, they’re dogs.

Also, if the flooring is truly vinyl tiling, the seams are not fully your fault either. Vinyl tiles shrink over time. The seams that were tight previously will expand leaving a gap of adhesive that is a dirt and grime magnet. You aren’t going to be able to fix this completely, but it can be improved.

You’re going to need to do a deep clean followed by a coat of acrylic sealer compatible with vinyl floor tiles. Read the label and the manufacturer’s direction.

The sealer will give the dull flooring a bit of shine and as a bonus, it’ll fill the tiny crevices to keep dirt from getting ground in. While you’re doing the deep clean of the linoleum, give the baseboards a good cleaning, too. Give some thought to repainting and then laugh and return to reality —unless you have that kind of time and energy.

Go to the hardware store and buy a tube of caulk, get a tube close the color of your baseboards (I’m assuming white or ecru). After the floor polish has fully dried, run a thin bead of caulk along the edge of the baseboard where it meets the floor. If you have quarter round edging, you can run it along the top, too.

Sometimes it is okay to cover up things that aren’t perfect.

To keep the flooring looking as nice as possible between deep cleans and polishes, invest in door mats, and sweep often.

Damp mop, don’t wet mop to help prevent water from saturating the spaces between the tiles as the sealer is worn away.

2) The carpeting.

You will likely not be able to undo years of damage to the carpeting, especially if it is what is referred to as builder’s grade. This kind of carpet has a very limited lifespan and cheap padding underneath the carpeting itself contributes to the relatively short lifespan.

Padding helps prevent what is referred to as crush damage by absorbing some of the impact of foot traffic. When the padding breaks down, the fibers are next. Throw in the damage from sharp edges of grit and carpet gets worn over time. When you are ready to replace your carpeting, do not skimp on the padding.

You can try steam cleaning the carpet, but know going in that carpet has a lifespan and it sounds like you’re reaching the end of yours.

Things wear out when they get used. Think back to high school economics where they taught about the law of diminishing returns. At some point the return on extended lifespan is offset by the energy put into making it last longer. For each person and each thing that point will vary based on everything else going on in their lives.
Could your carpet have lasted longer if everyone took off their shoes in reverence and you sacrificed your time vacuuming at the alter of carpet care? Probably.
Does it really matter?
Only if you choose new carpet over necessities.
3. Finally, we’ll address the toilets.
I checked with Recovering and she lives in an area with water of medium hardness. You can find out your water hardness by looking at your annual water quality reports that are required by federal law.

In recovering’s case, some of the staining can be partly attributed to the water itself. Minerals deposit on the vitreous china, which gives organic matter a place to cling, and the process becomes a cycle.

house cleaning help
Click the picture for more cleaning help!
Best of luck, Recovering, and don’t let the inner critic get you down. If she’s anything like mine, she’s definitely not worth your time and energy.
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3 thoughts on “Fighting Back Against That Lived-In Look”

  1. Hello Heather
    Thank you for the first three paragraphs! They helped me so much. I love the “Thanks I’ve got it from here”.
    I always enjoy your thoughts and I’m so glad I subscribe.

    Here’s to a Terrific Tuesday

  2. It can take a little elbow grease, but replacing the caulking around the bathtub has a surprising big impact, especially if you have rust or mould stains. Just plan ahead because, at least with the type I bought, you can’t use the tub/shower for 36 hours.


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