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How to Prep for a House Full of Holiday Guests

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

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During the holidays, many of us entertain in our homes, which means we want our abodes to look their very best. But the holidays are also insanely busy and highly stressful and sometimes the extra cleaning involved can crush the spirit of even the tidiest neat freak.

To make things a little easier this holiday season, we've come up with a set of tricks to trot out based on what type of seasonal guest you'll be hosting. Shall we?

If They're Just Popping In

This is the time of year when you're most likely to have drop-in guests. It's great fun, of course, but sometimes those guests don't give you a whole lot of time to get your home looking tip-top before they arrive. These are a few quick things you can do to make your house look deceptively clean.

Git rid of that smell
One of the first things people notice about your home is the smell—good or bad. It's tempting to light a scented candle and call it a day, but if your house has an underlying smell of the not-so-pleasant variety, what you'll end up with is an apple cinnamon-scented cat pee-smelling living room. The trick is to get your home to a neutral odor and then add the scent of your choice. To do this, set small bowls of white vinegar (about a cup of the stuff will do it) in your primary living spaces; the acidity in the vinegar will neutralize your home's "natural" scent.

Declutter your space
The holidays are a time when homes get crowded with decorations, gifts, and people. Take some time early in the season to remove clutter and make room for all that extra stuff. One problem area to focus on is the entryway, where shoes, bags, coats, scarves, gloves, and other cold-weather gear can easily get out of control (bins, baskets, and hooks are a great way to corral these items!). Piles of mail and stacks of magazines should be sorted and purged, and kitchen counters should be cleared off to make space for cookies, candy, and those inevitable fruitcakes.

Straighten and vacuum
Got guests arriving on short notice? Making a few quick cosmetic fixes before the doorbell rings will go a long way. Focus your attention on the room in which you plan to do most of your entertaining; fluff and straighten sofa cushions, fold throw blankets, straighten stacks of books, and organize magazines and remote controls on the coffee table. If you've got time for it, running the vacuum is an easy way to make a room look much, much cleaner than it might actually be.

Quick-clean the bathroom
Guests will inevitably want to use your bathroom. If they're only coming by for a short visit, a five-minute quick-clean is all you'll need. Grab a roll of paper towels and a bottle of glass cleaner and wipe the mirror, sink area, and toilet seat (don't forget the underside!) to remove toothpaste splatters, makeup residue, and other gross buildup. Straighten bath towels, pick any dirty clothes up off the floor, and make sure you've got clean hand towels for your guests to use.

If They're Coming for the Day

Hosting a cast of thousands for a big holiday meal means you'll want your home to look its best. These are things that you should add to your already massive to-do list—trust us, you'll be glad you did.

Dust!
People often forget to dust, which is understandable because dusting can be a real pain. But grimy surfaces make your home look really filthy, and you can make short work of dusting knickknack-laden surfaces with a feather duster—just remember to go from the top down, since the dust will head south as you flick it away. When you're done dusting, run the vacuum to suck up all the debris you just sent flying.

Don't forget the baseboards
Is your eagle-eyed mother-in-law coming for the Feast of the Seven Fishes? Here's a great cleaning trick: Grab a dryer sheet and run it along the baseboards. It will pick up dust and hair that's collected there and leave behind a thin coating that will serve to repel dirt for a little longer.

Give the kitchen a good once-over
Your kitchen is going to take a beating this holiday season, but starting with a well-scrubbed galley will make those frequent cleanup sessions you'll soon be facing so much easier. If you don't already have one, get yourself a good all-purpose cleaner so that you only have to reach for one product to clean counters, stovetops, appliances, and floors.

Do a little more in the bathroom
When guests are coming for a full day, go ahead and expand on the quick-clean you did for drop-in visitors. Give the toilet a thorough scrubbing and tend to the floors; either sweep or vacuum first to remove stray hairs, then mop if you've got it in you.

If They're Staying the Night

Overnight guests require a little bit more effort on your part to ensure their stay is comfortable. Focus on deep cleaning the bathroom and don't forget to make the bed!

Scrub the shower and tub
A foaming bathroom cleaner like Scrubbing Bubbles will make cleaning your tub and shower easy; for more stubborn grime, a mild abrasive cleaner like Soft Scrub may be needed. If your shower walls have developed mildew, use a product like Tilex or X-14 to zap the growth and brighten the grout.

Clean the shower curtain or doors
If you've got a mildewy shower curtain liner, either replace it or launder it (yup, even the plastic ones!). Use the warm water setting and a small amount of bleach or white vinegar to eradicate the mildew, and be sure to include a few towels in the load to help protect the liner from shredding. After laundering, simply rehang the liner and allow it to air dry. Glass shower doors that have excessive soap scum buildup or water spots can be scrubbed clean using a wet dryer sheet, then wiped clean with a squeegee or paper towels.

Clear the drain
It's easy to ignore a slow running drain day-to-day, but make sure to deal with it before guests arrive and are standing ankle deep in their own shampoo runoff. The combination of baking soda, vinegar, and hot, hot, hot water will clear up a slow-moving drain in no time—no harsh drain openers needed! Sprinkle a half cup of baking soda down the drain, then slowly pour in a half cup of vinegar. The chemical reaction of the two will cause a sort of volcano effect that will help to break down clogged matter. After ten or so minutes, flush the drain with very hot water to complete the process.

Make sheets and towels look and smell great
If your sheets and towels have developed a musty odor, add a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle of the wash to eliminate the unwanted scent. The vinegar smell will dissipate as the laundry dries, in case you're worried about your washcloths smelling like salad dressing. If your extra sheets have been in storage for a while and are wrinkled and smelling a little less-than-fresh, spritz them with linen spray once you have them on the bed. The spray will help to eliminate wrinkles, plus add a lovely scent to the linens.