Metro-East Living

Spring cleaning: Tips from a pro can ‘brighten your day’

Kara Johnson has some house-cleaning tips for you: Hold on to old socks and worn sheets.

“Everyone gets holes in their socks and can’t use them anymore,” she said. “You can put them on (your hand to dust) and turn, turn turn.”

What about a sheet, Kara?

“Cut it up and use it to wash windows. Put your ammonia water in a bucket, wipe down the windows, ring it out good, and dry with a sheet. It works better than paper towels and newspaper.”

Kara, of Belleville, has had a house-cleaning business for 18 years.

“I worked for an eye doctor (before). He retired. I was thinking about, ‘What can I do?’ I decided to start my own business. I am 41. Then, I was 23.”

She called it “Absolute Cleaning.”

“When I started out, it was in the telephone book. I wanted a name that was first. My motto was ‘Let us brighten your day.’”

Since then, Kara and husband and a daughter Brooke, 11, who likes helping her mom.

Back surgery sidelined Kara for a year. Now, she’s cleaning again.

“I have made a lot of good friends and met some interesting people,” said Kara, using a blue mitt to dust around figures on a mantel. “I learned from older folks that ammonia water and vinegar water go a long way when you’re cleaning, but (ammonia water) sure does mess up your lungs.”

Kara cleans for Karen Brand every other Tuesday.

“I’m very happy with her, her and her helper, Jenna,” said Karen, retired detective’s secretary who worked for the Belleville Police Department. “She does everything. If she sees something that needs to be done, she does it.”

“I care take my mother who’s 93 and lives upstairs. I also caretake my husband. Right now, he’s in the hospital. Cleaning is the one thing I just can’t do with everything going on, They’re my life savers.”

Do you have a typical game plan? “I generally start on one side of a room and work from the top to the bottom, and all the way around in a circle. It’s easier not to get distracted. Go in and start with fans. If not, dust comes down. Dusting is time-consuming. Clean around light fixtures, plug-ins, switches, doorknobs. Doors ... I do windows and window sills. That’s huge.”

Your favorite products or tricks? “Swiffer dusters are my favorite. They are my friend. Even glass mirrors have dust on them. I spray mist from side to side and I always Swiffer. I love the Gain cleaner. Mr. Clean with Gain. I put it in sinks and scrub the whole kitchen with it, or stick it in spray botttles and use in bathrooms. I tend to clean more appliances when I have something diluted in the sink. It just makes the house smell real good, that and lemons. I stick a lemon in the garbage disposal. It refreshes and makes the room smell good. I also like Clorox Clean-Up. I use it for bathrooms, vanities and sinks. Even if they have stainless steel, it’s sanitizing.”

When it comes to spring cleaning, do you do anything special at your house? “I replace filters in humidifiers and furnaces. I clean intakes and vents. I clean appliances inside and underneath. I pull out and clean behind them. I vacuum mattresses and turn them twice a year.”

What do you like about your job? “Picking my own hours and getting to know great people. It feels good to be appreciated, especially by elder for people who just can’t do it. It means the world to them for me to come in and clean. Or mothers who work. I have three schoolteachers, I know they just love me. I like best making a difference. When I look back at a home as I walk out, I’m gratified.”

Favorite chore? “Vacuuming. You get exercise with vacuuming.”

Least favorite? “The toilet, the bathroom. I have a girl who works for me who doesn’t mind being in the bathroom.”

How much do you charge? “When I do my estimating, I don’t charge by the hour. Just tell me what you want me to do and and I will give you the price for that. If you want to do it weekly or bi-weekly, I give different prices for that. When I go more often, it costs less. The average small house would probably be $65 to $75; bigger houses are $85 to $100. Every week is different. You will get a cancellation or someone wants to move here or there. I keep one day where I have one house. Right now, I work two houses a day, and can put a third one in if it’s really small. My slogan was ‘No job too big or small’ but there are jobs that are too big. People asked, ‘Can you powerwash my basement?’ ‘Do you move appliances out to Goodwill?’”

Do you bring your own cleaners? “A lot of people have their own cleaning supplies, especially vacuum cleaners. Generally, they tell me what they want done. They’ll say, ‘I don’t use this room so much. Skip this room, and do the windows in the living room instead. I have no problem exchanging different things.”

Do you mind if people stick around while you clean? “I have learned to work around people. When I need to stop and pay attention to somebody, I plan more time for those houses. If I can clean and do that at the same time, it gives someone companionship.”

What do you like to do when you’re not cleaning? “Anything outdoors. I like to walk and hike. I play horseshoes during the summer, I’m in a women’s league. I play with my mom, sister and aunt. As a kid, I used to watch Mom play. She’s a straight ringer every time. She’s amazing at it.”