College is many people’s first chance to live like a real adult — and that comes with a bounty of pluses and minuses. On the plus side? Freedom! No curfew! But on the minus side? Coming face-to-face with the realities and responsibilities of having your own space where parents or guardians aren’t there to show you how to use the washer and dryer (again).
As a parent, you’ve assigned your kids chores and tried to explain the importance of that toilet scrubber. But when they’re off at college, you won’t be there to vacuum their room or disinfect the microwave after they reheat some marinara. You had to learn the hard way at one point, and so will they.
Since you know they’re going to be busy between their classload, work study and a flourishing social life, you’ve got to focus on the important stuff — like basic sanitation over perfect tidiness. Before your co-ed has officially flown the nest, here are six time-saving tips that will help them clean their space fast (without the eyerolling or FaceTiming).
5 Seconds: Get an automatic toilet cleaner
Having your own shared bathroom is both a blessing and a curse. Your student doesn’t have to traipse through the halls soaking wet from a shower, but they do have to take on toilet cleaning duty.
If they’re really crunched for time, many on the Internet swear by pouring a can of coke into the toilet bowl and letting it sit for 30 minutes before scrubbing. Lore suggests that the acids in the coke help break down any stains or residue.
On the other hand, several major brands make products that clean your bowl with every flush, and might even make your toilet smell like lavender. If you’ve got a spare $10, they’ll probably be glad to have you spend it on an automatic toilet cleaner.
30 Seconds: Use vinegar to clean surfaces
Yes, you can find a whole aisle at the grocery store dedicated to cleaning individual surfaces. But mom doesn’t need to send a monthly supply of cleaning products if you’ve got one seriously effective (and seriously inexpensive) ingredient in the room: vinegar. After all, dorms are notoriously cramped living spaces, so the less stuff you need to keep things clean, the better.
Water and vinegar make a badass duo. A study published by the American Society for Microbiology in 2014 found that a mixture of 6 percent vinegar solution could kill germs as bad as tuberculosis. It also appears to be effective against stomach-churning E.coli and salmonella bacteria.
Send your teen to college with a spray bottle filled with a water-vinegar solution (mix a half cup of white distilled vinegar in a half gallon of warm water). They can use the solution with a microfiber cloth on desk surfaces, keyboards, phones, coffee makers, laundry, windows and (with a scrubber) on the toilet. But they should avoid spraying it on stone, marble or granite countertops, which it can erode. Not that they’ll have many of those in a dorm room anyway.
30 Seconds: Clean the blender with soap and water
Morning smoothies are one of the easiest ways to get some actual nutrition in your body as a college student, but cleaning the blender is a real pain. Luckily, cleaning it can be as quick and easy as turning fruits and veggies into a morning shake.
To clean the blender in a snap, just put a little bit of dish soap into your blender cup, fill it halfway with warm or hot water and blend the solution for 30 seconds. Pour out the soap-and-water solution and rinse in the sink. Set the blender aside to air dry.
If your teen does this after each use, the blender will stay looking like new every single day. But if they wait until bits of fruit and protein powder are dried and caked onto the surface, *shudder*, the process won’t be as quick and will almost definitely require elbow grease and more time.
3-5 Minutes: Use bleach wipes on bacteria
Dorms are no different than other communal spaces, which means that the most bacteria-laden spots in the room are the ones you touch the most. According to an informal study by College Stats, bed sheets, desk and dresser surfaces, door knobs and light switches were the worst offenders.
So how does your co-ed battle the bacteria quickly? Bleach is one of the most easy-to-access disinfectants, and it’s a champ. Bleach wipes have just put it in a more convenient form. The Centers for Disease Control recommends you follow the directions on the label to make sure the surface you’re cleaning stays wet with bleach water for a long enough period of time — they advise three to five minutes.
Have your student spend ten minutes going through your routine — picking up their cellphone, logging into their computer, turning on the light in the bathroom, and so on. But this time, do it with a bleach wipe in hand and wipe surfaces down as they go.
5 Minutes: Place shelf liners in the refrigerator
For dorm dwellers with mini fridges, the likelihood of spilt soda or other sticky liquid is all but certain. Make clean up faster when that happens by spending a few minutes on move-in day placing shelf liners in the refrigerator. Whether you select liners with unique and fun designs or go the DIY route by just wrapping the fridge shelves in plastic cling wrap, you’ll do some preventative cleaning that’ll make bigger messes much less of a headache down the line.
The next time their Chinese food takeout container leaks, they can pull out the mat and give it a wipe down instead of having to clean the whole fridge.
5-10 Minutes: Steam clean the microwave
The microwave can become a battle of wills between dorm mates. Who knows how many ramen bowls, burritos, and spaghetti messes have been made in there. But really, it only takes about ten minutes to get your microwave clean and they can even tackle some homework or another cleaning task on their list while they wait.
Put a microwave-safe bowl of half water, half vinegar in your microwave. (Using lemons instead of vinegar, or water alone, is also effective.) Microwave the water for five to 10 minutes. While you’re waiting, you might as well spritz the outside with soap and water and give it a wipe down, too. Carefully remove the bowl (it will be hot, so use an oven glove or a towel) and set aside. Wipe down the microwave with a damp cloth or paper towel and then a dry one.
The steam created from the boiling water will have loosened all the food spatters making it a breeze to wipe the interior clean. Steam has some serious sterilizing bonafides, according to the CDC, and as we’ve already established, so does vinegar.