Family with small children sprucing up the yard while they're stuck at home

There's been a lot of stress and anxiety to go around during the novel coronavirus pandemic, but one upside of social distancing is that many of us are getting to spend more time with our families. Another is finally having time to do all those home chores and improvement projects you’ve been meaning to get to.

That’s what John Douglas, a real estate broker from Denver, plans to do now that he’s working remotely from home. In response to our Facebook post asking CR's community to share how they're planning to spend their time, Douglas wrote: “Cleaning the garage, hanging blinds, installing new license plates, washing windows, spring lawn cleanup—all projects staring me in the face for a while!” We followed up with Douglas over email and discovered the reason for his long list of projects. “I bought a house a few months ago, so the honey-do list was already made,” he says. 

Even if you didn’t just move into a home, there are probably plenty of cleaning and maintenance projects you’ve been putting off. Take advantage of any free time to do them now. To help you get started, here are some easy projects and advice on how to tackle them. You can get some of them done on your lunch break. 

Clean Household Filters

Check any appliance with an air or water filter to see if it needs to be washed or replaced. If you have a combined forced air heating and cooling system, follow the filter manufacturer’s recommendation on how often to change it. In general, the thicker the disposable filter, the less often it needs to be changed. (The air filters we test at Consumer Reports last three to 12 months.)

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If you have window air conditioners, get them ready for warmer weather by removing the filter and using your vacuum’s upholstery brush to suck up any dirt. Then wash the filter using a mild solution of dishwashing liquid and warm water. Wait until it’s dry to reinsert.

You can also wash filters for over-the-range microwaves, range hoods, dehumidifiers, dishwashers with manual filters, and some vacuums. But the filters on refrigerators, water filters, air purifiers, gas furnaces, and most vacuums need to be replaced. 

For more about changing filters, see our guide to the filters you should change at home.

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De-Grime Countertop Appliances

With their curves, knobs, and moving parts, small appliances can get pretty gritty sitting on the counter. Your coffee maker is one that gets the dirtiest, and you might not clean it enough. 

Dried coffee oils and minerals inside the machine can ruin the taste of even the best blend, especially if you have hard water. To clear the tanks and tubes, you can run equal parts of water and white vinegar through the machine. Then run plain water through it a couple of times. Just check the manual first: Some manufacturers suggest a different ratio.

For the outside of a drip coffee maker, wash the carafe and brew basket in dish soap and water, then rinse and dry. Wipe any coffee that may have spilled on the hot plate (once it’s cooled) and remove burnt-on stains by using a little baking soda on a damp sponge. 

For more cleaning tips for countertop appliances, including those for blenders, food processors, toasters, toaster ovens, and microwaves, see our guide to cleaning small appliances


Wash Windows

Now that you’re home, you probably can’t help but notice that the windows are pretty grimy. It’s easy to remove the haze, and it's a fun activity to do with little ones for the windows they can easily reach. You’ll need two buckets; a sponge; a good-quality rubber squeegee; a clean, lint-free cloth; a chamois cloth; and a store-bought window cleaning solution or your own. Here are the steps to take:

  1. Before you start on the windows, clean dirty frames by vacuuming or wiping away the accumulated dust. Using a slightly damp sponge to apply the window cleaning solution, start from the top down.
  2. Wipe across the window with a dampened squeegee blade, then wipe the blade.
  3. Follow with a rinse of clean water applied with a chamois cloth. Polish off any remaining moisture with the dry cloth.

For a quick video demonstration on washing windows, see our guide for window cleaning. And for more cleaning advice, see our spring cleaning guide.

Prep Your Lawn Mower

After a season of idleness, a gas mower needs to have its engine oil refreshed. Consult your owner's manual to see whether it prescribes changing the oil completely or just topping it off. And before you start it up, take steps to make sure that it has fresh gas. A mower carrying leftover fuel—gasoline from last season that was never winterized with stabilizer—shouldn't be started up right away. Circulating stale gas could create problems that require you to drain the lines. Instead, remove that old gas from the tank using a turkey baster dedicated to the task. Then fill the tank with fresh fuel and stabilizer. 

Your spark plug needs changing about every 100 hours of operation; if not, it can affect engine startup and overall performance. If you don’t know when you last changed it, do it before using the mower. Finally, while a dusty air filter won’t prevent your gas-powered mower from starting, a clean one makes your engine run more efficiently. Check your owner’s manual for the filter’s model number.

For more on mower maintenance, read our guide for getting your mower ready for spring

Spruce Up Your Lawn

While it’s generally fine to leave the leaves where they are in the fall, large dense swaths of yard debris can block the sun from reaching your lawn, making it difficult for grass to sprout at all. If you didn’t use a leaf blower or rake last fall, do some cleanup now. Ask the kids to help; it will get them out of the house and make the work go faster.

You can use the collected leaves for compost. Better still, mulch the fallen leaves with the mulching kit or attachment for your mower or tractor. The churned-up clippings will feed your lawn and reduce the amount of fertilizing it needs.

Winter can also be brutal on pavers, walkways, and driveways. Aside from damage done by your snow blower or a plow, frost heave—the natural freeze-and-thaw cycle—can split concrete and knock stones out of whack. To keep out water, seal any new gaps you see with concrete-crack filler.

For more on how to care for your lawn, see our guide to getting your yard ready for summer

Get Your Gas Grill Ready

Unless you’re a year-round griller, chances are that your grill will need a good cleaning before you fire it up even if you cleaned the grates and other parts before you put it away. Examine the inside and clear away any spiderwebs, which can cause a serious flare-up if they ignite.

Reconnect your propane tank, open the valve, and spritz the flexible gas line with a mixture of water and dish soap. Look for any bubbling, which could indicate a possible leak. If you spot one, stop there. Order a replacement gas line and be sure to also test the newly installed line with a soapy water mixture before you light the grill.

For more on how to take care of your gas grill before, during, and after the grilling season, see our advice on how to maintain your gas grill.

Pressure Wash Your Deck

A pressure washer can get things clean in record time. That includes reviving a tired, old wood deck. Here are two tips to make the job easier: 

  • Prepare the site. Start by removing all items from the deck, especially breakables. Then sweep away leaves and other loose debris. This will help reveal tough stains left by mildew, tree sap, and the like. 
  • Apply a deck cleaner. If you see embedded dirt, use a deck cleaner. This will help loosen it. Start by filling the pressure washer’s soap dispenser with the cleaner, following the manufacturer’s instructions. 

For step-by-step instructions on how to use a pressure washer, see How to Pressure Wash a Deck. And for more on the types of projects you can tackle with a pressure washer, see our guide for what’s safe to clean with a pressure washer and what's not

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Organize Your Garage

Has it been ages since you could actually fit your car into your garage? Clearing out the space is a perfect project. Get started by dividing your belongings into four groups: sell, donate, trash, and keep. That will give you a better idea of how much storage you need, and what kind. Overall, your objective is to get as much as you can off the garage floor and onto the walls or shelves. 

When measuring how much space you have for adding storage cabinets or shelves, allow for the swing of car doors, plus room to exit and enter. The wall facing the hood will usually have room for deep shelves or cabinets, but side walls usually have space only for shallow storage.

Check Your Tires

Tires get a lot of abuse during the colder months. To keep yours in top shape, first check the air pressure and adjust it as needed to the amount specified on the tire information placard you’ll find on the driver’s door jamb. Keeping tires at the right pressure can help them last longer and save on fuel, too. Don’t forget to check the pressure on your car’s spare tire, too.

If you notice irregular treadwear, it can indicate a problem with how well a tire is balanced on its wheel. Coming out of winter, that treadwear can signal that the tires are out of alignment or that the car’s suspension has been damaged. You might experience symptoms of this while you’re driving, such as a shimmy in the steering wheel or the car pulling to either side. In this case, you should have a mechanic look at the tires.

For more on tire care, read about tire tips that keep you safe.