Just hearing those two words makes me shudder. I would rather clean anything – ANYTHING – before tackling my garage.
But if we don’t pay attention to the garage it can become a dumping ground. This has happened to me before and required a lot of effort to get it under control. Don’t get me wrong, getting your garage in order is a big job (possibly a weekend-long one). But do it right once and it’s so much easier to keep it like that in the long run.
Between the tires we have to store because of our dreaded winter (eight between me and Chad!), gardening tools, sporting gear, garbage and recycling and everything else that gets tossed in there, cleaning it out is a big undertaking.
To protect my sanity, and yours, here’s the plan I’ve devised for you and me to tackle the garage, using the Clean My Space three wave system:
Pick a good day or weekend to do it
The last thing you want is to be carrying heavy boxes, sorting through them and scrubbing dirt and grime when it’s too hot out. The same goes for when it’s raining, so you can put stuff in your driveway or backyard without worrying about it (and you) getting soaked.
This is important because you’ll be leaving everything outside while you give the garage a good cleaning.
Wave One: Tidy and Organize
Start by taking absolutely everything out of the garage – cars, bikes, tools, shovels, boxes, recycling bins and garbage cans – all of it, until you can see that lovely concrete floor. Enlist the family for this part (if you can), put on some good upbeat music – it’ll make the job faster and more fun.
Why not listen to one of the Clean My Space spring cleaning playlists from the 70s or 80s? I asked our Facebook fans for their favourite songs to clean to and added in a few of our favourites too. Crank up the volume and I promise they’ll get you right in the mood (just don’t offend your neighbours)!
Now that the music’s going, sort all your stuff into groups: keep, donate, sell and throw out. It’s a good idea to do this at least once a year. That way junk won’t pile up as much and it won’t be overwhelming when you get around to doing it. Haven’t used something in a year? Odds are you probably won’t, and it can be put in the toss/donate/sell pile. Of course, use your judgment here.
Once you decide what to keep organize it into categories. For example: Christmas decorations, sports equipment, winter stuff, summer toys, tools and so on.
If your garage doesn’t already have a Shelving Unit, now’s a great time to get one (or more, if necessary). Garage cabinets are another possibility if you think the open shelves will look messy or cluttered. Plastic storage bins for everything you’re keeping is also a must. Label the bins so you know where everything goes and of course, where to find something without endless digging. This will keep stuff from piling up on the floor again and make it easier to sweep.
A quick note about storage bins, they are better to use than cardboard boxes. For one thing, garages are often damp – moisture is not cardboard’s friend. For another, cardboard is used by rats and mice (ew!) to make their nests. Let’s not give these creepy pests a reason to make themselves at home in your space. Need I say more?
Of course, not everything will fit nicely into storage bins. Let’s get into that now.
Organize Your Tools
I love the idea of creating a tool wall in the garage to keep the ones you use regularly in easy reach. It can be done easily with a Pegboard. We moved in to a house where the garage had a pre-installed pegboard (:O I know!). Before you install it, decide which tools you want on display so you’ll know where the hooks should go and how much space on the board each tool needs.
For nails, nuts and bolts and so on, I’d invest in something like this organizer.
Finally, those lesser-used tools can go in a good old-fashioned tool box . Here’s a cool tip: so the toolbox won’t rust place a few charcoal briquettes – yep, the ones used in barbecues – in the box. They suck up dampness but also create dust. So, put them in a cloth bag first.
For rakes, shovels, brooms, ladders – vertical hanging organizer and hooks are your new best friends. Remember, by having a spot for everything you’ll be able to keep your stuff off the floor – and hopefully, keep the garage from becoming (too) messy again.
Wave Two: Cleaning and Deodorizing
I dread cleaning out my garage partially because I am terrified of bugs. I’m always scared to see what creatures are lurking in there. I’ve seen some of the biggest spiders and centipedes in my garage, so be prepared for that when you start. I also wear gloves when I am cleaning the garage. Garden gloves or thick rubber gloves will do.
Now remember, do this before you bring anything back in; otherwise it will get dusty and dirty.
The easiest way to get rid of spider webs and dust bunnies is with your vacuum cleaner and an extension. I recommend doing this at least every few weeks, because it’ll take less time to clean and be more likely to keep bugs at bay.
Smells, now, are a whole other ball game. I suggest first airing your garage out. Keep the door open for a couple of hours (perhaps while you’re organizing and clearing everything out) and run some fans to get the air circulating.
Also check for signs of mold. Mix one gallon of water with 6 to 8 ounces of oxygen bleach and use a sponge to apply to the walls. Leave it on for half an hour then scrub with a tough scrub brush (wear a protective face mask and rubber gloves while doing this). Then fill a bucket with hot water and wipe down the walls with a new sponge (to avoid spreading the mold spores around). If the mold is deep in the walls this probably won’t be enough to get rid of entirely and a mold removal expert should be called. That can be expensive, so I suggest you call around and get a few estimates.
Spraying undiluted white vinegar regularly will keep the garage from smelling. If you’re not a fan of that strong vinegary scent, adding water with a few drops of essential oil (peppermint, orange, lemon, sage or rosemary) will take care of that.
Just like you do in your fridge, put open boxes of baking soda around the garage. Baking soda will trap those gross smells and should be replaced once a month. Baking soda, for the win, yet again.
Wave Three: The Floor
Oil, dirt, road salt – those concrete floors sure take a beating! No matter how organized your garage may be now, if the floor is in bad shape it takes away from all your hard work.
First sweep the floor with a large push broom or a corn bristle broom. This will give you a clean base to get rid of those tough stains. Once you finish bring the family back (again, if you can) to restock the garage (neatly) with everything you’re keeping.
Then turn your attention to those stubborn stains. Clean oil marks with laundry detergent mixed with warm or hot water (one-third a cup of detergent for each gallon of water) if the stains are small. For larger stains use the detergent mix first, but a thin layer of kitty litter (it helps to draw the oil out of the floor) should be left on the stain overnight. Be sure the litter is ground into the stain really well – use the heel of your shoe. The next day, sweep it up with the same broom and rinse the floor with your hose after.
If detergent doesn’t do the trick, a concrete degreaser will. Follow the directions on the bottle, and you can still use the kitty litter trick after.
Unsealed concrete absorbs things really easily and attracts dirt like a magnet. After taking care of the oil marks a pressure washer will clean it up nicely. In a pinch a bucket of water and a floor scrub brush is a good substitute – more work for your muscles, but it will get the job done. Another option is the yacht mop, because the mop material is perfect for occasional use in outdoor spaces, like decks or the garage.
If you go the pressure washer route look for one that’s electric, not gas powered – the gas powered ones give off carbon monoxide – poisonous and odorless – and in a closed-in space like a garage, that’s bad news.
For those cursed with living somewhere with long, cold winters (like me) – you know how annoying road salt can be. To ditch ugly salt stains from your concrete floor, first it should be totally clean – so taken care of as I went over above.
An all-natural solution is to mix together one gallon of warm water, one cup of white vinegar and one squirt of dish soap. Pour onto each stain, one by one, and scrub with a stiff nylon bristle brush then clean with a mop. Once each spot has been scrubbed (it might be necessary to do it more than once) hose the floor down with water and leave it to dry.
Road salt has the added bonus of cracking concrete floors (yippee!) If you want to seal the cracks you can use polymer cement crack sealant because it’s stronger than regular cement and is perfect for doing repairs.
If you’re feeling super ambitious you can seal the floor or get a professional to do it. It will save you a ton of time in the long run because sealing resists stains – meaning you can just wipe the floor with a mop. Sweeping will be a breeze too. (If you do this, wait until the floor is dry to bring all your stuff back in).
If you don’t seal the floor cleaning up those oil and salt stains can be added to your spring cleaning routine. Sweeping and mopping is a more regular task – every few weeks or so, or more if you think it’s needed.
Tips for keeping your garage tidy year-round:
- Create designated areas, with bins, for garbage and recycling. Make them easy to get to so anyone tasked with garbage duty isn’t tempted to dump things in the first place they see.
- Collapse boxes before taking them to the garage, or have another designated space to do it in there – then boxes won’t get thrown in just anywhere
- Keep that vacuum nearby. Use it every few weeks, or really any time you see dust building up or spiderwebs forming.
- Every six months (assuming it isn’t -50 Celsius) I would do a ‘sweep’ of the garage, see if there’s anything in there you don’t need. It doesn’t require dragging everything out like that first big cleanup, but doing this twice a year can keep it looking lovely (or as lovely as a garage can look). At the same time you can dust, sweep and do all those little things I hope you’ll have gotten used to.
- If you have anything like old paint or chemicals lying around read up on how to get rid of that stuff. Pouring it down the drain, say, is a big no and in my city our regular garbage truck won’t pick it up. Sometimes stores will take things like that back or it can be brought to the dump.
While it may seem like a boring, annoying, long and labor-intensive job, I promise it’ll feel so good when you step into your clean and neat garage. Take it a bit at a time and you’ll be there with a few dedicated days of effort. Good on you!
So, when are you getting started on your garage cleaning? What do you plan to do that I haven’t mentioned here?