My Secret System to Cleaning Fast & Effectively!

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A long, long time ago, before the age of smartphones, I launched my own cleaning business. While this was all well and good, the thing was that I really didn’t know how to clean, and I knew that the only way to be profitable was to figure out how to clean in the most efficient way, in the least amount of time. Over the years, I have developed a system that does just this. Not only has it been used professionally, but I also use it in my own home. I call it the 3 Wave System. It serves as a guide, a method, a format for cleaning to ensure that a room is left clean and tidy, and it’s all done in the least amount of time. I’m going to walk you through the theory and practice of my 3 Wave System and once you know it, you will never clean the same way again!

The Theory Behind The 3 Wave System

To understand why the 3 Wave System is so awesome, you have to understand why choosing to not use the 3 Wave System is just a waste of time. When I first started cleaning I would walk into a room and ask myself, “Where do I start? What do I do? I’m feeling overwhelmed. That’s a mess. This is cluttered. There’s crap on the floor,” and the list goes on. The first thing I knew I had to do was to figure out how to get over the feeling of being overwhelmed. I needed to systematize cleaning—I wanted a clear-cut method so that I could get the results that I wanted without spending too much time on a single task. In the cleaning business, like any other business, time is money! The quicker I could do a clean, the more profitable I would be. And, of course, this ended up translating into the way in which we clean our own home. Of course, we’re not paying ourselves, but if we think about our time and what our time is worth, if you can get your cleaning done in half the time you’re actually putting time—a very, very valuable resource—back into your pocket. And with that newfound pocket full of time, you can do something that you love and enjoy.

Setup For Cleaning Success!

To understand how to make the 3 Wave System work for you, you have to think about a clock. Each room that you step into will serve as its own clock, and your starting point and your finishing point is going to be 12 o’clock. Each hour of the room is going to be a section that you will clean. In short, we’ll be working our way around the room—starting at 12, then 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock… you get the idea.

The next thing you have to remember is that everything falls from top to bottom. This includes dust and debris; the primary culprits when it comes to cleaning. This means that when you do your cleaning—in each section, or hour, of the room—you’re always going to work your way from the top to the bottom. By cleaning this way, you’ll never have to re-clean a surface (what a waste of time!).

It’s also important that you have all of your products and tools in the room with you, with each product ready to go as soon as you need them. Find one central spot to keep them in to make it easier for you to grab as you go. I always recommend putting your products on some sort of surface that’s absorbent like a towel, or to use a cleaning caddy. This will help to ensure that if anything leaks, it’s not going to get onto the actual surface that it’s sitting on. By having everything very convenient and close you ensure that you’re not running back and forth around your house trying to find a cleaning product or tool that you need.

Wave 1 – Decluttering & Tidying

Begin at the starting point of your room and slowly work your way around the clock, hour by hour. At this point, you shouldn’t have any cleaning products in your hands. Instead, I recommend having a garbage bag and/or a bin/basket with you. Whichever one you choose, the idea is that items can either be tossed in the garbage, or bin/basket to be relocated somewhere else. You’re going to work your way around the room, top to bottom, left to right, and you’re just going to scan looking for anything that doesn’t belong. From there, anything out of place can be plucked and placed in one of the two receptacles at hand. Now, some people might not agree with me on this and they’ll say, “Well, why am I organizing before I’m cleaning?” As far as I’m concerned, when you’re cleaning, you should be lifting something, moving it out of the way, cleaning quickly, and then replacing it. If you do this organizing (more fully, decluttering) work ahead of time, it actually saves you time later on in the cleaning process.

Wave 2 – Cleaning

Wave 2 is where the actual cleaning takes place. If you’ve ever wondered how a professional cleaner learns to be so efficient, it’s because they get rid of the clutter first, so that they can actually see the forest for the trees—they know what they actually have to clean, and they prep each space to be cleaned prior to actually doing it. That is precisely what wave 2 is all about.

What Does Cleaning Actually Mean?

What are we trying to accomplish? Typically, we’re trying to get rid of dust and debris, we’re trying to get surfaces shiny and streak-free, and we’re disinfecting where needed. So, in a general space like, for example, a bedroom, I want to get all its surfaces polished and clean, and I want to make sure that they’re 100% dust-free. If you’re in a different room that has different objectives, say a kitchen or bathroom where more heavy-duty work is required, I would start by pre-treating some of the surfaces before you get started on wave 2. That way, by the time you get to, say, the stovetop, it’s been pre-treated for a few minutes, making it much easier to clean.

What Tools Should I Have?

Some of the tools you might want to have near and dear when you’re working on the second wave would be an all-purpose cleaner, a glass cleaner, as well as appropriate microfiber cloths—a flat-weave cloth and a general purpose cloth are good starting points. Each of these products will really come in handy throughout the cleaning process.

Wave 2 In Action

Here’s what you’re going do: you’re going to go back to your starting point and you’re going to start at your first hour—your first section. You’re going to nod your head in an up-and-down motion. This is what I always teach my staff. Say yes to cleaning! You’re going to start at the top and work your way down to the bottom and as you visually scan, you might see a scuff, you might see some dust, and you might see something that’s just out of place. Wipe here, dust there, take items off shelves that need to be cleaned, and then move on. Spray the surfaces and wipe them down, pick up each item, wipe it, replace it, and move on to your next section. It might sound like there’s a lot to do during wave 2—and there is—but once you get the pace that you need and you start to become efficient, you will zoom around the room in no time.

Wave 3 – Floors

I don’t expect that you’ve been particularly dainty or careful about any of the dirt or dust that you’re cleaning. There’s no sweeping it into your hand and throwing it into the garbage. We don’t have time for that! You’re going to become a monster and throw everything on the floor… because we deal with all of it in wave 3! If you’re vacuuming, sweeping, or mopping, I always recommend starting at the opposite corner of the entry point of the room and then work back towards that entry point. I’m going to repeat that: start at the opposite (furthest) corner to the entry point of the room. That way, you can always clean your way out of the room, instead of cleaning your way into a corner and then having to walk over your freshly cleaned floors. So, if you’re vacuuming, you can either use an extension cord and plug it in outside of the room to ensure that you don’t have to worry about walking over places that you’ve already covered, or you can find another plug and plug it in somewhere else.

Once I started using the 3 Wave System, both professionally and personally, I noticed that I had significantly cut my cleaning time! Remember, in the cleaning business, time is money. On the personal side of things, I just want to have more time to myself and spend less time cleaning! All of that said, I don’t want to compromise results, and that’s what this 3 Wave System is all about. It’s all about saving you time and getting you great results so that you can feel happy about your space and do things that you love without spending all of your time cleaning.

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Melissa Maker is an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, founder of Toronto’s most popular boutique cleaning service, and star of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube (but she still hates to clean!). Every week, Melissa delivers new videos dishing expert advice on cleaning products, tools, DIY substitutes, and practical, timesaving solutions to everyday problems. Melissa has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in InStyle, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Melissa,

    My most time consuming cleaning task is cleaning hard floors. It takes so much longer than just simply vacuuming floors with carpeting. After vacuuming, I then swiffer over and over until I don’t see any more dirt. I use the Dyson, but even after vacuuming, I still pick up dirt with the swiffer. Any suggestions on cutting my cleaning time on floors? Please advise.

  2. I love you Melissa! I am 76 and did not anticipate the fact that I would have to completely redesign my cleaning. I use a walker because of balance problems and just don’t have that much energy anymore. Now I can stop and start and know what I have to do and after getting your book I know about how long cleaning different items takes. Your videos and your 1 2, 3 system have made everything so much easier. And since my husband is on oxygen 24/7 things improved when i stopped using so many commercial cleaners. Thanks so much. Judy

  3. As a supervisor for office plant maintenance crews, I found that it’s a good idea once in a while to work backwards from 12 to 11 o’clock and so on. Reason being, our energy levels wane towards the end and we may not be as attentive or thorough as we were in the beginning. Always starting in the same rooms, chances are that last room would benefit from being first some day.

  4. Hello, Melissa! I’m Priscila, from Brazil and this is one of your best posts ever!! I’ve always wanted to understand more of your 3 waves system. I have a 20-months-old baby and since he was born I haven’t been able to keep the house tidy and clean. Unfortunately I can’t afford to buy your book yet but this post is really helpful! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us! And best wishes for your adorable family!

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