When Virginia-based home organizer Lindsay Downes renovated her downstairs bathroom after it had been water damaged, she made the usual choices about which tile she liked and what sink would best fit the space. However, Downes had an unconventional guiding principle behind her decisions: She wanted the room to be easy to clean.
“I just thought, if I am redoing it, I am going to make it as easy as possible to clean,” says Downes, who through her work knows all too well how bad design can make things harder to clean. Every choice Downes made was informed by future cleanability: A floating cavity replaced the previous cabinet that created a crevice that gathered dust and hair; tiny mosaic floor tiles were replaced by the largest tile Downes could find on a mesh back; wall tiles got supersized to four-by-eight inches to eliminate grout lines and extended to the whole room to protect the walls from splashes; and even the traditional toilet was jettisoned for a fully-skirted model, which was harder to install, but much easier to scrub. The results are a bathroom Downes can clean in half the time.
While Downes’ reno is an extreme example of designing for cleanability, other renovators and redecorators should also think about maintenance. Every design decision will impact how you clean later on down the road—even a new faucet or coffee table can become a pain point. Here are 13 design decisions that could make your house harder to clean.
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White grout and tiny tiles
Cleaning grout is no one’s idea of a good time. Downes knew that white grout will show dirt more than a tinted one, especially on the floors, so she opted for a light gray grout. And choosing a larger tile like Downes did means you’ll have fewer grout lines to clean.
Glass shower doors
“I’ve yet to see a home that is lived in every day properly keep a glass shower door clean. There are always water spots,” cautions Shaolin Low of Studio Shaolin. “I’m all for a glass door for an adult bathroom, but kids, no way, unless they love to squeegee.”
A farmhouse sink
Most farmhouse sinks sit on top of the kitchen countertop, and as Jenny Albertini, a certified KonMari organizing consultant and public health advisor discovered, “that can lead to a lot of soap scum around the edges.” Albertini also points out that the raised lip prevents a standard dish drainer from working with the sink. “We didn’t pick up on these issues until it was too late,” says Albertini. “While we love the look of our overmount farmhouse sink, we have to use a small over-the-sink dish drainer and be extra careful with water piling up around the faucet.”
Dark kitchen countertops
“I know black countertops are chic right now, but they are so hard to keep looking nice!” says designer Joanna Heart. “One would think otherwise, but I know because I made the mistake of thinking that black would hide crumbs, but it turns out that any water or liquid really makes the counters look dirty.”
Stainless steel appliances
“Stainless steel is timeless and always looks great when clean, but it can get dirty quickly and is often tough to keep steak-free when you do go to clean it,” cautions Ashley Murphy, one of the co-founders of NEAT Method.
“The idea of glass cabinets can be appealing, but remember that you can always see what’s inside,” says Murphy’s co-founder, Marissa Hagmeyer. “You may have the best intentions of staying organized all the time, but that might not end up being a reality.” NEAT Method prefers a closed panel cabinet, unless the space is solely used for displaying items that are rarely used.
Frame and panel cabinets
This style of cabinets came up several times in my research: Homeowners wish they’d chosen flat panels instead because they’re easier to wipe clean. “My Shaker-style kitchen cabinets in my small kitchen get grease in the nooks and crannies, and I hate how I never feel like they are clean,” says Kim, a homeowner in New York City.
Shiny or intricate kitchen hardware
“When it comes to hardware, if you select an intricate design, you may end up regretting how difficult it is to keep it grime-free,” says Hagmeyer. Instead, NEAT Method suggests sticking with simple designs in matte and brushed metal finishes, which show fingerprints and water spots less than polished or unlacquered brass do.
An oversized island
“I have so many clients wanting these extra-wide slab kitchen islands, without realizing they’re impossible to clean,” says McCall Dulkys of Interiors By McCall. “Be sure you can comfortably reach the center of the island from each side or else you’ll need to get really creative when it’s time to clean those countertops.”
A gas stove
Indoor air quality and eco-friendliness aside, Pittsburgh-based interior designer Colleen Simonds says she’ll steer her clients away from a traditional gas stove. “In my own home, I will only do induction stoves from now on,” she says. “I can’t stand how filthy your burners look all the time—even when they’ve just been cleaned!”
Real marble counters
Marble is a timeless choice for sure, but don’t be fooled by all those photos you see in design magazines and on Pinterest: Marble will show stains, especially if you’re an avid cook. I know because we opted for Carrara in my small apartment kitchen and I’m routinely scrubbing it to try to remove turmeric and tomato sauce. That said, I’d choose it again. I tell myself that the stains give the place character.
The Rest of the House
“Avoid glass surfaces, especially if you have little ones running around,” advises mom of two Rebecca Hay of Rebecca Hay Designs in Ontario. “Glass surfaces will just be fingerprint magnets!”
Elaborate baseboard or trim
“They just collect dust,” cautions Alyssa Biviano of Providence, Rhode Island, whose wife is a carpenter and cabinet maker. Look for the simplest profile that is right for your house to avoid unnecessary dusting.
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