5 Cleaning Lessons I Learned When I Moved in with My In-Laws

updated Apr 22, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Someone vacuuming a kitchen rug.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

I have kind of an embarrassing secret: I’m 27 and living with my in-laws. But don’t fret for me; there’s a lot of good coming from this situation.

My husband and I moved in with his parents in December, and since then I’ve been discovering helpful housekeeping tips from one of the best places you can learn from: a stay-at-home mother of more than 30 years. It’s like an unofficial home cleaning residency for me.

While I thought I had my cleaning routine mastered before living with my in-laws (bi-weekly laundry sessions, cleaning sprees when the mood hit), I was actually making the process more daunting than it needed to be. This may be because I never helped my mother around the house myself. (Sorry, mom!) I simply went from being taken care of to trying to take care of myself and my husband. Now, I’m getting a second chance to learn from someone who has years of experience — a combination of tips from her own mother and decades of trial and error.  

It’s true what they say, mothers really do know best, and some of the things I’ve discovered from my mother-in-law were so surprising and helpful that I just had to share. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. Most Things Can Go In The Dishwasher

A dishwasher is there for your convenience — so you might as well use it to its fullest potential. Before my move, I often shied away from putting anything besides dishes in my dishwasher. But as I learned from watching my mother-in-law load up her dishwasher, many other kitchen essentials can go through the machine, like dish brushes, dish racks, fridge shelves, and more. As long as there’s room in the dishwasher, she puts whatever she can fit.

One caveat: Before throwing something in the dishwasher, read the label or look up the brand online. Cast iron pieces and pots and pans with non-stick seals can be ruined in the dishwasher

Credit: New Africa/Shutterstock
She's doing it wrong.

2. There are Different Types of Plungers (And You Probably Need More Than One)

News to me: Plungers aren’t one size fits all. One day while my in-laws and I watched home improvement shows on DIY Network and HGTV, my father-in-law casually mentioned that the person on screen unclogging their toilet was using the wrong type of plunger. “Wait,” I said, “there’s a difference?” As he explained, I came to realize that I’d been using the wrong plunger (a sink plunger in the toilet) my entire adult life.

Credit: AWesleyFloyd/Shutterstock

So what’s the difference? A sink plunger is a cup plunger, with a cup shape that is entirely flat on the bottom, while a toilet plunger is a flange plunger, and features the same cup shape but adds a narrowing curved flap that extends below the end of the cup. The narrow end fits snugly into the toilet drain to create a vacuum seal, which is much more efficient at clearing toilet clogs.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

3. Doing A Load Of Laundry A Day Keeps The Laundry Scaries Away (And Helps You Declutter)

A few weeks into observing my mother-in-law’s cleaning habits, I noticed she was doing laundry pretty much every day — a load of towels here, a load of clothes there, sheets once a week. Soon, I started following her lead, and the switch to daily loads of laundry was surprisingly easy. By staying on top of the never-ending chore, it took the anxiety out of the task; a feeling I often felt when thinking about my bi-weekly laundry day that took hours and hours to get through. 

This simple but effective tip also gave me some clarity that helped me declutter my things, too:

  • When you keep up on laundry, you don’t need to own as many clothes. It quickly became apparent to me which clothing items were my favorites, since I kept finding them in the wash, and which of my clothes were being neglected because they weren’t my first choice.
  • You really only need one or two sets of sheets. Every Wednesday, my mother-in-law takes the sheets off the bed, washes them, and returns them to the bed. Why need more sheets then? Splurge on one nice set of sheets, and you’re set for quite some time. 
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

4. Baking Soda is a Wonder Cleaner

I know baking soda is useful around the house, but my eyes fully opened to its power when I saw my mother-in-law sprinkling some into the kitchen sink. I asked her what she was doing, and shocked, she said, “You never use baking soda to clean?” She then continued to share with me all the wonderful things baking soda can clean. A pan with baked on grease? Mix some baking soda and water to a paste, let it sit in the pan, and bam! Clean as new with barely any effort. Stains in your sink? Sprinkle on baking soda, let it sit, and wipe away. It’s like magic!

5. There’s No Need To Unwind A Vacuum Cord

Maybe I’m late to the party on this one, but the knob/hook near the top of the vacuum that helps keep the power cord wrapped tightly in place? On most vacuums, this knob turns completely around to release the entire power cord without having to unwind it yourself loop by loop. I learned this tip one day as I was cleaning up the remains of a macrame project (so many little bits!). I grabbed the vacuum and started unfurling the cord when my mother-in-law interrupted me — this time it was her turn to ask me what I was doing. She came over, turned the knob for me, and I stood there amazed as I watched the entire cord fall easily away from the vacuum.

It’s the little time-saving hacks that really elevate a cleaning routine. 

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 5 Cleaning Tips I Didn’t Know Until I Moved in With My In-Laws