The Ultimate Accidental Housewife

Your Guide to a Clean-Enough House


By Julie Edelman

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 15, 2008. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Bestselling author Julie Edelman returns with an essential guide about how to get your house clean — or, even better, just clean enough!

Accessible, easy to read, and entertaining, The Ultimate Accidental Housewife(tm) gives you fun, simple solutions to all kinds of common household problems, from scrubbing the stove to spotting those stubborn laundry stains. With plenty of useful tips and tricks for cleaning your house just enough, this accidentally domestic diva offers practical advice you’ll use every day — without ever spoiling your manicure.

Find out how to: Limit your daily workload with defensive cleaning and organizingHandle “toxic zones” like the bathroom and kitchen”Fix” problems until the repairman comesRemove aggressive stains

This must-have little volume splits housekeeping into two categories: Toxic Zones include the bathrooms and kitchen, since they have the greatest chance of housing living organisms that multiply or smell. Not So Toxic Zones include the bedrooms, living room, and family rooms, where dust bunnies are your biggest foe. In addition, helpful sections like I Never Knew You Could Do That! include myriad uses for ordinary household products, and The United Stains Across America, an Accidental favorite, is the most patriotic stain guide you’ll ever see.

With Julie’s trademark inventiveness and good humor, The Ultimate Accidental Housewife is a sanity-saver for overextended women everywhere.



Ac-ci-den-tal House-wife (noun): An individual of no particular gender or race; married, single, or divorced; working or home-based; with or without kids who, due to circumstance, intent, or nuptial bliss finds him- or herself tasked with taking care of everyday household chores and activities regardless of interest, skill, or time.

Never Enough Thanks

In the beginning there was the word and the word was housewife. And that is where my first words of thanks begin. Without you there would be no book called The Ultimate Accidental Housewife: Your Guide to a Clean-Enough House because it is our shared angst that propelled me to find simple solutions to our everyday household tasks.

The second and third word of thanks goes to the indefatigable Kevin Miller of ABC Radio Networks or oh capitán as I like to call him, who as I played food hockey with my salad called up the wonderful Ellen Archer at Hyperion and told her she must meet me. The rest, as they say, is history: We met with the fashionable and fab Ms. Archer and my stellar and incredibly brilliant and witty editor Brenda Copeland and the next accidental housewifely bestseller was born. Then there’s Kathleen Carr, Brenda’s amazing assistant, who was always perky when I called and insured my edits were clear and readable. Next up: my two terrific agents at William Morris, Andy McNicol and Jason Fox, who kept me from losing it along the way; and Andy’s assistant, Ken Graham, who insured that this queen of technological darkness got her manuscript through cyberspace intact and on time. And, thanks to Kate “PMS” Sweeney (my nickname for her, which stands for “Pretty Manageable Stains” that you’ll read about in Chapter 10) for her stately research.

Then kudos are in order to my dear friend and advisor, Harvey Stein, who introduced me to my incredibly talented and kind chief designer, John-Michael Eckeblad and the legendary creative branding guru Alan Seigel and his très artistic mates Seth Sever and Lloyd Blaner. Thanks guys for bringing Julie Edelman and The Accidental Housewife together as one entity! Next up: Peter Cohl and his wife, Zoe, for the amazing photograph of me that you see in the back of the book—good lighting and makeup are beautiful things!

On the personal side: never-ending hugs and all my love go to the most important person in my life: my extraordinarily warm and gifted son and the future number-one ranked player in the PGA, Luke, who once again was unselfish enough to play golf during every minute of sunlight when not in school so that I could write, and resourceful enough to keep us fed when this guide’s deadline loomed. And, salut to my dear friend Vinnie for always welcoming me with open arms and a glass of Santa Margarita—see, I told you I’d thank you!

Lastly, thanks again to my mother, who was born ahead of her time. As a result she didn’t have the choice nor chance to pursue her hopes and dreams nor be an accidental housewife, but encouraged me to pursue mine so long as I didn’t walk on her beige carpeting.

I think that covers it. But, if I’ve forgotten you, please don’t be upset—you are in my heart if not in my current overloaded memory, so the oversight is truly accidental.



Hello, my fellow accidental housewives! I’m back to spread the glove—so to speak. Yes, I’ve returned after months of touring for my first book, The Accidental Housewife: How to Overcome Housekeeping Hysteria One Task at a Time—which thanks to you made the New York Times Bestseller List. And, forgive me while I digress for a moment, but when it made the list I went into shock for a couple of reasons: One, it happened only a few weeks after the book came out. Two, my family and friends didn’t buy every copy available. But most importantly it shocked me since I had connected with you in a very real way that validated my belief that there are millions of you out there like me yearning to come out of your broom closets and embrace your housewifely imperfections. Misery needs company and you shared how you would love some fresh, fun, and simple ways to deal with your daily tasks on what I lovingly refer to as Hysteria Lane.

That doesn’t mean you and I don’t enjoy watching Martha and envy her ease and skill at faux-painting or making hand-dipped candles, particularly since she makes it look like an activity a child could do. No, we too would love to have that kind of time and talent. But the truth is these hopes and dreams pass quickly when confronted with the day-to-day realities of being a housewife: endless laundry, stuffed toilets, soccer practice, misplaced bills, and all else in between. No, for us homekeeping perfection is not a viable option.

Speaking of hopes and dreams, back in college it was my hope and dream to become a household name—which leads me to a fun story from my first book tour. I had just appeared on the Today show sharing some of my manicure-friendly bathroom-cleaning tips. As you might imagine, I was riding high on having finally made it to the big time, when my college roommate called to tell me she’d seen the segment. Well, after she’d told me how wonderful I’d looked, she asked a question that quickly brought me down to earth: “Did you ever expect when you graduated magna cum laude from Duke that you’d be cleaning toilets on national TV someday?” Her question stirred up a wide range of conflicting emotions that I had thought I’d come to terms with once I’d embraced my accidental ways. But I guess that wasn’t so. Fact is, during my Duke days I had envisioned being on Today but as an anchor like Meredith Vieira. And, though I had included marriage and children as part of my vision, I never imagined that I’d be the anchor for a story about cleaning poop and whiz. But there I was…millions of you watching me with my toilet scepter instead of a microphone in hand, having fulfilled my pre–accidental housewifely hopes and dreams in a truly accidental way—funny how life works.

The other thing I learned during these past months is that while you want simple solutions to your everyday household problems, you enjoy being able to have a sense of humor about it all. After all, and to put it bluntly, housework sucks. But it’s just housework and we’re not being asked to go to war or find a cure for the big C. So we need to have both a healthy perspective and a lighter attitude. Simply put, we need to smile and keep our wits about us. It’s an approach to our housewifely lives that I’ve come to refer to as real life, resimplified. Resimplified as in putting a new spin on the ways we do our chores that bore that blends them into our real-life, everyday routines and uses items that are not always the tried and true but accessible and convenient to keep our homes clean enough. And, perhaps more importantly, resimplified as it refers to giving you, today’s housewife, a new face: one with a smile, some fashion, flair, and frivolity.

Which leads to what’s inside this ultimate guide to accidental housewifely homekeeping nirvana (that’s a mouthful!). Inside you’ll find just enough cleaning basics to keep your home acceptable to your mother, mother-in-law, and the health inspectors; your living spaces organized; your laundry relatively clean and stain-free; and manicure-friendly ways to prevent your home from falling apart. I’ll also help you save our planet. That doesn’t mean you’ll need to become the Queen of Green, but like everything else in our accidental housewifely life there are simple ways to blend protecting our planet into our everyday routines and lives. And you may even save some money by doing so, which should put a smile on your face. There are also ideas to help you deal with things that bug us like mold, mildew, bacteria, dust mites, mice, moths, ants, and roaches.

Oh yes, and let us not forget a very handy-dandy homekeeping tool that many of you have—your kiddies (if you don’t have any, you may want to consider having or borrowing one)! Yes, they are a wonderfully cheap homekeeping resource and there are many ways to put them to work, which I’ve labeled “Child’s Play.”

So there you have it. Take a breath, grab that libation, and let’s recapture some of our pre-accidental hopes and dreams as we spread the glove together. Imperfection is our new perfection. Vive today’s housewife! Vive la Accidental Housewife!

Just Enough Accidental Housewifely Disclaimers

Putting together a guide like this takes lots of trial and error and coffee and libations. It also made me realize that not everything in here may work exactly the same for each of you, nor provide you with all the homekeeping solutions you may face in your housewifely life. That said, please read and heed the disclaimers that follow so my publisher doesn’t lose sleep in the months and years ahead:

  • The overriding goal of each and every tip or word of wisdom in this guide is to help you achieve a clean-enough home (as the title says) and not homekeeping perfection.
  • I am an accidental housewife, not a professional cleaning expert nor Ty Pennington, so my tips and solutions are based on my finding the easiest and most manicure-friendly ways to conquer chores that bore in a manner that is good enough for most overworked, overscheduled, and underpaid housewives like ourselves.
  • This guide has been tested and retested by myself and others whom I trust and whose homes are still standing and clean enough that the board of health has not visited them nor have they fallen or floated away. That said, this does not mean that you will enjoy the same results, since your individual tolerance, diligence, and time will determine when something is clean enough or the repair is good enough. As I’ve often said, it’s like using a recipe—you may follow all or most of it, but it may not come out exactly the same as expected due to your own personal deviations, distractions, or the way your oven may cook.
  • All products, experts, Web sites, companies, retailers, agencies, organizations, family, friends, and fellow accidental housewives who are mentioned in this book are in here solely because I have either used and liked their products; shopped and found what I was looking for easily; provided valuable information that applied to our real homekeeping lives; and, perhaps most importantly, wouldn’t cause you any more stress or ruin your manicures. This is not to say that I haven’t worked with some of the companies or spoken about some of their products in a professional capacity. But as it relates to their being in this guide, not a penny did they give moi. My only two sources of financial generousity came from my publisher and my mother.
  • Cleaning products often contain toxic ingredients, so please use with care. For best results make sure to read all labels and follow manufacturers’ instructions. And remember, always exercise caution. (It’s far easier than going to the gym!)
  • When enlisting children to help with chores, please keep their safety in mind at all times. That means keeping them away from all electrical appliances and any product or activity that may cause harm or injury. And remember: Children (as well as some adults) should always be supervised. SAFETY FIRST!
  • The information in this book is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Although every effort has been made to ensure that information is presented accurately in this book, and every care has been taken to ensure that the home repairs listed in this book are simple, safe, and manicure-friendly, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors or for any possible consequences arising from the use of information contained herein.



My theory on housework is, if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch on fire or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one cares. Why should you?

—Erma Bombeck

Let it beno one careswhy should you? Truly words of wisdom and a very good question. I mean, why should you care so long as you and your loved ones are safe and you can breathe the air without gasping or calling 911 as you open the fridge? Well, try as you may, the truth is that you need to care since clutter mounts, microscopic life forms multiply, dirty laundry smells, and stuff breaks down. So how do you balance not caring with your need to keep the house intact? Face two simple facts:

  • 1. Like it or not there are certain chores you need to do to keep your family healthy and your home in good working order. These include cleaning, organizing, laundry, and home repairs.
  • 2. Unless you’re Heloise, homekeeping chores are generally boring, which is why I lovingly call them “chores that bore.”

I mean really, do you get excited when you have to vacuum those pesky dust bunnies? Does walking into your bathroom only to discover that your toilet bowl looks like a paintball target jazz you? Or does organizing your closet make you feel revitalized for more than twenty minutes? I suspect not.

Thus, the main goal of this book is to make homekeeping a breeze, not a burden. Your interest, time available, or state of disrepair will be your true guide to do what follows and to know when to call in the professionals. And, though I won’t promise you that these tasks will become chores you adore, you will find simple, time-saving ways to get them done so you can balance your need to care with not wanting to. In short, this is your one-stop guide to a clean-enough house.

We begin:

Make a Judgment—Do It or Leave It!

I often find that once I decide it’s time to do any of the chores that bore I get bogged down trying to figure out where to start, since everywhere I look needs some TLC. So to help make this decision easier ask yourself the following:

  • 1. Which room of your house has the greatest chance of housing living organisms that multiply or smell?
    • bathroom
    • kitchen
    • bedroom (master or other)
    • family room
    • all of the above
    • other
  • 2. Which rooms can you shut the doors to without fear of men in white suits, firefighting garb, or Ty Pennington making an unexpected visit?
    • bathroom
    • kitchen
    • bedroom (master or other)
    • family room
    • all of the above
    • other

If neither of these questions helps you decide where to begin, then this may indicate that your home is in an emergency state, so my advice is to call in the experts immediately, sell it as soon as possible, or level it.

Judgment delivered! Now, on your mark, get set, divide and conquer!

Divide and Conquer

You’ve made your judgment and unless you wound up calling in the real estate agents, demolition squad, or Ty, it’s time to get cracking. Start by dividing your accidental house wifely home into the following two zones. By doing so you’ll be able to judge whether you clean it pronto, organize it, or can leave it for another day.


1. TOXIC ZONES: These are the bathroom and kitchen, since they have the greatest chance of housing living organisms that multiply, smell, or attract the most clutter, resulting in blocked passageways and potential harm. Recommended choring frequency:

  • CLEANING: Weekly
  • organizing: Monthly
  • REPAIRS: Immediately

2. NOT-SO-TOXIC ZONES: These are central living spaces such as the living room, bedrooms, and family room, which may house and attract things that multiply but don’t generally smell unless your child has left a half-eaten sandwich under his bed for days or perhaps for weeks on end. That’s the good news; the not-so-good news is that even though you need to focus on these rooms less often, you need to be aware of dust mites, which take up residence in your bedroom, multiply ad nauseam, and can cause physical discomfort. You’ll need to deal with them on a regular basis. More on this in Chapter Seven. But as a rule, here’s the recommended choring frequency:

  • CLEANING: Every one to two weeks
  • organizing: Monthly
  • REPAIRS: Case by case; manicure by manicure

Practice Offensive and Defensive Choring

As you go through each zone you’ll find room-specific tips and tricks on offensive cleaning, organizing, and home repair to help you put off till tomorrow (or the next day and the next) what your mother would have done today. Now, this may sound like you’re engaging in an extra step, but trust me when I tell you that you’re not. Offensive choring is actually comprised of those little tasks that can help keep those big tasks at bay. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s a weight-loss goal we can all achieve.

On the flip side, you’ll also learn enough defensive tips and tricks to help when accidents and everyday realities of house keeping rear their ugly heads.

Do Just Enough

From cleaning well enough to keep health inspectors away, to organizing well enough to keep passageways clear, to repairing something just enough to prevent disasters, this is the nuts and bolts of how you’re going to achieve your goal of living in a clean-enough home. And in the process you will engage one of the accidental house wife’s least expensive and most accessible taskers—your children. Throughout this guide I’ve indicated those activities that are so simple a child can do them. Just look for the heading “CHILD’S PLAY.” If you don’t have any children, perhaps you can borrow or rent one, two, or several from a family member, friend, or neighbor who will probably be delighted to share them.

Time to spread the glove and maintain your home, sanity, and manicure.



Chapter 1

The Bathroom


There is only one immutable law in life—in a gentleman’s toilet, incoming traffic has the right of way.

—Hugh Leonard

We’ll begin with the most toxic zone in the house: the bathroom. The bathroom is a breeding ground for so many different types of germs and bacteria that it might as well be someone’s science project. Try as you might, you can’t ignore it. As if that weren’t bad enough, the bathroom also seems to be a clutter magnet. Towers of magazines line the floor; makeup, brushes, and shaving stuff clog the drawers; and curling irons, hair dryers, toothbrushes, and toothpaste carpet the vanity. And let’s not forget how this room can live up to its truly “toxic” classification from the numerous times the toilet can overflow thanks to loved ones’ “doo” diligence when it comes to wiping. All of which should lead and inspire you to learn just enough cleaning, organizing, and home repair know-how to deal with this yuckiest of home zones without losing your mind or ruining your manicure.


Okay, now it’s time to spread the glove; that is, put on those rubber gloves and start dealing with that yucky stuff—mold, mildew, and soap scum—that just loves taking up residence in your bathroom with a smile and some pizzazz. We’ll start with just enough defensive and offensive cleaning tips.


In the preface I shared how you and I have begun to “spread the glove” by coming out of our broom closets and embracing our house wifely imperfections regardless of their origins. Well, another way you and I can spread the glove and make these chores that bore more fashionable and functional is to put on a pair of rubber gloves. Not just because your hands will be going in places and coming in contact with things that excite only your plumber and perhaps your internist, but to protect your manicure and elevate these tasks to ones that may cause us to smile! So “spread the glove” and treat yourself to a pair with flair versus those oh-so-yesterday yellow ones found in the cleaning aisle. You can find some oh-so-current ones at Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Linens ’n Things, or online.

Defensive Cleaning—Toxic Targets


Mold and mildew (M & M) have become inseparably linked as buddies and buzz words in the news, particularly as they relate to our health and homes. Not like the good ol’ days when I associated the word mold with tasty cheeses and mildew with a spring scent. No, today’s M & M have reached “celebrity” status as new and sometimes toxic enemies that come in a variety of colors and forms that unfortunately don’t melt in your mouth or your hands.

So what exactly are M & M? Mold and mildew are fungi, which I’ve learned means they’re microscopic plant life without chlorophyll. Since they like warmth and humidity, and a steady supply of them, they usually take up residence in places like our bathrooms and basements. It is there that they come home to roost or, as the experts say, “form colonies”—reproducing (they form spores) on anything and everything that remains wet for more then twenty-four to forty-eight hours*: showers, tubs, toilets, floors, and even junior’s tub toys. And that’s what we see—their colonies, which are actually spores preparing to reproduce and grow. Are you thoroughly grossed out yet? If not, read on.

Lots of allergies and allergy symptoms (sneezing, runny or clogged noses, coughing, itchy eyes, and so on) are attributed to the common types of mold and mildew that inhabit our homes. That means it’s a good idea to stop them as best you can before they take up permanent residence.


As far back as the Old Testament, folks have been living with the fungus among us, which I guess means it’s not going to cause the end of civilization as some news reports might suggest. But it’s good to know what’s sharing your living space and what you can do to help make it go away. First, I’ll share what the wise men of yesteryear suggested:

From Leviticus, chapter 14, verses 33–57

  • On the seventh day the priest shall return to inspect the house. If the mildew has spread on the walls, he is to order that the contaminated stones be torn out and thrown into an unclean place outside the town. He must have all the inside walls of the house scraped and the material that is scraped off dumped into an unclean place outside the town. Then they are to take other stones to replace these and take new clay and plaster the house.


On Sale
Apr 15, 2008
Page Count
304 pages
Hachette Books

Julie Edelman

About the Author

Julie Edelman is a lifestyle reporter for national and local radio and television programs, including The View, Today, CBS Early Show, CW, and Fox. She is the author of Once Upon a Recipe, a children’s cookbook. She was a senior vice president at Bohbot Entertainment and a senior vice president/creative director at Saatchi and Saatchi Advertising. She graduated from Duke University.

Learn more about this author