They say the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year — and it is certainly also one of the messiest. Indulgent meals and festive parties, combined with live shrubbery and colorful decorations in the house, can wreak havoc, leaving behind stained table linens, furniture and carpeting, major messes in the kitchen and those blasted tree needles everywhere. As a cleaning expert, people are often surprised when I say that spring, with its eponymous cleaning, is not my busiest time of year: the holidays are. The holidays are, to be blunt, a wreck.
To help mitigate the mess, ahead I’ve rounded up the best products and tools for just about every holiday cleaning problem, and tapped some other experts to ask what products they swear by for cleaning up the most common holiday messes, from cranberry sauce to spilled wax.
Preparing and serving holiday meals leads to a lot of dishes that need washing — including special occasion items that require delicate handling. If you’ll be hosting a holiday gathering, add these items to your shopping list so you’ll have everything you need to clean up when the festivities are over.
$15 $13 at Amazon
When faced with a lot of dishes, using a premium, grease-cutting dish soap will help make those tough cleaning jobs faster and more effective.
$10 at Amazon
Good dish soap will take you far, but good sponges can also make a big difference in the ease and effectiveness of washing dishes. Do you need to restock your kitchen sponges? Now is the time to do so.
$11 at Amazon
Whether you’re washing something heavy duty or very delicate, using the right sponge can make a big difference. Specialty sponges like Dobie Pads and chain mail scrubbers can be immensely helpful when cleaning special occasion dishes and cookware.
$20 at Amazon
One of the biggest holiday dishwashing mistakes people make is not having enough dish towels on hand. Spread them out on a countertop to act as a draining station, use clean ones for drying just-washed pots and pans and have a separate set for people to dry their hands on.
$8 at Amazon
OxiClean is the secret to removing stains from the light-colored interior or enameled cast-iron cookware. Fill the pot about halfway with water, add a tablespoon of OxiClean and bring the solution to a boil. Remove it from the heat, allow it to cool, dump out the solution and wash the pot as usual. For more tips, check out my must-have cleaning products for the kitchen.
Spills and stains
Of course, food messes don’t stop at the kitchen — spills and splatters on clothes, table linens, furniture and carpeting are a staple of the holiday season. Ahead, you’ll find the best products for treating common holiday-time stains like cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and red wine as well as tips on how best to use them. For more tips and product recommendations, check out my guide to stain removal.
$18 at Amazon
When it comes to dealing with spills like wine, cola, fruit juices or sauces on carpet or upholstered furniture, Brett Parent, a senior chemist for Bissell, says the first thing to do is blot as much of the liquid as possible. “It is best to use a white towel or cloth for cleaning the stains,” he says, “to make sure you don’t have any dye transferred from a colored cloth.” Inexpensive bar mops are perfect for the job.
$17 at Amazon
After blotting the liquid, Parent recommends treating stains with an oxy-based stain remover like Woolite Instaclean Stain Remover, which can be used on carpet and upholstery.
$13 at Amazon
The starchy foods like mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole or glazed carrots that abound during the holidays become glue-like when they dry, making them difficult to clean off of fabrics like carpet, upholstery or table linens; laundry expert Patric Richardson suggests using a laundry brush to brush as much of the food off fabric as possible before treating stains and laundering.
$14 $12 at Amazon
Once starchy foods have been removed from fabric, there may be stains left behind. Sweet potatoes, yams and carrots that “have that orange color,” Richardson says, “that’s best removed with Amodex.”
$18 $17 at Amazon
Red wine and cranberry sauce are staples of the holiday season — and they also stain like the dickens. Fortunately, Wine Away works not only on red wine stains but also on those stubborn cranberry sauce stains.
$5 at Amazon
Another common stain found during the holidays are dye stains from things like wrapping paper, ribbons, paper cocktail napkins, confetti, etc. that have gotten wet and bled. Rubbing alcohol is excellent at removing dye stains from fabrics and hard surfaces, and the spray bottle makes application a breeze.
$175 at Amazon
For bigger spills, or ones that have become set in because you couldn’t get to them when they happened, Parent recommends using the Bissell SpotClean Pro portable carpet cleaner. For more information about cleaning carpet and area rugs, check out my guide to carpet care.
Needles, sap, wax and other sticky holiday messes
Holiday-specific messes like tree needles and sap, or wax drips from candles, are fairly easy to clean up — provided you know the specific way to handle them, and the right products to use.
$24 $18 at Amazon
If you decorate your home with a live tree, wreaths or garland, you will inevitably end up with fir tree needles everywhere. Because tree needles are sticky from sap, avoid using a traditional brush broom in favor of a rubber one, which the needles will not stick to, when sweeping them up.
$90 at Amazon
Vacuuming up tree and garland needles is also an option, but you must switch to the hose attachment or use a shop vac, otherwise the needles will become caught in the vacuum’s bristles.
$27 at Amazon
When it comes to removing sticky tree sap from hands, hard surfaces, clothing and other fabrics, reach for something you probably already have: hand sanitizer. The alcohol in hand sanitizer acts as a solvent, dissolving the sap.
$9 $6 at Amazon
Hand sanitizer can be used on almost any surface to remove tree sap, but it’s also worth noting that bug and tar removers designed for use on car exteriors can also be used to remove tree sap.
$10 $9 at Amazon
When it comes to sparing your car from major holiday messes, a little bit of planning can minimize cleanup time down the line. “Ideally,” says Kristen Lee, a senior automotive reporter at Business Insider, “if you’re transporting something messy, you’d have some kind of tarp or covering, like an interior rubber mat or towel, to catch all the mess.”
$21 at Amazon
If candle wax drips onto the carpet, tablecloth or furniture, a simple trick can remove it: Lay a sheet of brown paper over the wax and place a slightly warm iron on top of the paper. The heat from the iron will melt the wax, and the paper will absorb it.
$15 $10 at Amazon
To remove wax drips from hard surfaces like countertops, tables or floors, a hair dryer on a low heat setting can be used to similar effect. When the wax becomes pliable, wipe it away with paper towels, then remove remaining waxy residue using a small amount of soap and water.
$20 at Amazon
Having extra trash bags on hand is essential during the holiday season. Hand them out before opening presents and ask people to manage their own discarded wrapping paper. Line trash cans with extra bags so that when one is full, you can remove it from the bin and have another one ready to go. Trash bags can also be used to protect the car interior when transporting Christmas trees and other holiday greenery.