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The Ultimate Guide to Getting Your Home Ready for the Holidays

Breathe a sigh of relief after checking out this guide to getting your house ready for the holidays.

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Dry Doormat

Dry Doormat

Is your doormat squishy and virtually useless after a rainstorm? With a fine-tooth handsaw or a jigsaw, cut a piece of 2 x 4-ft. suspended ceiling plastic grid (about $10 at a home center) to fit under your mat. Air will circulate better under the elevated mat and help it dry faster and prevent mold from growing in the fabric. The plastic grid is sturdy and won't break under the heftiest footstep in your neighborhood. To keep mud from getting in your house, consider installing this mud-busting boot scrape.

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Squeaky-Clean Vases

Squeaky-Clean Vases

It's difficult to clean out the cloudy residue left in slim flower vases. You can make any vase sparkle by adding warm water and denture cleaning tablets. Let it fizz for a few minutes and rinse well.

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Zip-Tie Your Decorations

Zip-Tie Your Decorations

Zip ties are a simple way to string holiday lights on banisters and fences without marring the railing with nail marks. Zip ties are sold at home centers. You'll find them in the electrical supplies aisle. After the holidays, snip the ties off with scissors.

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Temporary Valet RodFamily Handyman

Temporary Valet Rod

When you need temporary clothes-hanging space around the house, keep an extra shower tension bar handy. Put it between the jambs in the laundry room door on heavy laundry days. Or, use it in the bedroom closet to pack for trips or stick it in the closet opening in the guest room/den so overnight guests can hang up their clothes. It's a quick and easy way to gain an extra closet! Want more ways to expand your closet space? Who doesn't! Check out these 16 tips.

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Clean Out Dryer Lint

Clean Out Dryer Lint

If you notice that it takes longer than normal for loads to dry in your clothes dryer, it may be time to clean out the vent. First detach the duct from behind the unit and then push a plumbing snake through your dryer vent from outside. Tie a rag securely to the snake end. Pull the cloth and snake through a couple of times and your clean vent will not only save energy but possibly prevent a fire as well.
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Carbon Monoxide SeasonFamily Handyman

Carbon Monoxide Season

You've got a house full of guests, so the oven and stove are working overtime, the water heater is struggling to keep up with demand, the fireplace is burning and the furnace is fighting the cold. It's the perfect setting for carbon monoxide buildup. So if you don't already have a UL-listed carbon monoxide detector, put it at the top of your shopping list. Detectors are available at home centers and discount stores. Get more information about carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms and keep your family and friends safe all year.
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Hang a Wreath on a DoorFamily Handyman

Hang a Wreath on a Door

To hang a wreath on a door—without leaving an ugly nail hole—drive a small screw into the top of the door, leaving the head protruding slightly. Tie a piece of fishing line to the screw, tie the other end to your wreath and then drive the screw in completely. Need help hanging decorations on your walls? These tips make it easy.

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Better Holiday Light ClipsFamily Handyman

Better Holiday Light Clips

Make inexpensive, long-lasting holiday light clips from common electrical cable wiring staples. Snip the staple in half and fasten it to your fascia or trim with the remaining nail. These clips hold the wire securely, but it's still easy to slip the wire behind the clip. If you have metal fascia, use stainless steel screws so they won't rust. Got some light strings that aren't working? Here's how to repair them.

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Touch up Nicks and Scratches

Touch up Nicks and Scratches

If you have shallow scratches or nicks, hide them with a stain-filled touch-up marker. Dab on the stain and wipe off the excess with a rag. But beware: Scratches can absorb lots of stain and turn darker than the surrounding finish. So start with a marker that's lighter than your cabinet finish and then switch to a darker shade if needed. For deeper scratches, use a filler pencil, which fills and colors the scratch. If the cabinet finish is dingy overall and has lots of scratches, consider a wipe-on product like Old English Scratch Coat. These products can darken the finish slightly, so you have to apply them to all your cabinets. Bigger than a scratch? Use polyester filler.

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Tighten the Tree Stand With a DrillFamily Handyman

Tighten the Tree Stand With a Drill

Tightening tree stand nuts by hand is tiring and takes forever. Here's an alternative: Cut off the little Ls at the end of the tree stand bolts with a hacksaw. ( Be sure the hacksaw blade is installed correctly.) Chuck the ends of the bolts into a variable-speed drill to tighten them into the trunk. You'll be out from under that prickly tree in no time. P.S. It's a fact of Christmas: The tree stand gets overfilled and water stains the carpet or the hardwood floor. To prevent this, a reader suggests placing a plastic water heater tank catch basin between the stand and the floor. Or, you can use a snow saucer.
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Baking Soda Makes Odors Go AwayFamily Handyman

Baking Soda Makes Odors Go Away

The best thing available to make bad smells go away is baking soda. People think about it for their freezer or refrigerator, but it's good for much more than that. You can sprinkle it on carpet, work it in a bit and vacuum it up. For other items, like mattresses, cushions and clothing, dampen the fabric and gently rub with baking soda, then wipe off/rinse with cold water. Then you can stop asking why does my house smell. Plus: These Are the Best Household Cleaning Supplies & Products.
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Get a Water-Absorbent MatFamily Handyman

Get a Water-Absorbent Mat

To protect your carpet, place a water-absorbent mat inside your door for wet or snow-covered shoes and boots. Or you can make this attractive boot tray.

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Speed-Clean ChandeliersFamily Handyman

Speed-Clean Chandeliers

First spread a plastic tarp on the floor under the chandelier to catch the drips. Then turn off the light and spray the solution on the chandelier until liquid beads start to run (you'll use a lot of spray, but it beats wiping). The spray rinses off the dust. The solution that's left evaporates quickly and doesn't leave water spots. The spray works well on hanging crystals, but don't expect it to remove dust from crevices. Buy it from nancysilver.com or chandelierparts.com. If you're tired of cleaning you chandelier and would like to replace it, here's how you can do it yourself.

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A Showerhead Grab Bar is a Big Help

A Showerhead Grab Bar is a Big Help

For people with limited mobility or who prefer to shower while seated, a handheld showerhead is a terrific help. And even better is a handheld showerhead on a sliding rail that allows for individual adjustment. But because those rails are often flimsy, grabbing one could be a disaster. Look for an ADA-compliant grab bar with a sliding handheld showerhead. Here are 20 additional tips for creating a safe home for older family members and guests.

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Heat Up a Lukewarm DryerFamily Handyman

Heat Up a Lukewarm Dryer

If your clothes dryer isn't heating properly, first make sure the machine isn't set to 'fluff air' — a nonheat setting. If that's not it, the lint filter may be clogged. Even if the filter looks clean, it may be covered by a nearly invisible film caused by dryer sheets. Test your filter by pouring water into it. If the filter holds water, it's past time to clean it. This film reduces airflow and forces the thermostat to shut off the heat before the clothes are dry. Pull out the filter and scrub it in hot water with a little laundry detergent and a stiff kitchen brush. Also check the outside dryer vent for any lint that may have built up there.
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Icemaker Repair TipsFamily Handyman

Icemaker Repair Tips

First, locate the saddle valve that's clamped to the water supply and turn it off and on a few times to break up mineral buildup. Next, unplug the refrigerator and remove the icemaker to see if the water inlet at the back of the refrigerator is plugged with ice (heat it with a hair dryer if it is). If the water supply isn't blocked and the refrigerator is older, it's time to replace the icemaker. Locate the model number on the refrigerator wall just inside the door. Buy a new icemaker at an appliance store or online. Unplug the refrigerator and turn the water off. Remove the old icemaker and disconnect the wiring. Plug the new icemaker in, and screw it to the refrigerator wall. Pull the refrigerator out from the wall, disconnect the water supply at the bottom of the refrigerator. Replace the old inlet valve. Before you push the refrigerator back, turn the water on and check for leaks. Want to avoid other costly refrigerator repairs? These six maintenance steps are the secret.
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sharpen knives_538472941 holiday mealsJRP Studio/Shutterstock

Sharpen Your Knives

Make sure all your knives are sharpened and ready to go long before guests arrive and the holiday meals are set. Sharp knives will make food preparation a breeze.

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clean oven_257235412Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Clean Your Oven

The last thing you want is the smell of last week’s burned pizza cheese when you heat up the oven. And it takes just a few steps to clean your oven for holiday meals. Plus, it can be done without harsh chemicals.

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Clean Out the Garbage DisposalFamily Handyman

Clean Out the Garbage Disposal

There's no doubt your garbage disposal will be put to work this holiday meals season. So make sure it's working properly and that it's cleaned out. You can get this job done with an old toothbrush and some anti-bacterial grease-cutting kitchen cleaner.
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ice maker fridge _423125344Daniel Krason/Shutterstock

Make Ice

Chances are you’ll be serving lots of drinks during the holidays, so make sure your ice maker is working correctly. And if you think you’ll need more ice than your ice maker can produce, keep a bag in your freezer.

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serving bowls bowl _60830362igorstevanovic/Shutterstock

Wash Serving Dishes and Platters

You’ll likely need some serving dishes for holiday meals that you don’t use throughout the rest of the year. So take the time to make sure they are all washed and ready to go for your guests. And if displayed on open shelves, bowls and platters can collect dust.

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Clean Cutting Boards

Clean Cutting Boards

Your cutting boards—no matter how many times you wash them—harbor bacteria. And try using a mix of salt and lemon to clean your wood cutting boards so they are ready for all that holiday food prep! Photo: Rachel Brougham
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Check the DishwasherFamily Handyman

Check the Dishwasher

Make sure your dishwasher's drain is clear and working correctly. Remove any residue or food gunk stuck in the gaskets. And you can remove residue along the inside of the dishwasher door by pouring some white vinegar on a sponge and wiping it down.
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common food allergies_637702432margouillat photo/Shutterstock

Ask About Allergies

As you’re planning holiday meals, be sure to ask your guests if there are any allergies or food sensitivities you should be aware of. Some allergies—such as those to peanuts—can be so severe you may need to clear those items from your pantry or cupboards.

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clean the microwaveVolkova Vera/Shutterstock

Clean the Microwave

Is the inside of your microwave spotless? Didn’t think so. It takes just 10 minutes and minimal effort to remove all that baked-on crustiness from the inside of your microwave.

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fridge_303843797 clean the fridge ready for thanksgivingAndrew Rafalsky/Shutterstock

Make Room in the Refrigerator

Now’s the time to clean out the refrigerator, before you have to store all of those holiday meals. So toss anything you haven’t used in the last few months, including jars or containers that are nearly empty. And wipe down all the walls and shelves with a mix of equal parts vinegar and water.

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cleangarbage_503886046-1Aleksandra Suzi/Shutterstock

Disinfect the Trash Can

Even with a trash bag in place, the bottom of the kitchen trash can harbor all sorts of grime and bacteria and be a source of bad odors. So take it outside and spray it down with the garden hose to loosen up any dirt or food particles. And while it’s wet, wipe it down with an antibacterial spray and rinse. Let it dry before fitting it with a fresh trash bag.

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Organize the Spice Cabinet

Put the spices you'll likely need for holiday meals—cinnamon, rosemary, sage—front and center and reorganize spices if needed. Also, this is a good time to check to make sure you have all the herbs and spices you'll need. Photo: Courtesy of Cest Magnifique Kits
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count dishes_334836041 wine glasses fine chinaAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Check Plates, Glasses and Silverware

Make sure you’ll have enough plates, glasses, silverware and serving dishes for all your guests and holiday meals. And if you think you’ll need more of anything, ask a friend or neighbor if you can borrow what you need.

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fire extinguisher _705202399Ju Jae-young/Shutterstock

Have the Fire Extinguisher Ready

Many fires start in the kitchen, so make sure you have a fire extinguisher ready before you start preparing holiday meals. And review fire safety guidelines, such as how to put out a grease fire.

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cleaningFamily Handyman

Clean Oven Glass

Built-up spills and remnants of old food and liquids inside ovens can cause smoke and smell issues. It’s important to clean up big spills as they happen, and make it a habit to put your oven through its cleaning cycle regularly. But when you’re really trying to make your oven shine, you might need to go further. Learn how to clean between the glass panels of your oven door here.

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FH13APR_CLECHI_05Family Handyman

Clean Chimney

Regular cleaning with a shop vac and standard chimney cleaning tools will prevent dangerous creosote fires. Here’s what you need to know before you get started.

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FH16JAU_BEDBUG_09-1 vacuum clean mattress disinfect bedFamily Handyman

Clean Mattress

Despite being covered with sheets and a mattress cover, your mattress still gets dirty. It’s a good idea to periodically vacuum it and spot clean any stains that may appear. Airing it out outdoors in the sunshine for a few hours can also do wonders for removing any lingering musty smells.

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FH02SEP_BROHAN_01Family Handyman

Clean Door Knobs

We all have them, and we all touch them. But when was the last time you cleaned your door knobs? It only takes a few minutes to kill any lingering germs (use a bleach-based cleaner) — just be careful not to get any on wood doors or trim, because it could affect the finish.

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Light SwitchesFamily Handyman

Clean Light Switches

Just think about how many times a day you use a switch on the lights. And no matter how clean you think your hands are, each time you touch the light switch, you’re spreading germs. Wipe them down regularly with a disinfected spray or cloth.

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closetAll About Space/Shutterstock

Clean Closets

Because floors are often covered with stored items, and clothes block access to the walls, closet cleaning is often neglected. But who wants to put clean clothes in a dirty closet? Once a year (or once a season) make it a point to wipe down/dust walls, trim and shelves in your closet and give it a good vacuum, especially if you expect guests who are staying with you.

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PillowsWilliam Potter/Shutterstock

Pillows

You don't need to wash your pillows every week like you do your sheets, but every three months or so, throw them in the washing machine on a gentle cycle with hot water to remove dead skin cells and sweat. And when drying, add a couple clean tennis balls to help speed up drying and keep the pillow guts from clumping.
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Swiffer Sweeper for dusting wallsFamily Handyman

Walls

A Swiffer Sweeper floor mop is useful for more than just cleaning hard floors. Use it to dust interior walls and trim, too! Attach a dry cloth to the rectangle end and press it along walls and trim. You can pick up dust, cobwebs and dirt safely, without having to step on a ladder.

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Clear Up Coffee Rings

Clear Up Coffee Rings

Your guests should've used a coaster but now you have a coffee stain on your table. A little dab of toothpaste can get that stain out, just like coffee stains on your teeth. See how to remove stains in wood furniture if that stain penetrated deep and how to refinish furniture as well.
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Duster for the Vertically Challenged

Duster for the Vertically Challenged

Unless you play in the NBA, dusting ceiling fans and other high, out-of-reach objects is a real chore. Wrap a dryer sheet around a clean painting roller and secure the ends with rubber bands. Attach an extension handle to the roller and dust away for the fastest way to clean house.
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Vacuum First, Then ScrubFamily Handyman

Vacuum First, Then Scrub

Do you ever find yourself chasing strands of wet hair or running into dust balls in the corners with your sponge or cleaning rag? You can learn how to clean your bathroom better and eliminate this nuisance by vacuuming the bathroom before you get out your cleaning solutions. For a really thorough cleaning, start at the top, vacuuming the dust from light fixtures and the top of window casings. Then work your way down. And finally, vacuum the floor methodically so you cover every inch. You don't want to leave any stray hair or dust bunnies to muck up your cleaning water. A soft-bristle upholstery brush works best for this type of vacuuming. Figure out what vacuum to use here.
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Remove Tough Stains from Vinyl FlooringFamily Handyman

Remove Tough Stains from Vinyl Flooring

Sheet vinyl "resilient" flooring is so easy to clean that it may never require anything beyond damp mopping with a cleaner intended for vinyl floors. But if your floor has marks or stains that still won't come off, you can use stronger stuff. Isopropyl alcohol, sold as a disinfectant at drugstores, is a mild solvent. It's the best cleaner for heel marks and works on other tough stains too. You can also use lighter fluid or mineral spirits. Remember that all these products are flammable; turn off any nearby pilot lights and hang rags out to dry before throwing them away. Learn how to use it to remove tough stains from vinyl flooring.
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The Right Stuff for RustFamily Handyman

The Right Stuff for Rust

All-purpose cleaners won't remove rust stains from sinks, tubs and toilets, even with a lot of elbow grease. The trick is to use a stain remover like Super Iron Out. Look for a rust stain remover or a product that contains diluted hydrochloric acid (also listed on product labels as hydrogen chloride, HCL or muriatic acid). Be careful not to use a product containing bleach—it'll set the stain. For toilets, add Super Iron Out to the water in the bowl, then clean with a stiff nylon-bristled brush. For sinks and tubs, first wet the surface with water. Apply Super Iron Out to a damp sponge (wear rubber gloves and a mask—this stuff is powerful!). Wipe the stain with the sponge until it's gone. Rinse the surface with plain water to completely remove the Super Iron Out. Know the dangerous side of some cleaning products before using them.
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Scum-Proof Your Shower DoorsFamily Handyman

Scum-Proof Your Shower Doors

Keeping shower doors clean and streak free is a challenge—unless you know the pros' secrets. Start by cleaning any mold, mildew or streaks off the glass with a glass cleaner. Use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to get into the cracks in textured glass. Scrape off tough buildup with a razor blade. Dry the doors with a cloth. To prevent soap scum buildup, stop using real soap and start using a synthetic. Chemically speaking, any soap in liquid or gel form is actually synthetic soap and much less likely to leave a tough film in your sink, shower or tub. Plus: How to Clean a Bathroom Faster and Better
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Spot-Clean Food and Drink SpillsFamily Handyman

Spot-Clean Food and Drink Spills

The best way to prevent stains is to treat spills immediately. That's why pros love stain pens, like Tide to Go and the Clorox Bleach Pen Gel, which are designed to remove small stains from upholstery, grout, caulk, porcelain and clothing (avoid the bleach pens for colored fabric). Just press the tip into the stain to release the solution, then rub the tip across the stain to remove it. Inexpensive and portable, they're great at removing food and drink spills. Before applying a cleaning solution to an entire surface or fixture, first test it on a tiny area to make sure it won't damage or discolor the finish.
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Clean Range Hood Grease Filters With a DegreaserFamily Handyman

Clean Range Hood Grease Filters With a Degreaser

Running your vent hood grease filter through the dishwasher can yield disappointing results. Likewise with 'grease cutting' household cleaners. Get great results with a water-based degreaser from the auto parts store. Fill the sink with hot water and degreaser, drop in the filter and let the degreaser do all the work. The filter will come out sparkling clean in just a few minutes. Then just rinse it off. Do you have a glass stove top? Learn how to clean a glass stove top the best way.
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Mask Pet Claw ScratchesFamily Handyman

Mask Pet Claw Scratches

Mask shallow claw marks and scratches in wood doors with stain and varnish. Gel stains work well for matching the existing finish. Here's how to easily repair pet claw marks.

Plus: Best Car Cleaning Tips and Tricks

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Cords1125089601/Shutterstock

Limit Extension Cords

You’ll likely be using extension cords during the holidays, so be careful. Not only can all these extra plug-ins cause electrical overloads, those extension cords can also create tripping hazards around your house. Here’s everything you’ll ever need to know about preventing electrical overloads.

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KidsTatiana Chekryzhova/Shutterstock

Keep Small Pieces Away from Kids and Pets

Many holiday decorations have small pieces that can easily fall off or be pulled off. If there are toddlers and/or pets in your house, be diligent about keeping anything with small pieces up out of their reach and monitor the floor for little items that could be ingested or cause choking.

Looking for some excellent gift ideas for those kids? Check out this fun collection.

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match kaprik/Shutterstock

Make a Safety Plan

You should have a safety plan for your family all year long, but if you don’t, the holidays are the time to put one in place. Where will you meet up if you leave the house due to a fire or other emergency? What are the quickest ways out of each room if there is a fire? Does everyone know where the fire extinguishes are located? Here are many more helpful tips for handling home emergencies.