In a lot of ways, dealing with a birthday party for kids is a lot easier than a party for adults. Since they don't drink or smoke, there are no wine stains or gross cigarette butts to pick up. And while talking to a kid may sometimes feel as painful as talking to your husband's dull-as-dishwater boss, he won't hold it against you if you yawn mid-conversation.
On the other hand, adults at parties rarely throw tantrums, spit out their food or get so excited that they pee. You take the good with the bad.
If you're planning a birthday party for a child, there's definitely going to be some collateral damage. Coming up are 10 ways to make sure that your house doesn't look like a war zone after all the kids go home. At the very least, we'll help you get it back to normal as quickly as possible.
Your first line of defense in party cleanup is planning for the big event.
Hours before the first guests arrive, you're going to have to think like you're 4 feet tall and strung out on birthday cake and high spirits. Everything fragile that's within reach of little hands needs to be moved, as well as every bottle of poisonous cleanser -- there's no way that you can count on other people's kids having as much common sense as your own.
Basically anything that flows, shatters, spreads, stains or scatters should be out of reach of anyone who can't legally vote yet. Half an hour spent scanning the house at a kid's eye level can save hours of cleaning (and maybe even a few of your tears) later on.
Glass has got to be the biggest hazard for any kids' party. It's not only dangerous to break, but also tiny shards of broken glass are almost impossible to clean up before they work their way into little feet and hands. Vacuum cleaners won't help, and no matter how carefully you sweep, you can be sure there are going to be some tiny pieces you've missed.
Here's a tip to aid with glass cleanup. After sweeping up the biggest shards, dab the affected area with a slice of bread or two. The soft, doughy, texture of most sandwich breads make them soak up broken glass like a sponge -- better than a sponge, even. Just make sure no one eats the bread afterward.
To the extent that you can, keep the party raging outside. That means games, food, present-opening -- whatever activity fits into the backyard, go for it. Any time spent outside of the house is time spent not smudging windows, stomping across the sofa in dirty sneakers or rifling through underwear drawers. Instead of your rugs and floors, any dropped ice cream or spilled soda will be reabsorbed into the welcoming arms of Mother Earth via your lawn. Best of all, raccoons will be doing most of the cleanup for you! No, we're kidding, don't hire raccoons. It's cute to watch them work, but they're unreliable, and absolutely terrible at getting stains out of anything but fur.
It would be nice to serve only clear liquids at a birthday party, but kids get antsy if all you give them to drink is distilled tap water. It just doesn't have the right birthday spirit. But it also doesn't seem fair to the hostess that most kids' drinks -- especially fruit punches with artificial dyes -- pack the potential to ruin clothes and carpets.
With any spill, you've got to clean it up quickly before it penetrates any fibers. Blot with a clean cloth to absorb the spill, then mix a mild detergent with some warm water, and dab it again with a moist sponge. Finish by blotting with vinegar to keep any remaining liquids from setting, and dry the area with a clean towel.
How many times did we just use the word blot? OK, so you got the message. Be gentle with spills! Those that aren't treated mildly will just absorb into clothes or carpet, making them impossible to get out later. That's when you've got an official stain on your hands.
Walls are something that most people don't bother to clean on a regular basis, but they're actually easy to revive if they get dirty. And a houseful of kids rubbing streaks and planting handprints and ketchup spots all over walls is a good excuse to give your home a good wipe-down.
All-purpose cleaners will work on a normal wall, but if you think you have a non-standard paint type, test a small area with soap and water first. As long as the wall dries normally, you're ready to clean. Give walls a quick dusting from the top down, then wipe from the bottom up to prevent any drippy streaks. And you're done! Time for a smoothie and a nap.
Most of the cleanups after a birthday party are unforeseeable. How could you have known your son's best friend was going to squirt mustard on the wall? That came way out of left field.
One thing that you can be sure of, though, is that everyone will have dirty shoes and that very few kids will have been trained to politely doff their footwear before they enter your house. If you have nice rugs, a birthday party is the time to roll them up and store them for a bit.
It's also time to pull out your grimy old rugs, carpet squares and industrial floor mats. You'll want to arrange these strategically at entrances. Kids may not take off their shoes before they come in, but they do like wiping their feet. It's sort of like marking their territory. We can't guarantee that kids won't track in dirt, but you can at least get some of it out of the way.
Oh, the grease stains. Why does party food have to be so greasy? Hot dogs, burgers, frosting, ice cream -- it seems like everything kids eat has to be loaded up with some substance that will resolutely refuse to listen to any soap- and water-based reasoning.
Grease stains are tough, and for the really bad ones, dry cleaning is the only realistic option. However, if you get to grease fast enough, there are a couple of things around the house that can bust up grease before it gets too deep, provided you're dealing with a normal fabric like cotton. Rubbing on some dishwashing detergent as a pretreatment for a grease stain tends to work well, and shampoo, which is full of surfactants that break up body oils, can also do in a pinch. If you're feeling really adventurous (or desperate!), processed cheese from an aerosol can contains chemicals that can lift out grease, too. But then, of course, you have to clean off the cheese.
One day a year, you have to deal with frosting. This is that day.
Though frosting itself doesn't take too much effort to clean up (we're hoping it's concentrated in little party plates you can dump in the garbage), because most frostings are butter-based, they'll leave behind an oily residue that will obstinately cling to clothing and home textiles. As with all stains, get anything that's been spotted with frosting into the washing machine as soon as possible, and make sure you've scraped off all the excess frosting, or you'll have a thin film of congealed butter on the entire load of clothing. Also, run the load on the hottest setting -- water by itself won't do much to combat a butter stain, but hot water can quickly melt out the oil and send it down the drain.
Just like with walls, kids just don't understand why everyone is always telling them not to touch windows. Why should they when it's so fun to press their little noses against windows, puff up their cheeks and happily bang on them with dirty hands?
Luckily for you, that old urban legend about washing windows with newspaper really works! A sheet of newspaper crumpled into a ball (don't try to do it with a flat sheet, or you won't get an even clean) combined with any glass cleaner or homemade ammonia-based cleanser will clean glass without leaving behind any streaks. Bonus: Newspaper will leave behind a dirt-resistant film that keeps glass from smudging.
This should be a no-brainer, but disposable cups and plates are absolutely essential for a kid's party if you don't want to spend hours washing dishes afterward. Not only do they make cleanup possible with just a garbage bag and an extra hand, but they're entirely replaceable -- no need to worry about breakage or loss.
If green guilt is getting to you about disposables' eventual landfill destiny, remember that plenty of paper and plastic plates are reusable these days, and plenty of varieties can actually be recycled. Give yourself a break, and think of all the water and electricity you're saving by not running the dishwasher.
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