As the holidays approach, you may be gearing up for your first "normal" gathering in a good while. Just the idea of getting together with a group of people indoors may feel nerve-racking, but if you're the one hosting, then you'll also experience the stress of making your guests feel comfortable. And there's more to hospitality than cooking and decorating. You'll also want to make sure your home is functional for your guests and any holiday activities, which may mean tackling that long-ignored to-do list.
If you're not sure where to start, here are 10 projects to help you get your home ready for hosting. (Before planning and hosting any gathering, check current guidelines and information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as your local health department regarding the coronavirus. Be sure to take appropriate measures to keep everyone safe.)
Boost your dishwasher. Sharon Sherman, an interior designer in New Jersey, suggests cleaning your dishwasher to ensure it works effectively and efficiently.
Start by using an old toothbrush to remove grime from the rubber seal. Then find the filter below the bottom spray arm and follow the dishwasher manufacturer's instructions for removing it. To clean the filter, simply rinse it with hot water and use an old toothbrush to work out any gunk.
If your dishwasher looks dirty on the inside or has evidence of mineral buildup, give it a wash. Fill a dishwasher-safe bowl with two cups of vinegar, place it on the upper rack and run the otherwise empty machine through a cycle without detergent. There's no need to dilute the vinegar; the water from the dishwasher will take care of that for you.
Check the temperature in your fridge. Before you stuff your fridge with the makings of your holiday meal (or leftovers), use a refrigerator thermometer to make sure it's working properly. If you set the temperature lower but it's hovering above the maximum temp of 40 degrees, Sherman suggests cleaning your condenser coils, which pump refrigerant into your appliance to keep everything cold.
"The condenser should be vacuumed every three to six months, or sooner if you have pets," she says. "A dirty condenser can lead to warm temperatures in the refrigerator and freezer, contributing to condensation or frost inside the compartments or even premature failure of the mechanical components."
It's a relatively simple job: First, find the coils either at the bottom or in the back of the fridge. (On modern refrigerators, coils are usually at the bottom behind a panel.) After removing the grille by hand, vacuum the coils to remove visible debris. You can also use a duster between the coils. Then replace the panel.
Clean your hood vent filter. Hood vents are great at absorbing steam, smoke and cooking odors, but they can get dirty (and less effective) over time. Sherman recommends cleaning your filter once a month, but it's also worth giving it a preholiday cleaning. To remove the vent, push toward the back of the hood to compress the spring, then rotate it downward. You can use a mild detergent or a spray degreaser to clean yours, or put it in the dishwasher. (Check the manufacturer's instructions to make sure it's dishwasher-safe.) No matter how you wash it, wait until the filter is dry before putting it back, and don't operate the hood without the filter in place.
Seal your natural stone. Granite and marble can take a serious beating from wine, lemons, soaps and other acids. If you have stone counters, you'll want to seal them once a year to ensure their longevity. Kelly Taylor, an interior designer in Providence, R.I., says November is a great time to do that. You can either hire a professional stone fabricator or purchase a product and do it yourself. Taylor recommends Marble Guard Protector, an inexpensive sealant by Marble & Granite Care Products. The process isn't too laborious: Deep-clean and thoroughly dry the surface, then apply the sealant per the manufacturer's instructions. (You may need two coats.) Buff the surface with a microfiber cloth. Once done, it's best to wait about 24 hours before touching your counters.
Treat your wood. Now's also a great time to treat your wood tables, which are vulnerable to wear from guests (especially those who don't use a coaster for their cocktails). Taylor suggests using a wood-specific oil or wax to protect furniture surfaces from marks. Identify the type of wood you're working with; the item's product description should tell you, or you can search online for the color and wood-grain pattern. Then find an oil appropriate for that surface. (Taylor likes Howard wood-care products.) Clear the table of debris with a soft microfiber cloth, then rub the oil into the wood with an old T-shirt. After wiping away the excess oil, apply it again, then rub it away and allow the surface to dry.
Swap out your HVAC filter. In general, you should be changing your filter about every three months. But if you plan to use your heat or air conditioning during a gathering, an additional swap will help ensure that clean air blows out while you have guests. Lester Mclaughlin, vice president of operations at Blue National HVAC, says it's as easy as pulling out the old filter (usually a cardboard square or rectangle with a net in the middle) and replacing it with one the same size and type. You can purchase replacement filters online or from a home improvement store.
Clean your vents. After you change your filter, clean your air vents, which inevitably collect dust and other debris over time. Mark Dawson, chief operating officer at One Hour Air Conditioning & Heating and Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, suggests using the wand attachment on your vacuum on vents and air returns throughout the house.
Upgrade your lighting. Along with replacing any flickering bulbs in lamps and light fixtures, make sure all the bulbs in each room are the same warmth and style. Connecticut-based interior designer Cindy Rinfret suggests swapping cooler lights for warmer bulbs, which emit a yellowish glow vs. a sterile, uninviting cold blue. She likes bulbs with a temperature between 2700K and 3000K for the perfect warm light.
"You don't want to run around looking for lightbulbs that better suit the mood as your guests are pulling into the driveway — or, worse, realizing how harsh the overhead lighting is over dinner once it's too late," Rinfret says.
Clean your garbage disposal. Dawson recommends cleaning your garbage disposal to avoid pesky clogs and remove unpleasant smells. First, he says, toss a handful of ice cubes down the drain and turn on the disposal to remove food scraps stuck under the blades. (Ice cubes, he says, can also help sharpen the blades.) Then, with the water running, drop a few small pieces of lemon peel down the disposal to neutralize odors and add a fresh scent.
Check your toilet. It's embarrassing to encounter a toilet issue at someone else's house, so do your best to keep your guests from having one. One way to do that, Dawson says, is to check that your shutoff valve is in working shape, so people can turn off the water supply to the toilet if it starts to overflow. "While the valve should be easy to turn, there are times you might experience some resistance as you try to turn it," he says. "If this is the case, it could mean you have a faulty valve and should hire a plumbing professional to inspect it before guests arrive."
Beyond checking the valve, keep your toilet efficient and your drains clear by regularly cleaning with mild cleaners, avoiding flushing anything that's not toilet paper and keeping a plunger nearby.