There's always plenty to do around the holidays, so Consumer Reports asked its cleaning and textile experts how to make the prep work easier and faster. Here's their advice:
Before everyone arrives
•Freshening up sheets, towels and linens: There's no need to rewash clean guest room sheets and towels that haven't been used in months. Just toss them in the dryer on low heat for 15 minutes. If you don't want fold lines on your freshly ironed tablecloths, roll them up on empty wrapping-paper tubes.
•Removing wax from candlesticks and menorahs: Place silver or other metals in the freezer until the wax hardens, then gently scrape it off with a plastic spatula. If wax remains, pour boiling water over the item or immerse it in a pot of boiling water, making sure any felt covering on the base remains dry. For glass or wood, point a blow-dryer at the wax and then blot the melting wax with a paper towel, but be careful not to overheat wood because it can crack.
•Caring for silver: Remove tarnish with a polishing mitt or by applying silver cleaner with a damp sponge; buff dry. Washing by hand is usually recommended. Don't soak silver for long periods because non-silver parts can rust, and never wash silver and stainless together because a chemical reaction between the metals can cause pitting.
•Cleaning glass ornaments: Surface decorations are usually applied with water-soluble paint, so avoid treating them with soap, water and cleaning solutions. Use a soft feather duster instead.
•Dusting an artificial Christmas tree: Set up the tree and spread out a sheet at its base to catch debris. Cover the vacuum's upholstery attachment with a piece of hosiery or mesh netting fastened with a rubber band. Starting from the top of the tree and moving down, gently vacuum on the lowest setting, holding the attachment about an inch away from the branches to remove dust and cobwebs.
Once the guests are gone and all the dust has settled, it's time to survey the damage. It pays to act quickly, even with messes that have been there for a while. Another rule of thumb: Always blot stains on carpets, napkins, clothing and the like, because scrubbing can damage their surfaces.
•Christmas tree sap on carpet or upholstery: Whether your tree is a pine, fir or spruce, the sticky sap is basically the same, according to a tree expert at Cornell University. Blot sap with isopropyl rubbing alcohol to dissolve it and then make a detergent solution of 1 teaspoon of a mild clear or white dishwashing liquid without bleach in 1 cup of warm water. Blot carpet or upholstery with the solution, then blot with clean water. Dry with a white cloth.
•Gravy on table linens: Scrape off excess with a spoon. Pretreat with a Fels-Naptha paste or Resolve stain remover and wash. Do not put items in the dryer until the stain is gone or it will be even harder to remove it.
•Chocolate on carpet or fabrics: Scrape off excess. Blot carpet with Consumer Reports' detergent solution. If the stain remains, try this vinegar solution: Mix 1/3 cup of white vinegar with 2/3 cup of water. Dry with a white cloth. For washable items, use your washer's soak cycle and one of Consumer Reports' top-rated detergents that's tough on chocolate, such as Wisk Deep Clean, then wash.
• Candle wax on tablecloths: Pour boiling water through the washable fabric from a height of 12 inches (the height increases the velocity of the water, helping separate the wax from the fibers). For fabric that can't be washed, sandwich it between paper towels and apply a warm iron; repeat with a clean towel until the wax is lifted.