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Help getting into the spring cleaning zone

Check out the practical advice in these four engaging books on housekeeping:

*"Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House" by Cheryl Mendelson (Scribner, $19.95 in paperback). This scholarly tome originally published in 1999 has been labeled the modern bible of cleaning. At 896 pages, it is comprehensive and thorough, providing the most amazing details of cleaning minutiae, such as how to touch up cigarette burns on your floors and how to maneuver the many attachments your vacuum is sold with. But it can be daunting: Mendelson thinks you should wash your combs and brushes every week.

*"Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook" by Martha Stewart (Clarkson Potter, $45). This is Stewart's encyclopedic (744 pages) yet approachable compendium of her life's mission to teach the practical way to keep a house running properly. There is lots of information gleaned from her magazine's articles on cleaning, laundry and stain removal. In the chapters divided by room are thorough cleaning instructions as well as organizing ideas and glossaries. A source list includes Stewart's favorite rust remover, piano polish and mop.

*"Real Simple Cleaning" by Kathleen Squires (Time Inc., $21.95). Room-by-room tips for cleaning the baseboards to the webby ceilings are written in the clear language of Real Simple magazine. There is a nice cleaning calendar of how often you should perform major tasks. Don't forget to vacuum the fridge condenser coil every six months, says Squires. Thank goodness she tells us where the coils are.

*"Spring Cleaning: The Spirit of Keeping Home" by Monica Nassif (Chronicle Books, $16.95). Written by the founder of Caldrea and Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day, this little guidebook explains the correct way to clean ashes out of a fireplace and shares the recipe for the best brass-cleaning polish. The photos of rugs being shaken out in the breeze and newly sparkling chandelier crystals somehow entice you to dig out your cleaning tools and get to work.

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