Six helpful apps for cleaning your disgusting house

There are dishes in the sink, the cat is crying to be fed, the light bulb in the hallway has burned out, the trash is overflowing, the floor crunches when you walk on it, and whatever is making that smell in the fridge needs to be exterminated. Oh yeah, and it's Friday night and you're hungry and need to fix something--anything--for dinner.

Maybe your day-to-day household catastrophes aren't quite on the scale of mine (embarrassing as it is), but it's pretty likely that there's something in your home that needs some tending to, even if you already tackled a deep spring-cleaning weeks ago. But making an old-fashioned written chore list doesn't really do the trick anymore: That spiral notebook doesn't send you helpful reminders or pop up on your calendar or link you to tips on the best way to wash your comforter. But you know what does? Yeah, you do--you read the title of this article. Let's do this.

The comprehensive one: Tody

Sure, sure, you want a clean house. You try. You can handle the immediate mess when you see it; it's just hard to keep up with on a regular basis. By the time you've finished cleaning one room, the rest have spiraled out of control because cleaning is a punishment invented by our evil overlords. Or, you know, because you keep making everything dirty.

Get a grip on that broom handle with Tody ($3, iOS; Android users should check out House Cleaning List), an in-depth and practical way to put frequent chores and tasks on a recurring schedule. To start, designate which areas of your home you'd to monitor--like your living room, kitchen, or office, then either select from a wheel menu of common tasks (mop floor, clean sink) or select "other" to enter in a custom task.

After naming your task, you can choose how often it should be performed in days, weeks, or months, and what the task's current condition is like (clean, between, due, or overdue). The task then shows up in the assigned area with a colored bar and its due date. Common areas like kitchen or living room will display a background of a room with a piece of associated furniture (kitchen shows a stove, for example). It won't be called out for groundbreaking design (although it has finally been optimized for iOS 7 in its latest update), but Tody isn't concerned with looking good.

It is concerned with getting your house looking good, however, by providing you an easy way to input, check off, and reschedule tasks so you can remember when to change out the kitchen towels or scrub the grout in the shower. You can view your chores as one big to-do list organized by due date, by area, or by what you've done today. Settings allow you to customize more: You can change the colors in Tody, set an "Attitude Towards Cleaning" (the suggested frequency of new tasks), and turn Reminders on.

It works, too. After a few weeks of using Tody, my house was cleaner than it had been in years because I was regularly remembering to sweep the cat hair off of the stairs. Tody was organizing my chores according to "indicators of actual need," so essentially I could see what needed to be done most. And because I can custom enter-in both areas and tasks, I've found Tody to also be a helpful reminder for both personal grooming (Pluck eyebrows!), and for digital reminders (Defrag hard drive! Clean monitor!).

The foul-mouthed, motivational one: Unfilth Your Habitat

Everybody needs a Get-a-Grip Friend someone who will call you on your B.S. and help you suck it up and do what needs to be done. Unfilth Your Habitat ($2; iOS and Android) is the app version of that friend, essentially bullying you into upgrading your abode one small step at a time with a plethora of curses--and we are talking frequent, constant cursing, so if a blue streak is not your style, please proceed no further.

After the tag line ("terrifying motivation for lazy people with messy homes") and a profanity warning, you're taken to a menu of six buttons: Random Unfilthing Challenge, My To-Unfilth List, Challenge By Room, Random Unfilthing Motivation, 20/10 Timer, and My Unfilthing Achievements.

Of these, the Random Unfilthing Challenge and Challenge By Room are the crux of UYH's strengths: Quick challenges organized by time or room that consist of tasks that you might not necessarily think to do in order to keep everything ship-shape. If you don't like the challenge, you can tap New Challenge for another suggestion. Tapping Ready, Set, Unfilth! gives a full explanation of the challenge and starts a timer.

For example, for a five minute Unfilthing Challenge, UYH might suggest you clean your computer keyboard, mouse, and screen. A 20-minute challenge is to wipe down your baseboards; a room challenge for, say, the kitchen, would be to microwave a bowl of water for two minutes and then wipe down both the inside and outside of the microwave. Simple enough, but add them up over the course of a week or two and they snowball together along with the daily tasks like doing the dishes and taking out the trash.

Speaking of which, if you want to use UYH to schedule either mundane cleaning chores or bigger organizational tasks, you can do so in the My To-Unfilth List (although I will say I found it better suited for the latter). The list lets you give a title and a description to your task, assign it to a room, designate a priority, set it as a recurring task, and set a reminder. You can then filter tasks by title, room, or priority.

The lower half of the menu is pretty straightforward: Random Unfilthing Motivation gives you a strongly-worded pop up message to encourage you ("I'M SHAKING MY HEAD AT YOUR LAZINESS!"), while the 20/10 Timer gives you 20 minutes on, 10 minutes off to clean. My Unfilthing Achievements lists any stars you earn for completing challenges and tasks.

But does it really work? Well, we've mentioned it in two stories in recent weeks, so either it's a great app or cussing at us is really effective.

The sharing one: Chorma

Unless you live alone, chances are good that you're not the only one contributing to the general household mess--which means you shouldn't be the only one cleaning it. Get everyone to chip in using Chorma (free, iOS; Android users should try Divvy or Fairshare) to list and schedule chores and tasks, as well as assign them.

Chorma's default view is the My Chores screen, which lists tasks that are assigned to you, each chore's due date (todays chores have an orange background, so you can't miss 'em), and the number of "points" you earn by completing the task. To add a new task, tap the plus sign in the upper right; to complete a task, tick the empty box to the left of it. The whole household's chore list is located in the All Chores tab, which also lists unclaimed chores.

Tapping on a chore takes you to its edit view where you can change its title or description, point level, assignment, schedule, due date, and repeating details. Completed chores are shown in the Recent Activity tab; the Housemembers tab shows all the members of your Chorma household. It's also the screen where you can access the settings menu, add more house members, create individual rewards for tasks (using Chorma Pro), or redeem a group reward--Chorma suggests a meal out with the check split based on points earned as a way to reward high-scoring household members for their efforts.

Because it's so easy to edit, it's also pretty easy to cheat, so it's important that you're trying Chorma with someone who needs organizational help, not someone who just doesn't care (the cure for that is probably going to be getting a new housemate). However, it's ideal for people who are on opposite schedules, who are trying to maintain accountability and avoid confrontation, and who like apps with adorable owl logos.

Good to know: Paying a $2 per month or $20 per year fee unlocks the full version of Chorma, which gives you custom individual rewards, the ability to set permissions, and other options.

The routine one: HomeRoutines

Cleaning isn't so bad when it's done regularly, which is why having a quick and regular routine can work wonders on day-to-day dirt. Enter HomeRoutines (free, iOS; Android users should try Chore Checklist), an app that centers on creating regular cleaning routines to keep each of your house "zones" in check.

A friendly, icon-filled interface allows you to toggle between all routines and just today's routines; you can enter in a quote, reminder, or task for each day of the week by tapping on the banner. Your default menu shows suggested tasks for both morning and evening routines, like washing the breakfast dishes or emptying the garbage. There are also suggested weekly tasks. Each task has a star next to it, and tapping the star marks that task as complete.

All these fields are easily edited by tapping the edit button in the upper right corner; routines can be reset to start every day, so if you need to run a mile and then feed the cat to start your day--every day--you can enter it in here. You can also set a different routine for every month, schedule a deep clean, or set a reminder.

HomeRoutines also has fields for a to-do list and an accomplishments list, but perhaps more interestingly also focuses your efforts into "zones." Each zone is scheduled for a week. For example, this week HomeRoutines tells me to focus on Zone 4: My Bedroom and Other Bedroom, where it has suggested several tasks including "clean corner cobwebs" and "clear bedside table." All zones and suggested tasks within can be easily added to or deleted by tapping the edit button, so if you don't have, say, an entryway or a garage, just ditch 'em.

In addition, there's a 15-minute timer button on the bottom navigation, so you can easily tap it and do 15 minutes of focus on a task, routine, or zone.

All the happy faces and star buttons may make this app seem lightweight, but don't be fooled. This app is heavily customizable and ideal for folks who have regular, specific times to clean, or who do best when having a set routine. And because the best way to establish good habits is to set a regular routine, HomeRoutines is helping you keep your household in order.

The RPG one: EpicWin

Some people may tell you that cleaning is just never going to be fun. Though that may be true, that doesn't mean your cleaning app has to be boring. Just open EpicWin ($3, iOS; Android users should try TaskDash or To Do for Sloth) and listen to the deep voice declare the title of the app in an enthusiastic yawp and you're hooked. That goes double if you like comics, adventure, stories, games, quests, maps, skeletons, or dramatic music, because EpicWin has all of those and much more.

You pick a name and an avatar; choose from a dwarf, a warrior princess, a non-princess warrior, a skeleton, or a treeman berserker (and no, I do not know what is up with that). Next, you're taken to a quest screen that provides you with a pen and paper icon in the upper left corner; tapping this will allow you to add a quest (aka a chore or task). Completing a quest moves your character along their route on a map (shown in the Loot screen). Collect loot and various items to help your avatar along the way. You, however, are actually going to have to go do the chores at some point.

When creating a quest, you can provide a description about it, a date to complete it by with a handy alarm option, a point amount, what type of "feat" it is, and whether it repeats. Quests are listed by date in the Quest tab; tapping on the plus sign to the left of the date banner is a shortcut that allows you to add quests directly for that date (which is useful if you want to quickly remind yourself to do something on a specific date, like "move the car for street sweeping").

To the right of the quests are the rosettes, which show how many points you earn for completing the task. Once a task is completed, you tap and hold the rosette to have your avatar "vanquish" it from your list. This involves your avatar sort of shimmying a bit next to a progress bar. When the bar empties, the task explodes from view.

Vanquished quests (completed chores) are shown in the Beaten tab, while your Profile tab gives you a larger image of your avatar and completion bars for the various types of quests (strength, stamina, intellect, social, and spirit, as well as a total).

It is surprisingly fun and somewhat more entertaining that just ticking off a box. I even did a chore early one day in order to see what happened when my character got to a loot point on the app (he found a book) so I guess the system works!

The honorable mention: BrightNest      

So, your bathroom is clean, your Unfilth list is in control, your roommate has been assigned the kitchen, and your avatar is succeeding along their quest. Now what? Look to BrightNest (free, iOS; Android users should try Spring Cleaning Checklist) to tell you about all kinds of tasks, chores, crafts, and upgrades you can do around your home.

Instead of helping you schedule, assign, or complete chores, BrightNest is really more about giving you suggestions on a variety of tasks to help keep your home in tip-top shape. Divided into eight categories (healthy, green, savvy, curious, clean, handy, creative, and hungry), BrightNest tasks are presented in clean, bright, photo-heavy cards and might include anything from steps to maintain your fridge and freezer, crafts that you can do at home with chalkboard paint, closet organizational tips, or how to reuse green tea.

The bottom of each card has spots for you to tap a task as a favorite, schedule the task, mark it as complete, or delete it. BrightNest's default screen shows a list of cards by week and includes a banner of suggestion questions at the top that you can answer to gain more targeted suggested tasks.

Tapping on a card reveals step-by-step details on how to complete the task, a list of items required for the task, an estimate time to completion, and a difficulty level. Tapping on the menu button in the upper right allows you to search cards, filter tasks by category, or view favorite, completed and scheduled tasks. Your BrightNest account can also be accessed via the website, in case you're not near your phone.

But here's the thing: As much as I really like BrightNest's clean, bright interface with all of its white space and brightly colored photos, and as much as I really would love to de-clutter my kitchen, or prep my grill, or learn how to make my towels fluffier, my more immediate concern is the huge pile of dirty laundry in the corner, and the collection of dust bunnies lurking under the bed. Which is to say, BrightNest is great if you're already starting from a place of basic cleanliness and want to take it to the next level, but if you're more in the eating-soup-out-of-a-mixing-cup-because-no-one-has-done-the-dishes-stage, it's not going to be as helpful.


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