Save Time With An Industrial Engineering Study On Wiping Counters

Using path studies, motion studies, equipment options, quality metrics, and more, we find ways to save time cleaning counters.

Optimal Path

Try not to wipe back and forth over the same spot. Wipe in big strokes, not overlapping, hitting an area only once. Start in one corner, go across, move up, and across a not yet touched area. This is under the category of Coverage Path Planning.

Some best case optimizations is to start and stop in the same place, assuming that same place is the end destination. For instance, I need to wet a rag at the start and rinse a rag upon completion. It would be best to start and finish near the sink. It would be inefficient to start that the sink and end at the other side of the room. Sometimes this is unavoidable based on the size of a surface.

An important factor can be the shape of the surface. Theoretically a spiral motion reduces the number of times you decelerate, however if you don’t have a round table, you will be wasting time doing the corners that were not covered in a spiral motion. For a square/rectangle table, I found long motion across the table was more efficient.

For more reading about optimal pathing, here is a link to a study I found interesting:


The right equipment

Small sponges can take longer to clean a surface than a larger towel. The idea of using a larger towel seems great, you may need extra soap but you can accomplish more, quicker.

Use the right cloth, absorbent with some abrasion. Microfiber or cotton could work, but each cloth will be woven differently. Waffle Weaves are popular for cleaning because the ridges can help apply extra pressure on surfaces that would otherwise be spread out with a flat weave.


Good lighting will help you see dirty spots and will save you time and effort from straining to see these spots.

On a similar note, the quieter the area, the less distractions and higher focus you can have.

Do you need to move items out of your way to clean under? It might be worth finding a permanent spot for those items to avoid freqent cleaning underneath them.

Consider the placement of rags/towels, cleaning supplies, trash/disposal areas, and laundry baskets. They should be easily accessible and preferably along the path of your workflow.

What quality is needed? Perfection, good enough, or damage control?

If you can only use one section of your counter, you won’t need to clean the rest.

It may be worth letting things soak for ~3-10 minutes, bonus points for soap and hot water. My personal process for perfection is,

  1. Hot water and soap round
  2. Wait a few minutes
  3. Wipe with a mostly dry water only rag, soaking up lots of the old dirty water and scrubbing any spots that need it
  4. Final round where in one hand I have a lightly watered clean rag, then a completely dry clean rag(or paper towel) that soaks up that water

However, if you are only trying to prevent newly dirtied surfaces from getting messes stuck on: don’t get your rag too wet. Too much water will require extra wipes to dry. It might not be worth using soap which would require an extra round of wiping to remove the soap.

Finally, if you are ultra efficient and rarely clean, you could use a dry rag and wipe only solid objects off. This is a ‘debatably good enough’ quality.


Some Therbligs. To turn on faucet water, you release a latch/use a faucet. You search for a rag and grasp it. You use the water or rest, waiting for the water to get hot. You may also search and grasp for soap that you will use with the rag and water. Mixing the rag, water, and soap is assembly. Then you transport the load to the counter. Finally you use the rag on the countertops. Upon completion you disassemble the water, rag, and soap by releasing the latch/use the faucet and rinse the rag. Finally you may throw the rag in the laundry, releasing empty.

To make this process more efficient, we look at all the Therbligs. Here are some opportunities for optimization and elimination.

  • Ensure rags/towels are visible and easily accessible. We keep ours in an open bin on the counter.
  • Do something useful while the faucet water is heating up. Fill up nearby empty water bottles to increase your Water Per Second, pick up items that might be covering the countertops, load/empty the dishwasher, etc..
  • Ensure soaps are visible and easily accessible. We keep ours on the counter.
  • Don’t spend too much time mixing the water, rag, and soap, it doesnt matter much. Ensuring a perfectly lathered rag is Over Processing waste. A quick mix is good enough.
  • Upon completion, rinse the rag, but only as much as needed to get large debris off. If you are putting it in the laundry, no reason to ensure all soap and dirty water is gone.

AI suggestions

Clear surfaces ahead of time, to prevent setting down towels/rags/sponges to get to necessary surfaces. I might disagree, you could multitask lifting surfaces and wiping.

Potentially using a bucket/spray bottle to prevent trips back to the sink. This personally wouldn’t work for most of my messes.

Use a spray bottle.

Use microfiber

Challenge yourself to get under a time

Alternative Ideas

Trade favors with roommates, have them clean the counters in exchange for you doing something else. For instance, you could bulk cook food and trade that. Bulk cooking benefits from reducing the number of set up and tear down actions, win win win.

Hire someone.

Use a disposable cleaning wipe. This eliminates a few steps such as turning on water, waiting for water to warm up, and doing laundry. This would be dependent on how dirty the counter was, if you are cost conscious, and if you are an environmentalist.

Use a vacuum cleaner.

Attach a handle onto a rag/use a kitchen mop, this will let you push further without taking steps.

You could use a towel to push everything on the floor and have a robot vacuum cleaner clean the mess.


This was a first step into Efficient Cleaning. While this wiping counters/tables task might only take a minute or two, the ideas about quality, motion waste/Therbligs, optimal equipment, and optimal pathing might help influence other cleaning activities to help you save time.