Cleaning Mistakes You Didn’t Know You Were Making

Find out which bad housekeeping habits could leave your home even dirtier.

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Bad cleaning habits - woman washing dishes

Bad Cleaning Habits (And How to Fix Them)

Keeping your home and belongings clean, sanitized and in excellent shape requires a good chunk of effort. Naturally, you want to ensure said efforts aren’t futile. Here’s the thing, though: Many people unknowingly make household chores harder than necessary, and in some cases, they accidentally leave their homes dirtier than they were in the first place. In the name of cleaner homes, we’re breaking down some common bad cleaning habits and mistakes you might not even realize you’re making.

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Bad cleaning habits - person installing ceiling fan

Cleaning without a plan

Winging it sometimes works, but that’s rarely the case when it comes to cleaning. For example, if you’re dusting your dresser, that’s great, but make sure you dust the ceiling fan above first; otherwise, you’ll just end up backtracking. That’s why a game plan is necessary. “I recommend cleaning from top to bottom and from left to right,” says cleaning expert Diane Regalbuto, CEO of Too Little Time Lifestyle. “For example, dust all ceiling fans and high-reach places and work your way down to baseboards and around the room in a clockwise direction.” When dusting those hard-to-reach areas, use a soft, dry cloth.

Find out 12 things you shouldn’t clean with paper towels.

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Bad cleaning habits - man loading dishwasher

Overloading—or poorly loading—your dishwasher

Dishwashers make our lives easier, but in order for them to work as intended, it’s important to load them properly. “Improper loading can keep your machine from working efficiently,” notes Brian Sansoni, senior vice president for the American Cleaning Institute. “Carefully load your dishwasher, putting things in their proper place and not overloading it.” For example, make sure the dirty parts can be reached by the sprayer arms, mix up the silverware so items don’t stick together, and keep your cups on the top drawer and upside down. Sansoni also says it’s important to keep your dishwasher itself clean so it remains efficient and effective.

Find out the best way to arrange utensils in your dishwasher.

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Bad cleaning habits - person wiping surface with cloth

Spraying disinfectant and wiping it up immediately

“Most household disinfectant holds a three- to 10-minute dwell time, which means the product needs to sit wet on a surface for it to actually disinfectant,” says Karina Neff, president and CEO of MaxiMaids. “Also note that it’s important to remove debris or dirt from the surface with a microfibre towel before disinfecting.”  To properly disinfect, wipe down the surface with your towel to remove soil, debris, and dirt, and then spray the surface with your disinfectant. Follow the label instructions for the product dwell time, then wipe up. Neff is a fan of Clorox Disinfecting Spray because it’s EPA tested and approved, as is Lysol, which is one of the products that’s also been proven to kill coronavirus on surfaces.

Here’s what professional cleaners do every day to keep their own homes spotless.

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Bad cleaning habits - person wiping surface with sponge

Using a dirty sponge

Again, the goal is to make sure your products are working for you and not against you! Dirty sponges are just going to spread gunk. “Your sponge is likely the dirtiest thing in your home,” says Samsoni. “Replace it—or disinfect it with diluted bleach—regularly so you don’t transfer germs inadvertently when cleaning your dishes and other surfaces.” Having a backup of sponges at the ready will help.

Did you know bleach has an expiry date?

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Bad cleaning habits - person cleaning carpet

Scrubbing a fresh carpet stain

Grabbing a towel and scrubbing at a stain is a knee-jerk reaction, but it’s not doing your carpet any favours. The key is to gently blot the area to pick up as much of the stain as possible—ideally until the spot is dry. This is better than scrubbing, which not only wreaks havoc on the carpet fibres but also presses the stain deeper into the carpet. Once dry, use a stain lifter, and follow the directions on the label.

Out of stain lifter? Try these highly effective homemade carpet cleaners.

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Bad cleaning habits - woman wiping inside of fridge

Not cleaning your fridge vent

You’ve got a sparkling clean fridge interior, but that’s all for naught if you’ve forgotten to clean the grill and vent! “This often gets missed, which causes dust to build up and ultimately slows down the system,” says Regalbuto. “Once a month, simply wipe it clean.” Spray a soft cloth with an all-purpose spray, and gently wipe down the grill and vent. You can also use a vacuum cleaner with a hose extension to suck up dirt and grime in tiny, hard-to-reach spots. While you’re at it, don’t forget the top of your fridge and the area behind it.

Find out the surprising ways you’re shortening the life of your refrigerator.

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Bad cleaning habits - man wiping inside of car

Using the same cloth to clean an entire space

We get it. You want to conserve time and materials. Unfortunately, using the same disinfectant wipe, sponge or cloth to clean an entire space—such as the bathroom or kitchen—will backfire since you’ll eventually just start spreading grime from one place to another. To cut back on waste, keep a pile of cleaning cloths handy. Simply throw them in the washer when you’re finished, and they’ll be ready for the next deep clean!

Discover 10 bathroom cleaning tips that’ll save you time, money and effort.

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Bad cleaning habits - person wiping kitchen handles

Forgetting to clean kitchen handles and knobs

Of course you know that the kitchen has its fair share of grime, but chances are, you’re neglecting a few problem spots: pulls, handles and doorknobs! Worst of all, these areas are grease, grime, dust and bacteria magnets. “Use a gentle household cleaner—such as Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner or plain soapy water—making sure to wipe dry afterward in order to remove water stains,” advises Regalbuto.

Find out how to clean absolutely everything in your kitchen, according to Charles the Butler of CTV’s The Marilyn Denis Show.

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Bad cleaning habits - person wiping light switch

Not cleaning your light switches

This is another easy-to-forget spot to clean, but boy, is it important! “Bacteria and germs are super high on light switches,” says Regalbuto. They also start looking really grimy and dirty from all that touching. “Clean them about once a week, and increase frequency if you or someone in your family is sick.” Antibacterial wipes are real heroes for this job. Try Clorox Disinfecting Wipes if you can find them in stock; if not, basic disinfectant wipes will get the job done.

Light switches are just one of the everyday items you don’t clean nearly enough.

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Bad cleaning habits - woman doing laundry

Using way too much laundry detergent

“Using too much laundry detergent not only wastes product, but it can leave residue on your clothes rather than clean them,” notes Sansoni. At the same time, you also don’t want to use too little. “Using too little product prevents your laundry from getting as clean as it should, perhaps requiring you to wash it again, wasting water.” The solution is to check the laundry detergent label and follow their directions to a T; they’ve done a ton of research to find that Goldilocks amount, so listen to them.

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Bad cleaning habits - person wiping down keyboard

Cleaning everything all at once

Having a designated cleaning day is wonderful, but note that some things need to be cleaned with more frequency. “When you wait to clean your home all at once, the surfaces that should be cleaned more often—such as doorknobs, keyboards, cabinet handles and other frequently touched surfaces—stay dirty,” says Sansoni. He recommends making a set cleaning schedule. Pick a day or days of the week to wipe down and clean the “hot spots,” and spread the rest of your cleaning out over time.

Here are 25 cleaning hacks for stubborn messes.

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Bad cleaning habits - person using plunger on toilet

Using liquid drain cleaner in your toilet

Liquid drain cleaners are great for tackling your gunked-up sink, but they are not meant for toilets. If you’re dealing with a clogged toilet, this is where a good, old-fashioned plunger comes into play. It’ll help clear your toilet without causing any damage, explains plumbing company Laney’s.

Find out how to unclog a toilet—without a plunger!

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Bad cleaning habits - person wiping microwave

Neglecting your microwave

Out of sight, out of mind—right? Well, until you open up your microwave and see a splattery mess! It’s best to clean your microwave after every use (a simple wipe-down will do), but if you end up with a dry, caked-on mess, you’ve got some options. Regalbuto says, “Place a bowl inside with lemon juice, water, and vinegar and turn the microwave on for two minutes to let it steam up. After, wipe down the interior with a damp cloth.” Make sure to clean the buttons on the outside, too.

Next, discover 30 nearly-forgotten house cleaning tips from the past.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest