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8 Common Cleaning Mistakes to Avoid

By Arricca SanSone

Scrubbing and scouring is the key to keeping a tidy home, right? Though you may have the best of intentions, some cleaning blunders can actually end up doing more harm then good. For example, washing your windows on a sunny day may be causing those stubborn streaks you see on the glass. “Being aware of common cleaning mistakes can protect your investment in your home,” says Daron Tandberg. “It’s better to prevent damage than to try to repair it.” Read on for common cleaning no-no's, plus info on how to do the job correctly.

Mistake #1: You scrub spills out of carpeting.

Do you hit the ground scrubbing every time a glass of red wine or juice box topples over? “Scrubbing actually untwists carpet fibers, causing the pile to become distorted,” says Bruce Vance. “Once the damage is done, it’s permanent.” In other words, even though you might be able to eventually get a stain out of carpet, you won’t ever be able to fix untwisted fibers. The smarter way to remove a stain is by first scraping up what you can with a spoon. Then blot the area with a clean white cloth or white paper towel (avoid styles with designs because they may bleed). Continue blotting until dry, or place a heavy book on top of the towels, changing them out frequently, until no more moisture is absorbed. Now you're ready to treat the spot with a stain remover, but be sure to pretest the product in a hidden area first to make sure it won't fade your carpet's color.

Mistake #2: You clean windows on a sunny day.

If bright sunshine inspires you to make your windows gleam, take pause. “Due to the heat of the sun, the cleaning solution you use will dry too quickly and leave streaks on the glass,” says Liz Trotter. Your best bet is to choose a cloudy day or work when the temperature isn’t higher than 70°F outside. Apply any window cleaning solution you like; all contain agents that will help lift dirt off the window. Let the product sit for a minute, then use a white-backed sponge (the kind for non-stick cookware) to work the solution around the window. Pull a squeegee once horizontally across the top, then vertically down the entire window, overlapping strokes slightly. Keep pressure even, and wipe blade after each stroke to prevent drips. This method will work on both the inside and outside of windows.

Mistake #3: You use vinegar or lemon juice on everything because you think it’s mild.

With so much emphasis on organic cleaning products these days, it seems like a no-brainer to go all-natural. But both lemon juice and vinegar are acids which can damage natural surfaces such as marble, limestone, travertine and onyx. “They will permanently dull the appearance of stone, which can be expensive to have refinished,” says Vance. However, a vinegar solution (1 Tbsp vinegar mixed with 1/2 gallon water) is fine for removing soap scum and water scale from surfaces such as fiberglass tubs, ceramic tile and showerheads. But for natural stones, stick to neutral cleaning solutions designed specifically for them.

Mistake #4: You deodorize the garbage disposal with coffee grounds.

It’s necessary to deodorize your disposal because food particles can build up inside the grinding mechanism and create odors. But coffee isn’t the way to go. While some manufacturers say it’s fine to put grounds through the disposal, if you don’t run enough water while doing so, they won’t get flushed through and end up just sitting there—causing potential clogs––because the blades are too big to grind them up. To be on the safe side, trash or compost them instead. To properly deodorize your disposal, grind up a lemon (cut into quarters) periodically instead, says Trotter. And don’t forget to clean the rubber gasket over the disposal every week because food particles stick to it and cause odors.

Mistake #5: You think every cleaner is a disinfectant.

All cleaning solutions are not created equal, and it pays to spend a little more time reading labels. Certain areas of the house, like the kitchen sink, countertops, bathtubs and door handles (if a family member is ill with a cold or flu), require a true disinfectant to kill germs. Unless the cleaning product has an EPA registration number in tiny print on the label (it will say something like EPA Reg No. 123), it’s not a disinfectant. Read the label, and more importantly, follow the directions. “Most disinfectants need to remain wet on a surface for a specified amount of time,” says Vance. “If you’re spraying it on the surface and immediately wiping it up, you’re not disinfecting.”

Mistake #6: You use the wrong tool for the job.

The biggest risk here is using a tool that’s too abrasive for the job. For example, green-backed cleaning sponges are for heavy-duty cleaning jobs like the bottom of pots and pants or a grill grate, but they scratch some surfaces such as plastic, ceramic cooktops and laminate, says Trotter. However, white-backed cleaning sponges won’t scratch most surfaces. Along the same lines, white specialty sponges, such as Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, are great for soap scum in the bathtub but may damage surfaces such as vinyl flooring. So read the product's label to see what surfaces it's safe to use on before you start scrubbing away.

Mistake #7: You use furniture polish every time you dust.

Furniture polish and oils were used in the old days when furniture didn’t have a protective topcoat. However, they are an unnecessary step with today’s finishes. If you have a piece you inherited, you may want to continue to use furniture wax or oil occasionally; however, stick with the same product to avoid buildup on the finish—using a variety of products with different base ingredients case can create a gummy residue due to chemical reactions. To clean more modern pieces, use a lightly damp (meaning just a few drops of water) microfiber cloth and dust with the grain, says Tandberg. If you see water drops on the surface after you clean, the rag is too wet.

Mistake #8: You use too much cleaning product, thinking more is better.

It’s tempting to oust stains and messes with a surplus of product—just in case, right? But “companies want to sell products, so if they thought more would work better, they’d tell you that,” says Vance. “Using more is just wasting product and may eventually create a sticky buildup on whatever surface you’re cleaning.” The amount you should use will be indicated on the label—stick with the recommendation and save money by not using more than you really need. While there’s no general rule of thumb about how much of a DIY cleaning product (like a vinegar solution) to use, keep in mind that everything you’re applying to the surface must be picked back up by your rag or else you’ll end up with a filmy residue that, over time, will become tougher to clean.

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