Cleaning is one of those necessary—but not necessarily pleasant—chores required to keep your home livable and presentable. That's why we're always looking for cleaning hacks to expedite the process and make it easier to complete your list of weekly tasks. But did you know that some tips can be counterproductive to your tidying efforts? We’ve rounded up a collection of common cleaning misconceptions so you never waste your time on them again.
Myth 1: You should use steam mops on wood flooring
Steam and wet mops are very convenient for cleaning certain types of floors, but wood flooring isn’t in this category. In fact, Brett Miller, vice president of education and certification for the National Wood Flooring Association, warns that you should never use a steam mop on a wood floor.
“Steam is the vapor form of water, which means it can travel deeper and faster between the cracks and into the cells of the wood,” Miller says. As a result, you could permanently damage the wood and the floor’s finish. Instead, he recommends sweeping or vacuuming the floor and then using either a dry microfiber mop or a nearly dry mop to pick up any leftover dirt.
Myth 2: Baking soda will completely remove odors from carpets
Baking soda is used to deodorize everything from your mouth to your refrigerator. But it's not likely to work miracles on your carpet.
“While sprinkling baking soda directly on your carpet can help to absorb unwanted odors, it does not completely remove the actual source of the odor, and therefore only masks the odor for a short period of time,” says Joshua Miller, director of technical training at Rainbow International. The best way to eliminate odors is to address them as soon as something happens.
“When a stain comes into contact with your carpet, blot the stain immediately with a white cotton towel to keep the stain from setting in your carpet’s fibers and potentially moving down into the padding," he says.
A stain that has reached the padding is a likely culprit of a lingering odor.
Miller also recommends having your carpet professionally cleaned at least once a year to remove embedded odor-causing debris.
Myth 3: Lemon peel will clean your garbage disposal
Lemon peels can add flavor to your food, but they’re not doing anything for your garbage disposal. If you’re sensing an unpleasant odor around your sink, running a lemon peel through the garbage disposal is a temporary fix, but to really get rid of the smell, you have to clean it.
“The real cause, the germs and bacteria from lingering food inside, can be reduced by running cold water and feeding two to four trays of ice cubes into the sink and down the disposal,” says Bailey Carson, head of cleaning at Handy, a company that connects consumers with home cleaners and other handy service professionals.
“This will freeze anything stuck inside and help get it down the drain. Let the water run for a full minute after that and you’ll be left with a cleaner garbage disposal,” says Carson.
Myth 4: Vinegar is the magical cleaning agent you can use on everything
Vinegar is often touted as the simplest, most inexpensive all-purpose cleaner—but it’s not a magic bullet for every dirty item in your home.
“While vinegar can be a great cleaning tool for some appliances, floors, bathroom fixtures, and glass surfaces, it should not be viewed as the only cleaning product you need,” Carson says. That’s because it’s not safe to use on every surface.
“Cast-iron, natural stone, unfinished wood, tile, and grout are just some of the surfaces that can be damaged by vinegar,” Carson says. Also, if you mix vinegar and bleach, it results in a toxic gas, so avoid that combination at any cost.
Myth 5: Washing machines clean themselves
Your washing machine does a great job of cleaning your laundry, but that's about all that's getting cleaned in this appliance.
“It’s not cleaning itself in the process, and that filth has to go somewhere,” Carson explains.
He recommends running a cycle or two each month with nothing in the machine but a cup of vinegar. You should also use a nontoxic all-purpose cleaner to wipe down the washing machine drum, door, and detergent dispenser.
“This will help get your appliance clean so it can continue to work to the best of its ability," he says.
Myth 6: The more laundry detergent the better
More money: good. More chocolate: good. But an excessive amount of laundry detergent is not good - and it won't make your clothes cleaner.
“Not only can excessive suds damage a washing machine’s pump and drain, but it can also create excessive suds that actually redeposit soil onto your clothing,” says Chris Blanchette, franchise owner of Mr. Appliance of the Merrimack Valley, in Tewksbury, MA.
It's important to never use more than the recommended amount of detergent. Blanchette also recommends adding 1 tablespoon of detergent booster like 20 Mule Team Borax to each load of laundry.
“The borates in borax help to keep the detergent evenly dispersed, which eliminates soap residue buildup in your machine," he says. "It's this buildup of residue that can result in mold and musty odors.”