As the March sisters found out in Little Women, “Housekeeping ain't no joke.” Cleaning is a difficult and time-consuming task, which is why it’s so important to do it right the first time. It’s no laughing matter when you make cleaning mistakes that can undermine your effort and cause further problems. So, if you’re going to take the time to clean, take the time to do it right by avoiding these five grime crimes:

1. Wielding the wrong tool.

Consider the surface you’re cleaning when choosing a tool; for example, a soft, microfiber cloth is best for electronics. When a job needs a sponge, make sure you’re using the right type. A sponge with an abrasive side may be great for heavy-duty cleaning, but it might scratch surfaces like laminate or glass cooktops. Specialty sponges formulated for soap scum and scuff marks also shouldn’t be used on all surfaces.

It’s important to throw your sponges away often since bacteria thrives on them. It’s good practice to toss them every week or soak them in a diluted solution of bleach to disinfect them. You can also microwave them, but be cautious: the sponges should be devoid of metal and put in the microwave while damp.

2. Using the wrong product.

Make sure you’re using the proper cleaner for each surface. Homemade cleaners that have vinegar or lemon juice as their base are not OK for every surface. In fact, these acidic solutions can damage natural stone, dulling or etching granite and marble. Vinegar or lemon juice solutions may be suitable for bathroom surfaces, but you should use neutral cleaning solutions for natural stone.

Even though furniture polish might seem like the best product for your wood furniture, it’s possible that you don’t even need it. Furniture polish used to be ideal for the armoires and buffets of past decades, but products made today usually have a protective finish on them and really only need a soft cloth with a tiny bit of water for proper dusting.

Some people use general cleaners that are not disinfectants on surfaces that need disinfecting, like doorknobs and faucets. On the other hand, some people always clean with easy-to-use disinfectant wipes, even though they aren’t necessarily the best for getting each surface clean. For example, instead of using wipes in the bathroom, tackle dirt and scum with a tub-and-tile spray cleaner and a brush or sponge. The bottom line is to pay attention to the product you are using and make sure it is suitable for the job at hand.

3. Misusing the right product.

It’s possible that you are using the correct product on a particular surface but are not maximizing its cleaning power. If you wipe the product away immediately after spraying, the cleaner does not have the time to be effective, especially if you’re using a disinfectant. Wait at least one minute—or whatever time frame is noted on the product’s instructions—before wiping or scrubbing.

It’s also possible to use too much cleaner. It’s a waste of product—and money—to use more than you need; plus, any cleaner you use needs to be completely wiped up, or a residue may be left behind. Follow the label’s instructions for the amount you should use, and if you’re using a homemade product, keep in mind that more is not better. The same applies for detergent in the washing machine and dishwasher.

4. Employing a faulty method.

Consider these guidelines when tackling some common cleaning tasks:

  • Don’t scrub the carpet after a spill. Soak up the spill by applying pressure with a white cloth or paper towel, and after absorbing the moisture, apply a stain remover, following the product’s instructions.

  • Don’t overload the dishwasher; the spray should be able to reach each dish. Instead of jamming in utensils haphazardly, alternate spoon handles up and down, and place forks with tines up.

  • Don’t vacuum directly into the wall, as that can push debris under the baseboard. Vacuum parallel to the baseboard instead.

  • Don’t clean windows on a hot, sunny day. The heat doesn’t interact well with cleaning products, which can leave streaks.

  • Don’t oversoak your mop. Too much water can damage your floors, so use a slightly damp mop and hot water since hot water will evaporate more quickly than water at room temperature.

5. Forgetting the small things.

It’s easy to skip over the little things when absorbed in the huge task of whole-house cleaning:

  • Wear gloves to protect your hands, especially if using harsh chemicals.

  • Dust high places, like ceiling fans.

  • Clean the entire toilet, including the base and lid, since germs and dust exist there too.

  • Use the exhaust fan during and after a shower to minimize mildew.

  • Remember to disinfect the little, germ-covered spots such as remotes, doorknobs, light switches, faucets, and toilet handles.

It’s true that “housekeeping ain't no joke.” Cleaning is not a mindless task; it requires forethought and attention to detail. If you need some help, consider hiring a housecleaning company for regular service or a one-time deep cleaning.

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Sources: Good Housekeeping; Real Simple; The Globe and Mail; The New York Times; Woman’s Day.

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