Our obsession with cleaning is a curious beast. Surely it’s born from an ancient urge to avoid the things that make us sick, but we’ve taken it to a whole new neurotic level. One so extreme, in fact, that it may actually be making us sick! But we love to clean, and within moderation, a clean place feels pretty nice.
You would think that keeping things spotless is a simple endeavor, but no. In our quest for hyper hygiene we’ve ended up making everything so complicated that removing dirt is no longer as straightforward as it could be. The following mistakes are just a few of the ways in which we may be making more of a mess than we started with:
1. Loading the dishwasher incorrectly
From where you position dishes with crusted carbohydrates to how you place utensils, many are the common mistakes made while loading the magic box that cleans the dishes. Three basics:
- Dishes with a carbohydrate mess should go where they get direct contact from a sprayer arm since they require mechanical action for cleaning.
- Dishes with protein leftovers should go around the outside where they get hit with water but have a longer time to soak without direct sprayer action.
- Should silverware be placed up or down? If your dishwasher has baskets without dividers, silverware should be placed both up and down! Nestling forks and spooning spoons mean not enough exposure to get cleaned well.
When done improperly the first time, dishwasher-seared glued-on gunk is even harder to clean the second time around.
2. Being indiscriminate with natural cleaners
So at first there were natural cleaners, and then the chemical revolution happened, and we started cleaning with all kinds of noxious concoctions. Now many people have returned to natural cleaners, but we skipped the passed-on know-how along the way. Compared to the chemical big guns, vinegar and baking soda and their all-natural friends seem like mild contenders – but while they may be less toxic, they still have plenty of punch. Rather than just using vinegar and baking soda to clean every surface, for example, make sure to research which ingredients are good for what; you will find that in fact, vinegar might ruin your stone countertops. (Acidic ingredients like lemon and vinegar can leave notable etch marks in stone.)
3. Making your bed
We hate to say these two words, but here goes: dust mites. The microscopic things live in our bedding, where they happily scarf up the stuff that our bodies shed. In turn, they are thought to play a significant role in exacerbating allergies and asthma.
The average bed could harbor up to 1.5 million of the little guys, according to a study released earlier this year. And that same research revealed that they thrive in a bed that’s been made but suffer in the dry conditions of one that has not.
"Something as simple as leaving a bed unmade during the day can remove moisture from the sheets and mattress so the mites will dehydrate and eventually die," notes the study.
Whether this is true in the condition of every home, it’s hard to say. But if you’re squeamish about sleeping with tiny crawling mites, you now have an excuse to never make your bed again.
See How to clean your mattress for more de-miting tips.
5. Using products on wood furniture
Common sense may say that yes, spraying a waxy lemon-scented oily slick on wooden furniture is a good thing. But common sense would be wrong in this case. Wood and its finishes are more delicate than meets the eye, and they don’t usually like to be doused in mystery oils and waxes and solvents and synthetic scents. At best, oils can leave furniture smeared and more prone to visible fingerprints; at worst, the residue builds up over time and end up trapping and adhering dust to the surface. Your best bet is to gently wipe with a barely damp water-moistened cloth. (For heirloom furniture, see the Smithsonian Institute’s museum guide to furniture care.)
6. Cleaning windows on a nice sunny day
It seems that sparkling windows might best be achieved on a bright day, but in fact, streaky windows are likely what you will get. In heat and light, window cleaner evaporates too quickly and leaves the god-forbidden streaks that we all strive to steer clear of. Instead, clean windows in the early morning or on cloudy days. To read about the tried-and-true nontoxic way to get sparkling glass, see How to clean windows naturally.
7. Using general spray cleaners on electronics
Electronic screens are not windows, so don’t use window spray on them, and same goes with basic multi-purpose cleaners. Electronics like television, mobile phones and computers are delicate little flowers that can be damaged by general cleaning products, and fibers from paper towels can create tiny scratches. Instead use a microfiber cloth – either from your cleaning supplies or one intended for eyeglasses – and gently wipe, spray the cloth with a fine mist of water first for stubborn dust. Other tools that are safe to employ include cotton swabs and toothbrushes for nooks and crannies, canned air, and when all else fails, spray cleaners designed specifically for electronics.
4. Not using gloves while using natural products
Just because you’re using kitchen cabinet ingredients or commercial natural cleaners, doesn't mean they won't be harsh on your hands. If you find your hands suffering when using stronger formulas, invest in some eco-friendly cleaning gloves made from FSC-certified ethically sourced latex.
8. Using fabric softeners, especially on certain fabrics
Few things are better that removing hot fluffy laundry from the drier, preferably scented like a spring meadow or ocean breeze courtesy of fabric softener. But not really. A lot of things are better – primarily clean laundry that has not been slathered with the mix of animal fat and synthetic (and irritating) chemicals that most conventional fabric softeners are made of. So first of all, strive for eco-friendly nontoxic softening products if you must. And regardless of what fabric softeners you buy, make sure not to use them on fabric for which absorbency and breathability is important, like towels and microfiber cleaners or some athletic wear. Fabric softeners do their magic by coating the fibers, which renders performance textiles useless. Best bet? Use vinegar in the rinse cycle for softness without the chemical coating.
9. Not reading instructions
You know you're a grown-up when ... you start reading label instructions and product manuals. And oh the things you can learn! You may find out, for example, that the natural cleaner you are dousing your floor with leaves streaks unless it's applied lightly, or vice verse. You may discover that your washing machine does its best work when employing liquid instead of powdered detergent. You will likely learn that each dishwasher has a preference for optimal loading for best cleaning. There is no one-size-fits all to any of this, but generally, all the information you need is there for the taking!