Few things are more satisfying than a clean home, from sparkling windows to freshly scrubbed counters. On the flip side, few things are more frustrating than finding out that the cleaning methods you’ve relied on for years may actually be causing more harm than good. Here are several cleaning myths experts told us are better off busted, and the alternatives that should become your new go-tos.
For many of us, it’s hard to fathom loading the dryer without tossing in a dryer sheet. But you might want to rethink that. “Dryer sheets make your clothes smell nice and reduce static, but they leave a waxy buildup on the lint screen that reduces or blocks airflow,” cautions Scott Thomas, director of systems at Dryer Vent Wizard. “This leads to increased drying times, mold and mildew, excess wear and tear on both clothing and the dryer, increased energy costs, and an increased risk of fire.” If you just can’t quit dryer sheets, Thomas recommends washing your lint screen with hot, soapy water and a toothbrush every three to six months, and testing it to make sure water runs through instead of pooling on the surface. Better yet, he says: Switch to an alternative like dryer balls.
Fans of Magic Erasers and other melamine foam sponges sing their praises for cleaning just about anything, but beware: The magic has its limits. “They are amazing on many surfaces, removing stains on bathtubs, doors and door frames,” says Justin Carpenter, owner of Modern Maids Austin. “However, they are constructed to act like sandpaper. This is how they remove stains so easily.” That means that they’re not suited for more delicate surfaces, Carpenter warns. “You could accidentally dull the finish on your wood floors or remove paint from your walls.”
Sooner or later, every pet parent makes an unwelcome discovery: A smelly puddle, slowly soaking into the carpet or rug. And while it’s true you should clean up as soon as possible to keep the stench from settling in, be careful of just any old cleaner, says Matt Clayton of PetHairPatrol. “Many cleaning products contain ammonia, which is also an ingredient of dog and cat urine. Using a cleaning solution with ammonia will only make your pet think another animal is marking their territory and encourage them to leave their own mark.” Clayton says your best bet is an enzyme-based cleaner that will break down organic matter instead of simply trying to cover up the smell. “Using an enzyme cleaner will get to the root of the problem and eliminate it completely,” he says.
That bottle of multi-surface cleaner that you use in the kitchen, bathroom, and other spots might not be ideal for your appliances. Nelly Martinez, senior brand manager at Whirlpool, warns against using anything that contains bleach or ammonia on stainless steel because it can dull the shine. Instead, she says homemade solutions can be a good choice. “Create a paste of baking soda and water and rub gently on the surface, always in the direction of the grain. If there is any white residue left over, simply wipe away with a dry clean cloth.” No baking soda? Vinegar can also do the trick, she says. “Adding one part mineral oil to one part white vinegar and some essential oil drops of your preference can bring a non-harsh cleaner into your home.”
Step away from that bottle of Drano or Liquid-Plumr, experts say — they can definitely do more harm than good. “When homeowners encounter clogs or slow drains, they’re often quick to turn to harsh chemical drain cleaners,” says Jake Romano of John The Plumber in Ottawa, Canada. “While they often work really effectively, the same chemical reaction that eats away at clogs can also eat away at your plumbing system.” A much safer solution, Romano says: Dish soap and hot water. He also recommends avoiding clogs in the first place by regularly cleaning pipes with half a cup of baking soda and half a cup of white vinegar. “Let this sit for half an hour, then flush it down with a kettle of boiled water. This is strong enough to clean most of the gunk in your drains, and gentle enough to cause no harm to your plumbing.”
Keeping grout clean may be one of the most thankless tasks of homeownership, but using toilet bowl cleaner, despite what you might see on the internet, isn’t the answer, says Dean Davies of London-based Fantastic Cleaners. “Toilet bowl cleaners are sticky and hard to rinse off, not to mention that almost all of them contain unsafe chemicals,” he warns. “Thus, using such cleaners in your kitchen is quite risky. They cannot only damage the surface by discoloring it, but can harm you as well.” For a safe alternative, Davies says a simple solution of water and vinegar is an effective grout whitener.
There’s nothing quite like the sight and smell of freshly polished wood, but whether you’re sprucing up the trim, floors, or the furniture, consider scaling back. “A myth that we encounter often on jobs is that wood must be polished often,” says Kevin Geick, a manager at Bio Recovery. “Polishing wood from time to time can help protect the finish of the wood, but it does not actually protect the wood itself. Too much maintenance can both wear down and discolor the wood.” Geick says wood needs to be polished no more than once every six weeks, and dusting will usually suffice in between.
Sure, vinegar is a wonder, and it’s often a go-to solution for anyone looking for a cheap, natural way to clean up around the house. But it’s not a cure-all, cautions Jen Stark, founder of Happy DIY Home. “Vinegar is a good limescale remover and a grease cutter. It also works on hard water stains, for cleaning coffee makers, and windows,” she says. “However, you want to avoid using it on certain surfaces. Vinegar will damage granite countertops due to the acidity levels. It can dull these spaces and leave them more open to damage.”
Step away from the vinegar when it comes to those gleaming hardwoods, too. “When you clean your hardwood floors, you aren’t actually cleaning the wood — you are cleaning the chemical finish on the wood,” explains Heather Lindemann, senior manager of corporate communications at Bona. “Since vinegar is an acid, it will actually break down the finish on the surface of your floor, and over time, it will reduce the shine and leave a dull appearance. Using vinegar and water to clean floors can also lead to an excessive amount of water on the floor, which can cause swelling and discoloration.” A safer bet: Using a specially formulated hardwood floor care cleaner.
Just as vinegar isn’t always the answer simply because it’s natural, natural soaps can cause you more grief than they’re worth, too, says Guy Peters, owner and founder of Mop Stars Cleaning Service in Denver. “The fatty acids in natural soaps react with calcium and magnesium in hard water to form soap scum,” he says. “When you consider that a whopping 85% of American households are estimated to have hard water, you can see why so many people have problems with soap scum.” A better choice, he says: non-soap detergents, which are made from synthetic compounds that won’t react with hard water.
This piece of old-school advice may have held true years ago, but experts say they no longer recommend using newspapers to clean windows and mirrors. “Unfortunately, newspapers are much thinner than they used to be, so they break down more easily and actually make your windows and glass dirtier,” cautions David Cusick, chief strategy officer and executive editor of House Method. “It’s better to use a microfiber cloth.” David Flax, vice president of operations for Window Genie, agrees. “Newspaper can contain dyes or abrasive fibers that leave behind fuzz, ink, or even tiny scratches.” He also recommends using microfiber cloths with your glass cleaner, or a squeegee and dish soap and water for larger jobs.
When it comes to rugs, experts say you need to be careful cleaning even everyday stains. Sheri Holshouser of Behnam Rugs in Dallas says supposedly rug-safe cleaners can contain “harsh surfactants and chemicals that harm rugs. Using these cleaners on your handmade rugs can result in color runs, color fading, texture changes, and other cosmetic problems you cannot fix at home.” A better bet, she says: water and mild dish soap. “If that cannot remove the stain, you should take it to a professional rug cleaner and they will remove it for you safely.”
Here’s a myth you’ll be happy to hear isn’t true: That sending a stained garment through the washer and dryer without pretreating will make that stain impossible to get out in the long run. “No stain is permanent,” says Jonathon Reckles of CD One Price Cleaners. “It’s often thought that once you wash and dry a stain, it’s ‘cooked.’ That is not the case. You just need to try a different cleaning combination or take it into your neighborhood dry cleaner.” Whatever you do, Reckles says, don’t simply add more detergent the next time around and hope for the best. “If you overuse detergent, you’ll just get more suds that will redeposit soil onto your laundry.”
Here’s another cleaning myth worthy of busting, Davies says. “The myth goes that since coke is acidic, it can do magic when used to remove hard-water stains from your toilet bowl. However, it can actually do more bad than good in this case. It can darken hard-water stains, and its high sugar content could encourage the spread of bacteria inside your toilet bowl.” Even Coca-Cola itself recommends against using Coke as a cleaner, saying it’s best if enterprising homeowners “stick to regular cleaning products.”
If you’re still cleaning surfaces with a feather duster, experts say it’s time to get with the times. “Feather dusters are completely useless and only spread dust around and throw it into your air,” says Karen Lee, founder of Things Around the House. Things that do a better job of actually trapping dust particles and removing them from your surroundings, Lee says, include wet cloths, vacuums, and Swiffer dusters.
Just as feather dusters have been replaced with superior products, string mops are also better off left in the closet, at least in the case of wood floors. Johnny Pallares, owner of Phoenix-based De La Rosa House Cleaning, warns to skip the regular mop head when it comes to wood. “Your typical mop head tends to leave water residue on the floor, which can cause natural wood flooring to mold,” he says. A microfiber pad and a wood cleaner are a better bet, he recommends. Tempted to use a steam mop? Experts recommend against them for similar reasons.