When it comes to cleaning, everyone has her favorite tips and techniques. But much of what you think you know about keeping your house and clothing spotless and germ-free may not necessarily be true. From which household surface cleaners to use to which laundry settings are the best, find out what’s fact and what’s fiction!
1. Myth: All cleaning products kill all germs.One reason you clean is to keep your family healthy. But not all cleaning products do the same job. There’s a difference between a sanitizer and a disinfectant. Sanitizers kill 99.99% of bacteria, while disinfectants kill a wider array of germs, including viruses that cause colds and flu. Therefore, a sanitizer is fine for surfaces like blinds and cabinets, but you need a disinfectant for germier spots, like the kitchen sink and bathtub, which may harbor disease-causing bugs such as salmonella and e. coli.
2. Myth: You can wipe up cleaning spray immediately.Solutions need time to remain in contact with the surface before they can kill germs. Sanitizers work in about 30 seconds, but you should always stick to the recommendation on disinfectants’ labels. In general, disinfectants need one to 10 minutes to do their thing. But it’s okay to wipe up a surface that’s still wet if you’ve waited the length of time specified on the bottle.
3. Myth: Bleach is the only cleaner you need.Bleach is a good, inexpensive disinfectant, but besides the fact that many surfaces don’t need disinfecting, bleach can be too harsh for some natural stone surfaces, like marble. It can damage the sealant or cause etching of the surface. If you aren’t cleaning stone and you do need a disinfectant, certain bleaches still may not be the right choice. Scented and color-safe bleaches, for instance, aren’t disinfectants, so they don’t kill bacteria and viruses on household surfaces—they just make clothes brighter in the laundry.
4. Myth: All clean surfaces smell good.Scent comes from the chemicals or natural oils that are added, not from the cleanliness of the surface. Scented and unscented versions of the same product (except bleach) clean equally well. If you enjoy fragrances, go ahead and choose a product that smells good to you or better yet, ADD YOUR OWN SCENT to your homemade cleaners with essential oils. But if a family member has allergies or asthma or is sensitive to strong odors, use unscented cleaning products—and detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets too, for that matter.
5. Myth: You should always wash clothes on “cold” to save money and energy.Using the cold-water setting on your washing machine does save energy, and it’s often necessary for silky delicates. But hot water is more effective at destroying bacteria, mold, viruses and allergens like dust mites. Choose hot water (140 degrees) for loads of undergarments, towels, sheets and clothes of sick family members. Most importantly, treat laundry like you’ve rummaged through the garbage: Wash your hands in between handling dirty and clean loads and before preparing food.
6. Myth: Your washing machine is clean inside.Not exactly. Germs that can make you sick are on dirty clothes, and they can lurk in your washer and transfer to other clothes in the same load—or to clothes in the next load. Cleaning your washer weekly can reduce the spread of germs. Just run a cup of white vinegar in a hot cycle on the lowest water level (be greener by washing your whites with it). Two more tips: Never let wet laundry sit in the washer overnight because it can become a colony of breeding germs, and always dry clothes on high heat, which, like washing in hot water, also helps kill germs.
7. Myth: Frequent vacuuming ruins carpets.It’s the opposite, actually: Regular vacuuming helps your carpet last longer. Dirt and grit are abrasive. When they get ground into the carpet, they ruin carpet fibers. So the more often you vacuum, the more dirt and dust you remove before they can damage the carpet. Vacuum at least weekly in overlapping front-to-back motions to dislodge soil, empty the bag or canister when it becomes half-full to maintain good suction and avoid using the power head on the fringe of area rugs so you don’t suck it up and mangle it.
8. Myth: You must use specialty cleaners for different surfaces in your home.It seems like there’s a separate cleaner for everything from stainless steel appliances to mirrors to granite countertops. They’re expensive and not usually necessary. For most tasks, a microfiber cloth without any additional cleaning solution works well. Use a slightly damp one for dusting furniture and floors or getting smears off stainless steel. Use a dry one on mirrors. Microfiber can be used with a disinfectant product, too, if the surface is germy. Wash microfiber cloths in a separate load without fabric softener (which affects their absorbency and effectiveness) and let air-dry. But natural stone surfaces, like those made of marble and travertine, require special cleaners with the proper pH; check product labels to make sure you’re buying the most appropriate one.