5 Ways You’re Unknowingly Sabotaging Your Housecleaning Efforts
Let’s face it: Housecleaning isn’t how most of us would ideally spend our free time. We put it off and off and off, until we can’t ignore the mess any longer. And when we do finally get around to cleaning, we’re quick to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. Adult achievement: unlocked!
Sorry, folks, not so fast. Whether you’re scrambling to get the house ready for guests, or just ticking off the boxes on your to-do list—you might be sabotaging your best cleaning efforts without even realizing it.
We sat down with the experts to bring you the five most common (albeit well-intentioned) cleaning mistakes they see people make—and some clear advice on how you can avoid them.
Mistake No. 1: Bad DIY hacks
The last few years have seen a dramatic uptick in the number of people trying to make their own cleaning products. And while we won’t tell you it’s impossible to pull off, we will tell you it’s incredibly easy to mess up.
In the industry, stories abound of people ruining their furniture with harmful chemicals and sometimes even (unknowingly) creating deadly concoctions.
Stephanie Cooper of London-based Top Cleaners explains why: “There’s this trend of doing your own cleaning detergents using common household ingredients,” she says. “This is a great idea in general; however, it may end very badly. For example, vinegar can dissolve the coating of wooden surfaces, and baking soda can scratch and destroy chrome-coated items or marble countertops.”
Brian Sansoni, spokesman of the American Cleaning Institute, also weighs in on the potential hazards of the DIY cleaning-product trend.
“People think they’re saving themselves some time or money by making their own cleaning products, so they read they can mix this and that—but there are a lot of chemicals you should not mix, like bleach and ammonia,” he says. “And you read real-life situations where people are mixing concoctions that should never be mixed in the first place. Safety is a top concern here.”
For those tempted to make their own products anyway, both Sansoni and Cooper strongly advise taking the time to read the label. As Sansoni says, “Think twice before mixing once.”
Mistake No. 2: Using the wrong product for the job
Even if you don’t attempt to mix your own cleaning products, it’s still pretty easy to make a mess or ruin something using the wrong product.
“A lot of problems simply happen by using the wrong product for the surface you want to clean,” Sansoni says.
He particularly cautions against using purported “multipurpose” cleaners on high-end pieces that include wood, marble, or stainless steel.
“Maybe it’s a multi-purpose cleaner and it can do that surface, but there’s a discoloration,” he says. “The same thing goes for wipes—you can use them on a lot of surfaces, but not on everything.”
When in doubt, read the label, which will usually say what the product can and can’t be used to clean.
Mistake No. 3: Trying to cover odors instead of removing them
We’ve all done it: You walk into the living room and it smells like wet dog and old pizza, but instead of cleaning anything, you just spray a deodorizer. While this is a tempting quick fix (and man, if those commercials don’t make us believe it will work), broker Scott Browder of Charlotte, N.C. strongly advises against it.
“The biggest mistake I see is people trying to cover up odors instead of handling them at the source,” he says. “Walking into a house that smells like Febreze, and has candles burning in every room, and still has an odd smell, is a direct sign to me that the person is trying to cover up an odor of some sort.”
And nothing is more off-putting to potential buyers and guests than that. Address the problem at its source. Maybe that means a fabric cleaner for the couch or carpet, or taking out the trash, or recycling more regularly.
Mistake No. 4: Cleaning things out of order
Sorry, but you can’t just push the vacuum around the house one day and decide to dust the next. There’s an order of operations when it comes to cleaning, and if you don’t do it the right way, you’ll face the hassle of redoing certain areas later on.
“Sometimes when people get to dusting around, they forget the ceiling fan,” Sansoni says. “So they’ll dust, then vacuum, and then dust the ceiling fan, [and that dust] gets on the floor.”
To avoid this, clean from top to bottom: For example, start with the ceiling fan, then clean entertainment centers and cables, and finish off by vacuuming up anything that may have fallen on the floor.
“Vacuum last,” Sansoni says, “and you’re saving yourself some time.”
Mistake No. 5: Keeping junk that gathers dust
By now, we don’t need to tell you all the disadvantages of a cluttered home. But there’s one more reason to avoid letting junk accumulate in your house: You’ll end up cleaning it.
“Keep that clutter to a minimum, because clutter gathers dust,” Sansoni says, “especially in more heavily trafficked rooms in your house or apartment.”
The same goes for the mail pile. To save time on what actually requires your attention, do some of the work right away—as soon as you pick up the mail.
“Make a garbage pile and a to-do pile,” suggests Jenna Haefelin, owner of Spiff Home Organizing in New York. “When the to-do pile piles up, take action!”
Apply this idea to knickknacks and magazines, too. Whenever something makes its way into your home, ask yourself if you really need it or want it. Better yet: Ask yourself if you like it enough to spend time cleaning it later on.