Are you using your cleaning products wrong?

If you're using your cleaning products wrong, it could just spread dirt and germs and ruin your surfaces

Couple deep cleaning
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Are you using your cleaning products wrong? How hard can it be, right? I mean, we all know how to wash our hands so thoroughly they’re as clean as a surgeon’s ready to operate. We’re pros!

So we should know how to clean our homes properly. But are we failing to read the instructions and just recklessly squirting away with our fresh-off-the-shelf cleaning products? Whipping out dusters and cloths from where we stuffed them after use and simply smearing old dirt back on our surfaces (yuck).

So stop and think before your start. Read the labels and follow our tips on how to clean properly – otherwise your new-found enthusiasm for it could do more harm to your home than good.

How to use antibacterial wipes

After hand sanitiser, these are the new go-tos for our cleaning needs as we wipe down everything someone else might have come into contact with. But it’s easy to undermine their effectiveness. Only use a wipe to clean one surface before disposing of it. If you keep reusing it you’ll just transfer the dirt and germs from one surface to another. You may need more than one wipe to cover a large area. 

Always check the ingredients before using to make sure it is suitable for that surface; for instance acid-based cleaners should never be used on granite. To give the disinfectant a chance to work on the bacteria, leave it visibly wet for several minutes and let it air-dry.

How to use bleach

With brand name bleaches promising to kill nearly 100 per cent of bacteria and germs, who wouldn’t want to reach for it to make sure things are clean and safe. But as anyone who has accidentally bleached the colour out of their clothes knows, it needs to be handled with caution*. 

It can be used neat or diluted. Like the antibacterial wipes, you need to give it time to be effective. Don’t squirt into your toilet then wash away, leave it for at least 15 minutes or even overnight. If the sink plughole smells, pour bleach in until it overflows and let it stand for five minutes. 

It can be used diluted to clean floors (Domestos recommend 120ml of bleach per 5 litres of water), and to sanitise dishcloths and sponges (Domestos say use 60ml bleach in half a bucket of water for soaking)

* Don’t mix bleach with anything other than water. Avoid combining it with other cleaning agents, vinegar, ammonia (found in many glass or window cleaners) or rubbing alcohol – it can cause toxic fumes.

How to clean with vinegar

Your gran’s handy helper, useful for cooking or cleaning, this household staple is a versatile little number, and a hit with people wanting a cheaper, greener alternative to store-bought chemical cleaners. 

You can mix distilled white vinegar with water to clean windows or the microwave, wipe down shower doors with it or put some vinegar in a plastic bag and let the shower head soak in it to get rid of mineral build up. 

Because it is acidic, you shouldn’t use it on granite or marble surfaces, stone floor tiles, on knives or in irons, nor on hardwood floors or furniture. And though vinegar is antibacterial, it won’t kill the coronavirus.

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How to use laundry detergent

When you’re doing a wash are you just glooping in the detergent, slamming the door and thinking job well done? Wrong! If you are not measuring it out, chances are you are using too much, leaving residue and marks on the clothes you are trying to clean, making your machine smell and wasting money by going through detergent too quickly. The excess suds can hold onto the dirt and trap it in places where it won’t get rinsed away – like collars – letting bacteria build up (yeww).

Too many bubbles will act as a cushion between clothes stopping them from rubbing against each other – which is what gets them clean. And the suds can also put a strain on your machine as it tries to break them down. 

The fill lines on caps may be hard to see, so use a marker to make sure you are not going above the lines and measuring out too much. If you are still seeing suds after a wash, cut it back to the lowest recommended level of detergent.

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How to use oven cleaner

Everyone’s least favourite job, and the one we probably avoid at all costs because of the toxic fumes and the caustic nature of the cleaner needed to break down baked-on residue. But this is what we put our food into, so it needs to be clean. Oven cleaner will often come with gloves to stop it splashing on your skin and burning you, and a thorough set of instructions; read them! 

Make sure your oven is cold – not hot – before you start, and turn off the electricity or pilot light. Only spray the cleaner inside the oven, avoiding the trim, pilot light or heating element. Don’t use it on the top, in a self-cleaning oven or in a microwave. 

Close the door and leave it to work for the amount of time the instructions advise. Using the gloves, and a wet sponge or cloth, wipe all the loosened oven dirt out. If you get splashed, rinse with water for at least 20 minutes. Let the oven ‘air’ before you switch it back on again.

Cleaning tools

Woman using baking soda to clean her kitchen

(Image credit: Getty Images)

You may be pretty proud of your cleaning regime, diligently scrubbing or wiping every surface. But have you taken a good look at what you are using? How long have you been using the same brush, duster or sponge* that now harbour old dirt and germs?

You should rinse brushes and sponges in hot water after every use, and disinfect weekly in four and a half litres of hot water mixed with half a cup/120ml of bleach. Alternatively, you can soak them overnight in a bowl of white vinegar or put them in the dishwasher when you are doing a load.

For dusters, shake them outside and then clean in washing up liquid and warm water. For microfibre cloths, soak in warm water, rinse and hang out to dry.

*You can zap nearly 100 per cent of bacteria on a sponge by soaking it in water and then microwaving on high for a minute or two.

How to use bathroom cleaner

When cleaning your bathroom, give it time. Don’t just squirt, wipe and rinse. Let your chosen cleaner do some of the hard work. Start with the toilet; direct the cleaning agent under the rim, going all round, then close the lid to let it take effect. When you come back to it, wipe the outside of the bowl thoroughly with disinfectant cleaner. Inside just scrub round with the cleaner you already applied.

For the basin, shower and bath, spray or sponge on the appropriate cleaning fluid and then let it soak into the dirt, residue and old soap on the surface. Use a microfibre cloth or soft-bristled brush to rub it in as they are slightly abrasive.

Don’t forget to clean all the things you touch regularly – including taps, the shower control, the toilet flush and the door handle – or stand on, like bathmats.

How to use floor cleaners

One floor cleaner does not suit all floor surfaces, so always read the labels to make sure what you are using won’t damage yours. For instance, strong chemicals may degrade or stain tile flooring. Don’t be too liberal with the mop – getting the floor too wet could lead to wood or laminate warping or buckling, or vinyl flooring becoming unglued.

Carpets can be vacuumed weekly or steam cleaned if necessary. Wood or hard floors can be swept or vacuumed and then wiped down with antibacterial floor wipes or cleaner. Laminate can be vacuumed and then use a microfibre mop and laminate floor cleaner (or a DIY solution of equal parts white vinegar and warm water mixed in a spray bottle).

For floor tiles, vacuum or sweep regularly so crumbs and dirt don’t get ground in. Use a soft broom on a marble or natural stone floor which won’t scratch the surface. Mop with warm water if its not too dirty, or add a squirt of washing up liquid. Wipe with clear water and then a dry mop.

Vinegar is fine for cleaning ceramic floors but avoid using this, or any acidic cleaning solution, on marble, limestone or travertine as it will corrode the surface.

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Alison Jones
Assistant Editor

Alison is Assistant Editor on Real Homes magazine. She previously worked on national newspapers, in later years as a film critic and has also written on property, fashion and lifestyle. Having recently purchased a Victorian property in severe need of some updating, much of her time is spent solving the usual issues renovators encounter.