9 Cleaning Products You’ve Been Using the Wrong Way

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Beware: Your cleaning products could be doing more harm than good.

When it comes to cleaning, as long as you’re doing it, you’re all set, right? Wrong.

Even if you’re cleaning everything in your home often enough, you might not be doing it correctly. It’s not about how much elbow grease you use or how much time you spend on a task. It often boils down to whether you’re using the right products in the right way. When you don’t, you’ll encounter a few problems.

At best, these common mistakes can make your job harder. At worst, they can be hazardous to your health and damage the items you’re trying to scrub and scour.

We asked the experts to identify which cleaning products you’re probably using incorrectly, and what you should be doing instead. While you’re at it, make your life even easier with these products that will clean your house in less than an hour.

Bleach and Ammonia

Kohler Faucet Cleanervia amazon.com

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Sure, they’re common household cleaners, but that doesn’t mean they’re not also incredibly dangerous. The biggest and most common mistake you can make is not using them in a properly ventilated room.

“They produce fumes or odors that can irritate your respiratory system, cause headaches, and lead to allergies,” warns Dave Cusick, chief strategy officer for House Method. “That’s why it’s important to keep the doors and windows open when cleaning and avoid using these harsh chemicals in enclosed spaces.”

Plus, mixing bleach and ammonia together can have devastating consequences. “The mixture can produce gases that can cause chronic respiratory problems, and it can even be fatal,” he adds. “Always read the directions for use in the container to avoid mishaps.”

Something else you might be doing wrong: Using these chemicals on items you shouldn’t. “Many people think bleach can be used on everything in the bathroom. That’s not true,” says James Scott, the co-founder of Dappir, a cleaning and maid service in Miami. “It’s corrosive to metal. This means any metal faucets, showerheads, handles, and otherwise will not play nicely with bleach.”

When you do clean your faucets, read the label carefully to make sure the product is suitable for metal like Kohler Faucet Cleaner, which is ammonia- and alcohol-free. On the other hand, here are different ways you’re not using bleach — but should.

All-Purpose Cleaners

Weiman Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polishvia amazon.com

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We’re all for efficiency, but using a single cleaning product for all of your cleaning needs can lead to big problems.

“While cleaning products may indicate ‘all-purpose,’ there’s no such thing,” says Cusick. “Some areas of the house need specific cleaning products, such as your granite countertop, appliances, and wood furniture. Using an unsuitable chemical can damage them.”

Be sure to read the back of the bottle to see what surfaces a product is designed to clean. Otherwise, you might end up ruining expensive items like your stainless steel refrigerator. That’s better left to products like Weiman Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish, which conveniently comes with a microfiber cloth.

Speaking of stainless steel, here’s how to clean a stainless steel sink.

Water (Yes, Water)

Bona Hardwood Floor Cleanervia amazon.com

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Hardwood floors are a big investment. The last thing you want to do is damage them.

“Water is harmless — in most cases, that is,” says Scott. “When we’re talking about wood floors, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Too much water on wood floors causes them to warp. Although it may not be noticeable at first, prolonged usage of excess water on wood floors will lead to permanent damage.”

For the most part, you’re better off sticking to a product formulated specifically for hardwood floors like Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner. Here are another 14 things you should never clean with water.

Bathroom Cleaner

Kaboom Foam-Tastic Bathroom Cleaner with Oxicleanvia amazon.com

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We all want instant results, but Scott says that isn’t always possible. “When it comes to cleaning the bathroom, almost every product should be applied and left to sit for at least five to 10 minutes,” he explains. “I’ve seen very few bathroom products that don’t require this.”

Unless you give the product time to do its thing, it won’t remove the gunk or disinfect your surfaces, either. So it’s perfectly OK to take a break while your Kaboom Foam-Tastic Bathroom Cleaner with Oxiclean does all the work.

You might also want to pick up a few of these cleaning products professional house cleaners always buy.

Glass and Window Cleaner

Windexvia amazon.com

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The more cleaner you use, the better your results, right? Wrong. Scott says going overboard with glass and window cleaner can actually make your job harder.

“Glass and mirrors can be one of the most gratifying surfaces to clean,” he notes. “However, it can be frustrating chasing streaks around. Sometimes it’s because the material being used is dirty. But usually, it’s due to using too much liquid cleaner. It’s easy to think ‘more spray, more clean,’ but for glass and mirrors, less is more.”

The other upside? Your basic bottle of Windex will last even longer.

Laundry Detergent

Tide Podsvia amazon.com

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Laundry is a never-ending project, but it has big rewards. After all, no one wants to walk around in dirty clothes! But you might end up doing just that if you use too much laundry detergent.

“Everyone loves the smell of fresh clothes, so it’s easy to go to town on detergent,” explains Scott. “While the intention is good, it’s actually counterproductive. Excessive detergent builds up in the clothes and the interior of the washer. This causes odor over time and reduces the effectiveness of wash cycles.”

An easy way to avoid this problem is to switch to Tide Pods, since the correct amount has already measured for you. This will also prevent you from accidentally shortening the life of your washing machine.

Oven Cleaner

Easy Off oven cleanervia amazon.com

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It’s essential to clean your oven periodically, but Scott says it’s equally important to exercise care when using oven cleaner. Powerful cleaners like Easy-Off work well, but you have to be careful where you use them.

“Oven cleaners are [among] the most acidic cleaners of any,” he explains. “Avoiding the heating element and oven light are imperative, as it can cause permanent damage to them.”

And certain parts of your oven aren’t the only things you need to be careful with. Never get any of this on your skin, or you could suffer a painful chemical burn.

Vinegar

Granite Gold Daily Cleaning Sprayvia amazon.com

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Cusick has strong feelings about vinegar. “Vinegar is a good cleaning agent, especially for removing bad odors and burnt-on grime,” he says. “However, be careful when using it to clean surfaces such as granite and marble. Vinegar is a strong acid and can leave permanent marks on natural stones.”

You should also shouldn’t mix it with bleach. Before mixing vinegar with any cleaning agent, he adds, do a little research to find out if it’s safe for the surfaces you want to clean. If you’ve got natural stone, forget vinegar and switch to a product like Granite Gold Daily Cleaning Spray. This non-toxic formula doesn’t contain phosphates or ammonia, and it’s safe to use on surfaces where you prepare food.

Make sure you keep that vinegar within reach, though. These 19 vinegar cleaning hacks will save you money.

Almost Any Product if You Do This

Clorox Healthcare Bleach Germicidal Cleaning Sprayvia amazon.com

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Sometimes, in our enthusiasm for cleanliness, we end up damaging the very surfaces we’re trying to care for by going overboard.

“Avoid using products one after another, thinking that you’ll get faster results, and stick to the recommended amount of product for cleaning,” recommends Cusick. “Some products may be too strong, so you’ll end up damaging your home instead of cleaning it.”

This is another case where reading the labels on those packages is important, especially if you’re using something as powerful as Clorox Healthcare Bleach Germicidal Cleaning Spray.

Here are some other bad cleaning habits you didn’t know you had.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest

Tamara Gane
Tamara Gane is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest covering travel, lifestyle, history, and culture. Her work has also appeared in The Washington Post, NPR, Al Jazeera, Wine Enthusiast, Lonely Planet, HuffPost Food, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @TamaraGane