Should You Clean Your Cleaning Tools?

Don't toss your cleaning tools when they're dirty. Here's how to clean them — all of them — and extend their life.

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People throw away cleaning tools all the time. It’s a terrible waste of resources and money. Spending a little time cleaning and maintaining your tools keeps them working efficiently and extends their life. We’ll show you how to keep yours in top shape, an easy way to make cleaning fun.

Brushes and Brooms (Natural or Synthetic)

Over time, bristles get dirty and nasties like bacteria and grime build up. Instead of cleaning, they’re pushing and spreading germs and dirt from one place to another. Here’s how to fix that:

  • Bang bristles on a solid surface to loosen trapped dirt.
  • Rinse with clean water.
  • Try this homemade disinfectant solution: Add one gallon of warm water to a clean bucket or sink, then mix in 1/4-cup of baking soda, 1/2-cup of white vinegar and one cup of ammonia.
  • Immerse the bristles in this concoction. Agitate by hand, then let soak for 30 minutes.
  • Run a painter’s comb through the bristles to remove leftover gunk.
  • Rinse with warm water.
  • Dry with bristles facing up, in the sun if possible.
  • Wipe the handle with an eco-friendly disinfectant.

Mops (Wet and Dry)

Like brushes and brooms, you’re wearing out and cross-contaminating your home with germs and dirt if you don’t clean your mops. Follow these steps to keep them working like new:

  • Shake dry mops out after every use.
  • Once a month, vacuum and wash in a sink using hot water and vinegar. Or run detachable mop heads through a washing machine (delicate cycle) with hot water and mild detergent.
  • Clean wet mops by agitating in a bucket with the disinfectant solution.
  • Let air dry and wipe the handle with disinfectant.

Sponges

Sponges are a great cleaning tool. However, dirty sponges spread germs, trap odor-causing bacteria and dirt particles that can quickly scratch finished surfaces. Deep clean your sponges in the dishwasher. To disinfect a sponge, follow these steps:

  • In a clean glass bowl, mix nine parts warm water to one part bleach.
  • Submerge the sponge. Use a piece of wood to keep it fully immersed.
  • Wait thirty minutes, then squeeze out the disinfecting mixture.
  • Rinse in warm water and let dry.

Vacuum Cleaners

Vacuuming carpets definitely beats dragging them outside and pounding them with a rug beater. However, according to Dan Deonarian, owner of New York city-based cleaning service Galaxy Maids, clogged vacuum cleaner filters or overstuffed dirt bags will cause poor suction, shifting dust and allergens from one place to another. Clogged filters also cause overheating, belt and premature motor failure.

Help vacuums work more effectively and last longer by taking these steps:

Bag and Bagless Vacuums

  • Unplug the unit, remove, empty and sanitize the dirt tank. Or toss the disposable bag.
  • On bagless models, disassemble the dirt tank.
  • Remove reusable/washable filters, hoses and all removable parts, accessories and HEPA filter (if equipped).
  • Fill a large basin or sink with a disinfectant solution. (Adjust ingredient quantities if necessary.)
  • Soak the washable filter(s), dirt tank, hose, all removable parts and non-electric powered accessories for 30 minutes. Don’t soak the HEPA filter. Never place electrical components or non-washable filters in water.
  • Using a clean, dry brush or compressed air, thoroughly remove dust and dirt from the vacuum’s passageways, nooks and crannies.
  • Wipe the outer shell and exposed areas with a damp microfiber towel and disinfectant.
  • Thoroughly scrub all parts and accessories.
  • With a garden hose, flush away muck trapped inside the hose.
  • Remove and sanitize the beater bar/brush head. Note the position of the drive belt(s).
  • Inspect brushes and drive belt(s) for wear. Replace if worn, frayed or delaminating.
  • Cut away any trapped hair, string, etc., wound around the beater bar or wheels.
  • Replace HEPA filters once a year.

Robotic Vacuums:

Autonomous vacuums are hi-tech marvels. But just like their conventional cousins, they need maintenance.

Robotic vacuums use cameras, electronic, optical and laser sensors to safely navigate your home. Dust or grime on sensors can cause it to bump into objects, fail to return to the docking port or go crashing down the stairs. Cleaning the dirt tank after each use and replacing worn parts will keep your vacuum running happily for years.

Monthly maintenance tasks:

  • Clean the exterior and sensors with a moistened microfiber cloth.
  • Clean filters.
  • Check roller and side brushes for wear and any trapped hair and dirt.

Disinfecting robotic vacuums

Unfortunately, robotic vacuums will pick up anything, including unsanitary messes. While wearing gloves:

  • Take off all brushes, wheels, dirt tank and any other removable parts.
  • Clean the housing with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipes.
  • Soak and clean/scrub removable parts with the disinfectant solution.

Caution: Be careful near small openings where water can enter the electronics.

Steam Cleaners

Using no harsh chemicals, steam cleaners are eco-friendly cleaning tools that clean, disinfect or even sanitize a multitude of surfaces.

Non-suction steam cleaners

Use distilled water. Free of impurities and minerals, distilled water generates more steam and reduces mineral build-up that can make these products useless. Keeping them clean saves time and money. Here’s how:

  • Unplug the unit and empty the reservoir.
  • When cool, remove all cleaning attachments (not the nozzles).
  • Wash and rinse the housing and nozzles in hot water with a clean microfiber towel.
  • Descale by pouring a 50/50 mix of distilled water and vinegar into the reservoir.
  • Scrub the clogged nozzles with the same descaling mix and a stiff brush.
  • Turn the steamer on.
  • When ready, carefully empty the steamer into the sink.
  • Insert a thin wire into the nozzle holes to loosen mineral deposit buildup if necessary.
  • Run the descaling process again.

Suction Steam Cleaners

A nifty two-in-one tool, these can save you hundreds of dollars by deep cleaning carpets and sealed floors yourself. It’s easy to keep these expensive appliances working well for a long time. Follow the instructions above for cleaning vacuum cleaners and non-suction stream cleaners, plus:

  • Fill the reservoir with the 50/50 descaling mix.
  • Empty cleaner onto concrete or non-porous floor.
  • Suck the mix back into the cleaner.
  • Repeat as needed to flush dirt and clean nozzles.
  • Remove, empty and disinfect the water recovery tank.
  • Launder washable fabric covers.

Bob Lacivita
Bob Lacivita is an award-winning ASE and General Motors auto technician, vocational educator, Career and Technical Center administrator and freelance writer who has written about DIY car repairs, vehicle maintenance and other self-help topics for more than 20 years.
At the age of 12, Bob took his first engine apart, a 2-cycle Briggs and Stratton from a lawn mower he found in the trash. At 14, he rebuilt a seized 256cu.in. Chevrolet engine in a 1956 Belair that he drove for three years. He spent most weekends, as well as the money he earned working a gas station, at Atco Dragway in Atco New Jersey.
Although trained as an architectural drafter, he never worked a day in that field. Still, the skills he learned helped as he renovated and rehabbed his homes. His true love was cars and so he made that his life’s profession. Bob worked for one of the largest Oldsmobile retailers in the country and earned Pontiac and Oldsmobile Master Technician Elite status as one of the top 20 GM technicians in the country.
Bob was also a Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) certified career and technical educator for 25 years, teaching automotive technology for 11 of them. He's been a Certified Vehicle Safety Insructor and an Emissions Inspector, too. Bob earned his master’s degree in educational leadership, as well as his PDE K-12 Principal Certification and his Career and Technical Education Directors and Curriculum Supervisors certificates, to become a school administrator. When it comes to education, Bob has two sayings: The kids are the best part of teaching, and teaching was the hardest job he ever had. It was the best job he ever had, too.
Since retiring, Bob has continued to maintain his ASE Master Technician; MACS Section 609 Refrigerant Recycling Certification; PA safety and emissions inspector certifications, credentials, and licenses; and participated in more than 100 hours of update technical training through MotorAge, Snap-On, Dorman Products and Automotive Technician Training Services, Mitchel1 and others.
Bob currently writes regularly for Family Handyman and works as a consultant with one of the largest automotive retailers on the East Coast, setting up an automotive technology training and apprenticeship program in partnership with a local catholic high school.
Bob and his wife lived through 40 years' worth of DIY home remodeling while parenting two (now grown) boys, and now relax by watching their three fabulous granddaughters.