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Cleaning Myths That Don’t Actually Work (And What To Do Instead)

Cleaning experts are calling out these popular cleaning "hacks" that are obsolete or never did the job in the first place.

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bubbles soap on car

Washing Grime off a Car With Dishwashing Detergent

While it’s true that you should clean your car with soap that fights off grease, dishwashing detergent is not the answer. This cleaning product is made to remove everything — including the polymers in your car’s paint, which speeds up its oxidation process.

What to do with instead: A proper car wash cleaner is specifically designed to be used on automotive paint, so it will be much gentler on your vehicle. Plus, will a car wash hurt your car’s finish?

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Woman hand 's holding bottle spray against gray background

Hairspray Removes Ink and Marker Stains

This trick worked back in the day when hairspray contained alcohol, the ingredient needed to remove pesky stains. But these days, you’re better off applying rubbing alcohol to the offending spot, according to Leslie Reichert, author of The Joy of Green Cleaning.

What to do instead: Dab the fabric with a stain remover and give it a spin in the washing machine to make sure the stain is gone for good.

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A toppled glass of red wine with a dirty carpet.

Applying White Wine Removes Red Wine Stains

The next time you spill red wine all over your shirt, don’t pop open a bottle of the white stuff. First of all, why waste a good glass of wine? And truth be told, this hack just doesn’t work.

What to do instead: Reichert recommends spraying a bit of hydrogen peroxide on the stain instead.

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BleachZikG/Shutterstock

Bleach Is Best

Sorry to burst your cleaning bubble. Though most people associate the smell of bleach with clean, this cleaning myth just isn’t the case. In fact, bleach doesn’t really even clean at all. It disinfects, kills germs and whitens stains, but it doesn’t clean dirt and grime from surfaces.

If you’re looking to whiten your shirt or rinse bacteria from that raw chicken in your sink, then bleach is your way to go. Bleach definitely has its benefits. These are the mistakes you keep making when cleaning with bleach.

What to do instead: If you’re trying to remove the grit from your bathtub, you’ll need an actual cleaning product, preferably something with some texture like baking soda.

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Gum

Removing Gum With Peanut Butter

Save the PB for your sandwiches and skip putting it on gum-matted hair or upholstery, says Melissa Maker, a cleaning expert and host of the YouTube channel Clean My Space. Not only does this hack waste food, but it will also create a bigger mess to clean up afterward.

What to do instead: Maker recommends applying coconut or olive oil to the sticky area instead.

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dusterMJTH/Shutterstock

Feather Dusters Dust


Sure, they’re soft and fluffy. But contrary to their name, feather dusters don’t really do much of dusting. More often than not, they just spread the dust around.

What to do instead: Reach for a vacuum with a nozzle attachment or a soft damped cloth. More than 90 percent of household dust comes from tiny flakes of skin and barely visible fabric fibers that float on the slightest air current and settle on every surface in your house. Here are 11 smart strategies for getting rid of dust.

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bakingsoda

Mixing Baking Soda and Vinegar Makes a Super Cleaner

Don’t get us wrong — baking soda and vinegar are great cleaning products on their own. But mix them together, and you’re left with nothing but water. What gives? Because vinegar is an acid and baking soda is a base, together they will fizz up and neutralize each other.

“People may think that the fizz helps to remove dirt or grime,” Maker says, “but all it will do is create a big mess.”

What to do instead: Stick to these household vinegar uses you never knew about.

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Woman hand washing clothes

Soaking Clothes in Salt Prevents Fading

Experts at Goodhousekeeping.com tested this trick and found that it’s bogus. Turns out, whether or not the dye bleeds actually depends on how the material was made. “If a fabric runs, it’s just not properly finished,” says Carolyn Forte, the director of the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Cleaning Lab.

What to do instead: So if the colors of your clothes are running in the washer, you should blame your wardrobe, not the water you wash it in. Watch out for more laundry mistakes you didn’t know you were making.

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Moulding in the corner. Light matte wall with tiles immitating hardwood flooring

Rubbing Wax Paper on Baseboards Prevents Dust Build-Up

Wrong again! Wax paper leaves behind a sticky, chemical-loaded coating on your baseboards that is almost guaranteed to need a second clean. Even worse, it may attract more dust and dirt in the process.

What to do instead: Maker suggests wiping your baseboards with a dry microfiber cloth, which you can attach to a flat-head mop or long pole for any hard-to-reach spots. These cleaning mistakes are making your home dirtier, too.

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cleaning spray scent fabreezeMikhail Romanov/Shutterstock

Fragrant Scents = Clean

You might think if something that smells fresh and good, it’s clean. Don’t let your nose fall for this cleaning myth. Just because a product is labeled as “fresh laundry” or “clean spring air” doesn’t mean that it actually removes dirt and germs.

While those air freshener sprays do smell wonderful, they don’t actually remove dirt, stains or germs. They don’t really even freshen a room. They just make it smell better for the time being.

What to do instead: If you want something to truly be clean, you have to do the dirty work. Check out these simple deodorizer ideas for your home.

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Ceiling Vent

Placing Dryer Sheets in the Air Vent Freshens the House

Dryer sheets belong in your laundry, not your air vents. “An HVAC system isn’t one you want to mess around with,” Maker says. Leaving dryer sheets in the vents can block airflow and spread synthetic chemicals throughout your home.

What to do instead: Luckily, there are many more effective ways to make your home smell fresh. Maker suggests changing your furnace filter, deodorizing your soft surfaces or using an essential oils diffuser.

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brown sofa cleaning

Using Wood Polish Spiffs up Furniture

Polishing furniture made of raw wood is a no-brainer. But most wood furniture sold today is coated in a finish, so polishing it can actually make your furniture appear duller.

What to do instead: Polyurethane, urethane, shellac or varnish finishes are all made of plastic, which should be cleaned rather than polished, according to Jan M. Dougherty, author of The Lost Art of House Cleaning. She cleans her wood furniture with white vinegar and a microfiber rag.

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macro shot of dish soap being squeezed onto green sponge in aluminum sink

Mixing Vinegar and Dish Soap Removes Pet Stains

Vinegar is a stain remover superhero, but it’s not strong enough to remove odors and discoloration caused by pet urine or vomit. Same goes for dish soap.

What to do instead: An enzyme cleaner, on the other hand, breaks down the proteins in the stain and makes your carpet or upholstery look spotless.

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Receptacle for coffee filters

Dusting Shelves With a Coffee Filter

Using a coffee filter to dust your home seems like a cheap alternative for a store-bought duster. But Reichert, a.k.a. The Cleaning Coach, has one question for this hack: Why? “It doesn’t produce static and doesn’t attract dust,” she says. “It’s made to filter coffee!”

What to do instead: Opt for a vacuum with a nozzle attachment or a soft, damp cloth.

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Polish wood furniture lemon rag dust cloth

Polish Wood Weekly

While gleaming floors and furniture are coveted, you should polish them sparingly. Most wooden furniture sold on the market today doesn’t need to be polished at all. Applying too much polish and/or wax will lead to build up and actually make your furniture appear more dull.

What to do instead: If you notice dust or other debris, regular water on a cloth will do the trick. Hardwood floors are more complicated to keep intact than you may have thought. Use these tips to keep them looking polished and new for years.

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Close up arrangement of chalkboard. Preschool, education, back to school and copy-space concept or other your content.

Cleaning a Chalkboard With Soda

Conventional wisdom says soda will make a smudgy chalkboard look like new again. But according to Maker, the sugar in the soda actually clings to the chalkboard surface instead, leaving behind a sticky, nasty mess.

What to do instead: To get rid of those pesky smudges, Maker suggests mixing equal parts vinegar and water, then spraying the board and wiping it with a microfiber cloth.

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Close-up Of Woman Hand Loading Dirty Clothes In Washing MachineAndrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Wash All Clothes in Cold Water

Doing your laundry is a tad more complicated than just pressing a button on the washer machine. Many find it frustrating trying to decode which color is washed for how long and in what temperature, which is probably why most people wash everything on cold. (It’s also a money-saver.)

What to do instead: Most pieces can be washed in cold water, especially dark and bright colors or delicate fabrics, as the colder temperature works wonders in removing stains and ensuring clothes don’t shrink. But some things, like whites, should be washed on hot. And man-made fibers, knits and jeans should be washed on warm.

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News - Pile of newspapers. Daily papers with articles and headlines stacked on the table. Actual information in press, fresh media. Folded tabloid pages on desk in office, data on paper. Side view

Wiping Windows With Newspaper Leaves Fewer Streaks

Odds are, your grandparents still clean their windows with newspapers, claiming it will leave the glass shiny and streak-free. “This worked years ago when the ink came off and formed a film on the window,” Reichert says. “[It] doesn’t work any longer.” Newspapers today are made of materials that make them even less effective than paper towels.

What to do instead: Rubbing alcohol or vinegar on a microfiber cloth is a more surefire way to get spotless windows, according to Dougherty.

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cleaning suppliesgilaxia/Getty Images

Cleaning Solutions Act Instantly

You can’t expect to spray a product and instantaneously have a perfectly clean, spotless surface. That’s called magic, and there’s debate on whether it even exists.

After applying a cleaning solution, let it soak in for the allotted time. And be patient. Wiping it off too early will likely result in dirt and germs remaining, as well as a huge waste of product. And you need to add some elbow grease, too.

What to do instead: While that kitchen cleaner is great for breaking up grease on the stove, it’s not going to remove itself. You’ll need to scrub it with a sponge or rag — and a lot of pressure. If you’re into DIYing all natural cleaning solutions, these six homemade cleaners really work.

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Dirty Pan with Tomato Sauce and Spoons. Dirty Dishes from the Cooking Process.

Soaking a Dryer Sheet in a Dirty Pan Unsticks Food Scraps

This popular hack is just an old wives’ tale. “Fabric softener is designed to soften synthetic clothing and reduce static, not lift food off a surface,” Maker says.

What to do instead: In this case, patience is key. Most residue can be removed from a dirty pan when left to soak overnight, according to Maker. Add some baking soda to the soapy water if you need to tackle any particularly stubborn spots.

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Douche, moldy

Using Toilet Bowl Cleaner Removes Shower Grime

Running low on shower cleaning product? Don’t count on your toilet bowl cleaner to get the job done. Toilet cleaners contain acids and bleach products that can destroy the finish on your tubs and tiles, Maker says.

What to do instead: You’ll be better off using a dedicated bathroom cleaning product to scrub soap scum off the shower.

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Bucket with sponges, chemicals bottles, brushes, towel and rubber gloves. Household equipment, spring-cleaning, tidying up, cleaning service concept, copy space.Cleaning products. Home cleaning concep

The More Product You Use, the Better the Clean

Most people think that if using a little bit works well, then using more must work better. But that’s not the case with cleaning products. “When it comes to cleaning, less is often more,” Maker says. Applying too much product can actually backfire, leading to residue build-up and requiring more elbow grease to get it clean again.

What to do instead: In general, using a small amount of product and leaving it for a few minutes before wiping it down will usually do the trick. Steal these genius cleaning hacks from professional house cleaners, too.

Originally Published on Reader's Digest