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. This doesn’t have to do with the amount of elbow grease you use or the amount of time you spend on a task. It often boils down to whether or not you’re using the right products in the right way.

There are a few problems you can encounter when you don’t. 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

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 cofounder 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, make sure you 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 10 different ways you’re not using bleach—but should.

Kohler Faucet Cleanervia amazon.com

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All-purpose cleaners

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.” In other words, be sure to read the back of the bottle to see what surfaces a product is recommended for. Otherwise, you might end up ruining expensive items like your stainless steel fridge. 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.

Weiman Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polishvia amazon.com

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Water (yes, water)

Hardwood floors are a big investment. The last thing you want to do is damage them. “Water is harmless—in most cases, that is. When we’re talking about wood floors, it couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Scott. “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.” In most cases, 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.

Bona Hardwood Floor Cleanervia amazon.com

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Bathroom cleaner

We all want instant results, but Scott says that isn’t always possible when it comes to cleaning products. “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.” Not only won’t they get off the gunk, but they won’t disinfect your surfaces should either. In other words, 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.

Kaboom Foam-Tastic Bathroom Cleaner with Oxicleanvia amazon.com

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Glass and window cleaner

The more cleaner you use, the better your results will be, right? Wrong. Scott says that 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. However, it can be frustrating chasing streaks around,” he notes. “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.

Windexvia amazon.com

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Laundry detergent

Laundry is a never-ending project, but it has big rewards. After all, no one wants to walk around in dirty clothes! That said, 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.

Tide Podsvia amazon.com

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Oven cleaner

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—make sure to avoid getting any of this on your skin or you could get a painful chemical burn.

Easy Off oven cleanervia amazon.com

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Vinegar

Cusick has strong feelings about vinegar: “Vinegar is a good cleaning agent, especially for removing bad odors and burnt-on grime. 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, step away from the 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.

Granite Gold Daily Cleaning Sprayvia amazon.com

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Almost any product if you do this

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 very 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.

Clorox Healthcare Bleach Germicidal Cleaning Sprayvia amazon.com

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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