It’s time to trash some housecleaning remedies that have been passed down for generations yet produce iffy results or, worse, create more work. Consumer Reports asked some cleaning-industry experts about the effectiveness of 10 timeworn tips and here’s what they said.
Myth: Newspaper does windows well
Fact: Wet newspaper tears easily and the ink can transfer to window trim, leaving more to clean. “We use microfiber cloths to clean glass,” says Debra Johnson, home cleaning experts for Merry Maids, a national franchise. “They’re the best at cleaning without streaking.”
Myth: Coca-cola belongs in the toilet
Fact: Coke isn’t “it” when it comes to cleaning your toilet bowl. “Coke is acidic, so it could be effective at removing hard water stains,” says Johnson. “But even the Coca-Cola website recommends using other options.” Derek Christian, owner of My Maid Service, a home cleaning service in Ohio and Texas, prefers traditional cleansers as well. “The soda could actually darken stains and the sugar could encourage bacteria.”
Myth: Handwashing dishes is better than using a dishwasher
Fact: If your dishwasher is a decade old, this may be true, but today’s models beat handwashing by a mile. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star website, using a dishwasher that bears the Energy Star label can save some 5,000 gallons of water, more than $40 dollars in energy costs, and 230 hours in personal time over the course of a year, versus handwashing. And, because dishwashers heat the water to 140°F, they’ll sanitize the dishes, too.
Myth: Coffee freshens garbage disposers
Fact: “Coffee grounds may act as a mild abrasive, removing gunk from disposer blades,” says Christian. “But baking soda is a better choice: It’s also mildly abrasive, and because it’s a base it will counteract all the smelly acids that we put down the drain.”
Myth: Vinegar cleans everything
Fact: “Vinegar is an acid, so it can cut through dirt and can kill bacteria, but only if you use it at full or nearly full strength,” says Christian. “Most people put a capful in a bucket of water, and that doesn’t do much.” The acids in vinegar can damage natural stone and wood surfaces.
Myth: Hairspray removes ballpoint ink
Fact: This may have been true years ago, when hairsprays were formulated with more alcohol (which does remove ink) than they are today, but not anymore. “Today’s hairsprays are full of stiffeners and hardeners that will just make the stain worse,” says Christian. “Just use rubbing alcohol. It’s far less expensive than hairspray, and doesn’t include any extra ingredients.”
Myth: Bleach cleans everything
Fact: “Bleach actually doesn’t ‘clean’ anything—because it doesn’t remove soil,” says Christian. “It can lighten stains, making things look cleaner, and it kills bacteria, so it’s better as a sanitizer than as a cleaner.”
Myth: Feathers make great dusters
Fact: Genuine ostrich-feather dusters do attract dust, but they’re expensive and are generally not as effective as lambswool or microfiber options. “Most feather dusters just spread the dust around,” says Debrah Vanchura, cleaning pro and owner of Helping Hands in Portland, Ore. Also, they tend to drop feathers—leaving you more to pick up.
Myth: Cleaning solutions work instantly
Fact: Nope. “At Merry Maids we recommend allowing any cleaning solution to sit on the surface for two to three minutes,” says Johnson. “Always follow the directions on the product’s label. Some solutions, like disinfectants, need a full ten minutes to truly kill bacteria,” Christian adds.
Myth: String makes the best mops
Fact: Industrial-style string mops may look impressive, but studies have shown that microfiber mops are about 20 percent more effective at removing dirt and bacteria, says Christian. “String mops are very absorbent, so they’re great at cleaning up big spills,” he says, “but if you want to make sure you’re not leaving anything behind on the floor, use a microfiber mop.”
—Adapted from Consumer Reports How to Clean (Practically) Anything