Traditional Cleaning Tricks That Don’t Actually Work

Cleaning experts are calling the bluff on these popular cleaning “hacks.”

Removing gum with peanut butter

Gum

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. Maker recommends applying coconut or olive oil to the sticky area, instead.

Mixing baking soda and vinegar makes a super cleaner

bakingsoda

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, but all it will do is create a big mess,” Maker says. Stick to these household vinegar uses you never knew about.

Soaking clothes in salt prevents fading

Woman hand washing clothes

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,” Carolyn Forte, the director of the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Cleaning Lab, says. So if the colors of your clothes are running in the washer, you should blame your wardrobe—not the water you wash it in.

Rubbing wax paper on baseboards prevents dust build-up

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

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. Maker suggests wiping your baseboards with a dry microfiber cloth, and you can even attach it to a flat-head mop or long pole for any hard-to-reach spots.

Spraying hairspray removes ink and marker stains

Woman hand

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

Placing dryer sheets in the air vent freshens the house

Ceiling Vent

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. 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.

Using wood polish spiffs up furniture

brown sofa cleaning

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. 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.

Mixing vinegar and dish soap removes pet stains

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

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. An enzyme cleaner, on the other hand, is able to break down the proteins in the stain and make your carpet or upholstery look spotless.

Dusting shelves with a coffee filter

Receptacle for coffee filters

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!” Instead, opt for a vacuum with a nozzle attachment or a soft, damp cloth.

Washing grime off a car with dishwashing detergent

bubbles soap on car

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. A proper car-wash cleaner is specifically designed to be used on automotive paint, so it will be much gentler on your vehicle.

Cleaning a chalkboard with soda

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

Conventional wisdom says that 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. 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.

Applying white wine removes red wine stains

A toppled glass of red wine with a dirty carpet.

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. Reichert recommends spraying a bit of hydrogen peroxide on the stain, instead.

Wiping windows with newspaper leaves fewer streaks

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

Odds are, your grandparents still clean their windows with newspapers, claiming it will leave the glass shiny and streak-free. However, “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 out of materials that make them even less effective than paper towels. Rubbing alcohol or vinegar on a microfiber cloth is a more surefire way to get spotless windows, according to Dougherty.

Soaking a dryer sheet in a dirty pan unsticks food scraps

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

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. 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.

Using toilet bowl cleaner removes shower grime

Douche, moldy

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. You will be better off using a dedicated bathroom cleaning product to scrub soap scum off the shower.

The more product you use, the better the clean

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

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. In fact, “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. As a general rule of thumb, 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.

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