Spring Clean: 6 Common Cleaning Mistakes

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In the ongoing war against harmful germs in our homes, we’re making some basic mistakes. Here are some common cleaning blunders and how to avoid them.

What’s the dirtiest item in most Canadian homes? Not the toilet or even anything bathroom-related, but the simple kitchen towel according to a study by the Hygiene Council.

According to the study, these ‘dirty’ towels were, in fact, highly contaminated with E. coli, which can cause severe cramping and bloody diarrhea. The explanation for the not so harmless kitchen towel may have less to do with not laundering them than not laundering them properly. In order to kill bacteria, researchers say, towels should be washed in water hotter than 60 C (140 F) or by using boiling water in a pot.

So what are some the top mistakes we make when trying to keep our homes healthy and hygienic? Click through for some common cleaning blunders.

6 Cleaning Mistakes

1. Not cleaning regularly. Most homes should be cleaned on a weekly basis. The ‘every week’ rule also holds for laundering towels and bed linens. (Remember to wash linens in temperatures of 60 C or 140 F or above to kill bacteria and avoid cross-contamination between infected and non-infected clothing and other items.) And when it comes to bedding, don’t neglect to wash (or dry clean) duvets, comforters and pillows at least once per month to control for dust mites, dander and pollen. Tip: When drying heavier items like comforters or duvets, toss in a clean tennis shoe to help prevent lumping.


2. Rushing. We’re all short on time — not to mention that cleaning isn’t everyone’s favourite activity! However, rushing the job can mean leaving some pretty scary germs behind. Take time to move furniture, rugs, plants and other items to clean surfaces thoroughly. Also, give your cleaning products time to do their job: most cleansers and disinfecting agents need ‘contact’ time of 1-3 minutes (or longer) to maximize their ability to kill bacteria and other microscopic organisms. (Check the label of your cleaning product for specific ‘dwell’ times.)

3. Overlooking germy hotspots.  Experts recommend paying special attention to the ‘hotspots’ for germs including door and fridge handles, light switches, faucet taps, computer keyboards, telephone hand pieces, chopping boards and utensils, kitchen towels and sink, cleaning cloths and sponges, rubbish bin lids, bathrooms (including toilet seat and flush handle, sink, bath and shower) and water storage containers and filters. Be sure to clean these areas frequently, preferably at least once per day.

4. Not taking care of equipment. Be sure to change vacuum bags regularly and remove debris from the brushes. And don’t forget to clean mops, sponges and cleaning cloths after each use to avoid spreading around more dirt and germs the next time you clean.

5. Unsafe use of cleaning products. While in pursuit of a hygienic home, it’s important to keep in mind that certain cleaning agents or combinations of products can actually be unhealthy to use, particularly for people who suffer from allergies or asthma. When certain bleach and acids come into contact, for example, they can create chlorine gas, which is highly toxic. Another example: Combining bleach and ammonia can inflame your airways and damage the lining of your lungs. Avoid mixing your various cleaning products, and as a general rule, select the least toxic or ‘green’ product possible for tackling the job. For instance, a mixture of 10 per cent vinegar with water can remove up to 99.9 per cent of bacteria on surfaces, experts say. (See How to make your own cleaning products )

6. Not wearing gloves. It’s not only about keeping hands attractive and preventing them from becoming inflamed, cracked or chapped. Our skin is permeable, meaning it can absorb the chemicals and toxic substances from cleaning products. Some common solvents can cause serious damage to the liver and kidneys, and even potentially lead to cancer, according to health experts. Also cracked skin means that any contact you have with bacteria in your home can be transmitted directly into your blood stream. The best protection: wear either disposable latex or reusable rubber gloves while cleaning. (If using reusable rubber gloves, buy several pairs to use exclusively for certain tasks such as washing dishes and cleaning the bathroom. This will help to avoid cross-contamination.)

Finally, keep in mind that our hands are the biggest spreaders of germs in the home, and frequent hand washing with good old fashioned soap and water is still one of the best weapons we have for staying healthy. (See The art of hand washing.)


•  While some germs cause disease, not all microbes are harmful. They are, in fact, the foundation of the earth’s food chain — and we would not survive without them.

•  Germs enter the home mainly by people, food, pets and pests. Cross-contamination happens when germs are transferred from person to person or through direct or indirect contact with a surface — and back again.

•  Bad bugs commonly found in the home include MRSA (meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), E. coli, Norovirus and Clostridium difficile.

Sources: Mayo Clinic; Hygiene Council; Prevention; NHS; CDC; WebMD; CBC