You're Using Your Cleaning Products Wrong

overhead still life of cleaning products and supplies

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

When it's time to clean your house, we all want to complete the task in the most efficient and effective ways possible. There are hundreds of cleaning products and tools on the market to meet every task from removing soap scum to polishing floors to disinfecting surfaces to preventing the spread of viruses and germs.

It may surprise you that you have probably been using many products incorrectly and not getting the cleaning benefits they promise. Before you use one of your reliable favorites or a new product, take a few minutes to do the following before you begin cleaning:

  • Read the product label. The dosage, use, and safety information you need are right in front of you.
  • Follow the instructions.
  • Check the freshness of the product. Some cleaners lose their effectiveness with age.
  • Provide good ventilation while cleaning.
  • Wear gloves and protective eyewear to protect sensitive skin.
  • Do not mix cleaning products. While safe when used alone, some cleaning products when combined with other products can product toxic fumes.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water after using any cleaning product.

To help you get the best results, follow these tips for each type of product.

  • 01 of 13

    Disinfectant Wipes

    Woman cleaning an oven door handle with a cleaning wipe


    Grace Cary / Getty imageI

    Disinfectant wipes are convenient but if you are not using them correctly, their ability to disinfect a surface is ineffective leaving you with a false sense of security. Not all cleaning wipes are created equal so check the label carefully to make sure that the wipe you've chosen states that it disinfects surfaces.

    The disinfectant from the wipe must remain on the hard surface in a wet state for at least four to five minutes to kill viruses and bacteria. Most wipes will only cover around three-square-feet with enough cleaner to kill germs. Using one wipe to clean an entire kitchen or bathroom counter isn't going to protect your family.

    The disinfectant solution on the wipes remains effective for around two years. If the wipes are not wet to the touch, you can revive them by adding 70-percent isopropyl alcohol to the canister. Close the container and allow the wipes to absorb the alcohol before using them.

    Read the instructions and follow them closely. Surfaces that are heavily soiled with dried-on food or toothpaste or grease must be cleaned first with soap and water or the disinfectant will not adequately protect the surface. For food preparation surfaces or items that might end up in a child's mouth, the disinfectant must be allowed to dry and then the surface rinsed with fresh water before using.

  • 02 of 13

    Disinfectant Sprays

    Cleaning sprays on counter in brown glass bottles

    Daiga Ellaby / Unsplash

    As with disinfecting wipes, disinfectant sprays must thoroughly wet the surface to kill harmful microbes.

    For aerosol sprays like Lysol Disinfecting Spray that can be used on both hard and soft surfaces, preclean any heavily soiled surfaces. Hold the spray six to eight inches from the surface and spray for at least 3 seconds until the surface is wet. Apply enough product so the surface stays wet for three to 10 minutes before air-drying. Rinse any food preparation surfaces with fresh water and dry with a clean microfiber cloth.

    For non-aerosol disinfecting sprays like Ecos One-Step Disinfectant Cleaner, follow the same recommendations. Most disinfecting sprays need to remain on surfaces at least five to ten minutes to be effective. Before spraying, read the product label to be sure it can be used safely on the surface. Many products cannot be used on unfinished, oiled, or waxed wood surfaces. For best results on any surface, test the product on an inconspicuous spot to check for discoloration or pitting.

  • 03 of 13

    Chlorine Bleach

    Bleach bottle on wooden background

    Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

    Chlorine bleach, sodium hypochlorite, is one of the most effective disinfectants available and is used to purify drinking water, kill superbugs in hospitals, and whiten stained clothing.

    While powerful and cost-effective, chlorine bleach must be used with water in the proper strength to provide the best results. Chlorine bleach is both light and temperature-sensitive. That's why liquid chlorine bleach is always sold in an opaque bottle to prevent exposure to light. Excessive heat also affects stability; so it is important to store chlorine bleach at around 70 degrees F.

    Whether the bottle is opened or not, it will lose potency within six to 12 months after purchase. It will not "go bad" and cause excessive harm because the chemical ions revert to hydrogen and oxygen just like water. It just won't be as effective at disinfecting and cleaning.

    To be effective as a disinfectant, there must be a 5.25% to 6.15% concentration of sodium hypochlorite in the product. Whether the bleach is a brand name like Clorox or a house brand, it is worth your time to read the fine print on the bleach bottle labels; especially if you need to disinfect a surface. Not all chlorine bleach formulas are the same strength; so read the labels and follow the instructions.


    Chlorine bleach should NEVER be combined with ammonia, vinegar, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide or other harsh chemicals. You can cause a chemical reaction that is harmful to surfaces and, more importantly, your lungs.

    Combining ammonia and chlorine bleach forms a toxic reaction of chloramine vapors and liquid hydrazine that can cause death.

  • 04 of 13

    Distilled White Vinegar

    Vinegar and baking soda next to a lemon


    Eskay Lim / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Distilled white vinegar is a non-toxic cleaner preferred by many to clean surfaces around the home. While vinegar can be effective in killing some bacteria, it is not an EPA registered disinfectant and does not kill many dangerous strains of bacteria.

    As a household cleaner when mixed with water, it is effective in removing some stains and improving laundry results.

    There are some surfaces that vinegar can harm. Avoid using vinegar on natural stone countertops and floors, like those made of granite, marble, and quartz because it will etch the stone. Vinegar can also harm unsealed grout and waxed surfaces.


    • Combining vinegar and chlorine bleach can result in chlorine gas.
    • Combining vinegar and hydrogen peroxide in the same container creates peracetic acid, a corrosive and lung-irritating substance.
    Continue to 5 of 13 below.
  • 05 of 13

    Hydrogen Peroxide

    First aid kit with two bottles of hydrogen peroxide

    Stockbyte / Getty Images

    Hydrogen peroxide is a mild bleach that can disinfect surfaces and help remove stains in the laundry and around the house. Sold in pharmacies in concentrations of three to ten percent, the three percent solution works great for household cleaning and disinfecting.

    Hydrogen peroxide contains hydrogen and oxygen molecules just like water but is more unstable. That's why it comes in a dark brown bottle to prevent exposure to heat, light, and air. Once exposed, the molecules will revert to plain water. The decomposition isn't harmful but if the "fizz" is gone when you beginning cleaning, you're just using plain water. Use the hydrogen peroxide within a month or so after opening for the best results, however, it can still be used for about six months after opening. 

    Since it is a bleaching agent, do not use hydrogen peroxide on dark fabrics or carpet and NEVER mix with other cleaning products.

  • 06 of 13

    Laundry Detergent

    Person pouring laundry detergent

    @LIGHTITUP / Twenty20

    With laundry detergents, the biggest mistake you are making is using too much when washing clothes. Using too much detergent leaves a sticky residue on fabrics that traps odor-causing bacteria and can attract more soil while you are wearing the clothes.

    Read the product labels to understand the best dosage for your laundry load size and type of washing machine.

    While not harmful, laundry detergent ingredients can separate and become less effective if stored for long periods. You'll get the best results if you use detergents within one year of purchase. For older products, give the container a good shake before using them.

  • 07 of 13

    Laundry Sanitizer

    laundry bottles lined up

    @lifewjess / Twenty20

    Whether you are using chlorine bleach, pine oil, or a phenolic sanitizer like Lysol Laundry Sanitizer to kill bacteria on laundry, it is important to use it correctly or you are just wasting time and money.

    • To disinfect clothes and bed linens, use the correct type of disinfectant for the type of fabric and follow product labels.
    • Chlorine bleach should be added around the midpoint of the wash cycle or during the rinse cycle using the hottest water appropriate for the fabric.
    • Pine oil and phenolic sanitizers should be added during the rinse cycle and the clothing should remain in the sanitizer/rinse water solution for at least 15 minutes to kill the greatest number of bacteria.
  • 08 of 13

    Oven Cleaners

    Oven in a kitchen with pots and pans

    Le Creuset / Unsplash

    Oven cleaners are often the most potentially toxic cleaner in the average household. Fortunately, manufacturers have developed formulas that are more fume-free and less harsh than in the past.

    Again, take the time to read the instructions. Today's cleaners should be used in a COLD oven. Heating the oven first will only make the fumes worse and can cause the cleaner to splatter. Most importantly, give the cleaner time to work. If you allow the cleaner to sit for at least two hours—overnight is even better—there will be much less scrubbing to be done.

    As you wipe away the cleaner and the baked-on grease, rinse the sponge or cloth frequently in clean water to prevent redistribution of the grease.

    Continue to 9 of 13 below.
  • 09 of 13

    Bathroom cleaners

    White bathroom

    intan Indiastuti / Unsplash

    When it's time to clean the tub, shower, sinks, and counters in the bathroom, make the job easier by spraying or sponging on the cleaner and allowing it to work for 15 minutes before you begin cleaning. The surfactants and cleaners will have had time to penetrate the soap scum and dirt making it easier for you to wipe away.

    Rather than a cellulose sponge, use a microfiber cloth or a soft-bristled brush to clean the surfaces. The slightly abrasive texture will help loosen dried-on substances.

  • 10 of 13

    Toilet cleaners

    Light bathroom with toilet and rugs

    Filios Sazeides / Unsplash

    Add the toilet bowl cleaner first before moving on to clean other areas in the bathroom. Choose a product with an angled spout so that the cleaner can be easily applied under the rim of the bowl. Close the lid and allow the cleaner to work while you clean other areas.

    Come back and clean the outside of the toilet with a disinfecting cleaner and then tackle the bowl. There will be much less scrubbing if you allow the cleaner to do more of the work.

  • 11 of 13

    Window cleaners

    Cleaner and paper towels

    Crystal de Passillé-Chabot / Unsplash

    Whether you are washing windows or mirrors, always start at the top and work your way down. This will prevent drips from spoiling areas that are already clean.

    Almost more important than the brand of window cleaner or homemade solution you use is what you use to wipe and shine the window dry. Skip lint-producing cloths and paper towels. Opt for microfiber or newsprint. Clean on an overcast day so that the cleaning solution will not dry before you can complete the task.

  • 12 of 13

    Floor cleaners

    Light soaked kitchen with white walls

    Josh Hemsley / Unsplash

    Labels are so important to read before you use a product to clean floors. Should the cleaner be mixed with water? Can it be used directly from the bottle? Is it safe for your type of flooring?

    Other than some stone flooring and ceramic tile, most flooring does not do well when saturated with a wet solution. Wood warps, laminate flooring can buckle, even vinyl flooring glues can deteriorate if allowed to become too wet.

    Read the instructions and believe the label.

    Continue to 13 of 13 below.
  • 13 of 13

    Sponges, Cloths, Mops, and Cleaning Tools

    Cleaning tools hanging up

    Heather Ford / Unsplash

    How can you expect to leave a surface clean if the tools you are using are filled with dust, dirt, and sticky, residual cleaners? Start every cleaning task with the cleanest tools you can for the best results.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Morim, Ashkan, Guldner, Gregory T. Chlorine Gas Toxicity. StatPearls [Internet].

  2. Hawley, B., Casey, M., Virji, MA., Cummings, KJ., Johnson, A., Cox-Ganser, J. Respiratory Symptoms in Hospital Cleaning Staff Exposed to a Product Containing Hydrogen Peroxide, Peracetic Acid, and Acetic Acid. Annals of Work Exposure and Health, 62,1,28-40, 2017, doi:10.1093/annweh/wxx087