15 of the Biggest Cleaning Mistakes People Have Made

published May 23, 2023
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Collage of things not to do while cleaning
Credit: Photos: Shutterstock; Design: Apartment Therapy

Cleaning, in many cases, is pretty straightforward. But as many people have learned at one point or another, if you use the wrong product or method, you may end up with damage in your home (or, worse, a potentially risky situation). 

To prevent others from making the same mistakes they did, hundreds of Redditors on the r/CleaningTips subReddit have shared some of the biggest cleaning sins they’ve committed — and, more importantly, learned from. Maybe you’ve made some of the same missteps in the past, or maybe you’ll keep these hard-won lessons in your back pocket for the future. 

Either way, these 15 cleaning practices are blunders you definitely don’t want to be making. 

1. Pouring bleach in a toilet tank. 

Bleach is a reliable tool for killing bathroom germs, but beware — if you don’t use it carefully, it can cause some major damage. One Redditor poured bleach into their toilet tanks before going away for a month and found the chemical had eaten parts of the toilet, so it ran constantly. Lesson learned: Always precisely follow the instructions on your bleach-based cleaners, and avoid using it on any surfaces it could damage. 

2. Using bleach without proper safety protocols.

As the CDC recommends, proper ventilation is key when cleaning with bleach. One Redditor learned the hard way by getting chemical irritation in their throat and nose that “felt like a bad cold for days.” Whenever you use bleach, be sure to open windows, run a fan, and wear a mask if possible. Safety first!

3. Using lemon oil on vinyl. 

Lemon essential oil can add a fresh scent to any space and powerfully cut through grime, thanks to its acidic property. But as one Redditor learned, it can also damage surfaces. “I dripped lemongrass essential oils on my checkerboard laminate kitchen floors before mopping just so I’d end up with a nice smell,” they wrote. “The finish was already pretty trashed but the oil burned through the remaining finish and left permanent visible drip marks all over.”

4. Cleaning a painted surface with oven cleaner. 

If you’ve ever used oven cleaner, you’ve experienced how effective it is at eating away through burnt-on food and grime. While you can use an oven cleaner to clean other surfaces, definitely don’t use it on anything painted, or you’ll end up removing the paint like one disappointed Redditor. 

5. Using Pledge on wood floors. 

Pledge can do wonders in adding shine to wood furniture, but it’ll likely make your wood floors a bit too shiny. “We, and all our friends who came over, slipped multiple times a day for several weeks until it wore off,” says one Redditor whose roommate cleaned hardwood flooring with Pledge. 

6. Adding dish soap to the dishwasher. 

You might not know if you’ve never had a dishwasher that you should be using dishwasher-specific soap. One Redditor learned the hard way that normal dish soap will leak out of the appliance and into the kitchen, creating a thick, foamy mess. 

7. Mixing bleach with other chemicals. 

One of the cardinal rules of cleaning with bleach? Don’t ever mix it with other chemicals. Back in college, a Redditor and his roommates had the very valid thought to combine two strong cleaners — bleach and ammonia — to deep clean their messy apartment. They learned the hard route that the off-gasses can pose major health risks, but luckily, they only ended up with burning eyes and throats. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

8. Using a Magic Eraser on finished surfaces.

For scuffs on walls and marks on counters, Magic Erasers can be, well, magical. But they’re not meant for every surface, as many Redditors found out. Several Redditors admit to using a Magic Eraser on hardwood or painted walls, which ended up removing the finish.

9. Spraying computer duster spray in a kitchen drawer. 

Kitchen crumbs can be frustrating, but it’s best to use a vacuum or a wet rag to clean them up. As a Redditor found out, it’s not a great idea to use computer duster spray to remove dust or crumbs from kitchen spaces. “There is an additive in it to prevent huffing and it makes the silverware taste horrible.”

10. Using abrasive pads on stainless steel. 

When it comes to stainless steel, a soft rag is the way to go — not an abrasive scouring bad, which many Redditors have learned will scratch the metal surface. Steel wool is the worst idea, but some say the more abrasive side of a regular sponge can also do damage. 

11. Using vinegar on stone surfaces. 

Vinegar, due to its acidic properties, can help remove mineral deposits from hard water. But never use it on stone counters, floors, or tiles. One Redditor left vinegar on a stone shower floor to remove lime deposits, and it ended up etching the stone.

12. Spraying glass cleaner on electronics. 

While glass cleaner spray can help wipe pesky fingerprints from your electronic screens, don’t spray it directly on. One Redditor says the spray ran down the inside of the TV and ruined it. Moral of the story: Always spray the cloth with the cleaner instead of spraying directly on the screen. 

13. Aggressively cleaning porcelain with a pumice stone. 

When you use them gently, pumice stones can help erase stains from toilet bowls. But if you scrub too hard, you could end up damaging the porcelain, as several Redditors did. Stick with a toilet brush if you’re concerned you’ll use more force than your porcelain can handle. 

14. Drying wet upholstery with a hot hair dryer. 

If your upholstery (or mattress) is wet from cleaning or a spill, don’t follow the example of a Redditor who accidentally burned a hole in their couch with one on a hot setting. Instead, allow the upholstery to air dry and stick a fan in the room to help speed the process along — or, use the hair dryer on a cool setting. 

15. Running nonstick pans through the dishwasher. 

Own any nonstick pots or pans? It’s best to hand-wash them in most cases. Dishwashers, as a few Redditors have learned, can remove the nonstick coating. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for how to wash your pots and pans. 

What mistakes have you made and learned from? Tell us in the comments.