1. Placing all utensils in the dishwasher facing the same direction.
It's fine for all the forks to point up. (This prevents the tines from bending.) But when spoons sit in one direction in a standard dishwasher basket, they end up, well, spooning, which prevents a complete clean. Place some up and some down for a more thorough, even wash, and do the same with knives.
2. Washing windows on a sunny day.
Glass cleaner dries up much more quickly in direct sunlight, resulting in streaks on window panes. That's why, in any season, the ideal time to clean windows is late afternoon or evening, or when the skies are overcast (and the temperature is below 70 degrees Fahrenheit). For quicker drying, swap your microfiber cloth for a window squeegee, which covers more surface area with each swipe.
3. Spraying cleaner directly on a surface.
This method is OK once in a while but should be reserved for extremely dirty surfaces that need extra solution. This shouldn't be an everyday practice, because it will probably leave residue behind (for example, a gummy buildup on wood furniture and drip marks on walls). Instead, spray the formula onto a microfiber cloth. Wipe-downs done this way require less solution, which cuts down on buildup. (Your bottles of cleaner will last longer, too.)
4. Cleaning bare-handed (even for a quickie sink scrub-down).
Your skin is super-absorbent and will soak up almost any substance that touches its surface. Even natural products can dry out hands lickety-split. Avoid chalky rubber or latex gloves. Instead, choose gloves with a lined cotton interior (try these). They offer more of a protective barrier and are so comfortable, you'll be motivated to put them on.
5. Treating liquid stains on a carpet superficially.
Scrubbing stains like pet urine, red wine, and coffee isn't effective in the long term. Unless you remove fresh carpet spills at the deepest level, in time they may resurface. Try this method: As soon as you notice the spill, use a dry towel to sop up as much liquid as possible. Next, douse the spot with club soda or ice water and blot again with another dry towel. Step on the towel to absorb the liquid. Repeat the blotting until no more color is transferred to the towel. If the stain persists, apply a stain remover and repeat the process.
6. Putting a rinsed toilet brush right back in the holder.
Moisture breeds bacteria, so it's important to let the brush dry completely before stashing it. Sandwich the handle between the toilet seat and the base, with the business end suspended over the bowl, to drip-dry. Leave it for at least 10 minutes or until fully dry, then return it to the holder.
7. Considering a rinsed sponge clean.
Because food and bacteria hide in a sponge's crevices, a water rinse isn't enough. So once or twice a week, toss sponges into the top rack of the dishwasher, or heat wet ones in the microwave for two minutes. Another option: Use a sponge sanitizer. During the holidays, when cooking activities ramp up, it's best to clean sponges daily.
8. Vacuuming pet fur without an attachment.
Standard vacuuming on a wood or tile floor often blows away as much fur as it collects, so you're essentially moving debris all over the room. For controlled suction, resulting in fewer fur flyaways, use the wand attachment. And before you vacuum, do a little prep work: Collect any visible fur into a pile with a broom or an electrostatic dry mop (like a Swiffer).
Thanks to our masters of maintenance:
Linda Cobb, cleaning pro based in Phoenix and creator of the Queen of Clean book series
Laura Dellutri, cleaning pro based in Overland Park, Kansas, and author of Speed Cleaning 101
Donna Smallin, cleaning pro based in Madison, South Dakota, and author of Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness (due out mid-December)