You’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating: You could be spreading mold and illness-causing bacteria around the kitchen. Good practice: Replace your sponge every couple of weeks, and take care of it while it’s active. After each use, rinse the sponge in hot water and wring it out. At the end of the day, and after every raw-meat encounter, sterilize a wet sponge: Pop it in the microwave for one minute (the sponge must be wet—a dry one could catch fire), or run it through the dishwasher. For storage, use a soap dish with holes for drainage, or go with a homemade solution: Set the sponge on a saucer full of small rocks.
Bad Habit: Letting Drips and Drops Harden on the Stove
These splotches are a bummer to look at and can discolor stainless-steel and porcelain surfaces. Good practice: Have the right cleaner at your fingertips, says Linda Cobb, the author of the Queen of Clean book series. Her advice: Fill an olive-oil cruet with water and a generous squirt of dish soap and keep it next to the stove. When you’re finished cooking and the stove has cooled, shake the cruet and drizzle the soapy water over any spots, removing the grates if necessary. Allow the solution to soften spills for about 10 minutes, then wipe the cooktop, the burners, and the grates with a damp sponge or cloth.
Bad Habit: Subjecting Wooden Spoons and Cutting Boards to the Dishwasher
Intense heat can make wood crack; detergent can lodge in crevices and end up in your oatmeal. Good practice: Hand wash wooden pieces with soap and hot water, then let them air-dry before putting them away. To remove tomato stains or garlic and onion smells, rub with a lemon wedge, sprinkle on some kosher salt, and let sit for 20 minutes, then rinse. You can also treat wood to make it less prone to cracking or absorbing smells and stains. When wooden tools start to feel rough (once a month or so), buff with 400-grit wet-dry sandpaper, says John Whetstone, the owner of Whetstone Woodenware, in Silver Lake, Indiana. Next, using a soft cloth, rub in a food-safe mineral oil (John Taylor mineral oil, $10 for 12 ounces, amazon.com); leave it on for a few minutes so that it soaks in, then wipe off the excess.
2 of 5Jonny Valiant
In the Living Room
Bad Habit: Taking the Same Route With the Vacuum Every Time
You need to shift the rug’s pile back and forth or you’ll miss ground-in dirt. Good practice: Be sure to come at a carpet from different angles, says Mike Reed, the owner of Austonian Fine Rug and Carpet Care, in Austin, Texas. If you always start vacuuming in a particular spot, begin on the opposite side of the room on alternate weeks. Vacuum top to bottom with long, slow, overlapping strokes. Then, working crosswise, go back over it. In high-traffic areas, such as near a door or in front of the sofa, repeat these crosshatch steps, using short strokes.
Bad Habit: Ignoring Remotes or Video-Game Controls
Because they’re constantly handled, they can harbor the same bacteria and viruses as a kitchen sponge, says Kelly Reynolds, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona, in Tucson. Good practice: Clean these devices, as well as computer keyboards, once a week with a well-wrung-out disinfecting wipe. While they’re still damp, suggests Julie Edelman, author of The Ultimate Accidental Housewife ($6, amazon.com), use a fresh eye-shadow applicator to swab around the buttons with rubbing alcohol. (Tackle it while you watch TV, or pay your industrious progeny to do the job for you.) Store these cootie-catchers in a lidded box or a drawer to minimize dust.
Bad Habit: Wiping Down Flat-Screen TVs With All-Purpose Cleaner
Cleaners that contain alcohol or ammonia can microscopically abrade screens, making them cloudy over time. Good practice: Use microfiber cloths, which work without cleaning products and are less abrasive than cotton or paper towels. Once a week, clean the screen top to bottom, using long strokes (short strokes can cause smudging). For smears, barely moisten the cloth, wipe, then immediately follow with a dry cloth. If smudges remain, try an electronics cleaner (Monster Flatscreen ScreenClean, $12, monstercable.com), keeping in mind that no general cleaner is safe to use on TV screens, says Cobb. Never spray any liquid directly onto a screen or use a moist cloth on a warm screen (one that is on or that has recently been turned off); this can leave permanent streaks.
3 of 5David Prince
In the Bathroom
Bad Habit: Stashing a Wet Toilet Brush in Its Holder
You don’t even want to know. The holder can serve as an incubator for bacteria linked to allergies, asthma, skin infections, and stomach flu, says Reynolds. Good practice: Consider a brush with a disposable head, like the Clorox Toilet Wand ($8 for a starter kit, $5 for 10 refills, walmart.com). However, if you’re set on using a traditional brush, here’s a wash-and-dry solution: After cleaning the bowl with bleach, swirl the brush through the water and shake it out. Next, position the brush over the water, securing the handle in place with the seat so that the head is suspended over the bowl. Allow the brush to dry, then return it to the holder.
Bad Habit: Piling Moist Towels on Top of One Another on Hooks
When towels don’t dry within a few hours, mildew and bacteria, which thrive in moist environments, can breed. Good practice: Make sure that your towels have ample space to air out. Are you short on hanging real estate? Consider a metal coatrack for the bathroom (Tjusig coatrack, $50, ikea.com for stores), which allows air to hit all sides, says Edelman. Or check out the bar-style stand-up and wall-mounted racks at holdnstorage.com. To deal with mildew, launder towels in hot water and six ounces of bleach (use all-fabric bleach for colors). Don’t overstuff the machine—the contents should have room to move around—and skip the liquid fabric softener, which can prevent detergent from penetrating and rinsing properly. Dry on high to kill any remaining bacteria.
4 of 5Bob Hiemstra
In the Bedroom
Bad Habit: Never Cleaning the Closet
A buildup of dust can attract moths. It doesn’t do your shoes any favors, either. Good practice: Once a year, haul everything out and do a thorough cleaning. Use a long-reach duster (Microfiber telescoping duster, $18, containerstore.com) to sweep from the top down, starting with the ceiling. Hit shelves, then walls, then baseboards. Use the vacuum’s brush or crevice tool around the edges of the floor, then vacuum wall to wall. Before putting the clothes back, give them a quick shake, or go with a more serious treatment: Secure a nylon stocking over the vacuum’s upholstery tool with a rubber band and swipe garments, says Cobb. Going forward, clean the baseboards and the floor weekly to keep dust under control.
5 of 5Monica Buck
In the Laundry Room
Bad Habit: Letting Clothes Sit in the Dryer
They’ll wrinkle, forcing you to embrace the rumpled look or do extra ironing. Good practice: If you won’t be there when the beeper goes off, put the dryer on extended tumble, which periodically tosses clothes, without heat, for a preset amount of time to prevent wrinkles. For dress shirts and pants, select permanent press, a setting that dries slowly, with low heat, and finishes with a cool-down period to minimize creases. (Some machines add an extended tumble to the end of the permanent-press cycle.) If your dryer doesn’t have these options, or if you forget to use them, fluff a wrinkled load by throwing in a damp towel and restarting the dryer, says Steve Boorstein, the author of The Clothing Doctor’s 99 Secrets to Cleaning & Clothing Care ($5, amazon.com).