The Answers to All of the Cleaning Questions You’re Too Embarrassed to Ask as a Grown-up

published Mar 12, 2022
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We all know we’re never too old to gain more skills and knowledge. But there’s one thing that regularly stops us from growing and improving ourselves: embarrassment. Often, the feeling that we “should” know something keeps us from seeking help and asking the right questions.

This happens often, when it comes to all sorts of things — including cleaning. Whether you were taught how to clean as a child, or learned “the hard way” during your first year of adulthood, you probably still have a few lingering unknowns. We rounded up 10 common cleaning questions many of us are still murky on — and then we asked two professional housekeepers to provide the answers.

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How often do I really need to clean my kitchen?

“If you’re using it daily, you should be cleaning it daily,” says Lori Williamson, the pro housekeeper behind the TikTok account @nowitsclean (she also has an Amazon Live show). Here’s a general rule to follow for daily and weekly maintenance — this comes from Ludmilla Xavier, the owner of Blue and Green Cleaning: “Wipe down the surfaces after every cooking session to remove the grease and reduce the bacteria spread. For a weekly deep clean, move everything, such as small appliances, to remove crumbs and dust, and use a cleaning solution. And don’t forget a good stove and microwave clean every week, too.”

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

What’s the germiest place in the kitchen, and what should I do about it?

Germs are alive and well, but how many are there? And where do they all live? “The kitchen sink is the germiest place in the kitchen,” says Williamson. “If not cleaned regularly, it can become a breeding ground for a variety of different bacteria.”

Xavier agrees, and adds countertops to the list of “eek!” places. “We prepare, eat, and leave food or dirty dishes on dirty counters all the time and often don’t even realize it,” she explains. In addition to daily cleaning and disinfecting, she recommends doing the dishes shortly after cooking. “Leaving dirty pots and pans in the sink for days invites bacteria,” she says.

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What’s the difference between cleaning and sanitizing?

“Cleaning is removing dirt; sanitizing is killing bacteria on a surface using chemicals,” says Williamson. “Ideally, you should be doing both when you tackle messy rooms. First, remove any visible dirt and dust, and then sanitize.”

Xavier adds that although cleaning makes a room look nice, a proper sanitation job can be harder to gauge. “You can’t see that a surface has been disinfected, but remember that sanitizers need time to work,” she says. “Read the directions before use, but as a general rule, most need at least a few minutes to kill bacteria before they can be wiped away.”

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Do DIY cleaning solutions really work?

We have a soft spot for DIY cleaning solutions. There’s just something so nice about being able to raid the pantry and, you know, not having to buy a specialty cleaner. But can these homemade remedies actually get the job done? Yes! Both experts agree that DIY is an effective way to clean — and save money.

DIY is great when it comes to things like all-purpose cleaners and window cleaners. For jobs that require serious disinfecting (like the sink or your toilet), though, stronger chemicals are often the best tools.

How do I get rid of the lingering odor coming from my sink’s drain?

Here’s how Williamson tackles a stinky drain, and — woo-hoo! — it involves Dawn. “I like to squirt some Dawn Platinum down the drain, and follow it up with hot water.  You can also follow up with a mixture of baking soda and then hot water. The dish soap will help cut through the grime, buildup, and odors and the baking soda can help freshen the drain. The hot water helps flush it all down,” she explains.

If the odor continues to linger, try Xavier’s tactic: “Dump a cup of baking soda into the drain, and wait for about 20 minutes, then flush it with a cup of vinegar. To seal the deal, finish with boiling water, and a few drops of essential oil.” Need help picking an essential oil? Xavier likes to use citrusy smells, such as lemongrass and orange.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Can I get away with only using pre-moistened disinfecting wipes?

Remember, there is a difference between cleaning and sanitizing. And you have to clean before you can sanitize. Disinfectants won’t work if the surface isn’t clean. So you do have to clean first with all-purpose cleaner or a DIY option. Once you’ve cleaned, the good news is that “these do work to sanitize,” Williamson confirms.

“However, a lot of people use them incorrectly. After you’ve wiped a cloth on a surface, that surface needs to stay visibly wet for a set period of time (check the container for directions) for the chemicals to actually do their job of killing bacteria and viruses. If it dries before then, the surface hasn’t been disinfected.”

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Is my dish sponge as disgusting as I think it is? And if so, what should I be using instead?

Every few months, we read a new story telling us how gross our dishwashing sponges are. But how bad are they, really? “So disgusting,” says Williamson. “They’re so hard to keep sanitized.” She prefers the Scrub Daddy brand, which has a different makeup than typical disposable sponges. No matter which type you use, know that “sponges aren’t forever!”

In fact, Xavier is shocked at how long some of her clients use dish sponges before replacing them. You should actually be replacing your sponge every two weeks!

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How do I get rid of red wine stains?

Red wine is notoriously hard to get out of fabrics. “The darker the pigmentation of the wine, the more difficult it will be to remove,” admits Xavier. Both she and Williamson agree that pre-treating is key — and you’ve got to act fast.

OxiClean is great; spray it on immediately after the stain happens, then get [the fabric] in the wash.” If you don’t have any cleaning solution on hand, Williamson says that adding white wine on top of the red stain, and gently blotting can help lift it. Don’t scrub, as that will just spread and deepen the pigment. And here’s the most important part: If the stain is still visible after washing in cold water, don’t dry the item. Heat will set the stain. Instead, treat it and wash it again.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

I’ve never cleaned my oven — how do I get started?

How do the pros tackle this job? Williamson makes a baking soda paste and slathers it all over the inside. After a few minutes to let it set, she scrubs away with a wet pumice stone, then wipes away the mess with a damp microfiber cloth.

Xavier adds dish soap to her baking soda paste, but admits that if the burnt-on, crusted food is layer is deep, a chemical-based cleaner is the way to go. “I like Easy Off. Be sure to read the instructions on the bottle and wear gloves as you use it,” she advises.

How do I get rid of grease stains on my backsplash?

Some places in the kitchen just never seem clean. The backsplash is definitely one of those. Xavier recommends … Dawn! (Surprise.) “It’s efficient at breaking up grease without damaging materials.” Guess what Williamson uses? “I am once again a fan of the grease-fighting abilities of Dawn,” she says. She mixes it in a bowl with hot water and a splash of vinegar, then tackles the grease with a scrub brush. Also on her all-star list for greasy jobs? “LA’s Totally Awesome — just be sure to dilute it according to the instructions.”

Xavier does note that this is a situation where regular (read: daily and weekly) cleaning makes all the difference. “If you rarely clean this part of your kitchen, it’s very difficult to tackle. For that type of job, I’d use Spray Nine Degreaser.” Just be sure to read the bottle carefully, and never apply it to wood cabinets, she says.

Did we miss any of your most embarrassing kitchen cleaning questions? We won’t judge, we promise. Ask us and we’ll try to get some answers for you!