There was a very distinctive, pungent smell coming from my kitchen sink. As I followed the scent like a bloodhound, I discovered the source – a bright pink dishcloth, infused with a combination of soured milk and stale coffee beans.
This foul-smelling object – a victim of improper rinsing – was swiftly binned. This is surely the only place it belonged, right?
Wrong, says professional organizer and author of The Clean Home, Kat Springer. “Everything can be cleaned.”
Not only can, but should be: for the sake of your health, and finances.
Professor of nursing at Avondale University, Brett Mitchell, explains that cleaning equipment “can become contaminated with pathogens, like bacteria and viruses” because we touch them so often. “When we do, any pathogens on the equipment can be moved to things like our hands or to other objects.”
Regular cleaning will also help the cleaning appliance or tool last longer and work more effectively. And regular cleaning is far more environmentally friendly than replacing things, adds Springer.
So, when should you clean a cleaning product and how do you do it?
Vacuum cleaners: secretly filthy
Ironically, the vacuum can often be the dirtiest appliance in the house, says Chris Barnes, who manages household product testing at Choice. Cleaning it as per the manufacturer’s instructions will not only ensure that it remains clean but will help it run more efficiently too.
To clean your vacuum, begin by reading the appliance instructions, which will offer specific advice.
As a general rule, after each use, Barnes suggests you remove the vacuum’s roller brush, if possible, and cut away any hair or threads that have become tangled around it (scissors or a thread ripper are handy for this).
“Take care not to damage the brush itself and check the cleaning head and wand for any blockages.”
Other cleaning tasks only need to be completed occasionally, including wiping down the exterior and the underside of the cleaning head with a soft cloth, dusting and rinsing any washable filters and washing the dust bin. Keep a note of when disposable filters are due for swapping out, and replacing them as needed.
For bagged vacuum cleaners, Barnes suggests replacing the bag when it’s about two-thirds full – any more and the performance will be affected.
In the kitchen: rinse hot, rinse often
With kitchen cleaning products like sponges, cloths, tea towels and gloves, good hygiene is paramount.
“Cleaning products such as sponges collect a lot of dirt and grime; that’s their job, after all,” says Barnes.
“A dirty kitchen sponge is likely to spread a lot of bacteria around your kitchen surfaces, and ultimately those germs will probably end up in your food. It’s probably unlikely that they’ll actually make you sick, but the risk is there.”
Which is why Springer suggests sponges and cloths should be cleaned after every use.
To do this: “Thoroughly rinse in hot water and leave to dry completely. Ideally, dry them in sunlight for a bit of extra disinfection.”
“You can also wet the sponge and microwave it for a minute,” says Mitchell (a sponge backed with steel wool being an obvious exception). Or “put sponges and cloths in a washing bag and place in the washing machine for a thorough clean.”
Professional cleaner Renee Dover says the washing machine is also the perfect way to wash rubber dish gloves and, of course, tea towels. The latter ought to be cleaned every two or three days, depending on what they are being used for.
The exception to the wash-don’t-trash rule is when a wipe has been used to mop up something risky. “This includes meat juices, blood or pet poo, in which case you should dispose of it immediately,” says Barnes.
To keep a dishwasher in good working order, Springer suggests a weekly clean, and a monthly deep clean. Specific instructions for both can be found in the appliance’s manual, but if you don’t have a copy for your make and model, she has some general advice.
“Place a jug filled with one cup of vinegar onto the top rack of the dishwasher – this will help to remove grease and limescale in the machine and pipes. To freshen the smell of your dishwasher, sprinkle one cup [of] bicarb soda on the bottom. Turn your dishwasher onto the economy setting, using the hottest temperature, and run through a cycle. Once the cycle has finished, use a cloth to wipe away all internal gunk.”
For a deeper clean, you may need to use an old toothbrush and some paper towels to remove gunk from the base of the dishwasher door, and any other harder to reach places.
Brushes, brooms and mops: use it, then wash it
Often overlooked, your toilet brush requires very regular TLC. “I have seen some toilet brushes that are putrid,” says Springer. “By not cleaning it… it will hold on to the bacteria, start to smell and discolour and you don’t want to be cleaning your loo with that.”
A toilet brush “should be replaced when in this state, there is no cleaning for them”.
But this problem is preventable, she says, by dousing the brush with vinegar or antibacterial cleaner immediately after it has been used. Next, “allow it to air dry by placing it between the base and lid of the loo.”
Like toilet brushes, wet and dry brushes such as mops, scrubbers and brooms should be cleaned after every use, says Springer.
To clean a mop, Barnes suggests “a little detergent will be useful if they are particularly grimy. If they have been used to clean contaminated surfaces, use some disinfectant on them as well.” Then leave it in sunlight to dry fully before using again.
Dry brushes, like brooms, can be vacuumed says Dover. This will remove any debris easily, “especially if there is lots of hair”.
Then, they can be cleaned like wet brushes and mops.
Air purifiers: ‘It’s all in the filter’
It’s critical to keep air quality appliances clean, especially for asthmatics or allergy sufferers. “Air conditioners and purifiers have an important role to play in improving indoor air, removing a range of triggers for asthma,” says Teresa Vella of Asthma Australia.
For these items: “It’s all in the filter.” Changing filters or cleaning them regularly is essential for keeping these appliances functioning, and keeping the air quality of your home up.
This is even more important in humid conditions, because of the potential buildup of mold. “This is bad for health and for people with asthma. The mold spores can easily spread throughout the home and into the air via the air conditioner. For people with asthma, or people who are sensitive to mould, the health impacts can be very serious,” Vella says.
To clean air quality equipment, it is best to read and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for the specific piece, because they vary a lot, says Mitchell. If you don’t have this information, he suggests contacting the manufacturer and requesting it.
If you’re still uncertain about cleaning an air quality appliance yourself, Asthma Australia advises seeking professional help.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism