Surprisingly Dirty Places in Your Home


By Pang-Chieh Ho

This week I’m reminding you to clean your shower drain and the insides of your windows. They desperately need your attention. Also in this issue: how to prevent mice from getting into your car, and what we really think about charcoal toothpaste.

THE BIG STORY:

‘You Did Me Dirty’

We all have places in our homes we might forget to clean. For me, it’s the space underneath any heavy furniture. While my boyfriend and I vacuum our living room every week, the floorboards underneath the sofa are often left untouched. Then we recently realized the amount of dust that had piled up.

I asked CR editors—who have written about how to clean the different corners of your home—what places can be surprisingly dirty. Here’s what they told me. Brace yourselves.

kitchen
• Garbage Disposal
Food residue can gum up the splash guard and walls of the garbage disposal, which can make your sink stink.

What to do: Use ice cubes, baking soda, lemon slices, and bleach to clean your disposal once a week (check here to see the exact steps). You can also try this TikTok hack, which uses nothing but ice, according to CR writer Perry Santanachote, who tried out this method on her garbage disposal and can attest that it works.

Also, don’t use commercial garbage disposal cleaners because some can be too corrosive.

• Toaster Oven
“There are lots of nooks and crannies in it where crumbs collect,” says Joanne Chen, CR’s deputy home editor.

What to do: Use a damp polyester or nylon scrubber to remove any burnt food inside a toaster oven, but make sure that you don’t touch the heating elements and that all parts are dry before you use the appliance again. To clean other parts of the oven, read here.

• Fridge
Grime can get caught in the door gaskets. Dust might collect on the condenser coils, which can affect a fridge’s ability to cool. And minerals can build up in the water and ice dispenser.

What to do: Clean the gaskets with a damp cloth, then run a dry cloth over the folds to eliminate the moisture. Vacuum the coils with a soft brush attachment. Wipe the dispenser using a sponge and a mixture of equal parts water and white vinegar. And if your fridge smells, here’s what to do.

• Doors of the Microwave and Dishwasher
Bits of food can be left behind in the microwave, which might absorb some of the microwave’s energy and create a hot spot that can damage the interior when you next turn it on. As for the dishwasher, residue can collect in the seal of the door, which can lead to odor and mold.

What to do: To remove stains in the microwave, wipe them with a hot, damp cloth and be careful not to scratch the protective mesh inside the door. And use a rag to clean the seal around the dishwasher door.

bathroom
• Shower Drain
It can get clogged by hair and soap. And if you use your shower infrequently, larvae can develop in the drain, which leads to flies in your bathroom, says CR home writer Keith Flamer, who dealt with this mysterious insect phenomenon while awaiting a shower renovation.

What to do: For clogs, you can try plunging first, and if that doesn’t work, give enzymatic cleaners a go. They’re usually a gentler alternative to the harsh chemicals found in many drain cleaning products. Here are two that you can try.

For drain flies, you can try pouring hot water down the drain as a temporary fix. To eliminate them, use a foaming enzyme cleaner, which is more effective than bleach and less harmful to your pipes, says Ian Williams, technical service manager at pest control company Orkin.

• shower head
If you don’t clean your showerhead regularly with a cleanser, deposits can build up and clog it.

What to do: For a metal showerhead, put it in a pot filled with 1 part vinegar to 8 parts water, bring it to a boil, and simmer for about 15 minutes. For a plastic showerhead, soak it in equal parts vinegar and hot water.

Scrub grout in your shower with a toothbrush dipped in ½ cup bleach and a gallon of water, says Mary Farrell, a CR home writer who has written about how to clean every surface in your bathroom.

bedroom
• Bedding
Don’t forget those dreaded dust mites that can get on your pillows and mattress, Mary says. Over time, dead skin cells can build up on both, which attracts mites and could cause an allergic reaction.

What to do: Air out your pillows, and if they can be machine-washed (read the label to check), wash at least twice a year and consult these directions on how types of pillow fills should be washed.

For mattresses, vacuum the entire surface after you’ve stripped it of sheets and bedding. Sprinkle baking soda to get rid of any odors. And if you find any stains on the mattress, here’s how to treat them.

A few more general areas to pay attention to include filters, fans, and the insides of windows. You should regularly clean the filters of dishwashers, dryers, vacuum cleaners, air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and more so that they don’t get clogged or dirty, which affects the performance of the appliance.

Fans, including box fans, standing fans, and the top of ceiling fans, can get very dusty, says CR home writer Tobie Stanger. Read here for tips on how to clean every type of fan in your home. Just make sure that liquid doesn’t get into the motor and that the blades don’t get bent when you’re cleaning.

The inside of windows is an area people tend to forget to clean, but dirt, debris, and flies can get stuck there over time, says CR home writer Tanya Christian, who says she has been faithfully following this piece of advice from her mother. They should be cleaned seasonally, and you can use a water and vinegar solution with a splash of Pine-Sol to get the grime off, Tanya says.

What are some other places that you think can be dirty without people realizing? let me know.

QUIZ

Photo: Adobe Stock

yes or no: Charcoal toothpaste is a good way to whiten your teeth.

QUICK FACTS

Today I Learned:

1) Hard water is one of the reasons your dishes aren’t coming out of the dishwasher clean.

2) You might still be tracked by TikTok across the internet even if you don’t use the app.

3) There’s a simple trick to determine whether your pots and pans are compatible with an induction cooktop.

4) CR staffers have some strong opinions about which Halloween candies are the best and the worst.

ASK AN EXPERT

Question:
I have definitely overused dryer sheets over the last few years. Is there some way to undo the damage I may have done?

Answer:
Products like dryer sheets and fabric softeners can leave a residue on your clothes and cause a rash if you have sensitive skin or allergies. So if you’re concerned about the buildup on your laundry, simply stop using dryer sheets, says Rich Handel, CR’s laundry expert and tester of dryers and washing machines. Over time, the residue will wash out of your clothes.

Dryer sheets can also leave a chemical residue on your dryer’s moisture sensor, which might make it less effective. To prevent that from happening, you can clean the moisture sensor periodically with a cloth and a few drops of rubbing alcohol, Rich says. The sensor is generally two raised metal bars mounted in plastic. It may be in the back of the drum or in the front of the drum near the lint filter housing.

And if you’re curious about whether laundry products like scent boosters and color enhancers are necessary, this is our take.

THE GOOD STUFF

A sentence I never thought I would say: Here’s how to prevent rodents from getting into your car.

QUIZ ANSWER

The answer is no. If it’s teeth whitening you’re looking for, charcoal toothpaste probably isn’t the way to get it done.

Charcoal toothpaste has shown mixed results when it comes to whitening teeth, according to studies. It might even make your teeth look worse. The charcoal can stain the plaque on your teeth green, which takes a lot of effort to brush off, says Linda Greenwall, BDS, a dentist and specialist in prosthodontics and restorative dentistry in London. Since it’s abrasive, it can also potentially damage your teeth’s protective enamel.

More from Consumer Reports:
Top pick tires for 2016
Best used cars for $25,000 and less
7 best mattresses for couples

Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2022, Consumer Reports, Inc.

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