Cleaning Myths: 6 Old-School Tips to Ignore

Following old-school cleaning methods isn’t always the best approach and can often damage your home. Find out which cleaning myths it’s time to stop falling for.

Woman dressed in old-fashioned skirt and blouse with ruffled apron and high heels and using a broom to sweep a kitchen.

Most of these cleaning myths started with a grain of truth, and that’s the case for a lot of old-fashioned household tips handed down by our grandmothers. But times have changed since Grandma’s day, and so have cleaning products and home furnishings. So, what worked for her may not always work in modern homes. In fact, some old-school cleaning tips could permanently damage your belongings.

6 Old-Fashioned Cleaning Tips that Do Not Work

Don’t make more work for yourself, or put your family and possessions at risk by falling for these cleaning myths.

Cleaning Myth 1: Always Polish Your Furniture

The first commercial furniture polish, which came out in the 1920s, combined wax with soap and water, so polishing your furniture also cleaned it. Modern commercial polishes don’t do much in the way of cleaning. They focus, instead, on leaving things shiny by leaving a thin coat of silicone. So, if you use modern furniture polish on dirty furniture, you’re actually trapping dirt, oil, and humidity between layers of the stuff. Over time, you’ll get sticky furniture that looks dull.

Truth: For most furniture, using a damp cloth to dust is the best way to go. Add a little vinegar to the water if you’re dealing with stubborn grime. When you want to polish it, skip the store-bought sprays and make a quick homemade furniture polish that moisturizes wood without causing buildup.

Cleaning Myth #2: Newspapers Shine Glass Best

Using a newspaper and vinegar used to be the best way to get your windows clean. That’s because newsprint paper used to be much thicker and sturdy, so Grandma could scrub a dirty window with one side, then flip it and buff the window to a shine. Modern newspapers — if you can find one — use a thin paper that falls apart when it gets wet. Then it leaves bits of paper and wood fiber on your windows, and they’ll look like a mess.

Truth: For most windows, a lightly dampened microfiber cloth is all you need. If they’re really grimy, use a homemade window cleaner and a squeegee to get them spotless without leaving streaks.

Cleaning Myth #3: Too Much Vacuuming Hurts Your Carpet

Old-fashioned vacuum cleaners lifted the carpet away from the pad so the beater bar could agitate it and suction away loosened dirt. All that friction was hard on carpeting, so most people used brooms or carpet sweepers daily and left wall-to-wall vacuuming for deeper cleaning.

Truth: Both vacuum cleaners and carpet materials have changed, so the old-school advice is no longer the best practice. Vacuum cleaners now use roller brushes which aren’t as hard on carpets or pads. And since modern carpeting tends to be synthetic, it’s important to get the dirt out before it chemically bonds with the fibers and becomes a permanent stain. So, make a point to vacuum properly from wall-to-wall once a week and go over high-traffic areas even more often.

Cleaning Myth #4: Dust After Vacuuming

Remember the description of how vacuums worked in Grandma’s day? With the beater bar shaking the carpet, it raised a lot of dust which wafted through the air and landed on the furniture. So back then, dusting first was a waste of time.

Truth: Now, it’s best to first dust everything properly and then vacuum. After dusting, wait a few minutes for the dust to settle on the floor and then vacuum. This falls in line with the general rule that you should clean a room from left to right, working top to bottom to move dirt down and then out of your home.

Cleaning Myth #5: If It’s Clean, It’s Safe

Back in Grandma’s day, cleaning the house meant using lye-based soap in the kitchen and chlorine bleach in the bathroom. Both are powerful disinfectants, strong enough to overcome any soil or other organic matter on a surface. Both also create serious health and environmental hazards, which is why they’re no longer recommended for most home cleaning tasks.

Truth: Disinfectants can only do so much, and applying them to a dirty surface can be ineffective. Modern best practices use a two-step process: first, you clean a surface with soap and water to reduce the number of germs and then use a disinfectant to kill the rest.

Cleaning Myth #6: Big Messes Require More Product

Old-fashioned soaps were fat-based and produced lots of suds which created the impression that more lather meant more cleaning power. It doesn’t. Modern cleaning products rely on synthetic ingredients and enzymes to dissolve stains, not fatty substances, so they often don’t produce much lather at all. (In fact, some manufacturers add lathering ingredients because customers demand foam.)

Truth: Using too much soap or detergent leaves behind residue, whether you’re adding it to the laundry, your carpet shampooer, or even your hair. That residue makes things look dingy and attracts even more dirt. More is also not better when making homemade cleaning products–too much vinegar can corrode metals or other surfaces, while too little reduces the cleaning power. So, always check the label or recipe and follow measurements precisely for the best results.

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2 Comments

  1. While I had heard of some of these, I wasn’t sure where they came from. Interesting read!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Thanks!

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