All the Dirt on Cleaning House

Three Steps to Choosing the Right Cleaning Product

“Cleaning House.” No doubt about it: it’s a necessary chore. But to make this task easier, there is a cleaning product for just about every job you need to tackle. This means that often, the biggest question is which product for which job?

Not anymore. Here’s a guide to choosing the right cleaning product, and then a room-by-room tour that gives cleaning tips and identifies specific surfaces and their cleaning solutions.

Let’s take a look at the Three Steps to Choosing the Right Cleaning Product

Step 1

Check Out the Soils and Surfaces

The first thing to consider in any cleaning task is what you are trying to remove. Take a look around. Is there grease on the stove, mildew on the shower door or do you have hard water that leaves mineral deposits on bathroom and kitchen fixtures? Identifying the dirt you see, or maybe don’t see, in the case of germs, is the first step in determining the type of cleaning product you need.Now look at where the dirt is located. In other words, what type of surface is soiled? Today’s beautiful surfaces offer many options in home decor, but they also require a bit of thought about how to clean them safely.

Step 2

Consider Your Own Cleaning Needs

Are you a once-a-month, bucket-wielding cleaner who likes to use dilutable powders or liquids to tackle the whole house? Or do you prefer quick, frequent clean-ups using spray cleaners? Do you need the heavy-duty strength of a powdered cleanser? Do you have young children and need to disinfect surfaces regularly? Taking a moment to think about your lifestyle, cleaning needs and preferences will help you decide among the various product types like abrasive cleansers, non-abrasive cleaners, disinfectant and other specialty cleaners and product forms like sprays, gels, foams, dilutable powders and liquids. There’s a wide variety of cleaning product options to meet your needs and make your job easier.

Step 3

Read the Label

Product labels are your best source of information for choosing a cleaner. Mildew remover, oven cleaner, glass cleaner – the name itself usually says exactly what the product will do. And if the name doesn’t tell you, the back of the label will explain the types of soils the product is formulated to remove and the surfaces on which it should or shouldn’t be used. Labels provide just about everything we need to know about a cleaning product and its safe and effective use. Look for some or all of the following information:

  1. Product Name
  2. Product Type
  3. Directions for Use
  4. Ingredients
  5. Human Safety Information
  6. Storage and/or Disposal Information
  7. Drug Identification Number (DIN)
  8. Environmental Information
  9. Net Weight or Volume
  10. Manufacturer’s Name and Address, and/or a Toll-Free Number

A Room-by-Room Tour

You may be thinking, “My home has so many types of surfaces — and I’m not even sure what products are available.” To make it easier, the special room-by-room tour in this section takes a closer look at some of the most common surfaces in today’s homes, the challenges they present and their cleaning solutions.


The toughest kitchen soils are grease and food. Plus, there is a need to reduce the spread of food-related bacteria. There are many effective products for general cleaning, as well as specialty cleaners for tasks like killing germs and removing soil from specific surfaces.

Cleaning Tips

  • To clean small areas like countertops, sprays or gels are easy to use. To clean larger areas like floors or walls, powders or liquids mixed in a pail of water are more efficient.
  • To prevent streak marks when cleaning large vertical areas, start at the bottom and work up, overlapping areas as you clean and using a circular motion.
  • Abrasive cleansers provide extra cleaning power for hard-to-remove soils like food particles and grease residue in sinks. Be sure the abrasive product is suitable for the surface being cleaned; otherwise it may scratch the finish. In general, liquid, spray and gel cleansers are less abrasive than powders.
  • Use non-abrasive cleaners on surfaces that are easily scratched.
  • Use a cutting board for preparing meats and poultry, then immediately clean and disinfect the cutting board to prevent spreading food-borne bacteria.
  • Use paper towels to clean up juices from meats and poultry. If using a sponge or cloth, disinfect after using and launder it often.
  • Clean microwave spills when they happen. If they don’t get “baked on,” it’s a snap to wipe them up before they harden.
  • Use a small foam paint brush to clean tight spaces between cabinets or under appliances.
  • Avoid using or spilling strong acidic or alkaline cleaning products (toilet bowl cleaners, drain openers, rust removers, oven cleaners, etc.) on kitchen countertops. They can permanently discolour the surface.


Bathrooms are where the cleaning challenges can really get tough. There are so many surfaces like chrome, brass, glass, porcelain and fibreglass and a wide variety of messes like hard water deposits, soap film, rust stains and mildew, not to mention germs. An assortment of effective cleaning products is available for these jobs.

Cleaning Tips

  • Rinse the tub after each use to keep soap film and hard water deposits from forming. Keep a small sponge handy for wiping down the tub walls after bathing. Use a towel or a squeegee on shower walls. Dry faucets and handles to prevent water spots.
  • Keep shower doors and curtains open after use to allow them to air dry and prevent mildew. If mildew does appear, use liquid household bleach or cleaners with bleach to remove stains.
  • Use a daily shower cleaner to keep shower and tub surfaces free of soap scum, mildew stains and hard water deposits. Mist surfaces right after showering while the walls are wet and warm and no rinsing, wiping or scrubbing is necessary. For best results, start with a clean shower. Check label directions to be sure the product is suitable for your bathtub/shower surface.
  • To clean vertical surfaces where cleaners can run off quickly (bathtubs, showers, toilet bowls), spray foams and thick liquids are effective.
  • Consider using a disinfectant cleaner for toilet bowls, tubs and showers.
  • Only products that have a Health Canada registration number on the label have met government requirements for killing germs. It’s important to follow label instructions to be sure you are getting the germ-killing benefits.
  • Avoid using products containing bleach to remove rust stains as they may intensify the colour. Use only a rust remover for such stains.

Living Areas

Living/Dining Rooms and Bedrooms serve up different types of challenges, like dust and dirt tracked in on shoes, spills and stains on carpets and upholstery and rings on wood surfaces. But here again, there are products that meet the challenges.

Cleaning Tips

Use rugs or mats at all entrances to catch dirt and grit that can build up on floors and carpets.
Choose a soft cotton cloth or paper towel for cleaning glass surfaces. Fabric softener on cleaned cloths can leave a residue; extra absorbent paper towels can leave lint.
Always use coasters under beverage glasses, cups and flower pots to prevent water spots and rings on wood surfaces.
Spray glass cleaners on a cloth instead of directly on a mirror or picture glass. This will keep the cleaner away from the frame and prevent it from seeping onto a picture.
When washing windows, use a soft toothbrush or cotton swab to clean corners.
Body oils can soften a wood finish and eventually wear it away, especially in areas that are used constantly, such as chair arms and the areas around drawer and door pulls. Regular cleaning and polishing will remove these soils and help prolong the life of wood finishes.
Vacuum upholstery regularly to remove small soil and food particles that work into the fabric, make it look unsightly and cause premature wear.
Use headrest and armrest covers to protect the furniture areas that get the most wear.
For carpets and upholstery, only use products formulated for cleaning those surfaces. Other cleaning products can discolour the fabric.

Safety First: DOs and DON’Ts

The household cleaning products you use are safe when used and stored according to the directions on the label. Just be sure to read and follow the label directions carefully, and if you have any questions, call the toll-free number found on most product labels. Here are some simple precautions to help prevent accidents from occurring:

Safety First: DOs

  • Read and follow label directions for proper use, storage and disposal.
  • Store cleaning products in an area that is away from food and not accessible to young children or pets.
  • Store products in their original containers and keep the original label intact. Product use and storage, disposal instructions, precautions and first aid instructions vary according to their ingredients. It can be dangerous to use a product incorrectly or to follow the wrong emergency procedures.
  • Put cleaning products away immediately after removing the amount needed for the job. This will limit accessibility to young children and help prevent accidental spills.
  • Keep buckets containing cleaning solutions out of the reach of young children.
  • Properly close all containers, especially those with child-resistant caps.

Safety First: DON'Ts

  • Mix cleaning products. Products that are safe when used alone can sometimes cause dangerous fumes if mixed with other products.
  • Reuse an empty household cleaning product container for any other purpose. The label instructions and precautions for the original product may be inaccurate or dangerous if used for a different product.

Last Stop: Trash and Recycling

The tour isn’t complete without the last step in any cleaning effort: disposing of the empty packaging. Chances are, your trash pile is a lot smaller today than it used to be, thanks to waste reduction and recycling.

Waste Reduction: A Two-tiered Effort

Waste reduction means cutting down on the amount of materials or energy used during the manufacture, distribution, purchase and use of a product. Waste reduction is an effort in which both manufacturers and consumers have important roles to play.

With the following product and package innovations, cleaning product manufacturers are cutting down on waste before it starts:

  • Concentrates: Sometimes known as “ultras,” they deliver the same cleaning performance as traditional versions and use less of the product. They also reduce the amount of packaging materials used.
  • Refill containers: Use less packaging material than primary containers. They usually don’t include convenience features like trigger sprayers or measuring caps, reducing packaging even more.
  • Recycled content: By using 25 – 100% recycled plastic in product bottles and 25% recycled steel in steel aerosol cans, cleaning product manufacturers are providing an important market for the containers that consumers are recycling.
  • Recyclable materials: Containers that can be recycled and made into other products.

As a consumer, you can also practice waste reduction by the actions you take when purchasing and using household cleaners.

  • Buy the right product for the job at hand.
  • Buy only what you can use.
  • Follow label directions: more is not necessarily better!
  • Reuse primary (original) containers in refill systems as many times as possible.
  • Use only the refill product intended for the container.
  • Use up the product, or give it to someone who will.

Product Disposal Guidelines

If you do have to dispose of a cleaning product, follow label directions, if provided. If there are no directions, follow these guidelines:

  • When disposing of a product, think about how you use it. If it mixes with water, it’s water-soluble. Water-soluble liquid and powder household cleaning products can be disposed down the drain with running water, just like when you use them.
  • For other products, such as oven cleaners, crystal drain openers and furniture polishes, call the manufacturer’s toll-free number (or write to them) for disposal recommendations, or check with your local waste disposal facility.
  • Just as you shouldn’t mix products when using them, be sure not to mix products when disposing of them.

These guidelines are provided by product manufacturers and are consistent with the way products are developed and tested for safe disposal. Some communities have regulations for handling wastes; check your local waste facility and follow their recommendations.

Product Package Recycling

It used to be an effort to remember to recycle. Now, it’s not only a habit, in many areas it’s the law. But somewhere along the line, it became easier than we ever thought it could be.

Today, different communities approach recycling in different ways. As a general rule of thumb, consult your local waste management facility to see what they accept. Here are the common types of household cleaning containers that can be recycled, if they are accepted in your community:

  • Plastics
  • Paperboards
  • Aerosol Cans

Your local municipality can confirm what types of containers are recyclable in your area.