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8 Things You Never Clean but Should

The dirtiest things in your house might surprise you

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Spring brings daffodils, warmer weather and an urge to clean.

Meg Pritchard admits that she ignored a lot of the deep-cleaning tasks at her home in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania — until the pandemic hit.​

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Pritchard, 57, had time to tackle big cleaning projects. She cleared out cupboards, closets and the refrigerator, scrubbing the shelves, vacuuming the dark corners and disinfecting surfaces. The amount of dirt and dust surprised her. “It’s amazing how much dog hair collects in the shoe closet, [and] there was a layer of detergent in the laundry sink that I’d never noticed before,” she says. ​

Seventy-eight percent of households do spring cleaning every year, according to a 2022 survey by the National Cleaning Institute. Sixty-four percent said they would prioritize the kitchen, 61 percent would focus on the bedroom and 59 percent said they’d concentrate on the bathroom.

When you start spring cleaning, don’t forget to clean these eight essential — and often ignored — areas of your home.​

1. Coffee maker

Cream and sugar might not be the only things you’re adding to your morning coffee. Microbiologists found 67 different types of bacteria in the drip trays of kitchen coffee makers. Cleaning your coffee maker won’t just prevent illness — it will also improve the flavor of your daily cup of joe.​

“When you use a coffee maker daily, mineral deposits build up inside from your water,” says Lisa McManus, executive editor at America’s Test Kitchen Reviews. “Over time it acts like a blocked artery; the tubes narrow and the coffee maker gets slower and slower, which makes your coffee taste worse.”​

Descaling your coffee maker removes mineral deposits and bacteria. Aim to descale your machine after every 100 pots of coffee. McManus suggests using packs of 100 filters as a reminder; when the package is empty, it’s time to clean. ​

Skip the vinegar and water, which can be too corrosive and might not work effectively. Instead, McManus suggests using gentle, commercially available descaling products. ​

“Put the powder in with water and run it through the coffee maker and then run a few brew cycles with just clean water to remove the descaling product,” she says.

2. Dishwasher

Even if your plates and utensils look spotless, your dishwasher may be dirty. Researchers found that dishwashers often contained bacteria that were linked to health problems ranging from food poisoning to skin infections.​

“Food gets left in there and it can start to smell,” admits Haley F. Oliver, a professor of food science at Purdue University. “You end up rewashing your dishes with old dirt.”​

To clean out trapped food particles, unscrew the screen from the dishwasher floor and remove the filter; use dish detergent and a brush to scrub the filter and let it air-dry. Oliver suggests cleaning the dishwasher filter every week. ​

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After that, clean the inside of the dishwasher. Fill a dishwasher-safe mug with white vinegar, and run it on the “normal” cycle with hot water to loosen soap scum and grease from the interior.

3. Oven

Scrubbing the burned foods crusted on the bottom of the oven and the grease coating the oven door might be the least appetizing item on a housecleaning to-do list. Although Oliver notes that temperatures get so hot inside the oven that bacteria have no hope of survival, germs are not the sole reason to get out the scouring pads.​

“Nothing ruins a delicately flavored food like burning in the bottom of the oven,” Oliver says. “You end up with cupcakes that taste like char.”​

A dirty oven could also cause a grease fire. ​

The self-cleaning feature is a good default, but nothing matches the effectiveness of some old-fashioned elbow grease. Oven cleaners often contain harsh chemicals, but lemon juice, baking soda and vinegar can get the job done without the lingering smell of chemicals tainting the next meal you cook.​

4. Ceiling fan blades

Turning on the ceiling fan might offer a cool breeze on a hot, humid afternoon, but it also scatters the dust and pollen that collect on the fan blades. Cue the sniffling and sneezing.​

“Ceiling fans cause problems by increasing circulation of airborne allergens,” says Hugh H. Windom, M.D., allergist and founder of Windom Allergy, Asthma and Sinus in Sarasota, Florida.

To ensure your allergies don’t flare each time you switch on the ceiling fan, wipe the blades down with a damp cloth.​

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5. Reusable shopping bags

Admit it: The bags you toss in your trunk after every shopping trip have never seen the inside of the washing machine. These oft-used, never cleaned bags are breeding grounds for bacteria. And the number of bacteria multiply tenfold when a reusable bag with leaked meat juice gets left in the trunk of a car for two hours.​

“In a lot of these reusable bags, we found more E. coli and fecal bacteria than you do in your underwear,” says Charles P. Gerba, microbiologist and professor at the University of Arizona. “If you use the same bags to carry raw meat products and raw vegetables, you could make a salmonella salad really easily.”​

Gerba suggests sticking with cloth bags that can be washed, and tossing them in the machine (washing in hot water) after every use. It’s also a good idea to designate separate bags for meat and produce.​

6. Dryer vent

You know that a clogged lint screen is a fire hazard, so you clear it out after each load. But when was the last time you cleaned the dryer vent? Lint can also get trapped in the vent that runs from your dryer to the outside of the house — and failure to clean it is linked to $35 million in fire losses every year.​

Use a skinny brush with a long handle to remove lint from the vents; a pro can also come in to do the job. The good news: You only need to do it every three months. ​

7. Mattress

Even though the average person changes their bedding every 24 days, most likely ignore their mattresses. In fact, a 2018 study published in Royal Society Open Science compared the number of bacteria in chimpanzee beds to that in human beds. Our primate ancestors maintained cleaner sleeping environments, with just 3.5 percent of bacteria coming from their skin, saliva and feces compared to 35 percent in human beds.​

To clean your mattress, strip off the bedding and vacuum the entire mattress, paying special attention to the crevices where dirt and dust collect. Use a stain remover to spot treat stains, sprinkle baking soda over the mattress to deodorize, and vacuum again to remove the baking soda. Plan to repeat the entire process every six months.​

8. Kitchen sponge

Your kitchen sponge might be dirtier than the surfaces you’re trying to clean. In one study, researchers found 309 different species of bacteria, from salmonella to listeria, on kitchen sponges. Concentrations were as high as 45 billion bacteria per square centimeter. ​

“Bacteria grow to huge numbers because [sponges] are moist and always picking up food for bacteria to munch on,” Gerba explains. ​

Nuking a sponge in the microwave might kill bacteria, but replacing your germy kitchen sponge on a regular basis might be better. Research suggests that the strongest bacteria may survive the microwave, leaving your sponge even more stinky and germy than ever. ​

Bacteria counts are highest after three days, according to Gerba. After that, replace your old kitchen sponge with a new one.

​No one wants to spend more time cleaning, but the extra effort will leave you with a healthier home.

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Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 1, 2022. It has been updated to reflect new information. 

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