Even if you’re the Martha Stewart of housekeeping, your sparkling home may be harboring some dirty secrets. Here are five of the top housecleaning mistakes experts say even the healthiest homemakers make, plus easy ways to clean up your act.

1. You don’t leave cleaners on surfaces long enough to disinfect them

To truly disinfect areas that are especially germy — the kitchen and bathrooms, for example — you need to give cleaning products a chance to do their work.

Start by mixing up a solution of chlorine bleach and water: 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 quart of water (4 cups) or ¼ cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water (16 cups). Remove any visible dirt from the surface you want to disinfect before wiping it down with the bleach solution. Let the solution sit for three to five minutes and then rinse with water. If you’re using a ready-made product, read the instructions (see #6, below).

Related: How to Avoid a Cold: A Virus Expert Reveals What Really Works

2. You use too much product

“It’s a common misperception that the more product you use, the better results you get,” says Debra Johnson, a cleaning expert with Merry Maids, a nationwide franchise home-cleaning company. “The truth is you just spend more time scrubbing and wiping to get it off. And if you don’t, the product can build up on the surfaces of furniture or floors and leave a residue that dirt sticks to.”

Using cleaning products too often can be hazardous to health as well. One study found that people who use spray cleaners at least once a week are 30 to 50 percent more likely to report having asthma symptoms that people who don’t use them.

Related: How Often Should Your Wash Your Kitchen Towel?

3. You’re out of order

When you clean, take a top-down approach. “Most people don’t look up,” says Johnson. “Check the ceiling for cobwebs. By working from the top down, dirt and dust will fall to the floor. Your last step should be cleaning the floor.”

cleaning light (Photo: Dawn Gilfillan/Shutterstock) 

4. You miss a spot — or three

Pay careful attention to often-missed germ magnets. These include:

  • the refrigerator seal (a University of Arizona study found that 83 percent of fridge seals contain mold)
  • kitchen faucet handles and drains (research at Boston’s Simmons College found methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus [MRSA] in those spots and others in 26 percent of homes)
  • windowsills (the number one mold magnet in the University of Arizona research)

cleaning sink (Photo: GoodMood Photo/Shutterstock) 

Related: Ban These 7 Allergens From Your Home

5. You leave dust and dirt behind

Do you rinse out your dirty floor mop in the same bucket where you put the cleaning solution? “If so, you’re putting dirty water back on the floor,” says Johnson. Fill a second bucket with water for rinsing the mop before dunking it back into the cleaning solution or rinse it out in the sink in between scrubbing.

For dusting and general cleaning, Johnson also recommends using microfiber cloths made of synthetic materials. These attract and trap dirt rather than just move it around.

6. You don’t read the instructions

Cleaning products contain important warnings that will help you get your house cleaner and also reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals. To protect your health, follow precautions such as wearing gloves or a mask or opening a window to allow for ventilation. Be especially careful about using more than one type of cleaner at a time. “Mixing cleaning products is a big don’t,” says Johnson. “For example, mixing ammonia and bleach can produce dangerous gasses.”

Related: Tips For Greener Housecleaning

The directions will also tell you if you should dilute the product with water, how to apply it, how long to leave it on surfaces and whether to rinse it off. 

Denise Foley is a veteran health writer and a former contributing executive editor at Prevention magazine.