Written by Grove Collaborative

House of horrors: The most frightfully filthy places in your home — and how to clean them

Last Updated: October 19, 2020

The spooky season is officially upon us! These oft-neglected spots are a favorite haunt for microbial hobgoblins and grime. Here are five terrifying tales about the most morbid messes hidden in your house — and what you can do to clean them up.

The spooky season is officially upon us, which makes right now the perfect time to turn your attention to the scariest, shockingest, most hair-raising places in your home. These oft-neglected spots are a favorite haunt for microbial hobgoblins and grime. Here are five terrifying tales about the most morbid messes hidden in your house — and what you can do to clean them up.

Dreaded drains

Why you should be spooked:

Deep inside your damp, dark drains lurk microscopic monsters, including molds, fungi, and brutal bacteria like Salmonella. These unhygienic germs cling to the walls of your pipes, coating them in a terrifying black biofilm that traps and feasts on dead skin cells, hair shavings, soap scum, and toothpaste spit. As this gruesome goo grows, it slows down drainage and can eventually cause a monstrous clog. The ghastly stench of this shocking slime alone is enough to inspire weekly drain cleanings — a quick and simple task with far-reaching benefits.

How to clean your drains


Pour a half cup each of baking soda, salt, and vinegar — in that order — into the offending drain to break down and loosen the grime.


Let it sit for a half hour — or an hour, if your drain is slow. While you wait, put a big pot of water on the stove to boil.


Slowly — watch out for the scalding steam! — pour the boiling water down the drain to rinse away the debris.

To prevent grave danger:

Keep the kitchen drain clog-free. After you pour oil down the drain, run the hot water for a few seconds to help it move through faster and easier. Install strainers in your sinks to catch food and other particles that can cause a clog — even if you run the disposal. Spring for a weekly enzyme treatment that breaks down organic matter in the drain naturally to keep it moving through the pipes.


RIP drain cleaners

Never use store-bought drain cleaners to clean or unclog a drain. These noxious brews can seriously damage your pipes, and they poison the water supply with caustic soda and lye — usually all for nothing, since they rarely work. When your drain is clogged, clean it using the steps above, and if the clog persists, call a plumber — or snake it yourself.

Fiendish fridge coils

Why you should be spooked:

The space between your refrigerator and the wall is an unnerving hellscape of dust and grime. Even if you’re able to wrangle a duster back in there regularly, the coils behind the fridge eventually get covered in a suffocating layer of filth. This foul film acts as insulation and reduces the cooling power of your very expensive appliance — and it can even lead your fridge to an early grave. Clean your coils once a year to extend the life of your fridge and escape the gruesome consequences of inadequately cooled food.

How to clean the refrigerator coils

Step one

Unplug your refrigerator to prevent electrical shock. Don’t worry about the food spoiling — this will be pretty fast. But put on a dust mask — it’s gonna get dirty.

Step two

Pull the refrigerator out from the wall so you can access the back. (You may need some help moving the beast.)

Step three

Locate the condenser coils, which are the cold, metal tubes arranged in a repeating S pattern. The coils will either be in back of the refrigerator or behind the toe plate in front.

Step four

Vacuum up loose dust and debris on the coils, the back of the fridge, and the surrounding floor.

Step four

Since you probably don’t have a condenser coil brush laying around — although you should, and they’re inexpensive — use an old toothbrush to dislodge stubborn buildup on and around the coils. As you brush, vacuum up the loosened grime.

Step five

Use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe down the coils where you can reach them.

To prevent grave danger:

To keep your coils cleaner longer, dust and vacuum around the fridge regularly. Turn on the exhaust vent while you’re cooking to keep grimy grease particles out of the air and prevent them from settling on the coils.

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Disappear two monsters with one spell

Since you’re back there anyway, now is a good time to thoroughly clean the back of the refrigerator and the wall. Vacuum all of the surfaces, including the floor. Use a natural, all-purpose cleaner and a microfiber cloth to remove grease and grime. If you didn’t already, remove the toe plate from the front of the unit and vacuum up the dust that has accumulated underneath. Mop the floor before you return the fridge to its spot.

Macabre mattress

Why you should be spooked:

You spend roughly one-third of your life in bed, drooling, sweating, and shedding dirt and dead skin cells. It’s no wonder that your mattress can quickly become a malodorous breeding ground for bacteria — and that’s the pleasant news. Invisible to the naked eye are millions of dust mites taking up residence in your mattress — tiny, gluttonous arachnids who feast on your dead flesh and excrete highly allergenic droppings. The corpses of their departed are strewn across your bed, a grisly graveyard of allergenic body parts that can turn a good night’s sleep into a congested, coughing nightmare. Clean your mattress two to four times a year to keep these diabolical bugs — and other odious offenders — under control.

How to clean your mattress

Step one

Strip the bed, and wash your sheets and pillowcases in hot water. If your pillows are machine washable, throw those in, too.

Step two

Vacuum the devil out of your mattress — sides, too — using the upholstery attachment. Use the crevice attachment on the seams and piping.

Step three

Spot-clean stains on the mattress. Spray an enzyme cleaner onto a clean cloth, and gently blot the stained area. Soak another clean cloth in water, wring it out, and blot the stain until it lifts.

Step four

Sprinkle every inch of your mattress with baking soda, and let it sit for a few hours — the longer, the better — to break down acids, absorb moisture, and banish odors.

Step five

Vacuum the mattress again to remove all traces of the baking soda.

Step six

Flip and rotate your mattress and mattress pad to ensure even wear. Some mattresses don’t need flipping, but they should all be rotated every three months or so.

Step seven

Replace your bedding. Resist the urge to take a nap in your clean, refreshed bed — or don’t.

To prevent grave danger:

A mattress cover keeps your mattress cleaner longer, and it’s a must-have for those with allergies. Mattress covers are thin and waterproof, and they prevent dust mites from weaseling their way into your mattress. High quality mattress covers are worth the extra expense, since they’re breathable and wick away heat and moisture from your body — welcome relief for those who sweat a lot at night. A quality mattress cover won’t change the way the mattress feels. Avoid cheap mattress covers that feel like plastic, since they’re less breathable, less durable, and less comfortable.

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The lifespan of a mattress

The Sleep Foundation recommends replacing your mattress every six to eight years. Signs you need a new mattress include worsening sleep quality, an increase in allergies, waking up stiff and achy, and the appearance of sagging or damage on the mattress.

Abominable air

Why you should be spooked:

The air in your home is fraught with frightening pollutants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stresses that most homes have many sources of indoor pollution, and the cumulative effects can pose serious health risks. Skulking around in your air are teeny, terrifying particles like bacteria, viruses, pesticides, mold, pollen, dander, and cooking grease. Conventional body care and cleaning products send all manner of toxic substances into your air, where they can haunt your air for long periods of time, according to the EPA.

Cleaning your air isn’t a one-trick pony — there is no step-by-step guide to bring it miraculously from dirty to clean in one to-do. Rather, it’s an ongoing, three-prong effort, says the EPA — one that will reap big rewards for your health and wellbeing, especially if you suffer from allergies or other respiratory conditions.

How to clean your air


Send indoor air out and bring outdoor air in.

  • Turn on the stove exhaust when you’re cooking to send moisture, grease, and combustion fumes outside.
  • Turn on the bathroom exhaust while you shower or use conventional body care products.
  • Open the doors and windows in your home whenever you can to exchange the air in your rooms.

Control the source

Keep pollutants out of your home in the first place.

  • Use natural household cleaners and body care products to keep toxic pollutants out.
  • Remove your shoes at the door — the soles are rife with pesticides, oil, bacteria, and pollen.
  • Keep your home’s humidity level in the neighborhood of 35 to 50 percent to discourage the growth of mold and mildew and the proliferation of dust mites, bacteria, and viruses.

Clean the air

Forcibly remove pollutants from your home.

  • Vacuum and dust frequently — turn on your HVAC fan while you do it, and leave it on for 15 minutes afterwards to circulate and filter the air.
  • Choose a high-quality HVAC filter, and replace it when it’s dirty — around every 3 months.
  • Install portable purifiers to exorcise unwanted particles from your air.

To prevent grave danger:

If you have carpeting, consider replacing it with hard flooring that’s easier to keep clean. Carpeting collects and traps contaminants that come in on your shoes and fall from the air. Carpets are a breeding ground for mold, fungi, and bacteria, which dramatically reduce your air quality. If you can’t replace your carpet, vacuum it every other day, and invest in a steam cleaner for regular deep cleanings.

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How to scent your air — not poison it

If scented air is your jam, spritz a natural air freshener around the room, or use an essential oil diffuser for a stronger, more consistent scent. Avoid synthetic air fresheners, which spew toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene, toulene, and xylene — along with a witches’ brew of phthalates, terpenoids, and other foul potions — into your air.

Woeful washing machine

Why you should be spooked:

You’d think a machine that cleans things would, itself, stay clean. Not so the washing machine, which can harbor a horror show of mold, bacteria, and other mysterious microbes in its dark, damp crevices. Over time, the chilling effects of not cleaning your washing machine become clear as a strange black film scums its way across the inside of the lid and grows along the rim of the tub. Frankensteined together from dirt, detergent, mold, and laundry fuzz, this scuzzy menace is not only foul-smelling, but it can stain your clothes and make them smell like you dug them out of the creepy crawl space in the basement. Give your washing machine a solid once-over each month to keep foul odors and menacing microbes at bay.

How to clean your washing machine

Step one

Run an empty hot-water cycle. Add two cups of white vinegar to the water via the detergent dispenser.

Step two

Let the washer agitate for about a minute, then pause the cycle for an hour to give the vinegar time to scare away mold and mildew, loosen debris, reduce bacteria, and deodorize the tub.

Step three

While the washer is paused, scrub down the inside of the lid and the outer rim with a microfiber cloth dipped in vinegar. Use an old toothbrush to loosen gunk in hard-to-reach places, and use cotton swabs to reach inside the dispensers.

Step four

Restart the washer, and let it cycle through. Meanwhile, have a go at the exterior — including the dials — with a natural, all-purpose cleaner.

Step five

Run one more empty hot-water cycle to rinse. Add a half-cup of baking soda to the water to scrub away debris loosened by the vinegar.

To prevent grave danger:

Protect against odors, mold, and mildew in the first place by moving clothes to the dryer right away when the wash cycle is finished. Leave the lid or door of the washing machine open after each load to allow the inside to air-dry. Reduce the amount of detergent you use, and wipe away detergent dribbles right away.

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Don’t fear the front loader

The door gasket on a front-loading machine collects and obscures a freakshow of gross germs in a sickening, sludgy buildup. Spray the gasket on the inside of the door with vinegar or a natural, all-purpose cleaner (or washing machine cleaner). Pull the gasket aside, and spray more cleaner in the crevices. Let the cleaner or vinegar work for a few minutes, then wipe the gasket and the rest of the door clean with a damp microfiber cloth, rinsing frequently in hot water.

Shop natural cleaners

Looking for more cleaning how-tos and other sustainable swaps you can make at home? Grove has you covered with our buying and cleaning guides. And let us know how if you have any cleaning questions (or share your own tips using #grovehome) by following Grove Collaborative on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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