Save yourself time and sanity next time you clean the house by using products that will actually make the job easier. Here's a power list of eight must-have cleansers, as well as four that you shouldn't waste your money on.
1. Abrasive cleaner
It's not elbow grease you need when you're scrubbing away a clump of burned-on food or dripped soap, it's abrasive power. Plain old baking soda will often do the job, but if you need a little more oomph, you should have Bon Ami in your cleaning closet. Manufacturers of products ranging from cookware to bathroom fixtures recommend it. Unlike more powerful abrasives, it won't scratch.
2. All-purpose cleaner
Plain dishwashing detergent and water, mixed in a spray bottle, can do most all-purpose jobs. Don't use too much detergent or the solution gets too sudsy to spray. Also, your local janitorial supply house can supply a good neutral-pH cleaner -- one that isn't too acidic or too alkaline. For kitchen counters, the bathroom sink and other lightly soiled surfaces, mix a quart of water with 1/2 cup of vinegar in a spray bottle and keep it handy. If you have a heavy-duty job, you can use Lestoil or Top Job. For the heaviest-duty jobs, such as cleaning a fireplace, your hardware store can recommend special products.
Without suds and without lemon (which causes streaking), ammonia makes a great window cleaner. Add a capful or two to a quart of water.
4. Mildew remover
In the bathroom, use bleach or Tilex for getting grout clean.
5. Spot cleaner for upholstery and rugs
Carbona removes spots and stains on upholstery. I also like Spot Shot for rugs.
6. Soap and scum remover
I like Scrub-Free. I also recommend Clean Shower as a preventative: Mist the shower walls with it and you don't have to rinse, wipe, scrub or squeegee (not recommended for refinished tubs, natural stone or natural marble).
7. Laundry detergent
Get the biggest container of Wisk or Tide (my favorites) you can find, then transfer the detergent to a smaller, more manageable container if necessary. I know they've reformulated fabric softener to deal with this problem, but still I find that softener eventually makes towels less absorbent, so I use it only every third or fourth load. I like the concentrated liquid and the Ultra Downy dispenser for top-loading machines without a built-in dispenser.
8. Oven cleaner
Easy-Off works the best. If the fumes bother you, use the no-fume formula or try the ammonia treatment I suggested earlier in this list.
Watch Video: Best Household Products
4 Household Cleaners You Don't Need
1. Antibacterial sprays and soaps
From what I understand, the only place where surface bacteria is a problem is in a hospital operating room. Some people (and some studies) have suggested that an excess of antibacterial products in our lives is cutting our natural resistance. Stick with plain old soap and water.
2. Furniture cleaner, polish, wax or oil
If your wood furniture has a polyurethane finish, it needs only an occasional dusting. (When? When you notice the dust.) Wipe smudges with a damp but not wet cloth. If you're not sure what kind of finish is on your table, chair or whatever, test with a bit of nail polish remover on a cotton ball in an inconspicuous place. If the cotton softens or sticks to the finish, you may need a cleaner, polish, wax or oil.
3. Drain cleaners
For regular maintenance, your best bet is prevention. Pour a half cup of baking soda, then a half cup of vinegar down the drain once a month or so. Rinse with cold water. When a drain is sluggish, first try a plunger. If that doesn't work, buy a biological product at the hardware store; microorganisms eat the organic material that's causing the clog, then are flushed by the drain.
4. Wax and no-wax floor products
You don't need these for tile or polyurethane floors. They don't make the floors nicer, they just make them more slippery. They also create a buildup that's a real pain to remove.
Another thing to remember is this: Anything that's been sitting around, unused, for a year or more -- throw away! Chances are, you'll never get around to using it, and if you do, it probably won't be effective. Household solutions often lose their potency over time.
This is a good time to remind you never to mix chlorine products (bleach, tile cleaner, mildew remover, powdered cleanser) with any product containing ammonia (which may even include some detergents) or any acid. The toxic gases that result can be fatal.