May 032010

By request, I’m beginning a series of “Favorite Things” posts, starting today with my favorite cleaning products & tools. These are the things that I use most and love, because they actually work. I don’t buy many cleaning products, and I especially avoid gimmicky things because I’m almost always disappointed, but these items are tried and true.

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser – I was very skeptical when this first came on the market, but I had a coupon that made it almost free, so I tried one. And they work. I’ve used mine to remove marker that I thought would adorn my coffee table for eternity (be very careful on varnished or polished wood though, because it will leave a dull spot) years of dirt from the refrigerator handle, scuff marks from walls, dried nail polish from the kitchen table. They’re made of a porous melamine that gets into grooves and crevices like, well…magic, and you only need a bit of water to moisten them – no harsh chemicals.

Swiffer Sweeper – This is another one of those products that the frugal zealot in me scoffed at, because why not just use a broom or a dust mop? It’s cheaper! But I have wood floors throughout my house, (except for the bedrooms), and even when my floors appear to be clean, the Swiffer cloths pick up scary amounts of dust, lint and hair. Plus, the Swiffer is very lightweight and easy to slide under furniture. My old dust mop doesn’t even hold a candle to it. Also, I find that it takes me forever to get through a box of Swiffer dry cloths, because they can be used for several sweepings before they stop picking up, so the expense is minimal.

Steam Mop – Who wants to pay $70 for a mop? That’s what I used to think. But I was so fascinated with the commercials for this product, because I was tired of washing miles of wood flooring by hand, which is the only way they ever got really clean. Also, my Swiffer WetJet broke, and I didn’t want to pay to replace it, because I was so sick of forking over money for cleaning solution refills and pads. So I broke down and bought a Shark, and it’s great! It’s perfect for wood floors because it uses very little water, and the super hot steam dries almost immediately. My floors have never felt so clean. You can feel the difference under your feet. Also, I love that it just uses water (again no harsh chemicals), and I can throw the cleaning pad in the washing machine when it gets dirty.

Microfiber cleaning cloths – I used to dust with whatever I could find. A sock with no mate, my husband’s holey underpants which had been banished to the rag bag. But then I got a package of two microfiber cleaning cloths for free (after rebate), and I can’t believe how well they work. They actually trap and pick up the dust, instead of just moving it around. I will never go back to underpants dusting.

Plastic putty knife – Picture it (Sicily, 1942 – I just threw that in for you Golden Girls fans. Which I am). You’re mopping the floor, and you come across a sticky blob of something disgusting. In our house, it’s probably jelly, or a noodle that has been stuck to the floor for a week. You go over and over it with the mop, and after 500 passes, it’s still there. Instead of mopping it repeatedly until your arm falls off, you might want to consider a plastic putty knife. I keep one of these in my pocket when I’m mopping, because I can just quickly bend over and loosen up the sticky stuff. I also use it to remove dried-on crap from the stove top. Now if only I can keep my husband from stealing it all the time.

Homemade all-purpose cleaner – Remember in my “typical day at our house” post, I had a bottle of “Nature’s Source” cleaner on the bathroom counter? The bottle was actually filled with this homemade all-purpose cleaner, which I make by the gallon. It’s gentle, very inexpensive, and works every bit as well as store-bought cleaners:

-1 (16 ounce) bottle rubbing alcohol
-1/2 cup sudsy ammonia
-1 teaspoon liquid dish soap (the original, blue Dawn is my favorite)

Pour ingredients into an empty gallon container (I use a milk jug). Fill to the top with water. Put into spray bottle and refill as needed.

I much prefer this over vinegar solutions for cleaning, because the smell is less offensive to me. The ammonia is so diluted that I don’t even notice it. I use this to clean absolutely everything, except for sinks and tubs. For those, I use…

Soft Scrub with Bleach – This is one of only a handful of cleaning solutions I buy. I like it because it cleans and removes stains really well, but it has no harsh abrasives, and it rinses cleanly (unlike Ajax or Comet).

Homemade bleach “gel” – You would not believe the garage sale clothes that I’ve rejuvenated and made new with this. It is simply one part chlorine bleach to two parts baking soda. It makes it easy to put the bleach exactly where you want it, and because it’s a thick gel, it doesn’t splash or run onto areas where you don’t want it. I have so much confidence in it that I will pick up badly stained, but free or super-cheap clothing that I would previously have avoided at garage sales, because I know that I can almost always fix it right up. It also works great on tile grout in the shower.

Fels Naptha Laundry Bar and Stain Remover – This is the best stain remover I’ve found for clothing. It removes almost everything, without damaging clothes. Bee rolled down our hill and had the worst grass stains on her white capris. I soaked them in OxyClean, and tried all-fabric bleach, but the stains wouldn’t budge. I rubbed this bar on them, scrubbed it in with a small scrub brush, and voila! Gone. I find that it works great on upholstered furniture too. For example, when your 3-year-old puts Barbie make-up on the couch. Not that mine does (*snort*)

Extension cord with caddy – If you have to vacuum your house the old-fashioned way (without central vac), a long extension cord is invaluable because you can just plug in your vacuum once, and move throughout your entire house quickly and efficiently, without stopping to unplug and replug. I’ve had one for about a year, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner.

Professional-grade window squeegee – I don’t know anyone who likes to wash windows, least of all me, so I bought one of these for $20 at a janitorial supply store. I just wash the window pane with a sponge dipped in soapy water, and after 3-4 swipes with the squeegee I have a perfect, streak-free window. But don’t buy a cheap one at Home Depot. Do what the professionals do, because time is money, and they use good quality tools that get the job done fast and right.

Dustbuster – This little handheld vacuum makes cleaning under the kitchen table after meals really easy, and I can spot-vacuum our living room rug before company comes, or clean up popcorn under the couch cushions with minimal fuss. Also, the kids love to use it, and I’m all for anything that motivates them to clean.