6 Tips and 14 Products for Cleaning Tough Stains

Photo (cc) by Joe Shlabotnik

Ever wonder if there’s an easier way to wring that hard-water ring from your toilet bowl? Or any way to remove red wine from your beige carpet? Well, ShopSmart has you covered.

The April issue of the magazine from the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports features a guide to our most pressing cleaning concerns along with a list of their best-rated cleaning products.

“We had our experts work to find the answers to some of the toughest cleaning conundrums,” says editor-in-chief Lisa Lee Freeman. “We performed lab tests to find the best cleaning products and tools to get the job done at an affordable price. Plus we came up with homemade remedies and ways you can easily change your daily habits to keep your home as tidy as possible between major cleaning sessions.”

If you don’t have a subscription and don’t want to pay the $4.99 newsstand price for the issue, ShopSmart still has you covered (well, somewhat). You can read a preview of the “Make Everything Sparkle” article on their website and snag the product list and a few of the cleaning tips from their press release

Top tips:

  1. Keep drains from getting clogged and clear them without chemicals: To keep drains free-flowing, don’t pour cooking oil, grease, or other fats into them. Pour leftover grease into a can, then toss it out with the trash. Don’t dump stuff that clumps, like rice and coffee grounds, in drains, either. Outfit all sinks with strainers to catch food, fibers, and hair, and clean them out regularly. And flush kitchen drains regularly with a few gallons of boiling water, which can clear away built-up grease and soap.
  2. The easiest way to clean the microwave, especially baked-on tomato sauce: To speed-clean and mask odors, place a small bowl with about one-quarter cup of fresh lemon juice in your microwave. Then run it on high for 1 minute. Remove the bowl and wipe the oven cavity, using the condensation that formed to clean it. Those baked-on tomato stains should be easy to get off with plain water. Repeat if necessary, and scrape off any stubborn gunk with a plastic credit card. Just don’t scrape the glass window; that could damage it.
  3. Prevent the growth of mold or mildew on grout: To scrub away surface mold, use a disinfectant cleaner with bleach. If the mold returns quickly, apply a mold-resistant sealer over the grout. But if mold spots appear after sealing, scrape out the mildewed grout and apply new grout. Recurring mold may also signal a bigger problem, like a leak or condensation forming behind the wall.
  4. Rid your toilet bowl hard water ring: Use a cleaner with some abrasive muscle to attack rust and stains. ShopSmart recommends Comet which is inexpensive and beat out the liquid toilet bowl cleaners and a competing powder cleaner in lab tests. Also clean your bowl more often to keep stains from building up.
  5. Clean up a pet accident without the chemical smell: Try this homemade cleaner: Mix 1 teaspoon mild, clear dishwashing detergent with 1 cup of warm water, and blot (never rub or scrub) the area. If that doesn’t work, try a mix of one-third cup white vinegar to two-thirds cup water. Or zap the spot—plus about a foot of the carpet surrounding it—with an enzyme-based pet odor remover.
  6. Remove dark stains from light carpet: For wine or grape juice, first blot with water, then blot with a solution made from 1 teaspoon of liquid detergent mixed with a cup of warm water. If that doesn’t work, dab on some 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, making sure to use a fresh bottle. If that fails, call in a professional cleaner.

Top tools:

  • Best Glass Cleaner: Sprayway, $4.39
  • Best Smoothtop Stove Cleaner: Cerama Bryte 20618, $4.48
  • Best Stainless-Steel Cleaner: Stainless Steel Magic, $4.99
  • Best Dishwasher Detergent: Finish Quantum, $5.93/Box of 20
  • Best Dishwashing Liquid: Ajax Lemon, $3.19
  • Best Multi-Use Disinfectant: Comet with Bleach, $1.15
  • Best Steam Mop: Eureka Envirosteamer 313A, $70
  • Best Pet Hair Cleaner: Pledge Fabric Sweeper, $5.59
  • Best Vacuum: LG LUV400T, $550
  • Best Rug Shampooer: Bissell Pro Heat 2X9200, $250
  • Best “Green” All Purpose Cleaner: Nature’s Source, $3.19
  • Best “Green” Bathroom Cleaner: Green Works Natural Bathroom Cleaner, $3.00
  • Best “Green” Laundry Detergent: Kirkland Signature Environmentally Friendly Ultra 2X HE, $13
  • Best “Green” Toilet Bowl Cleaner: Seventh Generation, $4.00

If you’re trying to cut back on cleaning costs, however – Americans do spend an average of $659/year on housekeeping supplies, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics‘ latest figures – you may be more interested in Money Talks News’ list of alternative cleaning products:

  1. Vinegar. It may smell a little weird, but vinegar can handle everything from dishes to laundry and even weeds. We’ve written about the wonders of vinegar before in Household Products Vinegar Can Replace.
  2. Baking soda. Eliminates odors and helps with stains, and also works as a natural method of pest control – ants hate it.
  3. Borax. This mineral salt beats bleach as a toilet cleaner and is also useful for scrubbing walls. Works with laundry too.
  4. Fels-Naptha soap. This one’s actually made by one of those big cleaning companies out to pinch our wallets: Dial. They recommend it for “pre-treating” stains. In other words, “use this in addition to a bunch of our other expensive products, like Purex!” But you can turn the tables by using it as part of a recipe for your own laundry detergent, and they can keep the Purex. And check out our story How to Make Your Own Laundry Detergent.
  5. Rubbing alcohol. Works as a disinfectant and is also a great glass cleaner. It also gets grime off plastic and metal surfaces like patio furniture or bathroom fixtures.
  6. Lemon juice. This cuts through dish grease and is an ingredient for homemade furniture polish – but it’s not the easiest thing to preserve long-term.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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