Today’s question comes from the lovely Stephanie:
I have a question about cleaning. (whining) Do I have to do it? No, seriously, how many products do we really need? Is it necessary to have separate cleaners for bathrooms/kitchens, tile/hardwood floor, carpet/upholstery, etc? Do we HAVE to have a special spray and wand for dusting? Are more expensive and single-purpose cleaners better? How do you keep your home so sparkly and shiny without having to sell a kid? Although that probably would solve a lot of cleaning problems… Hmmm…
What puzzles me about this question is that Stephanie seems to believe my house is sparkly. That’s the dead giveaway that we’ve never met in person, right there. If Stephanie had even been here, her question would’ve read something more like “Hi! What’s that smell?”
I’m kidding. Of course. Oh look! Over there! Something SHINY!
Actually, this is a great question, because every day we are all inundated with marketing that would have us believe our homes cannot possibly be fit for habitation unless we have fifty different cleaning products on hand and spend all day lovingly wiping down counters with nary a hair out of place. I don’t know about you, but not only do I see cleaning as a necessary evil (meaning, I’d rather do almost anything else), I don’t understand why it apparently requires an arsenal of expensive products. Stop the madness!
Now. That said? I do have my own biases, and those include having a household of allergy sufferers. As a result, there are a couple of ways in which I will always (happily) pay more in return for Less Dust, because that’s a top priority around here. (Not that you would know that to look around. But play along.)
First: I believe that any house with carpeting is a house that deserves a really good vacuum cleaner. Years of experience with cheap vacuums taught me that this is one purchase where you absolutely get what you pay for. Save your pocket change, recycle your soda cans, whatever—do not skimp on a vacuum, particularly if you have pets and/or allergies. A lousy vacuum does worse than not getting the job done; it actually makes matters worse by stirring up the dirt and dust into the air and then leaving it there.
I happen to own a Kirby, which is a long and boring story in and of itself, but let’s just say that when it was purchased long ago, it was pretty much the Cadillac of vacuums. I do love it in rather an inappropriate way, though I would never, ever buy one again. They are too expensive and very heavy. But when I use it, it pretty much sucks up the dirt on the underside of the house foundation, so I won’t complain.
If I was buying a vacuum today, I think I’d buy a Dyson. They’re quality, high-end vacuums which are receiving rave reviews, and they go on sale with regularity (plus Amazon offers quite a few reconditioned options, and I am a huge fan of reconditioned items both for price savings and because they’re often more likely to hold up than a new model which may have an overlooked flaw). Keep in mind that a good vacuum with a variety of attachments will also be invaluable in keeping your upholstery and draperies clean. (Yes, I vacuum curtains. It beats taking them down and washing them.)
So there’s that.
The other dust-related area where I won’t skimp is, well, dusting. I never use a feather duster or one of those multi-colored tribble-on-a-stick doohickeys, because I believe in THROWING AWAY the dust when I’m done. As such, I love those Swiffer dusters. Before those came out, I used cloths and washed them when I was done, but it always kind of skeeved me out (and nooks and crannies were harder to get clean). The environmentalists can come throw things at me, but I like disposing of dust and grime. It makes me happy. Sorry.
Anyway, Swiffer products aren’t cheap, but they do go on sale periodically, and nowadays I see that there are some generic imitations which are probably fine as well, but I can’t say for sure as I’m still working through my stash of Swiffers bought on clearance. Ahem.
As for dusting spray… well, Swiffer claims you don’t need it. I like dusting spray, personally, because I want to believe that every speck of dust has been grabbed and wrestled to its death. Also, when you only dust two or three times a year, I say why not go all out. So yeah, I use spray (I spray it on the duster, and a can lasts me a year or more). I buy the spray at the dollar store, because I don’t think you need to be too picky about lemon-scented dust adhesive.
Now let’s look at some other products.
Toilet bowl cleaner. In my opinion? (As if any of this is anything other than my opinion….) Biggest waste of money and biggest scam in the cleaning product business. Oh, an angled head! Thick, clingy gel! Woohoo! Um… guess what? Your $.99 toilet brush also gets right up under the rim. Or (if you want to go really old school, which I do not) your gloved hands with a scrub brush. Does squirting your expensive just-for-toilets cleaner under the rim result in a cleaner toilet? I don’t think so. But I’m a rebel like that.
My favorite toilet bowl cleaner is a couple shakes of Comet or other abrasive powder that comes in a big honkin’ can for dollar. When I’m feeling really wild and crazy, I just pour some bleach into the bowl and swish that around. Easy. You get exactly the same results from scrubbing around for a minute and then letting the cleaner sit in the bowl for a few minutes and giving it another scrub before you flush as you do from made-for-the-bowl cleaners.
Tub/shower cleaners. Again, my favorite here is an abrasive powder or just water and bleach. (Public service announcement: Never mix bleach with other cleaners. Really. Homemade ammonia is never a good idea.) I do buy a spray bottle of specifically-for-mildew shower cleaner every now and then if I find it super cheap, but it’s not an imperative. (And honestly, if I cleaned my shower more often, I probably wouldn’t ever need that. Oops.)
Hard floor cleaners. Here I have to confess that I own what might just be the most impressive assortment of cloth-on-a-stick implements known to man. In my defense, almost all of them were free or nearly so. Still, I consider the perfect quick-clean floor implement something of a Holy Grail. It’s a personal weakness. (Hey, if your vacuum weighed fifty pounds, you’d be looking for the best way to clean up a little mess without getting out the vacuum, too.) I do like those sorts of things for a quick tidy-up, but they’re hardly necessary.
There are almost as many kinds of mops as there are vacuums. Mopping is perhaps my least-favorite cleaning activity. A while back I picked up a Floormate on clearance, and I like it because it does the scrubbing while I stand there. Anything that allows me to be lazier, I dig. Also? With the Floormate providing the elbow grease, I no longer feel the need to use hefty cleaners. I use a bit of bleach in water on my tile and vinyl, and a bit of vinegar in water on the hardwood. Done. Hoover recommends their special brand of cleaners for their Floormates, GO FIGURE. Well, I’d be happy to use their cleaners if they want to send them to me for free. Heh.
Surface cleaners. Again, I lay claim to being environmentally incorrect—I like disposable wipes. I like throwing dirt away, and I hate sponges with a white-hot passion. Sponges seem like such a good idea, but no matter how you wring them out or try to care for them properly, they always end up smelling like something crawled inside them and died. If I want my counters to have bacteria smeared all over them, I’ll just grab my kids’ lunchboxes and wipe everything down with the leftovers.
Target routinely carries multi-packs of the Clorox or Lysol wipes (like 5 canisters in a pack) and ends up clearancing them. That’s a great way to stock up for less.
I also keep one spray bottle of multi-purpose surface cleaner around for use with paper towels (in case I run out of the wipes or have a wet enough mess that I’ll want to use paper towels to clean it up). This cleaner is purchased on clearance or from the dollar store.
A few miscellanous things to mention. As always, your mileage may vary.
- I buy generic/cheap dishwashing liquid because most of my dishes go into the dishwasher and I don’t really use a lot of dish soap. On the other hand, I buy name-brand dishwasher soap because in my experience, it’s much more likely to get the dishes clean the first time. As always, if you have a brand preference, stock up on sale (and if you have coupons, so much the better).
- I have smelly children, so I do like to keep air freshener on hand. My grocery store often does buy one/get one, so with a coupon they’re practically free.
- As much as I hate the earnest, furry man in the commercials, I have to admit that Oxi-clean is a very handy item to have around. Buy a tub, it’ll last you for years. Great for miscellaneous carpet stains, in particular.
- I am overly devoted to Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. There are imitations on the market now, and I have no idea if they work (again, because I’m still working through a stash acquired on sale), but I suspect that only Mr. Clean uses genuine heroin in theirs. Stop looking at me.
- WD-40 and hairspray are both great stain treaters, especially for things like those mysterious markings on the wall that no one knows where they came from. (Magic Erasers are good for that stuff, too, but sometimes they take the paint off if you’re not careful. I often try WD-40, first.)
I hope this was of some help, Stephanie. Although I think you may be onto something with that whole kid-selling idea….