In love with the bald man: Clean up your act

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A couple years ago, I bought one of those robotic floor cleaners I saw in a TV commercial at 3 a.m. It was just a softball-sized mechanism that rolled around the kitchen trying to pick up dirt with feeble scraps of felt. The thing didn’t clean at all, but it freaked out the cats so I kept it.

Which just goes to show that if you want to terrorize a house pet, I’m your guy. If you want to know what products are the best for scrubbing the nasty corners of your home, you’re better off turning to an outside panel of experts.

Which I did. And you know what? The people who take cleaning seriously are particularly crazy about a product from the big bald guy with the muscle-bulging T-shirt.

Sometimes to the point of romance.

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“I love Mr. Clean Magic Erasers,” cooed Nancy Townsend Johnson, a mother of three in Dixfield, who loves Mr. Clean so much she sometimes pours red wine when she uses her eraser.

“Magic Erasers!” declared Rebecca Dean Lehto, who home schools five children. “They can completely transform a room when you have kids, especially darlings that are wall artists!”

“Another vote for those Magic Eraser thingies,” says Kathleen Travis Perin of Newburgh. “They are WONDERFUL for cleaning my fragile hen’s eggs and making them pristine even though they may have had some poo dried on them.”

Yes, the Magic Eraser, powerful enough to clean scribbled art from the walls and delicate enough to wipe bird poop from an egg shell.

“The Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Original is so powerful,” crows the product Web site, “that each swipe removes more grime than the leading all-purpose spray cleaner, and it has no harsh chemicals.”

Chalk white and half the size of a piece of bread, the eraser looks too plain to be of any use. But wet it with water, wring out the excess and then go after a grimy door or a baseboard and you’ll see why it’s called magic. Filth doesn’t just get wiped away, it seems to disappear altogether beneath the not-quite-a-sponge eraser.

“Magic Eraser,” says Crystal Harnden, an Auburn woman who says she hates to clean. “LOVE!”

If Mr. Clean was an actual man, what a stud he would be. If you just want to admire his brawn without hearing the secrets of his success, skip the next paragraph.

The secret behind the Magic Eraser is melamine, a resin used in construction and in the automotive industry as a sound barrier and flame retardant. When moistened, the water breaks down the product into a microscopic polymer abrasive, enabling it to grab dirt in spaces that a regular sponge or brush can’t get to.

These all-purpose bad boys can be had for under $3 a pair at any grocery store. They can be had even cheaper if you want to look around a little.

“I also love the Magic Erasers,” says Nancy M. Weston of Rumford. “Even the ones you can buy at the dollar store.”

Wipe, swipe and Swiffer

Also scoring high among the cleaners were Clorox Wipes. Described by the makers as “tough cleaning in a thick wipe,” the pull-out cloths are appreciated by people who like to clean everywhere without dawdling.

“Why get out a mop,” says Meredith Kendall, a nurse, “when you can wipe with a swipe?”

It sounds like an advertising logo, but that’s about the thrust of it. Clorox Wipes claim to kill cold and flu viruses while cleaning virtually any surface, from the nasty toilet lid to the computer keyboard.

You can get a canister of 75 for under $7 just about anywhere, or a canister of 35 for around $4. These babies are particularly good for dolts like me who can’t figure out those complex formulas of cleaning solvent to water. Just yank a wipe out of the can and go after whatever filth you were ordered to clean.

Swiffer has become its own army of clean. You got your wet jet and your sweeper vac. You got your duster and your spray-on shine. There are handles that extend and heads that swivel. There are wet pads and dry ones. If you’re a dust bunny or last night’s Spaghetti-O stuck to the floor, you don’t want to see the Swiffer platoon coming your way.

And yet the love for all things Swiffer is mixed. It’s not the sweepers and mops themselves – those suckers can reach anywhere and they scare cats quite a bit – but the secondary parts of the apparatus.

“The handles are terrible,” said one woman. “As soon as you lean on them a little bit, they break.”

Which has been my experience, as well. The Swiffer is awesome if your floors only need a quick sweep and scrub. But if you you need to bear down a little to attack the stain your frightened cat left behind, the wimpy handles can’t take it.

Most Swiffer products come with disposable sweeper and mop cloths. You use them and throw them away. Rebecca Or-Shahar, mother of four boys and twin girls, said she skips the included cloths altogether. She bought microfiber towels, which can be washed and reused, and cut them to fit the Swiffer.

It’s innovative. It’s eco-friendly. It’s about three steps more than I’m willing to take.

I was disappointed by how few of those polled expressed love for the Sham Wow. These super-absorbent and heavily spoofed household cloths rocketed to the top of my personal list of favorites the very first time I tried one. The Sham Wow can handle anything, from a simple spill to a sucking chest wound.

“Sham Wow,” says Bill Lepack of Livermore. “How can you argue with a commercial like that?”

Which may be the problem. The Sham Wow commercial, featuring the now-notorious Vince Shlomi, was so lampooned, many people don’t realize it’s a real product.

Which it is. And it’s awesome.

We work hard, so you don’t have tooooooo …

Scrubbing Bubbles, featuring creepy animated bubbles in the commercials, have been around forever. There’s a reason for that.

“Scrubbing Bubbles for the tub,” says Shannon Farner Withenshaw, the mother of twin 2-year-olds. “I love how hassle-free it is. I hate scrubbing the tub.”

It’s another great product for the cleaning rube. You spray these foaming bubbles on whatever needs cleaning, enjoy the sound of corrosive action (like little filthy screams) and then wipe it off with a cloth. Nice and simple. But the simplicity of the bubbles does not diminish the cleaning gusto. I clean my dual-purpose motorcycle with Scrubbing Bubbles. If those foaming attack dogs can tackle deep woods mud and road grime, they can probably handle the ugliness left behind in your shower.

Probably.

A few people weighed in with gratitude for their Sharks and Dirt Devils. Both are products with many faces, like the Swiffer. Both offer vacuums small enough to clean out a car and vacuums large enough to take on an entire household. Both carry steam cleaners, as well.

More people came forth to praise the Shark, but as with the Swiffer, there were problems.

“I have a Shark (steam mop), too, and I like it,” says Catherine Lavallee, mother of twin toddlers and a baby in Winslow. “It cleans really well and it is only water (that’s used). My only complaint is that for 70 dollars, it is very flimsy. It should be made from actual metal parts instead of plastic and crap.”

To the makers of Swiffer and Shark: Unclench, you tightwads, and put your product on something sturdy. Which doesn’t include plastic and crap.

Honorable mentions

The Norwex cloth is appreciated for its ability to clean smooth and mirrored surfaces. Available online, it looks to me like a Sham Wow with a college education. But hey, I’ve already admitted my biases.

For carpets and stinky kid smells, skip the Febreze and go for something stronger.

“Odoban for my carpets and for washing my sons’ sports equipment,” says Lea Francavilla Whittle, mother of five kids from 4 to 15. “Gets out all the smells that nothing else will and works much better on furniture and carpet than Febreze.”

Whittle also recommends Fels Naptha, heavy duty soap, for getting out tough stains like grass and blood. You know: if you kill someone with a lawn mower.

We’ve said too much.

Rebecca Kish Francis, mother of one from Brunswick:

“I use a great all-purpose cleaner by mixing, in a spray bottle, two cups of water, two tablespoons of lemon juice, half a teaspoon of dish washing liquid, a tablespoon of baking soda, and a teaspoon of Borax. Works really well.

“For tough carpet stains, I drop a denture tab into a quarter cup of hot water, let it sit for about a minute, and blot the stain out. This works better than anything else I’ve tried.

“White vinegar and baking soda works really well on hard water stains too.

“I got these tips from the book ‘How Clean is Your House.’ The book focuses mostly on using natural cleaning products Vs. harsh chemicals. Love it, and they work!”

Lea Francavilla Whittle, mother of five

“Slice a lemon in a bowl of water and put in the microwave for 5 plus minutes and it will clean and deodorize your microwave without any harsh chemicals or scrubbing.”

Catherine Lavalle, mother of twin toddlers and a baby

“I like plain white vinegar for cleaning non-porous surfaces because it really cuts through everything and it is completely nontoxic. For stains I like Shout stain remover because it works awesome and little kids tend to stain their clothing a lot.”

“For dishes I like Dawn Hand Renewal. It doesn’t work as well as they advertise but it doesn’t dry and crack my skin like other cleaners. I think my hands would be better if I didn’t wash dishes at all but it is what it is.”

Debbie Martin Giroux, of Rumford

“Pour vinegar and baking soda down the sinks. De-clogs them as well as cleans them.”

Barbara Francavilla Delaney, mother of two

“Silicone scrappers for pots and pans. Never scratches and gets all the stuck junk off.”

 

Rich Willette, Waterville

“Leaf blower. It makes cleaning fun. Nothing cleans crumbs out of a toaster as well as a 200 mph wind.”

Bruce Marshall, Hermon

“I personally like a high pressure fire hose.”

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