Cleaning a chandelier the old-fashioned way—spraying and wiping each piece by hand—takes forever. And it doesn't help that you're standing on a ladder. Want an easier way? Try a spray-on chandelier cleaner. First spread a plastic tarp on the floor under the chandelier to catch the drips. Then turn off the light and spray the solution on the chandelier until liquid beads start to run (you'll use a lot of spray, but it beats wiping). The spray rinses off the dust. The solution that's left evaporates quickly and doesn't leave water spots. The spray works well on hanging crystals, but don't expect it to remove dust from crevices. Buy it for $10 from nancysilver.com or chandelierparts.com.
Grease and dirt build up on kitchen cabinets over time. To clean your cabinets, first heat a slightly damp sponge or cloth in the microwave for 20 to 30 seconds until it's hot. Put on a pair of rubber gloves, spray the cabinets with an all-purpose cleaner containing orange oil ($4), then wipe off the cleaner with the hot sponge.
Keeping shower doors clean and streak free is a challenge—unless you know the pros' secrets. Start by cleaning any mold, mildew or streaks off the glass with a glass cleaner. Use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser ($1) to get into the cracks in textured glass. Scrape off tough buildup with a razor blade. Dry the doors with a cloth.
Treat the doors with a product like Aquapel ($8; autobodydepot.com) or Rain-X ($5 at auto parts stores and home centers). These glass treatments form an invisible film on the glass to increase water repellency, causing water and soap to bead up and run off the glass. (Squeegee off the water after bathing to keep soap scum from building up again.) Spray or wipe on the glass treatment, then wipe it off with a microfiber cloth. Overspray won't harm surrounding surfaces. The products repel water for six months.
Every pro we talked to was a big fan of Swiffer Sweeper products, particularly the Wet Jet ($20). It lets you throw away the traditional mop and bucket and clean your hard floors in less time and in a more sanitary way (mops are often full of bacteria, which get spread on the floor during cleaning). Three cleaning solutions (for different floor types) are available for the battery-powered Wet Jet. The solution is automatically sprayed onto the floor with the push of a button. Disposable, textured pads absorb the spray as they clean. Since the Wet Jet is very portable, it's great for spot-cleaning spills. The downside is that it doesn't work as well as a mop on extremely dirty floors or on mud that gets tracked into the house.
Throw out the old cotton rags and the paper towels and use microfiber cloths instead. These cloths are composed of ultrafine synthetic fibers that are woven together to create a “microfiber.” The fibers rub together during cleaning, creating a static charge that attracts dirt and dust, so you can tackle dusting chores without using sprays or chemicals (although you can still use them if you want). The tiny fibers have sharp edges that scour well, but they aren't abrasive, so they won't scratch surfaces. Use the cloths for cleaning appliances, sinks, and TV and computer monitors, and for drying dishes, washing windows and any other chore that requires a cloth (wet or dry). Microfiber cloths ($20 for a 10-pack at discount stores) leave a streak- and lint-free finish, are very absorbent, and can be washed and reused.
Forget the broom—clean out the garage with a leaf blower. It's fast (about five minutes), you don't have to move heavy stuff, and you can clean work surfaces and shelves along with the floor. First put away papers or anything else that you don't want blown away. Open the overhead door. Put on a dust mask, earplugs and safety glasses, then turn on the leaf blower and blow out the dust and debris. Use the leaf blower to get under workbenches and to clean off the benches themselves. If you don't own a leaf blower, you may be able to use your shop vacuum by connecting the hose to the exhaust port. This cleaning method works great for screen porches, too.
All-purpose cleaners won't remove rust stains from sinks, tubs and toilets, even with a lot of elbow grease. The trick is to use a stain remover like Super Iron Out ($10 for a 5-lb. jug). Look for a rust stain remover or a product that contains diluted hydrochloric acid (also listed on product labels as hydrogen chloride, HCL or muriatic acid). Be careful not to use a product containing bleach—it'll set the stain. For toilets, add Super Iron Out to the water in the bowl, then clean with a stiff nylon-bristled brush. For sinks and tubs, first wet the surface with water. Apply Super Iron Out to a damp sponge (wear rubber gloves and a mask—this stuff is powerful!). Wipe the stain with the sponge until it's gone. Rinse the surface with plain water to completely remove the Super Iron Out.
For grout lines and textured surfaces, use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. To prevent soap scum buildup, stop using real soap and start using a synthetic. Chemically speaking, any soap in a liquid or gel form, and some bar soaps (Zest and Ivory), are actually synthetic soaps and much less likely to leave a tough film in your sink, shower or tub.
The best way to prevent stains is to treat spills immediately. That's why pros love stain pens, like Tide to Go and the Clorox Bleach Pen Gel, which are designed to remove small stains from upholstery, grout, caulk, porcelain and clothing (avoid the bleach pens for colored fabric). Just press the tip into the stain to release the solution, then rub the tip across the stain to remove it. Inexpensive ($3) and portable, they're great at removing food and drink spills. Before applying a cleaning solution to an entire surface or fixture, first test it on a tiny area to make sure it won't damage or discolor the finish.