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Stop Buying These 9 Overpriced Cleaning Products

couple cleaning
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Most of us would agree that a clean home is more pleasant — and more healthful — than one with dirt, mold and funky smells.

Yet the cost of making your home sparkle is daunting if you rely on products from the cleaning supplies aisle of a supermarket or discount store.

The truth is you can easily do most cleaning jobs just as well by using a few inexpensive household products rather than buying their mass-manufactured counterparts. Here are some costly products you’ll never have to buy again.

1. Disinfecting sprays/mists

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The threat of the novel coronavirus got the world interested in making their homes pathogen-free. Retailers couldn’t keep disinfecting sprays (and wipes) in stock.

You can make your own disinfecting sprays pretty easily using:

  • Hydrogen peroxide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the 3% version as a stable and effective disinfectant, and it’s available just about everywhere.
  • Isopropyl alcohol. The CDC recommends the one with 70% alcohol content for killing certain pathogens. Ethyl or grain alcohol (e.g., Everclear) works too, but rubbing alcohol is much cheaper.
  • Bleach and water. Check the label for directions. This solution is good for only a day so mix a fresh batch every time you need to disinfect.

Pumping a spray bottle is surprisingly rough on your hand. Search for a “continuous spray” bottle that provides a constant mist of disinfectant onto the places you want to clean.

Note: Bleach and fabrics aren’t compatible, and peroxide may also damage cloth or upholstery. Some commercial products, such as Clorox Disinfecting Mist, are promoted as safe for fabrics and car interiors. Or you can just use isopropyl alcohol in that continuous spray bottle.

2. Swiffer WetJet refill

Woman mopping an office
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Face it: A mop and bucket are soooo much cheaper than a Swiffer, but not everyone is going to use them. A close relative of mine has chronic health conditions and loves the easy-to-use Swiffer WetJet.

What doesn’t she love? The cost of the refills.

On a recent visit, I freed her from refill tyranny, with help from an article on Lifehacker. It was pretty simple:

  • Turn the bottle that holds the WetJet cleaning solution upside-down and briefly (about 90 seconds) immerse it in a pan of hot water. Make sure it is submerged far enough to cover the cap.
  • Remove the cap with a good, hard twist. Use nail clippers to snip off the locking tabs inside the cap.
  • Refill the bottle with water and a small amount of your favorite cleaning agent: white vinegar, a few drops of your favorite soap, lemon juice, bleach or tea tree oil.
  • Put the cap back on. You’re done.

3. Swiffer replacement pads (wet or dry)

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These pads get thrown away after one use! Fortunately, reusable replacements are easy to make.

For dry sweeper pads, substitute microfiber cloths from the dollar store. Secure them on a dry Swiffer sweeper with rubber bands, or with clothespins holding the ends of the cloth together on top of the sweeper head.

Once the floor has been swept, attach DIY replacements for the wet pads to the Swiffer WetJet that you’ve filled with DIY cleaning solution (see tip No. 2). You can make these pads from worn washcloths or pieces cut from old towels. You’ll need to cut an “X” in the fabric near the spray head so that it can do its job.

Count on making a half-dozen or more because these cloths need to be taken off as they become wet and dirty, just like the throwaway kind. The difference is that you’ll be washing and reusing these until they fall apart.

4. Foaming bathroom cleaner

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Scrubbing Bubbles-type products are great. They melt the soap scum off in minutes!

Here’s a frugal clone: Mix one part white vinegar to one part blue Dawn dish detergent in a spray bottle and shake well. Spray it on, wait a few minutes and rinse clean.

Magic!

You might have to rub with a sponge if a lot of scum has built up. Probably not, though.

Does it stink? Oh, yes. But like the smell of commercially produced cleaners, the aroma does disappear. (Bonus for me: The homemade cleaner doesn’t trigger my asthma like the commercial products do.)

5. Dawn Powerwash

Woman in an accessible kitchen with low countertops
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Procter & Gamble recently introduced Dawn Powerwash Dish Spray, a product that sprays out what looks like tiny foam droplets. The idea is to spray greasy or baked-on pans or dishes, let them sit for a bit, and then rinse or wipe clean.

You know what else works? A short soak in a sink full of very hot water and dish soap, followed by the same rinse and wipe.

Or you can make your own version of Powerwash, using the super-simple instructions from a frugality blog called One Good Thing By Jillee. Short form: Mix a bit of Dawn dish soap with water in one of those continuous spray bottles. Shake gently. You’re ready to go.

6. All-purpose cleaner

Woman cleaning her kitchen counters
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This one is sooo easy: Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. If the grime is serious, you can use 100% vinegar. (Frugal tip: Buy it at the dollar store.)

The mixture will take care of jelly drips on the kitchen counter, toothpaste smears on bathroom fixtures and the streaks on windows and mirrors.

My partner calls vinegar “nature’s Clorox.” He’s right.

7. Cat box deodorizer

Cat in a litter box
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Sometimes, you walk into someone’s home and know immediately that a cat also lives there.

Other times you can’t tell, which has a lot to do with how well the owner cares for the kitty toilet. Clumping litter is a marvel, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. You could use a cat box deodorizer to minimize smells, but there is a cheaper DIY strategy. Here’s how a site called The Nest suggests you do things:

  • Every few weeks, empty the box entirely and scrape off any dried litter. Scrub it with hot water, then fill with a mixture of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of hot water. Empty and rinse after five minutes, then dry thoroughly with paper towels.
  • Cover the bottom of the box with a thin layer of baking soda before refilling with litter.

8. Hard-water stain remover

Toilet
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Mineral-saturated water can make some ugly stains on bathroom porcelain. Once again, it’s white vinegar to the rescue.

The process is super simple: Apply vinegar, let it sit for a few minutes, scrub and then rinse. If it’s a toilet, turn off the water supply and flush until the bowl is mostly drained, then pour in a lot of vinegar and start scrubbing after a few minutes.

I performed this chore for my chronically ill relative. She was delighted, going so far as to say that the newly sparkling porcelain provided “a great sense of peace.”

9. Fabric freshener

Smelly shoes
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You love your golden retriever. You do! But that eau de canine tends to cling to his doggy bed, and to the sofa he knows he’s not supposed to lie on.

You love your preteen hockey player. You do! But that gear bag just plain stinks, even when the uniform has been freshly laundered.

The list of potentially smelly household items could go on and on. Commercials would have you believe that spraying on an expensive “fabric refresher” makes the world brand-new again.

Instead, search online for “homemade fabric freshener” or “homemade Febreze” and you’ll see plenty of DIY recipes that use ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, fabric softener, essential oils, rubbing alcohol, distilled water and — my favorite — cheap vodka.

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