The Top 5 Cleaning Tips We Learned in 2021—How Did We Live Without These?

We will never look at our car interiors the same way again.

At Real Simple, we've been testing, perfecting, and sharing our very best cleaning tips for more than two decades. That doesn't mean we still don't discover new cleaning revelations every now and then—and in 2021, we had several. From the TikTok-famous portable carpet cleaner that showed us just how much dirt was lurking in our car's upholstery (we can't unsee that!) to the secret to designing your way to a cleaner home, here are the best new cleaning tricks we learned in 2021. We just wish we knew them sooner.

The easiest way to remove deep-set stains from car upholstery

In 2021, the BISSELL Little Green Portable Carpet Cleaner won fans worldwide when it became a TikTok sensation. Viral videos showed this wet vacuum extracting years worth of stains from upholstered car seats—yes, even that cup of coffee you spilled months ago. By filtering water and cleaning solution through the fibers of the fabric, even set-in stains are flushed out and suctioned up. The discolored water doesn't lie: that's just how gross your car's interior was.

The best tool to de-gunk an air fryer

We all know the right way to clean a toaster (right!?) because it's been a mainstay on our kitchen counters for decades, but when a new appliance reaches the mainstream, like the air fryer, we have to figure out the best way to clean it. In 2021, we discovered the stainless steel bristle brush that makes removing stuck-on food bits from the metal racks a breeze. Cooked-on fries and barbecue sauce don't stand a chance.

How to deodorize every single part of our house

Blame it on spending more time at home in 2021, but the household odors that we normally don't notice became a top cleaning priority this year. Even if you take out the garbage often, the kitchen trash can is a likely culprit for bad smells. By lining the bottom of the can with newspaper to absorb leaks and sprinkling on baking soda to neutralize odors, we learned how to improve this smelly spot of our homes.

As global warming makes more frequent wildfires a reality for some areas of the country, learning how to remove smoke smells has gained new importance. These tips, like using white vinegar to cut through odors, also work on smoke smells cause by fireplaces or cigarette smoking.

How to design (and paint!) our way to a cleaner home

When we pick out paint colors or shop for furniture for our homes, many of us don't consider how these choices will affect our cleaning routines down the line—but in 2021, we realized that maybe we should. The right decor choices can make a home easier to clean, while the wrong ones can make your cleaning routine longer and more tedious. One to remember: Switching from white to gray grout will allow you to scrub your bathroom tiles less often.

Similarly, Sherwin-Williams launched a new line of sanitizing paint this year. The finish can help keep high-traffic areas of your home germ-free, no scrubbing necessary.

How (and when) to sanitize laundry

Prior to 2021, we thought we knew all the laundry cleaning rules, plus the mistakes to avoid. But then the teams at Clorox and LG schooled us on exactly when we should be using the sanitize cycle on our washing machine and when to reach for a store-bought fabric sanitizer. According to the experts, any clothing that's germy or smelly, including gym clothes and bedding after a family member has been sick, should be sanitized. For a quick clean, the high heat of a clothing steamer can also help kill germs and bacteria on clothing.

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