The 20 Best Cleaning Tips We've Learned Over the Past 20 Years
As Real Simple celebrates its 20th anniversary, we're taking a look back at the best cleaning advice we've ever dished out.
Since the first issue of Real Simple magazine launched in April 2000, our home department has offered up countless tidbits of cleaning wisdom. For two decades, our editors have been testing out the latest cleaning products and vetting cleaning tricks to find the ones that really work—all with the goal of saving you time and energy. In celebration of our 20th anniversary, we’ve combed the archives and asked our resident experts (our Home Director, Stephanie Sisco, has been with the brand for 10 years!), to find the best cleaning advice we’ve ever shared. From a surprising way to clean with bread to the cleaning products found right in your pantry, here are the cleaning tips you’ll want to remember for years to come.
1 Always Clean From Top to Bottom
Our Home Director, Stephanie Sisco, has said it before and she’ll say it again: The best way to clean a room is from top to bottom (while working your way out of the room).
In the May 2016 issue, Debra Johnson, a home cleaning expert for Merry Maids, explained the rationale: “Always clean from top to bottom so dirt falls downward and you don’t have to reclean, and tackle floors from the farthest end of a room, working your way toward the door,” she says. “Just imagine that you’re talking to a crazy party guest and you need to back away slowly without getting trapped in a corner. That’s how it is with dirt.”
2 Vodka Is an Incredible Cleaning Agent (Yes, Really)
Some of our most memorable cleaning tips have been about the harsh chemical–free cleaning solutions hiding right in your pantry—including vodka. Vodka is proven to eliminate germs and odors and can be mixed into many homemade cleaning recipes.
Pro tip: Use any brand, as long as it’s not flavored.
3 Clean With Bread
Believe it or not, a slice of white bread is a wonderful cleaning tool. In the April 2019 issue, our senior editor, Brandi Broxson, wrote: “For a DIY duster, I take a slice of white bread (yes, really) and press it onto the brick wall in my apartment. The bread absorbs dust and dirt without leaving lint behind like a paper towel or rag would.” Genius!
Over the years, we’ve also recommended using a slice of white bread to pick up small bits of broken glass.
4 Dust Your Fan With a Pillowcase
How do you clean a ceiling fan without dumping dust onto your furniture or floor? The April 2018 issue holds the secret: “Place a pillowcase over a fan blade and pull it toward you to collect the dust. The debris will stay contained inside the pillowcase rather than drifting onto the floor,” writes Natalie Ermann Russell in “Spring Cleaning by the Clock.”
5 DIY Pet Fur Remover
As a pet owner, one trick for collecting pet fur has stuck with Stephanie Sisco over the years: Using a damp rubber glove, run your hand over a sofa cushion to collect fur.
6 Let the Sun Act as a Stain Remover
Forget the bleach the next time your plastic food containers get pasta sauce stains. “‘Set reusable plastic containers in direct sunlight,’ says Donna Smallin Kuper, author of Cleaning Plain & Simple. ‘Prolonged exposure will make the stain disappear,’” writes Blake Bakkila in the December 2017 issue.
7 The Lil Chizler
A favorite among Real Simple editors for many years, the Lil Chizler is a small tool created to help apply decals, but we’ve used it to do everything from scraping dirty pots and pans to cleaning up gunk around the kitchen sink.
8 The Invention of the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser
We may be dating ourselves, but it wasn’t until three years after Real Simple’s launch that the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser hit the cleaning scene—and changed everything. Now, this cleaning tool is used for many tough cleaning tasks, including scrubbing a grimy shower curtain.
9 Wash Makeup Brushes with Legos
In our April 2019 issue, senior editor Brandi Broxson offers up another nugget of cleaning wisdom: “I apply a dab of dish soap to makeup-brush bristles and sweep them over a Lego baseboard under warm running water. The pegs agitate caked-on makeup so the brush eventually rinses clean.”
10 Another Use for Baby Wipes
In the April 2018 issue, we reconsidered the best way to clean baseboards: “Instead of microfiber cloths, use baby wipes to clean baseboards,” writes Natalie Ermann Russell. “They’re nontoxic, making this a perfect task for children. Plus, the wipes lack heavy cleaners, meaning they’re gentle enough for painted woodwork.”
11 Keep Shower Cleaning Supplies Handy
Sometimes, brilliant cleaning tips come right from our readers. In the April 2017 issue, we published this tip from reader J.F., via Facebook: “I keep a dish wand filled with equal parts dish soap and vinegar in the shower so I can scrub while I’m in there. Works like a charm!”
12 A Natural Solution to Protein Stains
“You don’t need bleach to get rid of protein stains, like blood, sweat, and tears. (OK, maybe tears are not a big laundry issue.)” writes Nicole Sforza in the April 2014 issue. “One natural option: Toss stained socks, tees, and undies into a big pot of water with a few lemon slices and bring to a boil for a few minutes.”
13 A Trick for Removing Price Stickers
“To remove sticky residue from price tags on glass, I put a bit of creamy peanut butter on a piece of paper towel and rub it in a circular motion until the glue is lifted. Rinse with soap and water or use glass cleaner and a microfiber cloth,” recommends our SEO editor, Lauren Phillips, in the April 2019 issue.
14 For When You Forget to Use a Coaster
“If I forget to put a coaster on my wooden bedside table and water rings form, I use a hair dryer to help remove the moisture absorbed by the table. I finish with olive oil for shine,” writes Donna Smallin Kuper, author of Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness, in the April 2019 issue.
15 When You Accidentally Leave Clothes in the Washer
Even if clothes are freshly washed, if you forget to take them out of the washing machine, they’ll quickly develop that dreaded mildew smell. But in the August 2014 issue, we offered a simple solution: “Rewash the load with 1 cup white vinegar (and no detergent) to kill the mildew odor,” writes Nicole Sforza.
16 Use a Squeegee Outside the Shower
If you have a rug that’s been busy collecting hair and pet fur, run a dry squeegee over it. The plastic squeegee creates electromagnetic energy that helps attract the fur, Melissa Maker, the founder of Clean My Space, explained to us back in 2015.
17 Removing Crayon Marks on Walls
Over the years, some of the most memorable cleaning tips have come from our readers, including this one from reader Ashley Dean in the May 2012 issue of Real Simple. “I’m a kindergarten teacher, and sometimes my students ‘accidentally’ draw on the classroom walls. To remove their masterpieces, I follow this advice from my mom: Wet a rag, smear toothpaste on it, and use it to scrub the wall clean. My mom learned the tip from her mom, who learned it from her own mother. It really works.” The next time your little one draws an uncommissioned work of art, you’ll know what to do.
18 Deodorize a Garbage Disposal
Over the years, we’ve recommended a couple methods for deodorizing a garbage disposal that really work. Try putting ice cubes made out of vinegar down the disposal, turn it on, then flush with cool water. Alternatively, place an orange or lemon peel down the disposal to give it a fresh citrus scent.
19 Clean Up Glitter Spills
Once glitter gets into your house, it’s almost impossible to get rid of. The next time glitter spills or you need to clean up after a craft project, grab a lint roller. The sticky sheets will quickly collect every last sparkle.