Can one household cleaner vanquish tough kitchen stains such as grease and grape juice, soap scum and other bathroom scourges, and stubborn mineral deposits left by hard water? To find out, we applied those and other common stains to tiles, sprayed or wiped on several all-purpose cleaners, and inserted the tiles into our scrubbing apparatus, which gave each tile the same number of swipes with a paper towel. We also conducted a staining test, in which we let the all-purpose cleaners sit overnight on common kitchen and bathroom surfaces, as they might after an unnoticed spill.
What we found
In our tough tests, only one all-purpose cleaner did well enough to be recommended, earning high marks on all stains, and it did so without streaking--good news in a home with lots of glossy surfaces. This top liquid cleaner is also a CR Best Buy.
On the other hand, liquid cleaners require a little extra effort. You have to unscrew the cap, pour the cleaner, wipe, and rinse, while most spray cleaners instruct you simply to spray and wipe. And most cleaners no longer require "dwell time"--up to 5 minutes of sitting--for regular use.
But with convenience comes less cleaning power. Although several sprays excelled at one or two tasks, they stopped short of being all-purpose. One stood up to soap scum and grape juice but not to grease and mustard. Another vanquished soap scum but not other stains, and it was apt to streak, despite a streak-free claim.
Some green cleaners work well. Cleaners from two green labels were among the better sprays we tested.
A home brew did well. We tested a few homemade cleaning concoctions, including one made with equal parts water and white vinegar. Its overall score topped every commercial spray, especially when it came to streak-free results. But it left behind a strong vinegar smell and fared poorly in our surface-staining test.
Household cleaners that look like drinks. Fabuloso products have child-proof caps, but the products' bright colors, fruity fragrances, and labels showing apples, pears, and other fruit, could make them more enticing to curious children than other cleaners. From 2005 to 2009, there was an annual average of about seven deaths associated with household cleaners. Whatever cleaner you choose, keep it out of reach of children and pets.
With time and effort, many cleaners will work, but when used as directed, there was one standout among the all-purpose cleaners in our tests that was best by far at removing our household stains. To fight mold and mildew, try a product with bleach.