As a cleaning expert, I have spent the last decade or so collecting all sorts of knowledge about solving problems. Some of those problems are fairly universal, like how to get an ink stain out of a shirt, but some are more unusual, like what to do when a candle tips over and spills hot wax on the carpet.
Ahead, I’ve rounded up 23 of my favorite offbeat cleaning products, and common products that can be used in unexpected ways to solve problems like grease stains on clothes or cat pee in a suitcase (it happens!). Do you want more recommendations? Check out my favorite products for the kitchen, bathroom and laundry room.
This is one of the best stain removal tips I have to offer, so I'm opening with it: Hand sanitizer is excellent at removing deeply pigmented stains — everything from sriracha to ink — from fabric. It's also great to know about because hand san is so ubiquitous, and we often have it on us when other laundry products aren't available.
I recently purchased a walking pad, and I was reminded of Soilove while setting it up. A bit of the silicone lubricant used to keep the belt running smoothly got on my hands, which then got on a practically-brand-new sports bra! Curses! But I'm me, and I know that Soilove is the secret to getting tricky silicone lubricants out of fabric. Now you know too.
DampRid is a desiccant: It absorbs water from the air, helping to regulate humidity and moisture levels. Rooms like the basement, attic or bathroom that are prone to dampness because of environmental or design factors can be unpleasant, for one thing, and difficult to keep clean for another, as high moisture levels will encourage bacterial growth and contribute to lingering odors. DampRid addresses that problem.
Basements and attics aren't the only spaces where overly humid conditions create odor problems. Closets can also suffer from musty smells caused by excess moisture. DampRid makes hanging moisture absorbers as a solution to this particular problem.
When deep cleaning, experts will tell you to look up, then look down. Some of the dirtiest spots in our home fall outside our sightline, like the tops of cabinets or ceiling fan blades. But hard-to-reach places rarely get cleaned for a reason — they're hard to reach! A telescoping duster solves that problem.
Vents and venting hoses need to be cleaned, but sometimes a vacuum isn't enough for the job. Enter: the vent brush! Vent brushes can also be used to clean air conditioning units, refrigerator coils, floor and wall registers and, of course, dryer vent hoses. Now you know!
One last entry in the "oddball dusting tools" category: a power duster! This one is more of a nice-to-have than a need-to-have item, but for people who love power tools, it's a super-fun buy. It has seven attachments that can be used to clean everything from the car interior to your disgusting keyboard. Can it be used to blow dry pets? Yes, yes it sure can.
You're probably thinking that dishwasher detergent isn't all that odd of a cleaning product, and it isn't — it's the use for it that's surprising. Cascade powder dishwasher detergent is aces at cleaning white table linens. Dissolve Cascade powder in very hot water and then soak the linens before laundering as usual. It works as a pre-soaking agent for whites because it has a bit of a bleaching effect. However, it can be harsh so avoid using it on very delicate linens.
Did you think I would leave you hanging without a recommendation for those very delicate linens?!? Engleside Restoration is a fantastic product that will reverse yellowing and remove set-in stains from vintage and delicate fabrics like lace and linen. Do you need to restore Granny's good tablecloth or her wedding dress? This is the stuff you want.
This is among my very favorite laundry products because it’s weird and wonderful. Bluing does exactly what it sounds like it would: It turns things ever-so-slightly blue, which, because of the way color perception works, counteracts yellowing and makes whites appear whiter. It’s especially helpful to know about if you have white bedding that needs a refresh.
If you've ever spilled wax or ended up with candle drips that have hardened onto hard or soft surfaces, this tip is for you. Lay a sheet of brown paper over the wax and run an iron on the lowest setting over the top of the paper. As the wax softens, the paper will absorb it.
Pet parents and long-haired humans, gather 'round! Rubber brooms are incredible for quickly picking up hair from hard floors and carpets. (You can sweep a carpet!)
Elsewhere in the pet world, Biokleen Bac-Out is the thing for cat pee smell remediation. If you have a cat, you know that cat will, at some point in its little feline life, pee all over your things to express displeasure over a choice you have made. Bac-Out is the stuff that will save whatever Kitty has sprayed.
Speaking of funky smells! From time to time, a really bad odor will overtake an item and no amount of washing with regular detergent will touch it. Enter: Dr. Bronner’s, which for reasons I can’t explain with science, is absolutely incredible at eliminating odors in fabric. During the years I wrote a cleaning advice column, my readers successfully used Dr. Bronner’s to eliminate strong smells in clothes ranging from gasoline to oil from tinned fish.
- Related: The best natural cleaning products
Speaking of oil from tinned fish, if you’re a person who is prone to dripping pizza grease on their pants, or dribbling salad oil down the front of their shirt, you're going to love this one. Lestoil is aces at getting oil and grease stains out of clothes. To use, dab a small amount directly on the stain prior to laundering as usual.
But what about grease and oil stains on non-launderable fabrics? Those happen too, and when they do, a pantry staple — corn starch — is what you want. Place an anthill-style mound of corn starch on the stained fabric and leave it undisturbed for an hour up to overnight. The corn starch will absorb the oil, pulling it out of the fabric.
Dobie pads solve a seemingly unsolvable problem: How do you scour away stuck-on food from cookware or kitchen appliances like microwaves or refrigerators without scratching delicate plastic, stainless steel or glass surfaces? Dobies are nonabrasive scrub sponges that are safe to use on almost any material, making them an indispensable cleaning tool worth knowing about.
You will not find a box of baking soda in my refrigerator — I keep it with the baking supplies where it belongs. Baking soda is not the great odor absorber it claims to be, but active charcoal (which also goes by the name activated charcoal, active carbon and activated carbon) is a fantastic alternative that actually works and will keep strong food smells from overtaking your fridge.
The bathroom sink never stays clean for very long, but a microfiber sponge can keep things looking tidy in between deeper cleanings. Place one on the sink ledge for quick cleanups during the week, and wash the sponge weekly along with towels.
Canister-style odor absorbers are the "set it and forget it" of the odor-eliminating world. They are a great choice for keeping smells at bay in spaces like the bathroom or the kitchen, because you can set them out and let them do the work for you, without requiring action on your part. There are lots of these products on the market, but I like the Bad Air Sponge because it works, and also because the name is hilarious!
Hand-laundering is an easier chore than you might think, and it’s worth trying your hand at it (couldn’t resist the laundry pun, sorry!) because it is truly the best way to care for delicates like lingerie, swimwear and sweaters. Soak Wash is a no-rinse detergent formula that makes hand-laundering a cinch.
Linen spray solves a very specific problem that I have, that many of you might also have: I love the look of pressed bed linens but I hate ironing them. So instead of spending a lot of time and energy to press or steam a wrinkled duvet cover, I simply put it on the bed, spritz it with linen spray and pull it taut. As the duvet cover dries, the wrinkles work themselves out of the fabric, making the bed look positively catalogue-worthy.
Dryer balls help to eliminate wrinkles and static cling by moving laundry in the drum, allowing better airflow and reducing drying time. Dryer balls are also key when drying bulky items and/or items with fill, because they help to redistribute and fluff up the filling of things like pillows, duvets, parkas and puffer vests.