The best cleaning products don't necessarily cost a fortune. ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from the publisher of Consumer Reports, identified 12 cleaning products that work as well or even better than their expensive counterparts:
* Cleanser: Comet with Bleach, $1.25, can be used to tackle many jobs. This disinfectant even did great in ShopSmart's tough toilet bowl cleaner tests.
* All-Purpose: Original Pine-Sol, $2.48, beat out 18 pricier cleaners and left no streaks.
* Laundry Liquid: Up & Up HE Fresh Breeze (Target), $13 (11 cents per load), works in regular and HE washers and did great on grass, chocolate and other stains.
* Stain Stick: CVS Total Home Instant Stain Remover On The Go, $1.99, performed as well as Tide to Go in tests. Like Tide, the only stain it couldn't lick was lipstick.
ShopSmart also gathered more than a dozen cleaning products hawked on TV infomericals and put these products to the test in real homes, swabbing floors, dusting cobwebs and cleaning dirty bathroom grout and backyard grills. Some did OK, but most were letdowns. Here are four products that were downright duds:
* Deluxe Hi-Reach Cleaning Kit ($37 plus S&H). This kit is equipped with multiple dusting heads, a lightbulb changer and a squeegee. The flexible dusting head is supposed to help users get to hard-to-reach places with ease. ShopSmart testers got to some hard-to reach spots with this product, but "flexible" is an understatement -- it's too bendy, and the dusting attachment broke after bending one too many times.
* Grill Daddy Grill Cleaner ($14.95 plus S&H). Although it claims to be a "revolutionary grill-cleaning tool" that cleans with the power of steam, it didn't leave grills spotless in tests, and one ShopSmart tester's hand got hot. Instead, use a clean spray bottle filled with water and a grill brush for cheaper, better results.
* Grout Bully ($20 plus S&H). This product says it will clean and renew grout on contact, plus remove mold and eliminate mildew. In tests, it was a messy, time-consuming job, leaving the grout looking like it was painted on. It initially hid -- but didn't eliminate -- mold and mildew.
* The Original Smart Mop ($19.99 plus S&H). Claiming to cut cleaning time in half and never allowing a user's hands to touch dirty water, this mop cleaned floors fine. However, twisting the pole to wring it out often loosened a screw, which fell off, and the handle came apart too.
No matter what products and tools are used to clean, it's important to always take caution. Here are ShopSmart's five cleaning safety musts:
* Never mix bleach with ammonia, vinegar or other acids. Those combos can produce deadly gases.
* Always wear gloves to protect skin.
* Store safely. Keep all cleaners, including homemade ones, well-labeled. Store them away from children and pets.
* When working with chemical cleaners, check warning labels, open windows and doors, and keep children and pets far away from where you are cleaning.
* Try a cleaner in a hidden spot before using it on a surface for the first time to make sure the product doesn't cause any discoloration or damage.