By Sarah Mahoney


Most shoppers are painfully aware that just about every product in the cleaning aisle costs $4 or $5, but few probably realize how quickly that adds up. "The average American family spends about $738 per year on cleaning supplies and other household products," says Erin Bried, author of How To Sew a Button … and Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew. But you can shave hundreds off that total if you think before you squirt. Here, five simple ways to stretch your cleaning bucks.

1. Shop at drugstores first.

Karen Wilmes, a blogger at, has found that for cleaning products, drugstores chains like Rite Aid and CVS typically offer better deals -- and more valuable coupons -- than supermarkets. "On Sundays, I sit down with the store ads, decide where the best deals are and map out my shopping strategy," says Wilmes. "When my daughters are in preschool during the week, I do the shopping."

2. Leave shoes at the door.

By some estimates, 85 percent of dirt in homes is tracked in on shoes, so the best way to lengthen the life of your vacuum-cleaner bag is to enforce a shoes-off-in-the-house policy. (It will also extend the life of your carpets and floors.) Or invest in a doormat to prevent excess dirt from coming into the house. And the next time you shop for a vacuum, consider a bagless version: The Good Housekeeping Institute reports that they clean as well as bagged machines but without the additional cost.

3. Rethink your paper personality.

When it comes to paper products, it pays to think strategically. Some paper towels are perforated to allow you to select a size rather than wasting a whole sheet; others come in economy-sized rolls. While warehouse clubs often appear to offer great deals, experts say it's important to do a little research with a calculator first -- who wants to have to store 30 rolls of towels that weren't that great a deal? And when you do find warehouse bonanzas, Savitt suggests going in with a buddy so the extras don't take over your basement.

4. Demystify dusting.

The more you dust, the less buildup you'll have, decreasing the need for furniture polishes, which are expensive, toxic, and frankly, bewildering (beeswax? mineral oil? denatured alcohol?). When you do polish, try this simple recipe, recommended by the University of Massachusetts' Toxic Use Reduction Institute: 2 parts olive oil with 1 part lemon juice. Use just a few drops at a time on a soft cloth. (Make small batches and discard each time, since ingredients can spoil.)

5. Remember maintenance.

Certain jobs, left undone overtime, will require even more time and money to do a big cleaning. Instead, try cleaning regularly: A daily 5-minute cleaning of a specific surface, such as the bathtub, will reduce scrubbing time and the amount of product needed to clean the surface. Plus, it will eliminate the need for specialty cleaners later on.

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Sarah Mahoney is a contributing editor at Parents and Prevention magazines. Her work also appears regularly in Family Circle and Good Housekeeping.