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Rethinking how to use your tools

If you've been cleaning the same way for years, it might be time to rethink your routine, says Shop-Smart, the shopping magazine published by Consumer Reports. How you clean and what tools you use for each task can radically transform your home and save you time.

"Nobody likes to clean, so why not make your routine as efficient and effective as possible?" said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. "With just a few simple tweaks, you'll be shocked how you can use your household cleaning products in new ways to save yourself time."

>Lambswool duster

*Best for: Dusting large surfaces, including walls. It can also be smooshed into hard-to-get-at spaces such as recessed lighting and radiators. And it's gentle on furniture and delicate knickknacks.

*Wrong! If you're using a dirty duster, you're not going to make your house any cleaner. ShopSmart recommends using a dust-attracting lambs-wool duster.

*Use it better: Dust first with a clean duster, working from top to bottom, then vacuum. Make sure to vacuum the duster after each use; that will help remove debris trapped in the fibers. ShopSmart also suggests hand-washing the duster every so often and letting the cloth air-dry.

>Angled broom

*Best for: Sweeping dust from floors and corners.

*Wrong! Don't use a dustpan to pick up sweepings; use a handheld vac to suck them up. That eliminates the dust lines where the lip of the pan meets the floor. And don't get the bristles wet -- debris can stick to them and drop off the next time you use the broom. The one exception: when you clean a broom. Try washing it with a soapy solution, then rinsing and laying it flat to dry. If you stand it upright to dry, the bristles will become misshapen, and the broom won't work well.

*Use it better: Hold the broom to one side and use short strokes to sweep away from you, from back to front. The slant allows you to get into corners to dislodge dust. Finish by vacuuming up dirt piles.

>Toilet plunger

*Best for: Unclogging your bowl.

*Wrong! Don't just push down when you plunge; it's also important to pull up on the plunger, which lifts and lowers the water in the trapway where a clog can be hiding. This can dislodge the clog so it flushes through.

*Use it better: To loosen a slow or clogged toilet, first add some water to the bowl, if needed. Plungers work best when they're submerged in water because you need to move the water back and forth to work the clog free. Don't start until you've sealed the mouth of the plunger against the mouth of the toilet trap, then push and pull the plunger until the clog is gone.

>Paper towels

*Best for: Quick cleanups and wiping grimy surfaces.

*Wrong! Don't use paper towels on mirrors and windows (use a squeegee) or for dusting (try a microfiber cloth). They can leave behind lint, the paper may catch on sharp edges and leave little shreds and it can scratch surfaces like stainless steel.

*Use it better: Choose a towel that can sop up spills and scrub surfaces without falling apart. Bounty topped ShopSmart's recent absorption and strength tests. You can also use them to soak up cooking grease so it doesn't go down the drain and create a clog.

Try these great sites for cleaning products.

TheContainerStore.com. Best for specialty cleaning tools, with a large selection of scrubbies, brushes, brooms, microfiber cloths and microfiber mops from well-known brands.

Soap.com. Best for a wide variety of brand-name cleaning products. Prices are comparable to supermarkets, but the speedy delivery saves time and lugging.

Staples.com. Best for cleaning products, especially green cleaners.

By the editors of Consumer Reports at www.consumerreports.org.