The Very Best Cleaning Hacks We Learned in 2021

From a bizarre way to clean hard water stains to a seemingly counterintuitive way to remove heat stains from wood.

December 22, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

Every once in a while we come across a cleaning hack so good that we simply cannot keep it to ourselves. That's what we do, after all: We write about our favorite ways to clean, decorate, organize, and make our homes as comfortable and joyful as possible. And while 2021 might not have been the year we hoped for, we did learn some pretty clever tricks to try out at home, thanks to the ever-expanding online community of neatniks.

And so, we've rounded up the best of 'em—from a genius (and sort of bizarre) way to clean hard water stains from your toilet to a seemingly counterintuitive way to remove heat stains from wood and how to locate (and clean) a washing machine filter. Because why work harder when you can work smarter? Read on for our favorite cleaning hacks of 2021 that'll cut down scrubbing time and leave you pleased with the results.

Burnt Pots & Pans

Use A Dishwashing Tablet

So, this technically isn’t a pantry item, but dishwashing tablets can be used to clean tough stains—after all, they’re formulated to help break down caked-on food. Fill the burnt pot with water, then drop in a tablet. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce it down to a simmer for 10 minutes. The burnt bits should lift right off.

Boil With Hydrogen Peroxide

As suggested by one of our readers, hydrogen peroxide can help lift stains without scrubbing. Simply fill the bottom of your pot or pan with ½ inch of the liquid, then bring it to a boil on your stove. (You’ll probably want to open a window, as this can start to smell.) Reduce the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes, and the stains should come off with minimal effort.

Stubbornly Dirty Screens

Computer, Smartwatch, Tablet & Phone Screens

There are computer-specific wipes made just for this job that you can easily order, or follow these simple steps:
1. First, turn your device off and make sure it isn’t connected to a charger.
2. Grab a spray bottle and fill it with one-part distilled water (regular tap water has minerals in it that could damage the screen) and one-part white vinegar.
3. Shake it up and spray your microfiber or lint-free cloth (or T-shirt)—never spray the screen itself or you risk getting way too much liquid onto it and past the outer layers of the device. Use gentle, circular motions to wipe down the screen until it looks clean.

TV Screens

If you have an LCD or OLED TV, or an older plasma or even older tube TV, nearly every manufacturer says the same thing: Don’t use any harsh chemicals or alcohols as they can ruin the screen and your picture permanently. Instead, spray a little bit of distilled water onto your cloth and gently clean the screen. In the most extreme circumstances, where these steps aren’t doing the trick, Panasonic says you can add a drop of very mild soap—the ratio is 100:1 with 100 being water and 1 being soap—to your spray.

hard water stains on toilet bowls

Drop about six denture-cleaning tablets into the bowl of the toilet (various internet sources recommended “a few”). They fizz on contact, in a pleasing, and slightly sinister way. Then leave them there overnight, and the next morning when you give the stain a scrub with the toilet brush, voilà—no more gross hard water stains. Repeat the process again the following night should it not do the trick the first time.

Heat Stains on wood

More Heat

It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to remove heat stains from wood is to add more heat to the equation. This works by reopening the pores of the wood (yep, the same issue that got you into trouble in the first place), allowing the trapped moisture to escape, and reversing the stain in the process.

The easiest way to do so is by breaking out your hairdryer. To start, place it on the lowest heat setting (but not the “cool” setting) and aim it directly at the stain, making sure to stay a few inches away from the wood’s surface. Using a side-to-side motion, continue to blow warm air at the stain until it disappears.


It sounds wacky, but toothpaste can also be a great way to eliminate heat stains on wood furniture. The trick lies in its alkaline properties, which react with the heat stain, gently lifting it from the wood. For this method, you’ll want to get the most bare-bones traditional toothpaste you can find—the plain white kind, nothing with gel in it (it won’t work otherwise!).

In a bowl, combine one-part toothpaste with two-parts baking soda to create a thick paste. Apply some of the mixture to the white heat mark on your wood table and allow it to sit for a minute or two before wiping it from the surface. You may need to do this a few times in order for the stain to fully disappear.

Pet Urine on Carpet

There are times when you don’t know your pet had an accident, which allows the liquid to soak into carpet fibers. If this happens, try Rocco & Roxie Professional Strength Stain & Odor Eliminator, which has a near-miraculous enzymatic formula that breaks down urine odors. All you have to do is soak the stain in the cleaner (use a generous amount), then let it sit for an hour before blotting it up and vacuuming. It really works wonders.

Gunky Airpods & Earbuds

For tough messes, or instances where you’re worried about staining your AirPods, Apple recommends wiping out the AirPods with a “slightly dampened” cloth, then wiping them dry. Make sure they’re completely dry (read: let them air out even after wiping them) before you wear them again. This approach is especially useful if something soapy (like a detergent or cleanse) or oily (like bug spray, conditioner, or lotion) has wound up on your ‘pods.

If you feel compelled to break out the alcohol or Clorox wipes for your AirPods, you’re safe to do so as long as you use as little as possible, and stick to their exterior surfaces. Avoid their openings and speaker meshes. And, per Apple, do not use bleach.

Pools Covered in Algae

In a Facebook post that originally appeared in 2018—and has since gone viral—Lisa Pack, a pool owner in Ohio, claimed that the best way to clean a stubbornly green pool is with the all-purpose Magic Eraser. And the technique couldn't be easier. "Now mind you, my pool wasn't green but it looked like it was getting cloudy," she wrote on Facebook. "I threw one of these in the skimmer basket and the cloudiness left and my sponge looks like this," she said, holding up a photo of the green-tinted eraser in front of her newly-clean swimming pool. Pack—along with hundreds of thousands of commenters—has since been in awe over how effective such a small and inexpensive product is at cleaning a swimming pool.

air conditioning units

If your AC has a reusable filter, you should be cleaning it at least once a month, as well as before you set it up for the summer. It’s so easy to do that there’s really no excuse not to—simply vacuum off any dust and hair, then wash it with warm, soapy water. Let it air dry, and it’s ready to go back into the appliance. For units that use disposable filters, you should generally replace them every one to three months, depending on how much you use it, as well as the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Also, says community member, Zohar, "I keep spray bottles of a bleach solution by all my window air conditioners. Every time I clean the filter (which is every couple of weeks), I spray the coils, the filter, and the fan outlets. Wait till the solution dries before turning the ac on. Also, I took a hose to one of my ACs, as suggested in the article, and it worked like a dream."

Washing machine filters

First, find the filter. It may be in the front of the machine behind a small latch, at the very bottom of the drainage hose, or under the cover of the agitator (the tall spindle in the middle of the machine that helps to move your laundry through the soapy water).

Once you've located it, drain the hose of any old, stinky water before removing the trap. Once the hose has been drained, discard the water, pull out the trap, and soak it thoroughly in hot water for at least 10 minutes in order to remove every bit of dust, dirt, and grime—and then scrub it clean. If it's not possible to remove the filter, which may be the case for some top-loading models, scrub it hard with a brush (an old toothbrush works great!) and use a wet cloth or damp paper towels to ensure that you're cleaning every nook and cranny. Soon, your filter will look shiny and new again and you're back on track to getting cleaner-than-ever laundry.

Did you learn any world-changing cleaning hacks this year? Please tell us—we want to know!

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When I'm not writing & editing for Home52, I'm likely to be found DIY-ing a new piece of furniture (or restoring an old one), hanging things on the wall in my apartment, or watching hours of vintage RHONY.

1 Comment

Anna G. December 29, 2021
Just a suggestion, not all links need to lead us to Amazon (unless you must contractually?). I just purchased the Rocco and Roxie floor cleaner directly from them. I'd rather support the smaller brand directly and I imagine a lot of Food52 readers would as well.