It's Time for Easy Spring Cleaning

Our guide features longtime favorites as well as several products from our newest reviews.

I love cleaning, but I’m aware that not everyone finds as much joy in it as I do. So I want to talk about the simple tools I rely on—whether I’m doing the dishes after a quick weeknight meal or tackling a big spring cleaning project. For all my scrubbing needs, I use our favorite sponge. I know other cooks prefer using a scrub brush. Both of our winners easily lift off cooked-on food. Our top-rated dish drying rack is spacious enough to accommodate everything I wash by hand (such as delicate glasses and nonstick skillets). And for cleaning harder to reach areas in my kitchen, I use our winning under-appliance cleaner.

—Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, ATK Reviews

This model excelled during every test: It was easy to assemble; it scrubbed up dirt, mud, pet hair, coffee, and stuck-on food spills with ease; and it was incredibly absorbent yet lightweight and nimble. We were particularly impressed by the bucket’s wringing mechanism, which rapidly spun the mop head with the push of a pedal and removed a remarkable amount of water, leaving the mop head nearly dry. We also liked the mop’s relatively long handle and wide, flat head, which was easy to remove and machine washable.

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This mop quickly scrubbed away sticky, dried-on stains better than any other model in our lineup. Its microfiber strings absorbed an impressive amount of liquid and clung to dirt particles with ease. We liked its long handle, and we loved that its large head was machine washable and reusable. The one downside: Its wringing mechanism took some time to master and required vigorous twisting to fully wring. We still think it’s the best stand-alone, self-wringing option for heavy-duty jobs.

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Spacious, airy, and solidly constructed, with a firm attachment to the sink, this sponge holder looked good and performed perfectly in our testing. Two oversize suction cups (2½ inches across), set far apart, helped it keep a better grip. (It was the only model where the suction cups sat on the edges of the holder and extended well beyond the basket, providing support to the lightweight aluminum cage.) We loved being able to toss the sponge and see it drop right into the wide-open basket. One of the top performers in our drainage test, it helped sponges stay dry between uses. It’s also available in a range of finishes.

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This spacious rack held enough cookware, tools, dishes, and utensils for a household of four. It has thoughtful design features, including four utensil holders, four cup holders, and a ledge where you can hang four wine glasses upside down. The swiveling spout efficiently drained off water and can turn 360 degrees, so the dish rack can be used on the right or left side of the sink and oriented the long or short way. Its low profile and rubber feet kept it sturdy on the counter.

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This product looks like the classic blue sponge we've all used, but its plastic-based scrubbing side has ripples. These ripples added texture, which helped nudge off cooked-on food. This sponge was absorbent and durable, and it looked surprisingly clean at the end of testing. It was also our preferred size: thick enough to hold comfortably but small enough to maneuver in tight spaces.

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Every tester who tried these paper towels came back with a rave review. The sheets were thick, soft, and sturdy, and a single full-size sheet could hold nearly 1/4 cup of water—about twice as much as lower-ranked products. Thanks to their double-ply construction, these sheets looked unscathed after scrubbing—even after 300 passes across a plastic cutting board—and we detected nary a hair of lint, even on glass.

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Even after we washed a sink full of greasy pots and pans, the grip on these gloves never faltered. Their slender fingers and tapered wrists fit snugly and comfortably, and the long sleeves—cleverly dammed at the end by a self-folding cuff—let us reach silverware at the bottom of a full sink without dampening our shirtsleeves.

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The Small Ring Scrubber effortlessly removed cooked-on bacon and hamburger from cast iron and lasagna from our 13 by 9-inch baking dish. This scrubber’s larger size allowed it to cover more area efficiently, and we especially appreciated its fine rings, which scoured narrow grill pan grooves with ease. The smaller rings did, however, make this scrubber harder to clean. We don’t recommend using either scrubber on enamelware or stainless steel.

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This brush had an ideally sized brush head—neither too short nor too long—with bristles that were just under 1 inch long and optimally positioned on both the brush head's sides and tip, allowing us to effectively scrub most containers we tried. The rigid handle had a large, rubber-coated grip that made it comfortable to hold. One tester said this brush was “remarkably easy to rinse” and “seems clean and non-icky,” but it's also dishwasher-safe for even simpler cleaning.

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This brush aced every category with ease: No stain could withstand its stiff bristles, it rinsed clean with minimal effort thanks to its well-spaced bristle clusters, its silicone-coated handle was comfortable to grip, and its handle curved optimally to give it good leverage for scrubbing. It also had a strip of ultrastiff bristles on the back of its head meant for the toughest messes that beat out every scraper in the lineup. Though its handle was a touch long for some testers, this brush easily outperformed its competition.

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By far the most hands-off and intelligent mopping robot we tried, this model uses vSLAM, a navigation system that employs an onboard camera and motion sensor to plot an efficient route through a room. When paired with iRobot’s free app, this technology makes maps of your spaces and refines them with each use. After five runs, you can see a map of your home in the app, name different rooms, and mark off areas where you don’t want the mop to clean. The app allows you to instruct the robot to clean specific rooms, set an automatic cleaning schedule, and even coordinate cleaning with an iRobot vacuum for completely hands-off vacuuming and mopping in one go. It’s also compatible with Amazon Echo and Google Home (“Alexa, tell Braava to clean the kitchen”). That said, if you’re not interested in using an app, this mop is still easy to program and operate: three on-board buttons allow you to initiate a spot- or whole-room clean. No matter how you operate the mop (by app or by the on-board buttons), the robot automatically returns to its base for charging when it’s done cleaning (or when it needs a recharge while cleaning larger rooms). However, while this mop was hands-down the easiest and more pleasant to use, it still had a few drawbacks: its cleaning ability is more akin to a Swiffer than a mop, so it’s not great for deep cleaning—even after multiple passes with the robot we still had bits of caked-on smoothie on our kitchen floors. You’re also better off presweeping the floor if there is visible debris, as the robot’s sweeping pad is adept at picking up dust and hair, but can’t pick up larger pieces of food such as cereal grains or garlic peels and instead abandons them in the corners of the room. It also isn’t completely hands-off, as you’ll still have to switch out the mopping pad daily and refill the water tank once or twice a week. Finally, it was larger than some of the other robots we tried and couldn’t reach small or irregularly shaped spaces such as around and behind the sink and toilet in the bathroom. Like most robot cleaners, this mop works best at keeping clean floors clean, but when used regularly, it can prolong the time needed between deep cleans and keep your floors shining with hardly any effort on your part.

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This petite robot packed a fair amount of cleaning power for such a small machine. Like other models we tried, sweeping up food scraps wasn’t its strong suit, but its spray nozzle and triple-pass cleaning mopped our floors surprisingly well. Its smaller frame was also adept at maneuvering into tight spots, such as through a tangle of chair legs in the kitchen or around a pedestal sink and toilet in the bathroom. Since it’s so short, it can also scoot under bookshelves, dressers, and other pieces of low-sitting furniture (it unearthed a big ball of dust from one long-forgotten corner under a bed). iAdapt 2.0 technology helps the robot navigate intelligently around the room and provides great coverage, no matter what size room it was cleaning. Since it’s smaller, it takes longer (about an hour for a 100-square-foot kitchen, where other robots covered the same area in half the time) for it to complete its cleaning cycle. Also, it can only clean an area that measures about 150 to 200 square feet per charge. While it does work with iRobot’s app, the functions are limited; you can instruct the robot to clean or spot-clean from the app, but not schedule cleanings or instruct it to clean or avoid certain areas. We also thought the tiny water tank was a bit tricky to fill; we had to run the tap very slowly or else the tank overflowed, and there was no way to easily gauge how full the tank was.

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This robot was outstanding at picking up nearly every last bit of the sample messes we scattered, partly due to its unique dual counter-rotating rubber brushes. We appreciated that it would periodically dock to recharge and empty its own bin (the dock holds replaceable vacuum cleaner bags) before returning to cleaning. It quickly mapped multiple rooms accurately, making it easy to set cleaning schedules and assign it to specific rooms on demand. Its app wasn’t always the most user-friendly, with some tasks taking multiple steps, but it was adequate. One caveat: While the manufacturer guarantees that this robot avoids pet “accidents,” it didn’t do so consistently: Sometimes it was remarkably clever in dodging the larger pieces of soft plastic dog poo we placed on the floor, but it plowed right over small ones. It did avoid electrical cords as promised. We liked that this robot can be set to start cleaning when it detects that you have left the house and stop when you return, using the location on your phone or by linking to other smart home features such as your door locks. You can also set it to be silent at specific times, such as while you have Zoom meetings or the baby naps.

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This simple, comparatively inexpensive robot was unstoppable; it randomly travels around a space, bouncing off walls and furniture, so it ended up picking up much more dirt and covering the space more thoroughly than so-called “smarter” robots with fancier navigation systems. When we set it to clean, either via the app or by pushing a button on top of the robot, it typically ran more than 1½ hours at a time, chugging along while most other robots we were testing returned exhausted to their docks. It’s also easy to operate, clean out, and maintain. Its app is pretty basic but lets you schedule cleaning.

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