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Cleaning products that are worse than water

Scrub up on the cleaning products you shouldn't waste your money on.

cleaning products lined up on a wooden background
Last updated: 06 February 2023

We've tested hundreds of cleaning products in our labs here at CHOICE and found that some are just a plain old waste of money. 

And then there's the entire product category that's so bad we gave it a Shonky award.

We reveal the cleaning culprits you're better off swapping for plain water or homemade alternatives.

Floor cleaners

coles ultra floor cleaner sweet orchard

Coles' Ultra Floor Cleaner Sweet Orchard scored less than water.

What if we told you there's one product you can take off your shopping list forever? 

Our testing has shown that if you want your floor clean, you'll do just as good a job with plain water as you will with a commercial floor cleaner. 

In 2020, we awarded the entire product category of floor cleaners a Shonky award for being "flawed cleaners". 

When we tested 14 popular brands of floor cleaners in our labs, only three outperformed plain water. Water scored 41%; the three 'top' performers scored between 44% and 49% – what we consider 'poor' or 'borderline' at best. 

But the worst of this decidedly average bunch was Coles' Ultra Floor Cleaner Sweet Orchard, scoring a lowly 40%. Why would you put something in your mop bucket that's going to make the water even less effective for cleaning?

The remaining 10 cleaners in the test scored the same as plain water, which isn't great but is marginally better than the Coles product that couldn't even manage that. 

"Floor cleaners are great if you want to give your floors a pleasant fragrance, but if what's important to you is getting them clean then save your money – all you need is hot water and elbow grease," says Ashley Iredale, CHOICE home cleaning expert. 

Multipurpose cleaners

saba organics surface sanitiser

Saba Organics's Surface Sanitiser failed to outperform plain water.

When we tested plain water against multipurpose cleaners in our labs, it scored just 25%. Considering it's more or less free, that's not a bad result. 

But when you're paying for a cleaning product, you'd assume it'd do a better job than tap water. Unfortunately that wasn't the case for four products in our test, which scored the same as just plain water:

  • Saba Organics Surface Sanitiser – 25%
  • Rhythm Cleaning Vinegar Kitchen Surface Spray – 25%
  • Morning Fresh Surface Disinfectant – 25%
  • Diggers Multi-Purpose Surface Cleaner – 25%

While a number of multipurpose cleaners we tested performed well, sadly these bottom-dwellers had plenty of company at the bottom of the ladder: 36 out of 45 products scored less than 45% in our tests. Any product under 45% is considered 'poor' by our experts, so that's a pretty dire state of affairs for the multipurpose cleaners category. 

The good news is that our experts recommend eight multipurpose cleaners, so there are plenty of options available that will actually do the job. Learn more about the best and worst multipurpose cleaners, including which expensive products to avoid and which supermarket sprays won't deliver the goods. 

Toilet cleaners

harpic platinum pro shield

A score that was in the toilet: Harpic Platinum Pro-Shield failed to clean better than plain water.

Cleaning the toilet is an especially unsavoury job, but if you're using an ineffective toilet cleaner not only will you spend longer scrubbing, you'll have to do it again sooner. No thanks!

Scrubbing alone won't get your toilet clean – our experts rated plain water at just 50% as a toilet cleaner. But while water is pretty much free, two other toilet cleaners that do cost money did exactly the same job. That's right: if you use these, you'll be pouring money down the toilet. 

While it's reasonable to expect poor performance from a $2-a-bottle toilet cleaner like Woolworths Essentials Toilet Cleaner, you wouldn't expect to be browned off by a well-known brand, and yet Harpic Platinum Pro-Shield also scored a pretty crappy 50% – both exactly the same as plain water. It's enough to drive you around the bend!

If you want to clean the bog on a budget, Aldi's Power Force Bright & Clean Oxy Thick Toilet Gel costs just $2.19 and, along with White King Toilet Gel with Added Stain Remover, took out the top spot with scores of 75%. 

Glass and window cleaners

ajax spray n wipe glass glass

You're better off using water than Ajax Spray n' Wipe Glass to clean your windows – and water is no great shakes either.

Cleaning windows does require a certain amount of elbow grease, but using a glass cleaning product shouldn't actively make things harder! 

But we found you'd be better off just using plain water to clean your glass than Ajax Spray n' Wipe Glass.

Water actually isn't all that great at cleaning windows: our expert testers rated it just 37% overall. Here at CHOICE we categorise that as 'poor'. 

But even water's poor glass-cleaning capabilities outshone Ajax's terrible results. It scored just 34%, and we found that water was better at leaving a streak-free finish than the Ajax product. 

A special mention should go to Earth Choice Window & Glass Crystal Clean, which received the same score as plain water. This poor-performing product was outscored by tap water on removing dirt from glass. Another one to avoid. 

Laundry detergents

aldi laundrite laundry liquid front loader

It may be dirt cheap, but Aldi's Laundrite Laundry Liquid will leave you with dirty laundry.

What's worse than a laundry detergent that's worse than water? Three laundry detergents that are worse than water!

'Washing' your clothes with just plain water – no detergent at all – in a front loader gave a score of just 49% in our test, which let's face it isn't great, but at least it doesn't cost you anything, detergent-wise. 

Astoundingly though, we found two detergents which do cost money – Woolworths Essentials Laundry liquid and Bosistos Laundry Liquid Sensitive – performed exactly the same as plain water. And in the case of the Bosistos, it costs you a lot of money indeed.

But the star of the show was Aldi Laundrite Laundry Liquid, which scored even worse than water: just 46%. 

Both of the supermarket products are dirt cheap, but they'll also leave you with dirty laundry. And even though they might seem like a bargain at just 6 cents per wash, is it really a bargain if you have to re-wash your washing multiple times?

But spending more won't necessarily guarantee you a good wash: the Bosistos product costs 50 cents per wash, but still delivered the same lacklustre performance as the 6-cents-a-wash Woolies product. After paying $11.50 a bottle for the Bosistos, you'd be as dirty as your laundry when you realise it doesn't work. 

Here are the lowest scorers in the laundry detergent department, all of which scored the same or worse than plain water. 

  • Aldi Laundrite Laundry Liquid – 46%
  • Woolworths Essentials Laundry Liquid Clean Wash – 49%
  • Bosisto's Laundry Liquid Sensitive – 49%
  • Plain water front loader – 49%

The irony is that both Aldi and Woolworths have powder products that are among the top-scoring products in our test and with a low purchase price punch well above their weight in the value-for-money stakes to boot. 

And Bosisto's took out the top spot in our multipurpose cleaners test, so we know that some of their products are worth buying – but their laundry liquid just isn't one of them. 

If you're looking for an affordable laundry detergent that'll actually clean your clothes, check out our laundry detergent reviews.

Laundry balls

miracle II laundry ball

Our experts say don't waste your money on laundry balls.

Promoted as a more eco-friendly alternative to laundry detergent, laundry balls are another item we can add to the 'don't need' list.

While their marketing claims make them seem desirable, the bottom line is they don't work.

When we tested and reviewed laundry balls, we found that not one single product performed better than plain water. So do yourself a favour and give these a miss.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.