Do cheap cleaners actually work? Here’s what happened when we put a $2 product to the test

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Bar Keeper's Friend cleans kitchens and bathrooms
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I’m always on the lookout for multi-use products to use in my home, (fewer products bought = less money spent!) but Bar Keeper’s Friend, (BKF) never made it onto my radar as I assumed it would duplicate my trusty Bon Ami.

However, members of the Laundry Love and Cleaning Science Facebook group sings its praises, so I decided put it to the test.

I paid $2.89 at my local Kroger store, although I see that sells for $1.99 at Target. Available in multiple formulas, I chose the classic powder.

This cheap cleaner will be your new best friend

This bleach-free “cleanser and polish” has been around since 1882, when “an Indianapolis chemist noticed how clean and shiny his tarnished pot was after cooking rhubarb. Using an active ingredient that’s found in the plant he formulated a talcum-smooth cleanser and sold it to the city’s taverns.” And it’s still manufactured in Indianapolis!

The Environmental Working Group reports “some concern” for skin allergies and irritation, although “low concern” for environment.

I chose to wear protective gloves.

This “talcum smooth” product is gentle enough for surfaces that scratch easily. For this very reason, it’s popular for stainless steel.

Since Bar Keeper’s Friend is formulated to remove rust, I decided to start with a propane grill that a neighbor had recently put out for free. I first spritzed the grill with water and then sprinkled a bit of BKF onto a sponge. A quick scrub and the surface looked almost new!

Grade: A+

Bar Keeper's Friend cleans grill
Next up was my stove top. This area isn’t normally visible, as it sits under a removable tray, but it still bothers me. I’d been unsuccessful with cleaning attempts in the past, but I’m an optimist.

This before-and-after took a full ten minutes of elbow grease — and I’ll call it a success. (I would have kept going, but I needed to take my son to the dentist.)

Grade: B+

Bar Keeper's Friend cleans stoves
I’d also read that people use Bar Keeper’s Friend to remove utensil marks from dishes. I have a large collection of vintage Fiestaware, but the ivory color always looks terrible. I’d been hesitant to scrub them with a normal abrasive cleanser, but that promised “talcum smooth” texture calmed my fear of ruining the glaze.

Just 30, maybe 45, seconds of scrubbing — and the plate looked perfect. Holy moly, so much better!

Grade: A+

Bar Keeper's Friend cleans Fiestaware plates


The Bar Keeper’s Friend website
warns that it’s not for use on gold, silver, pewter, marble, lacquered metals or anodized aluminum.

However, it is recommended for rust, lime, porcelain, stainless steel, chrome, copper, brass, fiberglass, acrylic, glass, tile, grout and certain solid surfaces such as Corian.

Apparently it’s especially great for those who live in areas with hard water. That’s not an issue where I live, so I wasn’t able to test this claim.

I do kind of wish that I owned something with extreme rust like these vintage ice skates:

Bar Keeper's Friend cleans vintage ice skates

Bar Keeper's Friend cleans stainless steel pan

Or a thoroughly burned stainless steel pan, as the internet abounds with very satisfying before and afters, like this one from the Bar Keeper’s Friends website. Need more convincing? Read these testimonials from regular users:

Ashley: “I use it to clean my glass stove top and stainless steel sink. I LOVE it!”

Rita: “I just used it the other day to clean the grout in my laundry room. It did an amazing job! ”

Kelly: “BKF powder is superior for stainless, baked on food and really filthy bathroom stuff, so I keep it on hand.”

Seni: “I mostly use it on my stainless steel pots and pans when a regular soak and scrub doesn’t get stuff off”

Reba: “I use it on my dog’s stainless steel bowls that are quite gross and difficult to clean without BKF. They shine like a new nickel when I am done with them.”

Lisa: “If you have hard water, nothing compares to BKF.”

Caitlyn: “The possibilities are endless. It’s inexpensive and works like a dream.”

The great thing about Bar Keeper’s Friend is that at $1.99, it’s a low investment for something that has the potential to clean and shine the surfaces of stuff you may have considered ruined. And when you can prolong the life of your belongings instead of replacing them, you’re learning to keep more of what you make.

Make liquid hand soap from leftover bar soap

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Katy Wolk-Stanley About the author: Katy Wolk-Stanley
Katy Wolk-Stanley, a.k.a. The Non-Consumer Advocate is a Portland, Oregon based RN and writer who describes herself as a utility bill scholar, library patron, laundry-hanger-upper and teenage boy wrangler. She’s been featured on The Today Show, The NY Times and The National Enquirer.
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