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From a Different Cloth

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Not all cleaning cloths are alike. Depending on the task, a terry-cloth towel, a chamois or even a plain old T-shirt might be the best rag for the job. Here are several common household chores and the cloths best suited to them. Soaking Up Big Spills

Cloth of choice: terry-cloth kitchen towels

Tips and techniques: The thousands of woven loops that form the surface of these towels are designed to hold a lot of liquid. On surfaces that stain, such as carpet, gently blot — don't rub — the liquid.

Wiping Away Small Spills

Cloth of choice: paper towels

Tips and techniques: Use these for minor messes, since even puddle-size spills can require up to half a roll. Also, keep paper towels on hand for liquids that stain — red wine, for example — or that contain bacteria, such as poultry juices. If germs are a concern, spray the dried area with a disinfectant and then wipe again.

Dusting Wooden Furniture

Cloth of choice: electrostatic mitts or cloths

Tips and techniques: These products don't just pick up surface dust, they attract and hold tiny airborne particles, so dust won't recirculate in the room. This makes the cloths especially useful in the homes of people who have dust allergies.

Removing Smudges

Cloth of choice: microfiber cloths

Tips and techniques: Save these delicate cloths (which are woven from superfine synthetic fibers) for surfaces that are prone to scratching, such as stainless steel appliances. Use a dry one to rub out small smudges, or a damp one for more stubborn marks, such as fingerprints.

Polishing Silver

Cloth of choice: polishing cloths

Tips and techniques: Look for untreated, 100 percent cotton flannel, which is softer than plain cotton and distributes polishing products more evenly. Be careful not to polish silver-plated items too aggressively or too frequently, as this can wear away their coating; once a year is sufficient.

Shining and Buffing Shoes

Cloth of choice: old T-shirts that have been torn into rags

Tips and techniques: Abundant in any household and made soft from years of wear, T-shirts are perfect for this task. Apply polish with one rag and buff shoes with another. Dispose of scraps immediately, since shoe polish fumes can be toxic.

Wiping Down Large Surfaces

Cloth of choice: chamois (sometimes spelled "shammy")

Tips and techniques: Chamois cloth can absorb a lot of water and then be wrung virtually dry, so it's ideal for bigger jobs such as drying wet lawn furniture. The material is also very soft, so it can safely be used on chrome or for drying a car.

Drying Glassware

Cloth of choice: lint-free linen or cotton kitchen towels

Tips and techniques: Even the tiniest specks of lint show up on fine glassware, so choose lint-free cloths that are made from linen or cotton. Use a mild detergent to eliminate water spots on wineglasses and avoid leaving fingerprints by holding the stems.

Caring for Cloths

Your cleaning cloths will inevitably become old and ragged, but there are measures you can take to extend their lives. Sort and launder cleaning cloths by material. This way, fibers from terry-cloth towels don't cling to lint-free ones.

Wash them right after using them, with hot water, detergent and a bit of chlorine bleach, unless the cloth's manufacturer explicitly instructs otherwise. If you can't clean the cloths right away, let them dry on a rack before throwing them into the laundry basket.

While multiuse rags are more economical, disposable cloths do come in handy. Disinfecting wipes presoaked with cleaning solutions score low on economy (one use is all you get), but they're great for dealing with bacteria — for instance, when you're cleaning the bathroom counter or wiping oft-handled objects like a telephone, doorknob or faucet handle.

They are commonly sold in cylindrical containers, or you can find portable travel packets in bulk and stash them in convenient spots, such as in the car, instead of storing them with the rest of your cleaning supplies.

Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10036. Questions may also be emailed to: mslletters@marthastewart.com. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually. For more information on the topics covered in the Ask Martha column, visit www.marthastewart.com. Copyright 2006 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

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TIP: Polish silver with an untreated, 100 percent - cotton flannel polishing cloth. - ERIC PIASECKI
  • Eric Piasecki
  • TIP: Polish silver with an untreated, 100 percent cotton flannel polishing cloth.

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