Tell us about a product that you were pleasantly surprised by its usefulness

Mine is my robot vacuum. I was on the fence about getting it, usure about how well it would work, and very doubtful that it would be worth the money.

I was dead wrong. It is the coolest thing since sliced salami. My house gets effectively vacuumed pretty much every day and all I have to do is empty the collection bin every now and then.

What have you bought that surprised you in this way?


In 2000, we bought a utility trailer for a move because we discovered it cost not much more than a UHaul rental. plus we waited kinda too long to get a rental of the size we needed. But I figured worst case, we could go ahead and sell it after the move.

We still have it, and it’s been soooooooooo useful! When we bought this house, we spent the first 4 months doing some major remodeling, including removing and moving walls. That trailer made so many trips to Lowe’s or the landfill - it more than earned its keep! Even tho we have a pickup now, the trailer is still great for items that would be too difficult to get into or out of the bed, like appliances. We use it to haul our riding mower in for service. It’s helped us and various family members in several moves.

That was $800 well-spent and all we’ve had to do with it was replace the lights at one point.

A pineapple corer.

I love pineapple. But I hate cutting them up. This thing just quickly and easily gives you beautiful round slices (like you get in a can). It even leaves behind a pineapple shell that you can fill with a tasty tropical drink and serve all fancy (I’ve never done that, but I could).

Now I eat fresh pineapple far more frequently. With cottage cheese, just plain, or using it in recipes.

Grout pens.

Scrubbing grout with bleach to clean it had just about zero effect. It only looked slightly less dirty than before I scrubbed it.

I saw an article on grout pens, which are paint pens that look like sharpies and color over the grout with a thin stripe of exterior-quality latex paint. I doubted it’d look like real grout or be durable, but I was wrong.

It looks just like fresh, clean grout and it’s pretty durable. I did all my grout about two years ago and it’s only now just starting to wear a little thin. No problem! I just get the pens back out and touch up the thin spots, which takes about five minutes.

My wife wanted a Ninja Air Fryer/Griller. I was skeptical. We’ve had other kitchen appliances that have ended-up being donated to Goodwill because they didn’t work to her satisfaction. I have to say, though, that it’s a great little device. Food comes out perfect or nearly perfect every time, and it’s really easy to clean. We use it all the time.

This is such a silly little thing that I just love. OXO brand Soap Dispensing Palm Brush with replaceable brush. Keep it filled with dish soap so you can clean that one dirty pan with one swipe. Has its own little cup to sit in, which is some material that is not slippery so it doesn’t slide around on the counter. You can replace the brush when it wears out (altho we’ve had ours for a few months and the extra brushes are still unopened). Besides making some clean-ups a lot quicker, it definitely saves on dish soap. And it cost $8.99! The brush refills are 2 for $6.99. So happy I decided to try this thing out.

Bose 700 noise cancelling headphones. They are expensive, but absolutely worth it.

I bought them out of desperation when on different weekends two separate neighbors had huge blasting loud parties with DJs playing unpleasant music from noon until the police were called late in the evening.

And I use them everywhere. There is a major highway interchange a hundred yards from my back yard, so there is a constant background noise of traffic outside–If I stand on my deck and push the magic button, everything turns into silence!

I took them on a 7000 mile road trip over the summer and used them in every annoying hotel room along the way (including the one in Boise where the whole floor had been taken by rowdy teenagers in town for some baseball tournament) and as soon as I hit the magic button everything disappears.

In the summer there are often and trucks parked in the street idling forever while their owners goof off somewhere else–press the magic button and that low thrumming that cannot be ignored simply disappears.

The model I bought (Bose 700 UC) integrates with MS Teams on my work laptop, so it’s pretty simple to use them on calls as well if I want.

I often let people try them, telling them to put the headphones on with the power turned off, to see how much noise they muffle just by being headphones–not bad, but still noisy. Then I tap the power button and their eyes open wide as the ambient sounds vanish.

I let my wife try them out and ended up buying her a pair as well.

There hasn’t been a party since, but when it happens I’ll be ready!

They must have really improved. A friend gave me one a long time ago. I’d never heard of them. I ran it at work a couple of times just to see it move around, but its performance was pitiful. It went in the dumpster during spring cleaning.

I bought a robot vacuum, a Shark, for $120 on Groupon goods around 5 years ago, not wanting to spend too much in case it was worthless, and have been impressed at how much dirt it picks up.

And I bought one of these, a spiralizer, for $15 several years ago. It’s very easy to use and has paid for itself many times over. Whenever I see the zucchini noodles at the store, $5 for a small package, I’m pleased with the purchase.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Rain-X

That shit works!

I love my George Foreman grill. It cleans as easily as the ads said, and cooks the meat just right.

I don’t care for robot vacuums, because they get caught up on things so easily (cords, table legs, etc).

However I bought a cordless, battery powered vacuum recently and its surprising how not having to untangle and plug the cord in makes it so much easier to clean up a small mess compared to getting the larger, corded vacuum out and ready.

I only have one trouble spot for my robot that I have to be aware of, the electrical cord to a floor fan. I just tuck it under a table when Rosie is working.

But yes, I also have a cordless Dyson that fits this category too.


Last year my dental hygienist recommended I use an electric toothbrush. I had always assumed they were gimmicks, and told her so. But she said I was mistaken, and that they see good results from clients who use them.

So I bought one. And she’s right… it’s awesome. I’m never going back to a regular toothbrush.

I think they’ve got much better since the early Roombas.

I’ve got a Shark AI Robot model, and it’s got LIDAR navigation as well as an app with which I can command it to do various things- clean specific rooms/groups of rooms, specific high traffic areas, or a roughly 6’x6’ square that I can place anywhere on the map. It maps the house and will steer around mapped stuff automatically, and can generally find its way out of getting hung up by virtue of the map function. I can also schedule it to go clean everything at some set time.

Its base has a crud reservoir- every half hour, the bot will return, empty itself out, and go back to cleaning where it left off. It’ll recharge itself as needed, etc… VERY handy if you have hard floors- it seems like a pretty decent vacuum as well on our various rugs too. It even has a hair cleaning design which means that it doesn’t get hair wound around the spinning part like most vacuums. Which is important, because my wife has long dark hair that tends to wreck vacuums.

Only things it really has trouble with is Lego bricks and other toy pieces of roughly the same size. Even then, it’ll just stop what it’s doing, fire me a notification, and go wait at the base until I unclog it.

I’ll also give the Sonicare series of electric toothbrushes a shout-out. I resisted them for years- decades even, until finally my wife talked me into it. Now I love the things- my teeth have never felt cleaner and my dentist appointment results show that it’s no worse than a regular toothbrush, and definitely faster/easier on the gums.

I second the electric toothbrush. I always used to have quite bad teeth, regular cavities that needed fillings, until I had a therapy against periodontal disease when my dentist recommended to use one about 15 years ago. I don’t know if electric toothbrushes are so great or if I just never had the proper brushing technique down with a manual brush, but since then I’ve never had new problems with cavities again. My gums also got much better.

When we moved into our current home a couple years ago, we had four new sets of stairs to get accustomed to, and which have limited natural lighting. I installed a strip of glow-in-the-dark tape on the final rung of each stairs, and they’ve likely prevented some stumbles and potential nasty falls.

I expected to use my air fryer only occasionally to make healthier, but still tasty french fries and a few other typically pan or deep-fried items. But I now use it daily to bake/fry/re-heat just about everything I used to use the wall oven for, faster and cheaper (less electricity). It just took a while to learn and adjust the time and temperature conversion from oven to air fryer. I now use my wall oven very infrequently and only for things that won’t fit in the fryer (like my hand-tossed extra-large anchovy and mushroom pizzas).

You’ll have to pry my air fryer from my cold dead hands. Same goes for my InstantPot pressure cooker.

A bench scraper. It’s usually considered to be a pastry tool, but I use it all the time for scooping up chopped veg and the like. It probably gets the most use of any kitchen tool other than knives.

I use my bench scraper daily too, mostly to scoop and sometimes to chop or slice. In fact I have two, just in case one breaks at a critical moment.