This is a new occasional feature in digs to help readers become more informed consumers. Our product tester, a busy working mother...

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This is a new occasional feature in digs to help readers become more informed consumers. Our product tester, a busy working mother, takes new household items for a spin and reviews them. The items are purchased by The Seattle Times.

ReelSmart No-Crank Hose Reel

Joy’s opinion: Thumbs up

Wrestling with my garden hose is not one of my favorite chores, so I wanted to try this reel, with its promise of hands-free rewinding.

Pros: Winner of a Popular Mechanics Editor’s Choice Award, this gadget is also a winner at my house. The hose pulls out easily and uses water pressure to rewind, with just a flip of a switch. The reel easily handled my 100-foot hose, and the auto-sort feature coils it up perfectly. A hose stopper keeps the hose from rewinding all the way into the box, but our large nozzle made that feature unnecessary.

Cons: The price is steep for a product that has only a two-year warranty, and I’ve seen other hose reels that might do the job just fine for less. Also, it was difficult to pull the hose out perpendicular to the reel, and I was glad the box was screwed to the ground.

$79.97. Major retailers including Home Depot (

Malibu Solar Flood Lights

Joy’s opinion: Thumbs down

Our driveway is long, dark and difficult to navigate, so I was excited to try these plastic, sun-powered lights. They were a snap to assemble, and with no wires or power switch to worry about, I could place them wherever I liked and not fret over our monthly power bill.

Pros: The solar batteries charged just as well in the shade as in the sun, enough to provide power from sundown to sunrise. The white L.E.D. lights were not bright but provided enough output to safely navigate the driveway. The price was right, but for a few dollars more I could have bought the more durable metal lights.

Cons: For those who want high-quality landscape lighting, this isn’t it. On cloudy and rainy days, some of the lights did not charge fully. They powered on in stages, leaving some parts of the pathway unlit for a few minutes, and some lights were dimmer than others. The same thing happened in the morning when they turned off. If you want quality accent lighting, low-voltage or professional landscape lighting might serve you better.

$26.97 each. Major retailers including Home Depot (

Goo Gone Patio Furniture Cleaner

Joy’s opinion: Thumbs down

Do I really need a special cleaner just for my patio furniture? As it turns out, I don’t. This product, which contains a UV protectant, is supposed to clean a variety of surfaces, including resin, wicker, wood, plastic, canvas, rattan and metal.

Pros: I was impressed with how well this cleaner removed the grime from my painted wooden deck, but I needed a scrub brush to get everything. I like that it contains no bleach and is safe to use around pets and plants. It also has a pleasant citrus smell. But I won’t be adding it to my cleaning cabinet anytime soon.

Cons: I tried this product on my plastic chairs, and the grime wiped off easily. It worked better than dish soap and water but not as well as 409. I had equal success with regular Goo Gone, a more versatile product.

$4.99. Major retailers including Bed Bath & Beyond

Cleaner photo by Joy Jernigan. Other photos courtesy of The Home Depot.