Wirecutter’s Worst Things for Most People

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Wirecutter is best known for recommending things that are the best of the best. But on occasion, we discover the worst of the worst.

Sometimes this happens during testing (like when we had to force down countless cups of bad Keurig coffee), or when an entire category fails to deliver (like great-smelling but useless essential oil bug repellents), or just because a thing has no business even existing (we’re looking at you, air fryers). Here are the things we’ve said “thank you, next” to (for now).

Splurging when it’s not worth the price

The Molekule air purifier next to an arm chair.Photo: Sarah Kobos

If you’ve ever eaten a $1 apple pie from McDonald’s, I trust that you know higher cost does not always mean higher quality. The most expensive things we test are often not the best things. Sometimes, it can even seem as if there’s a correlation between how heavily a company advertises and how poorly its product performs. Here are some items that are not worth your hard-earned dollars.

Molekule air purifiers

As senior staff writer Tim Heffernan discovered the hard way, the $800 Molekule turned in “the worst performance on particulates of any air purifier, of any size, of any price, that we have tested in the seven years that we have been producing our air purifier guide.” We have more affordable, more efficient choices for you to consider instead in our guide to air purifiers.

Apple charging cables

Most devices made by Apple need to charge on a Lightning cable. But according to our resident powering expert, staff writer Sarah Witman, “Apple’s cables are notoriously flimsy, and they cost more than many third-party cables—even those that Apple has certified will perform just as well as its own accessories.” Luckily, she has tested nearly every possible charging cable you could need and has much better, cheaper, non-Apple suggestions—including a 10-foot option.

Expensive cables in general

For both video and audio cables, price gouging has become an issue over time. “There are companies that have been selling high-end cables for decades now, and it’s gotten to be absolutely insane,” says senior staff writer Chris Heinonen. “Thousands of dollars for a cable when Amazon sells one for $5.” An increase in price technically gives you better quality, but the difference is so fine that it’s impossible to notice. It’s “like reducing the sound of the buzz of a mosquito at 100 yards away,” senior staff writer Brent Butterworth explains. “Is it less noise? Yes. Can you hear it? Nope.” According to Chris, you shouldn’t pay more than what Monoprice or Amazon charges for a basic HDMI cable, unless you need something longer than 30 feet (in which case you’ll need active cables instead of passive cables, which we unfortunately haven’t reviewed yet). We have recommendations for better, affordable cables (HDMI and speaker cables).

Ineffective kitchen gear

A photo of the Philips HD9641/96 air fryer, which is black with a small digital display telling the temperature and time left, surrounded by pans of cooked fries and tenders, as well as other air fryers.Photo: Michael Hession

One of the biggest problems we run into when considering a new kitchen gadget is whether it’s actually necessary to own. After years of testing, we’ve found that it’s better to invest in a few good tools that can do many things rather than in single-purpose devices. (This is why we haven’t covered things like apple corers, avocado slicers, and kernel cutters.) A lot of items seem so useful at first glance or have generated so much intrigue among readers (yes, we read reader requests) that we give them a try in good faith—only to be disappointed. Here are some hyped appliances that aren’t worth the buzz.

Air fryers

As they’re marketed, air fryers are miracle devices, supplying crispy fries and fish sticks without the oil and mess of a standard deep fryer. But like all things that seem too good to be true, this one mostly is, too. Your taste buds will always know that you skimped on the crispy-making, calorie-laden oil of real frying, and you can achieve the exact same results using a convection oven. Mic drop.

Keurig machines

Listen, we get why Keurig machines are so popular. They’re easy to use. They come with a huge number of flavor and blend options. They even sound fancier than Mr. Coffee—“Keurig” could easily be a river in Rotterdam or a character in a Marleen Gorris film. But you have better options. For one, a Nespresso machine offers basically the same brewing experience but with better flavor and smaller environmental impact. (For reference: At its best, Keurig coffee is “like diner coffee,” our reviewer wrote. “At its worst, it tastes like hot brown water.”) Frankly, every other basic coffee-brewing method—a pour-over setup, a French press, or a regular old coffee maker—gives you results that taste worlds better with minimal extra effort.

Baby bottle warmers

I’ve never been a parent, but even as an erstwhile babysitter I can still verify that anything taking the time and guesswork out of feeding a wailing baby would be worth its weight in gold. In theory, we would have great things to say about bottle warmers. But in practice, we were only lukewarm on them (pun intended). Even the very best warmers we tested were only slightly more convenient than warming a bottle in a bowl of hot water, so for most people it just isn’t worth the extra expense and counter space.

Bad pest control concepts

Five essential oil based bug repellents we tested and do not recommend.Photo: Doug Mahoney

You can find plenty of great-seeming pest control options, but like everything else in life that seems too good to be true, many of them suck. Whether it’s a fancy new concept that can’t beat the classics or a “natural” remedy that fails to deliver, here are the worst ways we’ve encountered to keep pests away.

Essential oil bug repellents

The appeal of essential oil bug repellents is obvious: They’re “natural,” they smell nice, and they pose no threat of staging a personal Silent Spring in your backyard. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know how effective they actually are, or for how long. If the worst damage a mosquito could do is an itchy bite, we wouldn’t feel so strongly about our preference for bug repellents with high concentrations (20% to 25%) of more effective chemicals. But mosquitoes can also spread deadly diseases like Zika, dengue, and malaria. Choose verified science (and EPA testing) by buying a picaridin bug repellent instead.

Sticky bug traps

When it comes to killing the flies and gnats that bother you indoors, you still can’t beat a good old-fashioned swatter. We previously recommended a few sticky bug traps, but after spending more time on long-term testing, we discovered problems in removing the adhesive from surfaces. Also, no matter what your home’s decor may be, I guarantee that a dead-fly-coated sheet of paper will not complement it.

Bug zappers

As senior staff writer Doug Mahoney describes it, bug zappers work too well: “Bug zappers kill bugs by the thousands. But there’s a problem: They kill the wrong bugs.” If you don’t want to also fatally starve your neighborhood songbirds, disrupt pollination systems, and generally wreak havoc on the environment, stick to a picaridin bug repellent.

Sticky mouse traps

When it comes to removing mice from your home, no-kill traps simply don’t work, and shunting the responsibility to a cat opens up its own set of health and feasibility issues. If you don’t want a mouse in your house, killing it is basically the only answer, which raises all sorts of ethical quandaries that don’t need to be compounded by cruelty. Sticky traps do work as successfully as our recommended snap traps, but they’re absolutely barbaric. I won’t go into the details (you can read about them in our guide), but please don’t buy them.

Dumb smart gear

The Litter-Robot III Open Air automatic cat litter box sitting on the floor in a bathroom.Photo: Michael Hession

Sometimes going “smart” is actually dumb: Adding Wi-Fi connectivity and other automation features to certain things can make them clunky to use and tack on unnecessary expense. Unless you know they’ll meaningfully make your life easier, we think you should pass on these things.

Automatic litter boxes

Automatic kitty litter boxes are expensive, prone to malfunction, and often harder to clean than a traditional litter box. If you insist on one, we tested several to find the least junky of the offerings, but for the most part we don’t think anybody needs one.

Smart toothbrushes

Smart toothbrushes connect to an app to track how long and (allegedly) how thoroughly you’re brushing your teeth. We admit they can be fun to use, but since they can cost upwards of $200 and really only monitor that you’re brushing for at least two minutes and reaching all your teeth, we instead recommend using your phone’s timer and a little extra self-awareness, or investing in an electric toothbrush that includes a built-in timer. It’s just not that hard for most people to brush their teeth the analog way.

Pet cameras

If you have to leave your pet for a while, it can be reassuring to be able to check in on them virtually. A dedicated pet camera gives you extra features for interacting with your pet remotely, such as distributing treats, playing laser pointers, or even sending pets a message via two-way chat. But those extras also make the camera bigger and add to the cost (and research indicates that some of those features may be harmful to some pets). Even Amazon’s best-selling pet camera was a dud in our tests. For most people, just a standard security camera will do the trick.

Smart feeders

While researching our guide to automatic pet feeders, we tested a few smart feeders that allow you to program and control the feeder through a smartphone app and a Wi-Fi connection. But our resident pets expert, staff writer Kaitlyn Wells, warns, “They suffer from the same accuracy errors as their dumb counterparts, have confusing app designs, can’t be controlled without an app, and are even more expensive.” Pass.

Stuff that just doesn’t work as well as other stuff

Two tower fans set up side by side in a living room in front of a couch.Photo: Michael Hession

It just doesn’t.

Tower fans

After years of testing, we’ve found that tower fans are rarely as powerful as standard room circulators, and they are exceptionally difficult to clean. Buy a traditional fan or circulator instead.

Washer-dryer combos

If washer-dryer combos really worked, I would already have one in my tiny New York City apartment. Despite the promise of space reduction and the convenience of not having to move wet clothes from the washer to the dryer, combo machines simply don’t work well enough to make sense for most people. The washing aspect is fine, but drying takes hours longer than it would in a separate machine, and that’s only at half capacity.

Antivirus software

After Wirecutter’s tech experts spent months researching software, reading reports from independent testing labs and institutions, and consulting experts on safe computing, they concluded that most people should neither pay for a traditional antivirus suite nor use a free program. For Windows users, Windows Defender, Microsoft’s built-in tool, is good enough. And if you have a Mac, you don’t need traditional antivirus software at all.

Gas-powered lawn gear

For the most part, we don’t recommend that you buy gardening tools equipped with gas engines. Historically, string trimmers, leaf blowers, pressure washers, and lawn mowers have been gas powered, and admittedly gas models do work fine. But as more companies switch to producing battery-powered or electric models, we now prefer them since they eliminate the nuisance of regular maintenance, trips to the gas station, and breathing in stinky exhaust.

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