Nov. 14, 2008 -- With Thanksgiving just around the corner, households across the country are gearing up for the holiday season -- and that means guests.
Friends, family, even people you may not like so much will be crowding into your home to share good times, meals and, sometimes, the night.
To help you get ready for all the hoopla, Carolyn Forte of Good Housekeeping magazine has some tips and products to help prepare you and your home.
Turn Up the Heat in the Oven
"The great news: You don't need to hock your grandmother's silver to get excellent performance," Forte said. "We tested 31 of the newest gas, electric and duel-fuel ranges. After baking 1,860 chocolate-chip cookies and 232 cakes, boiling 248 quarts of water and broiling 31 steaks, there were some great budget picks like the Whirlpool Range."
The Whirlpool Range oven ($799) heats very evenly, keeping cakes level and easy to frost. Its "steam-cleaning" feature can get rid of greasy baked-on splatters on the oven floor in 20 minutes.
One chef's caveat to the Whirlpool is the broiler, which cannot brown steaks by the time they are medium-rare.
Rest Easy With Inflatable Mattresses
When those overnight guests come calling, it is a good idea to have an inflatable mattress or two available to save them from the hard floors and awkward couches.
Forte got a panel to test six different twin-size mattresses for their ability to hold air overnight, their durability and ease of inflation and deflation. One of the mattresses that came out on top was the Eddie Bauer Insta-Bed ($72).
"Consumers gave it a gold star for comfort, looks and its hands-free, electricity-powered inflation and deflation," Forte said.
It did, however, reportedly puncture more easily than most.
Creating a Seat a the (Folding) Table
Making enough space at the dining room table is sometimes no easy task. One solution: Use a second table.
Forte and company tested 24 folding tables in a variety of styles for stability, strength and resistance against denting, watermarks, scarring from hot pans and any safety concerns. The tables were also rated the tables on how easy each was to open, close and carry as well as overall appearance.
The Office Star Folding Resin Multi-Purpose Table ($50) was one of the top scorers for a table that can seat four or more.
The table "ranked first for safety, with the fewest pinch points and no sharp edges," Forte said. "It also earned the highest durability score of our winners."
Polish That Silverware
When the guests come, it is time to break out the nice, fancy silverware. Some good polish can keep it, and your reputation, from tarnishing.
Forte's consumer testers took on 21 different silver polishes, including liquids, pastes, wipes and gloves to see how quickly, easily and thoroughly they removed tarnish and whether they kept it from coming back.
One of the top picks was Weiman Royal Sterling Silver Polish ($4.59).
According to Forte, the polish "earned a perfect score in our test -- removing tarnish most effectively and efficiently."
What's a 'Lead Crystal'?
"Lead Crystal not only connotes high quality in glassware, it literally does have lead in it," Forte explained. "So while it's safe for adults (except for pregnant women) to drink from occasionally, we don't advise using a leaded decanter to store leftover wine, since over time the lead will leach into the liquid within it."
For the concerned, however, Forte said many companies have developed "lead-free options with the sparkle and sophistication you want in fine glasses."