32 Surprising uses for ordinary things

Reader's Digest Editors

Everyday cleaning hacks

1. Aluminium foil scrubs pots clean. No scourer? Use aluminium foil as a temporary replacement. Crumple a handful and scrub to polish stainless steel pots (foil may damage non-stick pots).

2. Cooking spray removes shower soap scum. Conventional cleaners don’t dissolve stubborn soap build-up on shower doors. Spray the glass with cooking spray and leave for 30 minutes. The oil slides between the glass and the soap scum, making it easy to wash. Wipe off with soapy water (or a wet sponge with a drop of dishwashing liquid).

3. Sponges remove pet hair. Fido leaving your furniture furry? Lightly dampen a sponge and rub it across upholstery. It will easily lift pet hair from the surface.

4. Ammonia cleans the oven. For almost effortless oven cleaning, fill a bowl with ammonia and set it in an unheated oven overnight; remove the bowl the next day. The ammonia’s fumes will have loosened the gunk so you can wipe it off with a wet sponge or paper towel.

Upgrade your laundry

5. Lemon juice lifts ink stains. Soak an ink stain in lemon juice for five to ten minutes before washing in a normal cycle. The juice’s citric acid is a natural stain fighter that breaks up the ink on clothing.

6. Pillowcases protect delicates. The washing machine can pull fragile jumpers and tights out of shape. Toss them in a pillowcase. Close the case with a rubber band, place in the drum and run the machine on a gentle setting.

7. Sugar removes grass stains. Enzymes in sugar help break down the chlorophyll that causes green stains. Mix 50g sugar with just enough warm water to create a paste. Apply to the stain. Let sit for 30 minutes before washing.

8. Milk polishes leather. To clean patent leather (the glossy type used for belts, shoes and bags), dip a soft cotton cloth into milk. Gently buff the leather in circular motions to moisturise. The milk’s enzymes and fat soften and polish the leather. Buff again with a clean, dry cloth to remove remaining milk residue.

9. Vegetable shortening removes lipstick stains. Rub a dab into the lipstick mark, and wash as usual. The oil acts as a solvent to loosen the stain.

Extend the life of your stuff

10. Sponges preserve soap. To help a bar of soap last longer, leave it on a sponge next to the sink. The sponge will prevent slime and drips by helping soap dry faster.

11. Hairspray protects artwork. When your mini Picasso brings home a masterpiece, preserve it with a few spritzes of hair spray. This is especially handy for chalk and other materials that smudge easily.

12. Petroleum jelly prevents rust. Apply a thin layer to the surface in question (eg, outdoor machinery, nuts and bolts, and chrome on bikes). The petroleum jelly will protect the metal from moisture and air, both of which encourage rust.

Oh no! I Just ran out of…

13. Washing up liquid. Shampoo (the plainer the better) will get the job done. Stick to using it in the sink—filling your dishwasher with shampoo may drown it in suds.

14. Deodorant. Lemon juice naturally deodorises by making your underarm too acidic for bacteria. Apply with a cotton ball.

15. All-purpose cleaning spray. To clean up marks, glue or paint from a table, try this teacher’s trick: spray a dollop of shaving cream on the surface and spread with a dry sponge. Leave for five to 15 minutes and wipe off with a damp sponge.

16. Shampoo. Sprinkle flour into your hair and shake throughout. The flour absorbs excess oils, leaving you with a fresh-looking mane.

17. Hand sanitiser. If you need to wash your hands while travelling but no bathroom is in sight, use antiseptic mouthwash. Put a few drops on your hands and rub like hand sanitiser. The mouthwash’s high alcohol content attacks bacteria and gives skin a minty fresh scent.

Before you throw it out

18. Butter tubs double as water dishes. When you travel with your pet, pack an empty, washed butter tub instead of a bulkier everyday bowl. The lightweight container makes a resealable food and water dish. It can also protect fragile dog biscuits and treats.

19. Coffee lids protect shelves. Use a sturdy plastic lid from a coffee can as a pantry coaster. Slip it under containers that might drip—say, honey, salad dressing or chutney— to shield your shelves from that annoying sticky mess.

20. Dryer sheets dust. Television and computer screens are electrically charged, which causes them to attract dust. Since dryer sheets are designed to reduce static cling, they’ll remove dust and prevent it from resettling for several days. Polish glass screens with the sheets after they’ve been in the dryer, for a softer texture.

21. Cardboard tubes wrap extension cords. The simplest way to keep cords tangle-free in storage: slip wrapped cords into toilet paper tubes and stack in a box. This also keeps a single cord tidy behind your desk.

Power players: Baking soda

"Baking soda is a mild base (alkali) that causes dirt and grease to dissolve easily in water, and it deodorises,” says Steve Spangler, author and founder of Steve Spangler Science, a science education teaching-tools company.

22. Kill insects. If you spot ants or other crawly creatures in your kitchen, mix equal parts baking soda and sugar, then sprinkle in the corners of the room. Insects are attracted to the sweet mixture but die when they can’t properly digest the baking soda.

23. Lift stains from china. If your good china is tinted with discolorations from coffee and tea, dip a moist cloth in baking soda. This creates a stiff paste you can gently rub against stains to remove. Rinse clean and dry.

24. Strengthen dishwashing detergent. Add two tablespoons of baking soda to the usual amount of dishwashing liquid you use. It will give your detergent a powerful boost and easily clean greasy dishes.

25. Spruce wallpaper. To brighten a dingy section, wipe it with a sponge moistened in a solution of one litre of water and one tablespoon of baking soda. For grease stains on wallpaper, rub a paste of one tablespoon of baking soda and one teaspoon of water on the stain. After five to ten minutes, wipe off with a damp sponge. Always test on an inconspicuous part of the paper first.

Power players: WD-40

WD-40’s ingredients are top secret, but the company says the product contains mineral spirits (solvents), which is why it can remove paint and glue. It also forms a lubricating surface, making it handy for unsticking items.

26. Remove glue. To loosen stubborn glue dried on scissors or a counter, cover it with WD-40. It can dissolve the adhesive components of strong glue to make it easier to remove.

27. Prevent splintering. Wooden handles on tools splinter over time. To protect your tools, spray a generous amount of WD-40 on the wood. This displaces moisture from the surface and creates a barrier against corrosive, splinter-causing elements in the environment.

28. Wipe off crayon marks. Kids turned your wall into a canvas? Spray crayon marks with WD-40 and wipe with a clean rag. It won’t damage paint or most wallpaper.

Power players: Vinegar

“Vinegar is the common name for acetic acid, which is strong enough to kill bacteria but safe enough to consume and touch,” notes Spangler.

29. Remove sweat stains. Mix one part vinegar with four parts water. Pour on the sweat stain on your clothes and soak for one minute. Wash in a regular cycle.

30. Loosen labels. For pesky labels or stickers that won’t budge, soak a paper towel in vinegar. Place it over the label for five to ten minutes. The vinegar will weaken the adhesive.

31. Treat athlete’s foot. Because vinegar is a potent disinfectant, soaking your feet twice daily for ten minutes in one part vinegar and four parts water may help treat the fungal infection.

32. Neutralise odours. Just cooked fish? Painted a room? Let your wet dog in? Pour vinegar into a glass or bowl, and set it in the affected room for 30 minutes.

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