Photo (cc) by jessica mullen
Cleaning products and personal care items once consumed a sizable chunk of my discretionary income. But now the cabinet under my sink only has trash bags, a bottle of vinegar, and a box of baking soda.
Household items like vinegar, baking soda, salt, and even beer can replace many of the products you use to clean, do laundry, garden, or take care of yourself. And they’re cheaper to boot. Here are 19 ways I’ve found to replace expensive store-bought chemicals…
Around the house…
1. Clean glass
Mix a quarter-cup of white vinegar and 3 cups of water in a spray bottle, and you have a better glass cleaner than any commercial product you could buy. Just spray it on, wipe it down with a piece of newspaper, and you’re done!
2. Clean porcelain and chrome
I use the same vinegar mixture to clean my bathroom. The vinegar is mild enough that it won’t etch the porcelain on my vanity, and it makes the chrome faucets shine.
3. Scrub stuck-on food and stains
Baking soda works as an alternative to abrasive cleaners like Comet. You can sprinkle dry baking soda on stuck-on food, or combine the baking soda with a little water to make a softer scrub for bathtubs and shower tiles.
4. Deodorize carpet
Sprinkling baking soda on carpet removes odors. Cover the entire area with a light sprinkling and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour, then vacuum it up. The baking soda will absorb the smell. It works great on pet smells and other mild odors.
5. Mop tile floors
I’m in love with my Swiffer Wet Mop – just not the chemical fest cleaner that comes with it. Instead, I mix a half-cup of vinegar and warm water in a spray bottle and spritz it as I mop. It doesn’t smell great at first, but the vinegar mixture is tough enough to remove stains and the smell disappears as it dries.
6. Clean a cast-iron skillet
Not being able to use dish soap or heavy cleaners on my cast-iron skillet gets challenging, especially when the bottom is covered with stuck-on food. I sprinkle salt over the stuck-on bits and use a plastic brush to clean the pan. The salt is gritty enough to force the food bits free, but soft enough that it hasn’t damaged my pan.
7. Remove stains from a glass coffee pot
Coffee stains everything, especially the inside of the coffee pot. If the bottom of your pot gets gunky, pour in about a quarter-cup of salt, five or six ice cubes, and some water. Then (gently) swirl the mixture around. The salt and ice will scrub the pot and lift the stains. Just make sure you wash the coffee pot before you use it again.
8. Polish metal
The acidity of beer actually polishes metal. Rubbing copper-bottom or aluminum pans down with some flat beer removes tarnish and restores shine. Beer also works on baking sheets and cupcake tins.
9. Keep your clothes from fading
My dry cleaner taught me this trick when I brought in a faded sweater: Soak new clothes in 1 cup of white vinegar and water for 10 to 30 minutes before you wash them for the first time. The vinegar removes excess dye and helps lock the color in, so it won’t bleed out and fade in the wash cycle.
10. Clear yellowed and sweat stains
White clothes are a pain. Sweat in them at all and you get stains. Leave them in the closet for too long, and they start to yellow. Thankfully, salt can remove the discoloration. Mix a cup of salt in a sink full of warm water and soak the stained area for 30 minutes. Then wash as normal.
11. Neutralize odors
Adding a half-cup of baking soda to the beginning of a wash cycle will remove strong odors on your clothes. Just pour the baking soda in, add some laundry detergent, and wash as normal. The baking soda even worked on my mildewed towels.
12. Keep clothes smelling fresh
After you dry your clothes, save the dryer sheet and put it in your drawer. The dryer sheet will keep releasing that just-washed smell for a couple of weeks inside the drawers, keeping your clothes smelling fresh longer.
13. Exfoliate your skin
I haven’t bought a commercial facial scrub in years. Instead, I mix a small amount of baking soda with a bit of water in my hand, apply the mix to my face, and scrub gently. My skin is softer, and baking soda is a lot cheaper than exfoliates.
14. Restore shine to hair
My stylist uses a “beer rinse” once a week. She swears the B-vitamins in beer adds shine to her hair. I tried it, and my hair definitely looked better (even if it smelled a little funky). After shampooing, pour half a can of beer over your wet hair and let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse with cold water.
15. Calm frizzy hair
Humidity is not kind to hair. Some days, I look like I stuck my finger in a light socket. So I keep dryer sheets in my car. Seriously. Run a dryer sheet over your hair and it will stop fly-aways and reduce frizz.
16. Soak your feet
A half-cup of salt mixed with warm water works as a foot soak. Add the mixture to a shallow bowl and dip your toes in. After 10 minutes of soaking, you’ll have soft, soothed feet.
17. Store fresh flowers
Fresh-cut flowers start to die the second you put them in a vase. You could buy those expensive food pellets to keep them fresh, or you could just pour a quarter-cup of vinegar in the vase. The vinegar seals the stems and keeps cut flowers looking fresh for several days.
18. Cure brown spots
Beer has an acidity that works like magic in your yard. Pour a cup of beer over a brown spot in your yard, and the acid will promote grass growth.
19. Wipe bugs off your windshield
I had bug guts stuck to my windshield after I washed it by hand. To remove them, I pulled the used dryer sheet out of the laundry and wiped the car down. The dryer sheet pulled all the bugs right off.
I’ve found more than a few uses for vinegar in my house, but there are still hundreds more I haven’t tried. Check out Household Products Vinegar Can Replace for more ideas. And if you want some more cleaning tips, check out 6 Tips and 14 Products for Cleaning Tough Stains.