We’ve all had those moments when we face a huge mess, unequipped with our trusty old cleaning supplies. And, while we’ve all heard of some cool stand-ins—say, the many uses of baking soda—that’s hardly where the cleaning hacks end.
In fact, many of the items in the kitchen that we tend to associate with making stains—like, say, the condiments on your burger or your favorite drinks behind the bar—are the very things that fight stains, too. Here’s what these items are, and why they work, and when to whip them out to save the day.
While most people might think ketchup creates a mess, it actually cleans up brass, says Leslie Reichert, aka The Cleaning Coach. Honest!
“Just let it sit for five to 10 minutes, then wipe,” she notes. “Because ketchup is highly acidic, it works to eat through the oxidation on brass.”
As useful as this colorful condiment is, Mary Findley, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Cleaning,” suggests using it on only certain materials.
“Ketchup would be fine to use on stainless steel and nonporous surfaces that are not worn down,” she says. “Porcelain could be iffy, and plastic and fabrics of any kind are a no-no.”
You may have a hard time sipping this beverage again after reading this, but if you’ve got some in the fridge, here’s a new way to enjoy it.
“Coke is great for removing rust from tools,” Reichert says. “Just let them sit in it overnight. You can also clean your toilet with Coke. Pour two liters in, and let it sit overnight.”
Yikes! How is this possible? It works because it’s an acid, notes Reichert, who says what we’re all thinking: “I can’t believe it’s something we drink!”
If you’ve got rust but are out of soda, reach for a spud. That’s right: Potatoes, which contain oxalic acid, have the ability to break down rust, too.
“I get rid of rust on some of my expensive kitchen knives by rubbing them with a potato,” says Findley. “I found that out by accident when I was cutting up potatoes, and my knife had a bit of rust on it. It was gone when I finished cutting them up. It should work on any kind of metal, in the kitchen or not.”
Mayonnaise is another unlikely helpmate. Use the sandwich staple to remove white rings on wood furniture. Simply smear on a dollop to cover the area, and give it an hour to go to work. Then, rub the spot until it disappears, and shine it up with furniture polish. How does it operate? The oil seeps into the finish, to break up that unsightly ring left by moisture.
Rather than lather butter on your bagels and bread, put it to work in this unexpected way. “You can use butter or peanut butter to remove sticky things like labels or gum from any surface, like a window or tabletop,” Reichert says.
Again, it’s the oils in these products that go to work making gum less sticky, and ultimately easier to scrape up.
Turns out your vodka is ready to step out from behind the bar and help fight stains.
“Alcohol cuts through grease,” says Reichert. “You can use vodka to remove greasy stains.”
If you have a pet who’s left a bit of a funky fragrance on your carpet, the cleaning guru suggests spritzing these areas with vodka—it’ll remove the odor while it evaporates. (Bonus: It’s delicious, too!)
Coke isn’t the only beverage that does double duty. Tang, that once super-popular orange elixir, will clean the inside of your dishwasher, Reichert says.
Before you starting cleaning with the sweet and tangy treat preferred by astronauts, make sure your dishwasher is empty. Then, turn on your faucet to preheat your water. Next, close the dishwasher and run it for six to seven minutes before opening it up mid-cycle to add 12 ounces of Tang to the standing water at the bottom of your washer. Shut the door and let the dishwasher continue to run.
How it works: The citric acid will save you hours of scrubbing off those calcium-like scale deposits that make you cringe each time you look inside your washer.
“Squeeze grapefruit juice into a small bowl and add some baking soda,” she says. “It makes an excellent toilet bowl and bathroom sink cleaner. Don’t use a lot of water to rinse the sink and it will help freshen the drain. Then, put the grapefruit rind down the disposal to freshen that. Although I compost all my rinds, I do put the grapefruit rinds down the disposal once a month.”
Got an iron that’s showing its age?
“Salt is excellent to clean the bottom of the iron,” says Findley. “Do not run salt through an iron, but it removes the main surface just fine.”
Got wood furniture that looks scratched up? Walnuts can restore your wood to its original beauty.
“Walnuts are always a good touch up for scratched wood,” says Findley. “Black walnuts are best, as they contain more oil, but usually need to be ordered online. Very few stores carry black walnuts. And get plenty of extra, because once you taste the difference, you won’t eat English walnuts anymore.”
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