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42 Truly Extraordinary Uses for Household Staples You Already Own

Reader’s Digest thoroughly vetted these genius tricks so you can finish chores, make repairs, and clean messes in a breeze.

pantry home organization makeoverCourtesy Jen Robin

The solution lies within!

While quarantining in our own homes, we seem to be pivoting to two essential paradigms: cleaning as much as possible and using as little as possible. We arrive here in this article at the intersection of these two things. Here are some of the most adept and efficient ways to get the most out of what you already have.

Levi Brown for Reader's Digest

Aluminum foil scrubs pots clean

No scrub pad? Use aluminum foil as a temporary replacement. Crumple a handful and scour to polish stainless steel pots (foil may damage nonstick pots). Here are other brilliant uses for aluminum foil.

Ralph Smith for Reader's Digest

Vinegar removes sweat stains from clothes

Mix one part vinegar with four parts water. Pour on the sweat stain and soak for one minute. Wash in a regular cycle. Don’t miss these other genius household uses for vinegar.

Ali Blumenthal for Reader's Digest

Kool-Aid unclogs a dishwasher

Soap scum can block pipes in dishwashers, causing the machines to not drain properly or even break down. Before you pay a plumber, pour Kool-Aid mix into the detergent dish and run a regular cycle with the machine empty. (Any color is generally fine, but if the thought of adding red powder to a white machine makes you shudder, stick to lighter shades.) The Kool-Aid’s citric acid removes soap scum.


WD-40 removes glue

To loosen stubborn glue dried on scissors or a counter, cover it with WD-40. It can dissolve the adhesive components of even strong glue to make it easier to remove. Here are other amazing ways to use WD-40.


Alka-Seltzer cleans coffeemakers

Fill the chamber of a drip coffeemaker with water. Drop in four Alka-Seltzer tablets. Once they dissolve, run a brew cycle to wash the machine’s tubes. Rinse the chamber two to three times, then run another brew cycle with plain water. The sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and citric acid in the effervescent heartburn aid make it a powerhouse cleaner.


Cooking spray removes shower soap scum

Conventional cleaners don’t dissolve stubborn soap buildup 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 (use a wet sponge with a drop of dishwashing liquid).

Levi Brown for Reader's Digest

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. Or try these other smart uses for kitchen sponges.


Vinegar neutralizes odors

Just cooked fish? Painted a room? Pour vinegar into a glass or bowl, and set it in the affected room for 30 minutes. Vinegar can be used for a lot more things around the house as well.

iStock/Murat Sen

WD-40 Prevents splintering

Wood 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 elements in the environment that can cause splintering. Don’t miss these 8 other genius household staples used to get rid of squeaky shoes.


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.

iStock/Vladyslav Danilin

Lemon juice lifts ink stains

Soak an ink stain in lemon juice for five to ten minutes before laundering in a normal cycle. The juice’s citric acid is a natural stain fighter that breaks up the ink on clothing. And give one of these other smart household uses for lemons a try.


Flour cleans hair

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


Pillowcases protect delicates in the laundry

The washer can pull fragile sweaters and pantyhose out of shape. Toss them in a pillowcase. Close the case with a rubber band, place in the washer, and run the machine on a gentle setting.

Ali Blumenthal for Reader's Digest

Vinegar loosens bumper stickers

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

iStock/Dominik Pabis

Sugar removes grass stains

Enzymes in sugar help break down the chlorophyll that causes green stains. Mix ¼ cup sugar with just enough warm water to create a paste. Apply to the stain. Let sit for 30 minutes before washing. Here are other inventive ways to use sugar around the house.

Ali Blumenthal for Reader's Digest

WD-40 wipes off crayon marks

Kids turned your wall into a canvas? Spray crayon marks with WD-40 and wipe with a clean rag. It will not damage paint and most wallpaper (remember to test on a small, hidden area first). Here are other ways to get crayon off the wall.

Levi Brown for Reader's Digest

Milk polishes leather

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


Vegetable shortening removes lipstick stains

Rub a dab of it into the lipstick mark, and launder as usual. The oil acts as a solvent to loosen the stain.


Milk of magnesia replaces deodorant

Milk of magnesia is commonly used as deodorant in humid, tropical environments. Normally taken as a laxative, it has antibacterial properties that make it difficult for odor-causing bacteria to flourish. (Lemon juice also deodorizes, by making your underarm too acidic for bacteria.) Apply with a cotton ball.



Sponges preserve soap

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


Vinegar treats 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 this fungal infection.


Baking soda spruces wallpaper

To brighten a dingy section, wipe it with a sponge moistened in a solution of one quart water and one tablespoon baking soda. For grease stains on wallpaper, rub a paste of one tablespoon baking soda and one teaspoon 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. Check out these other home remedies for baking soda.


Oven cleaner refreshes a curling iron

Styling gel or conditioner can cake onto curling irons, making them less efficient. Spray the iron (not plugged in) with a light coating of oven cleaner. Allow to sit for an hour. Wipe off with a damp rag and dry with a cloth for a curling iron that works like new.

iStock/Lee Rogers

Hair spray 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. Check out these other neat uses for hairspray.


Baking soda strengthens 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.

Ali Blumenthal for Reader's Digest

Shaving cream cleans tables

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. Wipe off with a damp sponge. Essentially condensed soap, shaving cream will leave the table squeaky clean.


Petroleum jelly prevents rust

Apply a thin layer to the surface in question (e.g., 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. Check out these other 26 amazing Vaseline uses around the house.


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 conveniently resealable food and water dish. It can also protect fragile dog biscuits.


Coffee lids protect pantry shelves

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


Shampoo washes dishes

Out of dish soap? 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.


Baking soda lifts 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.


Dryer sheets dust

Television and PC screens are electrically charged, which causes them to attract dust. Since the 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. Try these other genius uses for dryer sheets.


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.

Levi Brown for Reader's Digest

Baking soda kills insects

If you spot cockroaches 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.

Truly-Extraordinary-Uses-For-Household-Staples-You-Already-OwnMatthew Cohen for Reader's Digest

Banana peel polishes silver

Finishing a banana just as you’re starting the weekend chores? Run the peel through the blender with a little water, and dab a washcloth in the paste to use as polish for your silver. (You’ll love the tropical smell!) Dip the piece in a water bath to wash off the paste. Have leftover bananas? Try these other surprising uses for bananas.


Toothbrush removes silk from corn

Disinfect an old toothbrush (you can run it through the dishwasher), and put it to work in the kitchen. The tool can be reincarnated as a handy gadget for removing silk strings from corn on the cob. Here are more things your toothbrush can do besides clean teeth.


Cooking water feeds the plants

Forget pouring the cooking water from boiled foods down the drain. As long as it’s not salted, your plants will be more than happy to drink it once it has cooled. Both hard-boiled eggs and steamed vegetables leave valuable minerals behind, making the water a source of nutrients for your garden.


Old stockings can double as hair elastics

A torn pair of tights doesn’t have to go in the trash. Cut half-inch rings from each leg, parallel to the waistline, and use the ringlets as hair ties that won’t damage your hair.


Razors can de-pill fabric

A dull razor can enjoy a second act as a rescuer of pilled sweaters. If you notice a patch of unsightly balls, lightly run a razor over them. The blade will remove the pills without damaging the fabric.


Ketchup bottles can ice dessert

Decorate your next homemade cake more easily by using a clean ketchup bottle to dispense the frosting. The squeeze bottle is simpler to handle than a piping bag and can be used to create flowers, scallops, and other designs.


Lemon peels deodorizer garbage disposals

Put this fruit’s fresh scent to use by running the peels down your garbage disposal. The rinds help neutralize unwanted odors and clear any grease buildup. Try these other simple deodorizers for your home.


Ashes de-ice walkways

Allow last night’s fire to be today’s snow-safety agent. Scoop the ashes out of the hearth and sprinkle them over any slippery spots on the driveway or sidewalk.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest