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65 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.

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.

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grid of "ordinary, household objects" on colored backgroundsJoleen Zubek for Reader's Digest

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. While you’re at it, make sure to try these extraordinary uses for everyday foods.

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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).

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Vitamin C and baking soda can double as yeast

Looking to make a loaf of bread? Mix one teaspoon each of powdered vitamin C (or citric acid) and baking soda. What’s more, the dough you add it to won’t have to rise before baking. Check out these ways you can use household objects in your kitchen.

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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.

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Paper towels keep veggies fresh for longer

Line your refrigerator’s crisper drawer with paper towels. They will absorb the moisture that causes your fruits and vegetables to rot. When the lining gets dirty, just throw it out and replace with fresh paper towels. You probably had no idea that these household items were reusable.

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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. Check out these extraordinary uses for nail polish remover.

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A colander will keep fruit fresh

Do your berries and grapes get moldy before you’ve had a chance to enjoy them? Store them in a colander—not a closed plastic container—in the refrigerator. The cold air will be able to circulate through the holes and around the fruit, keeping it fresher for days. Here are some genius uses for baby wipes you never thought to try.

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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.

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Lemon saves soggy lettuce

Don’t toss those sorry leaves in the garbage. Add the juice of half a lemon to a bowl of cold water, put the soggy lettuce in it, and refrigerate for about an hour. Make sure the leaves are completely dry before using them in salads or sandwiches. Try out these genius uses for your coat hangers.

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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. Check out these extraordinary uses for the junk in your garage.

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Vinegar tenderizes meat

Soaking inexpensive cuts of meat in vinegar for up to four hours doesn’t just break down tough fibers; it also reduces carcinogenic compounds that form during grilling. Experiment with different vinegar varieties for added flavor, or simply use apple cider vinegar or distilled vinegar. Just be sure to rinse the meat off before cooking. Make sure to use these summer life hacks that will make your life so much easier.

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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). You’ll wish you knew these clever uses for ammonia sooner.

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Chalk removes grease stains

Rub some chalk on greasy spots on clothes or table linens and let it absorb the oil before you brush it off. If the stain lingers, rub more chalk into it before laundering. To get rid of ring-around-the-collar stains, mark them heavily with chalk before laundering to absorb the oils that hold in dirt.

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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.

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Beer can rescue rugs

If you’ve spilled coffee or tea on the carpet, there’s another tasty beverage that can clean the mess: beer. Rub a few teaspoons (or more, if you made a really big mess) lightly into the fabric. Flat beer will also polish up your wood furniture.

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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.

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Potatoes remove tarnish on silverware

Grab some potatoes and boil them up. Remove them from the water and save them to eat later. Then place your silverware in the potato water and let it sit for an hour. Remove and wash it. The tarnish should have disappeared. Try out these alternate uses for paper towels.

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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.

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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.

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WD-40 removes gum

Got chewing gum smooshed into the carpet or on the wall? WD-40 will loosen it. This works on wax drippings too.

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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.

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Non-gel toothpaste removes water stains

Did your guests somehow miss the coasters? To get rid of those annoying white rings left by moist glasses, gently rub some non-gel toothpaste on the wood with a soft cloth. Wipe it off with a damp cloth and let the area dry.

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Flour cleans hair

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

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Cornstarch can lift scorch marks

If you singe your favorite shirt with a hot iron, wet the area and cover it with cornstarch. Allow the cornstarch to dry, then brush it away. Check out these incredible uses for the things you normally toss.

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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.

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A tennis ball can unclog the toilet

Cut off and discard the top third of an old ­tennis ball. Place the open end of what remains over the clogged drain. Block the overflow hole with a damp cloth and run a small amount of water into the basin to make a seal with the edge of the ball. Using the ball of your hand, plunge down hard and fast.

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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. Check out these clever ways to use up plastic bags that you have lying around the house.

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Crayons fill cracks in the floor

Crayons make great fill material for small scratches, gouges, or holes in many floors. Select the color that most closely matches yours. Melt the crayon in the microwave over waxed paper on medium power, a minute at a time, until you have a pliant glob of color. Now, with a plastic knife or putty knife, fill the hole. Smooth it over with a rolling pin, a book, or some other flat object. You don’t even need to sand it.

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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.

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Egg whites can double as glue

Egg whites can act as a replacement when you need to adhere some paper or light cardboard together.

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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).

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Orange and lemon peels double as kindling

Dried orange and lemon peels make even better kindling than newspaper. Not only do they smell better and produce less creosote than newspaper, but the flammable oils found inside the peels enable them to burn much longer. Don’t want to wait for the peels to dry out? Put them on a cookie sheet in a 200°F oven for 25 to 30 minutes.

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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. Check out these 60 clever uses for salt—that don’t involve cooking.

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Pencil erasers fix scratched phone screens

For shallow scratches, first clean the affected area using a fresh, lint-free cloth dipped in water. Wipe it dry with a second lint-free cloth. Then rub the affected area lightly with a clean, soft pencil eraser, following the direction of the scratch. You might need to repeat this several times before the scratch disappears.

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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.

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Nail polish can stop a windshield crack

If you’ve developed a small crack in your windshield, stop it cold with some clear nail polish. Working in the shade, brush the crack on both sides of the glass with polish to fill it well. Move the car into the sun so the windshield can dry. But take note: This fix is only temporary. Try to get the glass replaced within a day or two at most.

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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. These clever uses for toothpicks have nothing to do with picking teeth.

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Coffee grounds fertilize plants

Don’t throw out those old coffee grounds. They’re full of nutrients that your acid-loving plants crave. Save them to fertilize rosebushes, azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, and evergreens.

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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.

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Ashes repel insects

Scatter a border of ashes from your fireplace around your garden to deter cutworms, slugs, and snails—ash sticks to their bodies and draws moisture out of them. Also sprinkle small amounts over garden plants to manage infestations of soft-bodied insects. Be warned: Since ash is alkaline, it shouldn’t be used on acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, and mums. Check out these clever ways to use milk around your house.

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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.

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Mouthwash can disinfect a cut

No rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide? An alcohol-based mouthwash can clean a shallow cut and disinfect your skin. Alternatively, you can dab a few drops of lemon juice directly on the cut.

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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.

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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.

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Baking soda can treat minor burns

If you sustain a minor skin burn, quickly pour some baking soda into a container of ice water, soak a cloth or gauze pad in it, and apply it to the burn. Keep applying the solution until the burn no longer feels hot. This treatment will also prevent many burns from blistering. Another option: Apply vanilla extract. The evaporation of the alcohol in the vanilla extract cools the burn.

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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.

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Adhesive tape can remove a splinter

You can avoid the agony of digging a splinter out with a needle by covering it with adhesive tape instead. After about three days, pull the tape off slowly, and the splinter should come out with it.

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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.

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Chest rub can repel ticks and other insects

Going for a walk in the woods? Smear some mentholated chest rub on your ankles, wrists, and neck before you leave the house. It might not be your favorite scent, but gnats, mosquitos, and ­disease-carrying ticks hate it, and they’ll go in search of a sweeter-smelling victim.

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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. Try out these clever uses for coffee filters.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. Check out these things you had no idea you could do with pool noodles.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Old stockings can double as hair elastics

A torn pair of tights don’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.

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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. You’ll wish you knew these alternative uses for safety pins all along.

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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.

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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.

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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. Now, read up on these life hacks one individual learned during quarantine.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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