If you want to feel a surge of pioneer super-competence, there’s nothing like whipping your house (or, you know, cabin) into shape with old-school cleaners. They get the job done naturally, they connect us to our ancestors, and they’re probably already sitting in your cabinet. These 12 classics can go nose to nose with any modern challenger.
Use it to pretreat oily (or otherwise tough) stains, like chocolate, makeup, baby formula, and ring around the collar. “Wet the bar, rub on, let sit for a few minutes, and wash as usual,” says Steve Boorstein, the author of The Clothing Doctor’s 99 Secrets to Cleaning and Clothing Care. According to a devoted Facebook fan page, Fels-Naptha is also a great shower cleaner. Rub a nonabrasive scouring sponge with a wet bar and start scrubbing. And scientist Jessica Lawshe,who works for Dial (which is owned by the same parent company as Fels-Naptha), recommends grating 1/16 of a bar into the washing machine “to give your detergent an extra kick.”
Clean brass and copper by sprinkling salt on a lemon half and rubbing it on the metal, then rinsing thoroughly. To bleach acidic-food stains from dishwasher-safe items, rub lemon juice on the spots, let the items dry in the sun, then wash as usual. Use the same process to coax food smells out of wooden spoons.
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Mix 10 drops of lavender or lemongrass oil in 2 ounces of water in a spray bottle to wipe grime off windows—and to make the house smell divine. Bonus: May repel flies!
Sprinkle it on greasy stains on carpets or upholstery. Let it sit for 15 to 30 minutes to absorb the oil, then vacuum up.
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Bissell Carpet Sweeper
In 1876 Melville Bissell patented the spinning wonder. He created it at the behest of his wife, Anna, who was frustrated with the existing rug-cleaning technology. After Melville’s untimely death in 1889, Anna became America’s first female corporate CEO and helped the company grow into a powerhouse. Today the Bissell Swift Sweep remains a go-to gadget for quick (and quiet) cleanups.
If you avoid disposables, a grandma-style mop is a fantastic, long-lasting dust catcher that won’t scratch floors. You can still buy one through Fuller Brush, whose salesmen began going door-to-door back in 1906.
It inhibits the growth of mold, mildew, and some bacteria, so go nuts with it in the kitchen and bathroom, cleaning cutting boards and wiping soap residue from shower doors. But don’t stop there. Spray it on the underarms of clothing and let soak for 30 minutes to deodorize! Mix it with an equal amount of warm water for a streak-free window cleaner! Remove rings left by wet glasses on wood by rubbing the rings with an equal mix of vinegar and melted beeswax! Pour it in the washer to rescue a forgotten load from funky despair—or sans clothes to refresh the machine!
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Mix 1 tablespoon peroxide with ¼ cup water, then spray it on fruits and vegetables to kill bacteria and rinse. Use it to disinfect cutting boards (they’ve never gotten so much love). Mix it with a little liquid dish soap to deodorize the cat box and trash cans. Do not use it to bleach your hair at home (1980s punks, you feel us, right?).
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Add it to a bit of liquid dish soap and tackle the refrigerator shelves. Pour it down a clogged drain along with boiling water. Sprinkle it around the house exterior to deter insects. Dilute and spray it to kill mildew in the bathroom. Pour it in the toilet and let sit overnight; the next day, swish with a brush and flush to get rid of rust stains. Clean countertops and walls by dissolving ½ cup in 1 gallon of hot water, pouring it into a spray bottle, spritzing it hither and yon, then wiping with a damp cloth. Oh, borax, is there anything you cannot do?
Make a paste with an equal amount of water to clean smudges on washable wallpaper. Take on dingy grout by mixing 3 cups baking soda with 1 cup warm water and applying to the nasty area. Let sit, then rinse well. Also superb on a damp cloth for removing heel marks from linoleum floors.
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“For polishing anything from silver to jewelry to vehicles, these can’t be outdone,” says Mary Findley, the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Cleaning. And they won’t leave lint on mirrors or windows, she adds.
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As far back as the eighth century, what’s now known as the Castile region of Spain was famous for this olive oil-based product. Supposedly it was beloved by Spanish royalty and sought out by other European nobles. Today you needn’t be a prince to enjoy Castile soap. Just buy yourself a bottle and mix ¼ cup in 2 gallons of warm water for mopping linoleum floors; add 2 drops to 1 quart of warm water and use a barely moistened sponge to wipe down fabric upholstery; or add a squirt to a cup of hot water and apply to the stovetop, the burners, and the vent hood to cut through accumulated grease.