96 Surprising Ways to Clean With Household Items

Who knew you could use salt as an iron cleaner?

Baking soda used to clean tub stains
Photo: Hallie Burton

Not all cleaning tips are obvious or taught to us when we start tackling chores around the house. Unfortunately, it's more likely that you waste a lot of time cleaning and make more work for yourself than necessary by not knowing shortcuts. (If only your parents taught you how to unclog a drain using salt or pick up broken glass with a slice of bread). Cleaning shortcuts make life easier.

Not only that, but you probably spend a lot of money on cleaning supplies and tools when you might have just what you need hiding in the coat closet (or recycling bin). Our editors have devised dozens of hidden tricks to get your house sparkling in record time. So, learn how to clean up messes with household products, then share your favorite tips with your friends and family.

01 of 96

Collapsible Laundry Bins as Garbage Bins

Collapsible laundry bins as garbage bins
John Lawton; Styling: Linden Elstran

During seasonal cleaning binges, soft-sided, handled laundry bins can double as trash cans.

02 of 96

Magnet as a Trash Bag Holder

Magnets used to hold garbage bag in place
Sang An

Minimize garbage-day malaise. Hold the top of a trash bag in place with magnets so bits don't find their way to the bottom of the bin.

03 of 96

Lemon as a Cutting Board Cleaner

Woman cleaning a cutting board with lemon
Rick Lew

To remove tough food stains from light wood and plastic cutting boards, use a lemon. Slice the lemon in half, squeeze onto the soiled surface, rub, and let sit for 20 minutes before rinsing. The best part? You'll have a house that smells like a lemon grove rather than chemicals.

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Olive Oil as a Measuring Spoon Primer

Olive oil used to coat measuring spoons
Rick Lew

Rub olive oil on measuring cups and spoons coated with sticky substances (like honey) to ease cleaning.

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Lemonade Kool-Aid as a Dishwasher Cleaner

Lemonade Kool-Aid and a dishwasher
Monica Buck

Clean lime deposits and iron stains inside the dishwasher by pouring a packet of lemonade Kool-Aid (the only flavor that works) into the detergent cup and running the (empty) dishwasher. The citric acid in the mix wipes out stains.

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Laundry Bag as a Dishwashing Aid

Dishwasher bag
Antonis Achilleos

Keep mini Tupperware lids, baby-bottle caps, and other small items from falling through the dishwasher rack. You'll save time by no longer diving for treasure on the floor of the dishwasher.

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Baking Soda as a Pan Scrubber

Open box of baking soda
James Wojick

Sprinkle soda on crusted casseroles and roasting pans and let sit for five minutes. Lightly scrub and rinse.

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Vinegar as a Coffeemaker Cleaner

Vinegar used to clean coffeemaker
Anita Calero

Clean a coffeemaker or a tea kettle by making a pot using a mixture of water and vinegar. Follow with several cycles of water to rinse.

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Rice as a Coffee Grinder Cleaner

Coffee grinder full of rice
Burcu Avsar

Mill a handful of grains in your grinder and the fine particles will absorb stale odors and clean out residual grounds and oil. Discard the rice and wipe clean.

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Citrus Peel as a Coffee Mug Cleaner

Citrus peel used to remove coffee and tea stains
Lucas Allen

Remove coffee or tea stains from a mug by rubbing them with a lightly salted citrus peel.

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Salt as a Salad Wash

Salt used to clean vegetables
Antonis Achilleos

Clean dirt from leafy vegetables by washing them in a bath of salt water.

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Coaster as a Drip Catcher

Coasters and condiments in a cupboard
Monica Buck

Catch the sticky stuff from bottles and jars in cupboards. No more shelves that require a full wipe-down after every spoonful of honey, slather of jam, or glug of olive oil.

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Mustard Powder as a Jar Deodorizer

Mustard powder used to deodorize glasses
James Baigrie

Deodorize smelly glass jars by washing them with a mixture of one teaspoon powdered mustard and one quart warm water.

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Vinegar as an Odor Remover

Vinegar used to remove odor
Antonis Achilleos

After chopping onions, scrub your hands with salt and a splash of vinegar to eliminate the smell.

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Vanilla as a Freezer Freshener

Vanilla used to freshen freezer
James Baigrie

Trade frostbite funk for a more pleasing freezer scent and wipe the inside of the icebox with an extract-dampened cotton pad.

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Citrus Peel as a Garbage Disposal Deodorizer

Citrus peel used to deodorize a garbage disposal
James Baigrie

Keep your garbage disposal smelling fresh by dropping a few orange peels down the drain and flipping the switch. Use any leftover peels to make homemade citrus cleaner.

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Vinegar as a Garbage Disposal Deodorizer

Vinegar used to deodorize garbage disposal
Antonis Achilleos

Another option to deodorize the garbage disposal is vinegar. Make vinegar ice cubes and feed them down the disposal. After grinding, run cold water through the drain.

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Rubber Band as a Stemware Securer

Rubber bands used to secure glasses in dishwasher
James Baigrie

Secure wayward stemware in the dishwasher by tethering it to the machine's prongs with rubber bands.

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Car Wax as a Stovetop Polish

Car wax used to preserve stovetop
Lucas Allen

Preserve a pristine stovetop by applying a thin layer of car wax, then wiping it off. Future spills will lift off easily.

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Aluminum Foil as a Glassware Scrubber

Ball of aluminum foil used to scrub glass pan
Quentin Bacon

To get baked-on food off a glass pan or an oven rack, use dishwashing liquid and a ball of foil in place of a steel-wool soap pad. It's one way to recycle those used but perfectly good pieces of foil you hate to throw out.

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Newspaper as a Food-Container Deodorizer

Newspaper in a food container
Charles Maraia

Stuff a balled-up piece of newspaper into a plastic container that has developed a funk, and let it sit overnight. By morning the paper will have absorbed the offending smell.

22 of 96

Newspaper as a Refrigerator Odor Absorber

Newspaper as Odor Absorber
Photos: Erica McCartney; Styling: Linden Elstran

Absorb odors in the refrigerator's vegetable drawer with a lining of newspaper.

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Plastic Bag as a Kitchen-Cleanup Aid

Carrots and peeler on a plastic bag
Kana Okada

For no-fuss cleanup, instead of peeling fruits and vegetables over a cutting board or into the sink, do it over a plastic bag. When you're done, flip the peelings into the garbage and rinse the bag to reuse another day, or toss the whole shebang into the trash.

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Binder Clip as a Sponge Stand

Sponge being held by a binder clip
Levi Brown

To prevent a smelly, waterlogged sponge, air-dry it in a binder clip away from the sink.

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Cotton Ball as a Rubber Glove Protector

Cotton balls, rubber gloves and soap on a sink
James Baigrie

For leak-resistant gloves at your fingertips, push one cotton ball into the end of each finger of a dishwashing glove to keep sharp nails from splitting the rubber.

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Baking Soda as a Drain Declogger

Baking soda used to clean drain
Antonis Achilleos

To get your drain running again (without resorting to chemicals worthy of a hazmat suit) pour ½ cup soda, then ½ cup vinegar, down a clogged drain. Cover it with a wet cloth, wait 5 minutes, uncover, and flush with steaming-hot water.

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Salt as a Homemade Drain Cleaner

Salt as Drain Cleaner
Photos: Erica McCartney; Styling: Linden Elstran

Get a slow-moving drain flowing again by pouring a solution of ½ cup of salt for every quart of hot water down the pipe.

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White Bread as a Glass Magnet

White Bread as Glass Magnet
Philip Friedman; Styling: Linden Elstran

The next time a tumbler takes a tumble, sponge up the shards with a slice of bread. Even tiny slivers will cling to it.

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Baking Soda and Vinegar as a Stainless Steel Cleaner

Getty Images

We recommend buffing stainless steel with a damp microfiber cloth. Then, if needed, use a gentle mixture of baking soda, vinegar, and lemon for a beautiful shine.

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Baking Soda as a Stain Remover

Baking soda used as stain remover
Antonis Achilleos

Clean discolored teacups and teapots by making a paste of baking soda and water. Gently rub over the stain to remove.

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Baking Soda as a Silver Polish

Baking soda and silver bowls
Beatriz da Costa

To polish silver: Wash items, then place them on aluminum foil in the bottom of a pot. Add a baking soda solution (¼ cup soda, a few teaspoons salt, 1 quart boiling water), then cover for a few seconds. The result? A chemical reaction that gets the black off the gravy boat.

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Salt as a Polishing Agent

Woman using table salt to polish candlesticks
Rick Lew

Shine brass and copper with a paste made from a few tablespoons of white vinegar and equal parts salt and flour. Apply with a soft cloth, rinse, and dry.

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Chalk as a Tarnish Prevention

Dinner set on a table.
Monica Buck

Slow the tarnish on your good silver by tying up a few moisture-absorbing pieces of chalk in cheesecloth and store them with your cutlery for shinier flatware that reflects well on you in no time flat.

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Baking Soda as a Tub Scrubber

Baking soda used to clean tub stains
Hallie Burton

Rub tub stains away. Create a paste mad up of equal parts baking soda and cream of tartar and a little lemon juice. Let sit for 30 minutes, then rinse.

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Electric Toothbrush as a Grout Scrubber

Toothbrush used to scour bathroom
France Ruffenach

Scour bathroom crevices with a battery-powered toothbrush.

36 of 96

Toothpaste as a Linoleum Cleaner

Tooth paste used to fix linoleum
Hallie Burton

Use white toothpaste to buff scuffs out of linoleum tiles.

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Nail Polish as a Rust Preventer

Shaving cream and nail polish
Rita Maas

Coat the bottom of a shaving-cream can to fend off rust rings on the ledge of the tub.

38 of 96

Pant Hanger as a Drying Rack

Pant hanger used to dry bath mat
Kana Okada

Use a pant hanger to air-dry a bath mat after showering. Simply hang it over the shower curtain rod.

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Dryer Sheet as a Scum Buster

Dryer sheet used to remove soap scum
Antonis Achilleos

Remove obstinate soap buildup from glass shower doors by sprinkling a few drops of water onto a used fabric-softener sheet and scrubbing.

40 of 96

Colander as a Toy Scoop

Colander as Toy Scoop
Erica McCartney; Styling: Kristine Trevino

One of the most popular kitchen tools also happens to double as a clean-up aid. Before draining the tub, use a colander to make scooping up small toys fun and easy.

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Baby Oil as a Chrome Polish

Baby oil, a cloth and faucet
Kana Okada

Forget keeping skin soft, baby oil also polishes chrome. Apply a dab to a cotton cloth and use it to shine everything from faucets to hubcaps. You'll end up with shiny, happy surfaces from a medicine-cabinet staple. (Who actually owns chrome cleaner, anyway?)

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Car Wax as a Sink Polish

Car wax at a sink
Frances Janisch

Polish faucets, sinks, tile, even shower doors with Turtle Wax, which leaves behind a protective barrier against water and soap buildup, so your hard-earned sparkle will last past the next tooth-brushing.

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Baking Soda as a Linen Freshener

Baking soda used as linen freshener
Antonis Achilleos

Place an open box of baking soda alongside your stacks of sheets and towels to stave off mustiness.

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Lemon as a Laundry Brightener

Lemon used to brighten whites
Antonis Achilleos

Skip the bleach—add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the wash cycle to brighter up those fading whites.

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Emery Board as a Stain Remover

Emery Board as Stain Remover
Monica Buck

Remove small stains from suede by gently rubbing the file (either side) across the problem area a few times to get rid of the splotch and refresh the nap.

46 of 96

Dryer Sheet as an Iron Cleaner

Dryer sheets with an iron
Sang An

Remove gunk from the soleplate of an iron. With the setting on low, rub the iron over the dryer sheet until the residue disappears, and you're left with a pristine press.

47 of 96

Salt as an Iron Cleaner

Salt as Iron Cleaner
Photos: Erica McCartney; Styling: Linden Elstran

Eliminate sticky residue from an iron. Run the hot iron (no steam) over plain paper sprinkled with salt. If that doesn't work, clean the iron with baking soda.

48 of 96

Chopsticks as a Lint Remover

Chopsticks as Lint Remover
Photos: Erica McCartney; Styling: Linden Elstran

Pluck the lint buildup from a clothes dryer's trap.

49 of 96

Hair Spray as a Lipstick Stain Remover

Ironed dress shirt with lipstick on collar and hairspray
James Wojcik

Kiss that smudge of Really Red good-bye. If the fabric is machine washable, saturate the spot with hair spray, let it sit for 10 minutes, then dab with a damp cloth or sponge to remove. Launder as usual to wash out any residual stain and spray.

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Lint Roller as a Handbag Cleaner

Lint roller as handbag cleaner
John Lawton; Styling: Linden Elstran

Quickly clean the interior of your purse by running a lint roller over the lining.

51 of 96

Coffee Filter as a Screen Cleaner

Coffee filter TV screen cleaner
Antonis Achilleos

For lint-free viewing, grab a coffee filter to wipe down dusty and staticky computer monitors and TV screens regularly.

52 of 96

Bleach Bottle as a Cat Litter Scoop

Bleach Bottle as Scooper
Photos: Erica McCartney; Styling: Linden Elstran

Cut diagonally across the middle of an empty, clean bottle, toss the base, and use the half with the handle to scoop up soil or cat litter.

53 of 96

Panty Hose as a Candle Cleaner

Panty Hose as Candle Cleaner
Photos: Erica McCartney; Styling: Linden Elstran

Revive a forgotten flickerer. Slide a dusty candle inside a stocking and roll it around.

54 of 96

Cooking Spray as a Candlestick Cleaner

James Baigrie

Celebrating by candlelight? Spray the inside of a votive holder with a thin coating of cooking spray before dropping in a tea light. After the candle has burned down, the remaining wax will slip out.

55 of 96

Clothespin as a Cord Holder

Clothespin as Cord Holder
Erica McCartney; Styling: Linden Elstran

Keep a retractable cord from rewinding too soon. Just clip the cord near the opening to prevent the cord from being sucked back in too quickly.

56 of 96

Baby Oil as a Paint Remover

Baby Oil as Paint Remover
Photos: Erica McCartney; Styling: Linden Elstran

Dab some baby oil on splatters to remove latex paint from skin.

57 of 96

Broom as a Long Distance Duster

Broom dusting crown molding
Kana Okada

To dust crown moldings, place a microfiber rag over the broom's bristles and secure with a rubber band. Then use the long handle to dust areas that your arms can't reach. No more circus acts (starring you, on a rickety, wobbly stool).

58 of 96

Car Wax as a Garden Shear Lubricant

Car wax and garden shears
Aya Brackett

For cleaner cuts with less elbow grease, rub a little paste on the hinge of a pair of garden shears, so they don't get jammed.

59 of 96

Cooking Spray as an Ice Repellent

Can of cooking spray and a shovel
Mark Lund

Before clearing snow off a driveway, liberally spray both sides of a plastic or metal snow shovel with cooking spray. The ice will slide right off the oily surface. It's the easiest trick for smoother snow removal.

60 of 96

Dustpan as a Toy Herder

Toys gathered in a dustpan
France Ruffenach

Scoop up small toys―Lego blocks, jacks, Barbie shoes, plastic soldiers—with your dustpan and brush, so you can reclaim your living room for grown-ups.

61 of 96

Eggshells as Bottle and Vase Cleaners

Egg shells and vase
Yunhee Kim

Here's an idea for all those eggs you hard-boiled: Use their broken eggshells to clean the hard-to-reach places in bottles and vases. Drop some crushed shells in the bottle, add warm water and a drop of dishwashing liquid, and give it a good swirl. The shells will scrape off the gunk you can't get to, so you can save your elbow grease for the dinner dishes.

62 of 96

Denture Tablet as a Vase Cleaner

Denture tablet used to clean vases
Antonis Achilleos

When residue clings to unreachable spots inside a vase or a decanter, fill the container with warm water and drop in one or two denture-cleaning tablets for every eight ounces of warm water. Let the fizzy solution sit for the time specified on the product's box, then rinse.

63 of 96

Antacid Tablet as a Vase Cleaner

Antacid tablets used to clean vase
Mark Lund

Lift bouquet residue from the bottom of a vase. Fill the vase with water, add two tablets, let sit for a few minutes, wipe, and rinse.

64 of 96

Rice as a Vase Scrubber

Rice used to clean vase
Hallie Burton

Prepare a stained vase for a new batch of blooms. If you can't reach the residue at the bottom, add a tablespoon of rice and a lot of soapy water, shake, and rinse until clean.

65 of 96

Fork as a Carpet Fluffer

Carpet dent and fork
Monica Buck

Use the tines to gently fluff plush carpet fibers back to their original height, removing dents left by heavy furniture. Now, that's a real fork lift.

66 of 96

Masking Tape as a Scuff Preventer

Dirt Devil vacum and masking tape
Monica Buck

Keep baseboards free of skid marks when you vacuum. Cover the edges of the vacuum head with masking tape so they won't leave dark smudges when you inevitably bump into the walls. There will be no more black marks on your cleaning record.

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Seam Ripper as a Vacuum Roller Cleaner

Seam ripper used to clean vacuum cleaner
Antonis Achilleos

Restore a vacuum to maximum power by cutting the lint and hair from its roller brush.

68 of 96

Baking Soda as a Carpet Freshener

Baking soda used to freshen carpet
James Baigrie

To absorb stale odors from carpet (and to generally freshen up a room), scatter soda on it, wait a few hours, then vacuum up the powder.

69 of 96

Rubber Glove as a Pet Hair Remover

Rubber glove used to remove pet hair
Antonis Achilleos

Put on a damp rubber dishwashing glove and run your hand over hair-covered upholstery—the hair will cling to the glove, not the sofa. Rinse off the glove in the sink (with the drain catcher in place, of course).

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Cornmeal as a Grease Absorber

Cornmeal used to absorb grease stains
Kate Sears

Add this to the grocery shopping list for new reasons. Cornmeal absorbs grease on light colored fabric or upholstery. Pour enough on to cover the soiled area and let sit for 15 to 30 minutes. Vacuum to remove the grains.

71 of 96

Bath Mat as a Car Seat Protector

Bath mat used to protect car seats
Sang An

Protect your car seats from muddy paws by covering them with a bath mat or two before packing Lilly the Lab in the backseat. The rubber bottom will help the mat stay in place. Between trips, stow the mat in the trunk.

72 of 96

Dryer Sheet as a Sawdust Cleaner

dryer sheet used to wipe sawdust
Antonis Achilleos

An easy way to keep the work area clean. Saw dust at a work station sweeps up so fast with one pass of a used fabric softener sheet.

73 of 96

Cotton Swab as a Computer Detailer

Cotton swab computer detailer
Antonis Achilleos

With the machine turned off, disconnect the keyboard and trace between the keys with a cotton swab lightly dipped in isopropyl alcohol. If your mouse is the kind that rolls on a ball, unscrew the bottom and go over the ball and the interior with a cotton swab, too.

74 of 96

Tape as a Keyboard Cleaner

Transparent tape used to clean keyboard
Burcu Avsar

Make cleaning your computer keys simple: Slide a 2½-inch strip of tape between the rows of your keyboard. The adhesive side will remove dust and crumbs.

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Mayonnaise as an Adhesive Remover

Mayonnaise used as a sticker remover on an old mirror
David Prince

Banish stickers from mirrors, glass, and bumpers by applying a generous helping of mayo to persistent adhesives. Use a flexible putty knife to help coax them off.

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Cooking Oil as Adhesive Remover

Cooking oil and glasses
David Prince

Apply cooking oil to the sticker using a paper towel or a soft cloth, rub firmly, then rinse with warm soapy water. (If the adhesive is stubborn, use a dab of toothpaste along with the oil.)

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Vinegar as a Sticker Remover

Vinegar used to remove price sticker
Antonis Achilleos

Dislodge a stubborn price sticker. Paint with several coats of vinegar, let it sit for five minutes, then wipe away.

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Hair Dryer as a Sticker Remover

Hair dryer used to remove price stickers
Christopher Coppola

A little hot air quickly loosens price labels—with zero fingernail-chipping frustration.

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Rubbing Alcohol as a Permanent Marker Remover

Rubbing alcohol used to remove permanent marker
Antonis Achilleos

Remove permanent marker from countertops and walls. Pour a bit of alcohol onto a cotton ball and rub on the stain. (Spot test on a hidden area first.)

80 of 96

Emery Board as an Eraser Saver

Emery board used to revitalise an eraser
Antonis Achilleos

To revive a dried-out eraser or clean a smudged one, lightly rub it over an emery board. The board's fine grain will shave off the eraser's old top layer, leaving you with a good-as-new mistake-removing surface.

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Baking Soda as a Crayon Eraser

Baking soda used to scrub walls
Antonis Achilleos

Sprinkle it on a damp sponge to erase crayon, pencil, and ink from painted surfaces.

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Lint Roller as a Glitter Pick-Up

Lint roller used to clean glitter
James Wojick

Clean up glitter (and tiny pieces of construction paper) after craft time.

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Onion as a Basement Deodorizer

Onoin used as deodorizer
James Baigrie

Clear the air in a dank basement. Cut an onion in half, place it on a plate, and leave it out overnight. Once the initial salad-bar aroma dissipates, you'll have a fresh (non-oniony) atmosphere.

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Rubbing Alcohol as a Hairspray Remover

Rubbing alcohol used to lift hair spray residue
Sang An

To lift off hair spray residue from bathroom walls, spray a mixture of one part rubbing alcohol, two parts water, and a dash of dishwashing liquid onto vinyl wallpaper or semigloss (not flat) paint. Wipe clean.

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Salt as a Wreath Duster

Salt used to decorate wreath
James Baigrie

Place a wreath of pinecones or faux evergreen in a paper bag with a 1/4 cup of salt. Fold the top of the bag over and gently shake.

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Olive Oil as a Sap Remover

Olive Oil as Sap Remover
Photos: Erica McCartney; Styling: Linden Elstran

If dragging and decking out a fresh Christmas tree leaves you with sticky digits, pour a tablespoon of oil onto a cloth, then rub until clean. Bonus: The oil is a great moisturizer for dry winter skin.

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Shower Curtain as a Picnic Blanket Liner

Shower curtain liner used under picnic blanket
Monica Buck

Do dew diligence and layer a liner underneath a picnic blanket to avoid soggy bottoms and grass or mud stains.

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Shoe Polish as a Furniture Polish

Shoe polish used to restore furniture
Mark Lund

Spruce up wood furniture by filling in scratches with shoe polish in a similar shade.

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Walnut as a Scratch Filler

Walnut used to revitalize hardwood floors
Alexandra Rowley

Repair hardwood floors by rubbing shelled nuts into shallow scratches. Their natural oils help hide the flaws.

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Socks as a Floor Protector

Socks as Floor Protector
Photos: Erica McCartney; Styling: Linden Elstran

Need to protect wood floors? Slide socks onto the legs of chairs and tables, so they don't scratch the floor when you rearrange the room (yet again).

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Sugar as a Hand Degreaser

Sugar to degrease hands
James Baigrie

Cut grease on hands by rubbing them with a mixture of sugar and water.

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Zippered Plastic Bag as a Wax Remover

Zippered plastic bag used to remove wax
James Baigrie

To freeze wax so you can remove it from a tablecloth, fill a plastic bag with ice cubes and cover the wax with it for about 20 minutes.

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Lint Roller as a Lamp Shade Duster

Lamp and lint roller
Frances Janisch

Run the roller up and down the outside of the lamp shade to get rid of small particles that shouldn't be there. Ah, the satisfaction of knowing that every surface in your living room will pass the white-glove test.

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Pillowcase as a Ceiling Fan Duster

Ceiling fan and pillowcase
Anna Williams

Slide an old case over a fan's blade then pull the fabric back, keeping all the dust and dirt contained.

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Plastic Bags as Hand Protectors

Dog biscuits and a leash
Kana Okada

Fact: There are some things you'd just as soon not touch with your bare hands. Use bags as gloves to handle what's messy (say, chicken carcasses) or just plain gross (like the little "presents" the dog leaves in the front yard), then turn them inside out to trap the offending matter within for easy disposal.

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Plastic Bag as a Shoe Protector

Woman wearing shoe stepping into bag
Kana Okada

It will never be a fashion trend, but tying bags over your shoes can keep you from tracking mud into the house when you come in, or protect slippers from dirt, snow, or rain when you run out to fetch the paper from the front lawn. (Be careful when walking on smooth surfaces, as the plastic won't give you any traction.)

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