101 New Uses for Everyday Things
Whether they’re needed to solve a particular problem—such as trash can smell—or to make the most of an everyday thing already in the house by repurposing it, new uses can be total game-changers, especially in homes already overrun with an excess of odds and ends. There’s no need to buy a new container for snowy boots when newspaper can do the job—while offering easier clean-up at the end of the season. Save money on high-end sachets by repurposing dryer sheets instead; instead of pricy (and potentially dangerous) weed-killer, try some vinegar.
RELATED: Fresh Ways to Reuse Things in Your Kitchen
The new uses list goes on and on. (Olive oil alone has nine extra uses around the house.) Ultimately, all repurposing ideas have the same purpose: to put used-up or readily available items to work in new ways, solving problems all over the house.
Start with these basic new uses for staples such as lemon, vinegar, olive oil, coffee filters, dryer sheets, newspaper, and more, then consider what else these standard items can do to simplify your life—and prepare to do a lot of easy problem-solving without a single trip to the store. Once you’ve mastered the art of repurposing, you can find new uses for anything and everything. All it takes is a little creativity and plenty of little problems to solve.
10 New Uses for Lemon
“Lemon juice is the strongest food acid in our kitchens, strong enough to make life unbearable for most bacteria,” says Robert Wolke, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of What Einstein Told His Cook 2: The Sequel, Further Adventures in Kitchen Science ($23; amazon.com).
Use Lemon to:
1. Sanitize a chopping block. Run a slice of lemon over the surface to disinfect.
2. Eliminate the browning that occurs when food sits out too long. Sprinkle apple or pear slices with lemon juice before serving, or squeeze a bit into guacamole and give it a stir.
3. Remove tough food stains from plastic and light-colored wooden cutting boards. Slice a lemon in half, squeeze the juice onto the soiled surface, rub, and let sit for 20 minutes. Rinse with water.
4. Fade tea stains on cloth. Dilute lemon juice with an equal amount of water. Use an eyedropper or a Q-tip to make sure the juice targets the stain. Thoroughly flush with cool water.
5. Decorate on the cheap. Fill a glass bowl with lemons for a sunny centerpiece. Or display a row of them along a windowsill.
6. Relieve a sore throat. Cut a lemon in half. Skewer one half over a medium flame on a gas stove or an electric burner set on high and roast until the peel turns golden brown. Let cool slightly, then mix the juice with 1 teaspoon of honey. Swallow the mixture.
7. Whiten fingernails. Rub a wedge on the surface of your nails.
8. Shine the interior of copper cookware. Sprinkle a lemon wedge with salt, then scrub.
9. Brighten laundry whites. Add 1/2 cup lemon juice to the wash cycle of a normal-size load.
10. Remove soft cheese or other sticky foods from a grater. Rub both sides of the grater with the pulp side of a cut lemon.
10 New Uses for Newspaper
“Newspaper, by design, is a very absorbent product, because it has to absorb ink. But that also means it is equipped to absorb all sorts of moisture, including moisture and the resulting odors found in shoes and vegetable drawers," says Chris Morrissey, vice president of marketing for Sun Chemical, in Northlake, Illinois, the world’s largest printing-ink manufacturer.
Use Newspaper to:
1. Deodorize food containers. Stuff a balled-up piece of newspaper into a lunch box or thermos, seal it, and let sit overnight.
2. Ripen tomatoes. Wrap them individually and leave them out at room temperature.
3. Pack delicate items.Wrap frames and figurines with several pieces of newspaper, then crumple the remaining sections to fill extra space in the box.
4. Wipe away tough streaks on glass. Use newspaper with cleaning fluid to clean mirrors and windows.
5. Preserve antique glass. Some older frames have finishes on the glass that can be damaged by cleaning solutions. Remove smudges by rubbing with newspaper dipped in a solution of one part white vinegar and one part warm water. Let air-dry.
6. Dry shoes. Place crumpled paper in them overnight.
7. Wrap gifts. Use the comics to wrap a child’s birthday gift, or try the wedding announcements for an engagement gift.
8. Create a home for slushy snow boots. During the winter, keep a pile of newspaper near the entryway. When your little snowmen and -women come home, they can toss their winter wear onto the newspaper instead of creating puddles on the floor.
9. Prepare a garden. In the fall, mow a patch of lawn to make room for a dedicated bed. Cover it with four layers of newspaper, then a four-inch layer of shredded leaves or bark mulch. Hose it down. Come spring, the compost blanket will have smothered the grass roots, and the bed will be primed for planting.
10. Keep the refrigerator vegetable drawer dry and free of smells. Line the bottom with newspaper.
10 New Uses for Olive Oil
“Olive oil is a good lubricant because its molecules easily slide past one another, thereby helping solid objects to overcome friction,” says Wolke. “Its film also fills up microscopic rough spots in surfaces, making them look polished and shiny.”
Use Olive Oil to:
1. Shave. Olive oil can provide a closer shave when used in place of shaving cream.
2. Shine stainless steel. Many cleaning standbys, such as ammonia, can dull and even corrode chrome and stainless steel. Olive oil, however, is a safe and effective shining agent.
3. Remove eye makeup. Dab a little under the eyes and rinse off with a washcloth.
4. Prevent wax from sticking to a candle holder. Rub a thin coat on the base of the holder before inserting a candle. Dripped wax should peel away easily.
5. Care for your pet. Add 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon to your cat’s food to help prevent hair balls.
6. Moisturize cuticles. Apply a small amount of olive oil to the nail beds.
7. Treat dry skin. Rub a thin layer over the skin after a shower or a waxing.
8. Unstick a zipper. Using a Q-tip, apply a drop to lubricate the teeth. (Avoid touching the fabric.) The zipper should move up and down freely.
9. Dust wooden furniture. Apply a bit of oil to a cloth and wipe.
10. Silence squeaky doors. Lubricate hinges by applying a small dab to a cloth, then wiping the top of the hinges so that the oil runs down the sides.
10 New Uses for Dryer Sheets
"Static builds up when fabrics rub together and exchange electrons,” says Behnam Pourdeyhimi, director of the Nonwovens Cooperative Research Center at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh. “Dryer sheets contain positively charged ingredients that are released by heat and movement, such as the tumbling motion of the dryer. These ingredients bond loosely to any negatively charged fabric surface, such as a piece of clothing with static cling, neutralizing the charge and acting as a lubricant.”
Use Dryer Sheets to:
1. Freshen smelly shoes. Insert a dryer sheet into the offending pair and let sit overnight.
2. Remove static from clothing, hair, TV screens, and computer monitors. Wipe the surface with a sheet.
3. Clean pet hair from the floor or furniture. Rub a dryer sheet over the spot where Fluffy left her fur.
4. Replace a sachet. Keep a dresser drawer smelling fresh and clean by placing a dryer sheet on the bottom of it.
5. Loosen caked-on food from a pan. Place a fresh sheet in the bottom of a dirty pan, fill with lukewarm tap water, and let sit in the sink overnight. The pan will be easier to clean in the morning.
6. Tackle suitcase and gym-bag odors. Place a dryer sheet in your suitcase or gym bag so your clean clothes won’t take on the odors of the dirty ones.
7. Prevent old books from smelling musty when in storage. Stick a dryer sheet between the pages of your beloved copy of Pride and Prejudice.
8. Wipe up sawdust after working in the garage. Rub a dryer sheet over the fine wood particles.
9. Prevent thread from tangling when sewing. Run a threaded needle through a dryer sheet right before you begin your handiwork.
10. Dust venetian blinds. Close the blinds, then wipe up and down with a dryer sheet.
10 New Uses for Coffee Filters
About 100 years ago, a German housewife named Melitta Bentz punctured the bottom of a brass pot, lined it with blotting paper, and―voilà!―made the first coffee filter. Almost a century later, a perfected version of Bentz’s design is still used. “Coffee filters aren’t as likely to crumple or dissolve in water as typical paper because they have better ‘wet strength,’ thanks to longer fibers,” says Melinda McDonald, communications manager for Bunn, a beverage-equipment manufacturer. “Additionally, the fluted sides and cupcake shape allow substances to flow through the filter freely and prevent grains from flowing over the sides.”
Use Coffee Filters to:
1. Diffuse the flash on a camera.
When you’re taking a close-up, soften the brightness by placing a coffee filter over the flash.
2. Strain wine from a bottle with a broken cork. Place the filter over a pitcher or a carafe and slowly pour the wine into it.
3. Serve popcorn or other snacks. The filters act as disposable bowls, so there’s no dishwashing.
4. Make yogurt dip. Use a rubber band to secure a paper coffee filter over the mouth of a deep cup or jar. Slowly pour 8 ounces of plain yogurt onto the filter. Let drain for one hour. In a bowl, mix the thickened yogurt with 1 small minced garlic clove, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crackers.
5. Heat up leftovers in the microwave. Use a filter as the protective covering over a bowl or a plate.
6. Prevent soil from draining out of flowerpots. When repotting, place a filter at the bottom, over the drainage hole, then add the soil.
7. Prevent scuffs and scratches on fine china. Use flattened coffee filters as spacers when you stack your dishes.
8. Protect hands from Popsicle drippage. Slide the wooden stick of an ice pop through a coffee filter so your hands stay mess-free.
9. Serve pita sandwiches. A circular filter is the perfect size for carrying a sandwich on the go.
10. Clean windows and glass when you’re out of paper towels. Coffee filters leave no lint or other residue.
10 New Uses for Velcro
Velcro, whose name is a combination of the French words velour and crochet, was developed in the early 1940s, after Swiss inventor George de Mestral returned home from a walk with his dog and noticed that pesky cockleburs had stuck to his pants and his dog’s coat. Examining the burrs under a microscope, de Mestral found the basis for a unique two-sided fastener―one side with stiff hooks (like the burrs) and the other with soft loops (like the fabric of his pants).
Use Velcro Brand hook and loop (Velcro) to:
1. Hang pieces of art or photos on a wall. Stick several strips of Velcro to the wall and to the back of a lightweight frame.
2. Prevent a jacket or a blouse from gaping open. Sew small pieces of Velcro between the buttons to create a smooth surface.
3. Keep a rug in place. Stick pieces of Velcro to the floor and to the bottom of the rug.
4. Stop seat cushions from sliding off kitchen chairs. Place strips of Velcro on the chair and on the cushion.
5. Organize toys. Affix a Velcro strip to the wall and Velcro pieces to stuffed animals to make cleanup fun for toddlers.
6. Keep track of the remote. Use Velcro to attach the remote to the side of the TV when it’s not in use.
7. Remove pills from sweaters. Use the hook side of Velcro to pull off pesky balls.
8. Restrain wayward cords. Keep them in one place with a strip of Velcro.
9. Keep a pen or paper handy. Place a small piece of Velcro next to a desk calendar and on a pen so you can jot down to-dos ASAP. In the car, stick a notepad to the dashboard or the door of the glove compartment and you’ll always have paper for a brilliant thought or a last-minute errand.
10. Picnic in peace. Keep a tablecloth from flying away by applying Velcro to the underside of the cloth and to the picnic table.
10 New Uses for Vinegar
“Vinegar is a strong preservative because its acetic acid kills the microbes and bacteria that could cause food to spoil,” says Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, in Griffin. “It’s also a good deodorizer―the acid neutralizes basic compounds, such as those found in degrading meat, that can be volatile and unpleasant.”
Use White Vinegar to:
1. Pinch-hit for lemon in a savory recipe. Use 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar in place of 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.
2. Remove coffee or tea stains from the bottom of a cup. Swish 2 tablespoons of vinegar around in the cup, then wash as usual.
3. Treat oily hair. Vinegar is a good degreaser for oily hair because it helps adjust pH levels. Shampoo your hair as usual, rinse, then pour 1/4 cup over it and rinse again.
4. Wipe salt stains off boots. Dip a cloth or an old T-shirt into vinegar, then wipe away the white residue.
5. Make wool sweaters fluffier. Drop in a couple of capfuls of vinegar during the rinse cycle for an extra-soft feel.
6. Deodorize a garbage disposal. Make vinegar ice cubes and feed them down the disposal. After grinding, run cold water through the drain.
7. Clean a teakettle or a coffeemaker. Boil a mixture of water and vinegar in a teakettle, then wipe away the grime. Fill the reservoir of a coffeemaker with a mixture of vinegar and water and run it through a brewing cycle. Follow this with several cycles of water to rinse thoroughly.
8. Clean a dishwasher. Once a month, with the machine empty, run a cup of vinegar through an entire cycle to reduce soap buildup on the inner mechanisms and glassware.
9. Remove stubborn price tags or stickers. Paint them with several coats of vinegar, let the liquid soak in for five minutes, then wipe away the residue.
10. Kill weeds between cracks in paving stones and sidewalks. Fill a spray bottle with straight vinegar and spray multiple times. (Be careful not to get any on the surrounding grass, as it will kill that too.)
10 New Uses for Baking Soda
“Not only does baking soda neutralize odiferous fatty acids but it also attacks grease by turning it into―believe it or not―soap,” says the University of Pittsburgh’s Wolke. Fact: More than 100 tons of the refrigerator staple were used to clean the Statue of Liberty’s inner copper walls during its 1986 restoration.
Use Baking Soda to:
1. Exfoliate skin. Wash your face, then apply a soft paste made of three parts baking soda and one part water. Massage gently with a circular motion, avoiding the eye area; rinse clean.
2. Erase crayon, pencil, ink, and furniture scuffs from painted surfaces. Sprinkle soda on a damp sponge, rub clean, and rinse.
3. Unclog a drain. Pour 1/2 to 1 cup of baking soda down the drain, then slowly pour 1/2 to 1 cup of white vinegar after it. Let sit for five minutes (covered, if possible). Follow with a gallon of boiling water.
4. Remove tough stains from enameled cast iron and stainless steel. Scrub enameled cast iron with a soft nylon brush and a thick paste of baking soda and water. Clean stainless steel with a soft cloth and 4 tablespoons of baking soda dissolved in 1 quart of water. Wipe dry with a clean cloth.
5. Scrub pans. Sprinkle soda on crusted casseroles and roasting pans and let sit for five minutes. Lightly scrub and rinse.
6. Brush teeth. Use a paste of baking soda and water.
7. Fight class-B fires (flammable liquids, such as gasoline, oil, and grease). Baking soda can be used to smother only a small flame.
8. Deodorize. Dust baking soda under your arms to absorb body odor.
9. Clean up minor oil and grease spills on a garage floor or driveway. Sprinkle baking soda on the spot and scrub with a wet brush.
10. Settle a stomach during occasional indigestion. Stir 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda into 1/2 cup of water and drink for a safe and effective antacid.
10 New Uses for Ziploc Bags
In 1963 a unique bag with a plastic zipper seal was introduced at a packaging trade show. Now, it has become a kitchen staple.
Use Ziploc Bags to:
1. Knead dough. Place dough in a Ziploc bag so your fingers don’t get sticky. Or slip your hand into the bag and wear it like a glove.
2. Store panty hose. Nude, Tan, Nearly Naked―they look the same out of the package. Tear off the corner of the package listing the brand, size, and color, then slip it into a bag. Store each pair in its own bag to keep hose organized and prevent snags.
3. Remove chewing gum or candle wax from a tablecloth, a couch, or carpeting. Gently rub gum or wax with a Ziploc bag filled with ice cubes until the substance hardens. Shatter gum with a blunt object, then vacuum up the chips. Carefully peel off frozen wax with a plastic spatula.
4. Pipe frosting. Snip off a tiny corner to use a Ziploc as a pastry bag.
5. Store homemade soup. Fill up bags, then lay them flat in the freezer. When the bags of soup freeze flat, you’ll be able to pile them up like stacked books for easy, space-saving storage.
6. Protect precious cargo. No bubble wrap? Slip a straw into the top of a nearly closed Ziploc bag and inflate. Remove the straw and seal to make a cushion. (Heirlooms, however, should wait for that bubble wrap.)
7. Break up graham crackers or vanilla wafers to make a piecrust. Fill a bag with the cookies, then roll a rolling pin over it.
8. Prevent a handbag from turning into a snow globe. Store pressed powder and other compacts in Ziploc bags.
9. Gather herbs from the garden. Before winter frost sets in, wash, pat dry, and freeze the herbs in Ziploc bags.
10. Ice an injury. Fill a bag with ice cubes to create a cold compress.
11 New Uses for Salt
Think twice before you toss that spilled salt over your shoulder―the flavor enhancer is incredibly useful. “Salt has an affinity to water and can draw moisture out of many foods,” says Wolke. “Grains of table salt are also very hard, which is why they act as a handy abrasive.”
Use Salt to:
1. Make eggs or cream whip up faster and higher. Add a pinch of salt before beating.
2. De-ice sidewalks. In a pinch, it can be used as a substitute for rock salt.
3. Keep chicken or turkey moist. Rub salt in the cavity of the bird before cooking.
4. Prevent sautés made with eggplant or zucchini from getting watery. Sprinkle salt on these vegetables before cooking.
5. Eliminate sticky residue from an iron. Run the hot iron (no steam) over plain paper sprinkled with salt.
6. Clean drains. Pour a hot, strong solution (1/2 cup salt for every quart of water) down the drain.
7. Remove dirt from leafy vegetables, such as spinach. Wash the vegetables in a bath of salt water.
8. Prevent frost from accumulating inside car windows. Rub the glass with a solution of 2 teaspoons of salt in 1 gallon of hot water. Wipe dry.
9. Remove sangria and red-wine stains from your washables. Stretch the fabric over a bowl, cover the stain with salt, and carefully pour boiling water over it.
10. Keep shells from cracking when boiling eggs. Add a few pinches of salt to the water.
11. Chill a bottle of bubbly―fast. Place ice around its base in an ice bucket; sprinkle with a few tablespoons of salt. Layer salt and ice until they reach the neck. Fill with water. Wait 10 minutes; serve.