Some ordinary, unassuming household objects have hidden superpowers.
And most of these items cost less than a couple of bucks. There are cult followings of vinegar and duct tape. Entire tomes have been written about the virtues of baking soda. We scoured cleaning guides, magazines and the Internet, along with asking our friends, moms and grandmothers to find the best double-duty ideas. The next time you stain a shirt, smell something funky or think about tossing an old banana peel, check our 112 extraordinary uses first. Not only will you be going green, you'll be saving some green.
— By Aisha Sultan
This story originally ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Jan. 24, 2009.
1. Clean a toilet. Drop in two Alka-Seltzer tablets, wait 20 minutes, brush and flush.
2. Attract fish. Fill a tube jig with a piece of Alka-Seltzer and cast off.
3. Remove burned food from cookware. Fill your cookware with warm water, then dissolve six tablets and allow to sit for an hour or so.
4. Soothe insect bites. Dissolve two tablets in water and saturate a cloth or cotton ball with the solution, and place on the bite for 30 minutes. Don't do this if you are allergic to aspirin, which is a key ingredient in Alka-Seltzer.
5. Polish jewelry. Dissolve two Alka-Seltzer tablets into a glass of water and immerse jewelry for two minutes.
6. Sharpen your scissors by cutting through six to eight layers of aluminum foil.
7. Shine rusty chrome. With a bit of water on a wadded-up piece of aluminum foil, you can rub most rust spots off chrome car parts.
8. Keep birds out of your fruit trees. Hang twisted strips of aluminum foil all over your fruit trees using fishing line. The light reflections and the sound will keep birds away from your fruit.
9. Keep the bottom of your fireplace or charcoal grill from becoming encrusted with soot. Line the bottom of your fireplace or grill with aluminum foil before starting a fire, then dispose of the foil after the fire is out and the coals are completely cooled.
10. Eliminate electromagnetic interference if your TV and DVD player are stacked on top of each other. If the picture is fuzzy, place a sheet of aluminum foil between them.
11. Iron more effectively by putting a piece of aluminum foil under the ironing board cover. The foil will reflect the heat from the iron so both sides get ironed at once.
12. Move furniture with ease. To slide big pieces of furniture over a smooth floor, place small pieces of aluminum foil under the legs. Put the dull side of the foil down - the dull side is actually more slippery than the shiny side.
13. Clean starch build-up from your iron by running a hot iron over a piece of aluminum foil.
14. Remove perspiration stains from white fabric by dissolving two aspirin in half a cup of warm water and applying to stained fabric. Leave for a couple of hours before washing.
15. Eliminate chlorine discoloration from hair by dissolving eight tablets in a glass of water and rubbing into your hair. Leave for about 10 minutes and then rinse. Shampoo.
16. Reduce pimples by making a paste with water and crushed aspirin. Cover the pimple with this paste; rinse after a few minutes.
17. Recharge a car battery by dropping two tablets into the battery itself. The aspirin's acetylsalicylic acid will combine with the battery's sulfuric acid to produce one last charge. Drive to the nearest service station.
18. Polish leather shoes by using a de-stringed banana peel. Finish by buffing with a soft cloth or paper towel.
19. Remove warts by rubbing the inside of a little piece of a banana peel on a wart every night for several weeks.
20. Detract aphids by burying dried or cut-up banana peels a few inches deep around the base of rosebushes.
21. Nourish your skin by mashing a medium-sized banana and combining with 1/4-cup plain yogurt and 2 tablespoons honey to make a facial mask. Leave on 20 minutes.
22. Tenderize a roast by adding a peeled banana to the pan.
23. Wipe your houseplant leaves down with the inside of a banana peel to remove dirt and leave a shine.
24. Rub scrapped knees with the inside of a banana peel to promote healing.
25. Extinguish a grease or electrical fire. Scatter the powder by the handful to safely put it out.
26. Clean combs and brushes in a soda solution.
27. Wash glass or stainless steel coffee pots (but not aluminum) in a soda solution (3 tablespoons soda to 1 quart water).
28. Sprinkle soda on barbecue grills, let soak, then rinse off.
29. Sprinkle soda on greasy garage floor. Let stand, scrub and rinse.
30. For a badly burned pan with a thick layer of burned-on food: pour a thick layer of soda directly onto the bottom of the pan, then sprinkle on just enough water so as to moisten the soda. Leave the pot overnight, then scrub it clean the next day.
31. Soak your shower curtains in water and soda to clean them.
32. Sprinkle soda in tennis shoes, socks, boots and slippers to eliminate odor.
33. Repel rain from your car windshield. Put gobs of baking soda on a dampened cloth and wipe windows inside and out.
34. Soak dried beans in a mixture of soda and water to make them more digestible.
35. Freshen your carpet and upholstered furniture. Sprinkle them with baking soda. Allow them to sit undisturbed for a half hour or so. Then vacuum.
36. Eliminate water rings on your finished wood with a paste of baking soda and toothpaste. Dip a soft cloth in the paste and rub the water spots away.
37. Get rid of ants in your house by mixing equal parts of baking soda and salt together. Sprinkle the mixture wherever you see the intruders coming in.
38. Fill in some nail holes in a plastered wall with a paste of white toothpaste and baking soda.
39. Use beer instead of water in your favorite batter mix, and it will have a delicious flavor.
40. Soften hair and add body with a beer shampoo. Mix a raw egg together with half a can of beer and massage it into your hair. Rinse and style as usual. Beer also makes an excellent conditioner for hair. Massage a cup of warm beer into your hair and scalp after washing and allow it to set for half an hour or so. Rinse thoroughly.
41. Fertilize plants. Use all of those half-filled bottles and cups of beer after a party to pour on your houseplants and garden vegetables. The plants will love the nourishment that the yeast adds to the soil.
42. Get rid of slugs in your garden. Put a shallow dish of beer into your soil buried up to the lip. The slugs will be attracted to the beer and become stuck in it. Empty the dish each day and replace with new beer as they are attracted to the smell.
43. Fight mildew in hard-to-reach spots in the bathroom. Soak a few cotton balls in bleach and place them in those difficult spots. Leave them to work their magic for a few hours. Finish by rinsing with a warm-water wash.
Dawn dishwashing detergent
44. Get a better manicure by soaking fingernails in the soapy solution, rinse and apply polish. The polish will adhere better to the nail and spread smoother.
45. Pre-treat oil-based laundry stains, such as lipstick and grease.
46. Soak your oily and grimy tools to get them clean.
47. Kill pet fleas by washing pets in a soapy water bath.
48. Repel mosquitoes on your patio. Hang a sheet when outdoors during the mosquito season.
49. Freshen the air by placing an individual sheet in a drawer, hang one in the closet, locker at the health club, locker at work or under the seat of your car or truck.
50. Run a sewing needle through a sheet before sewing to prevent the thread from tangling.
51. A sheet left inside luggage or travel baggage can prevent musty odors.
52. Collect pet or human hair. Rubbing the area with a dryer sheet will attract all the loose hairs.
53. Eliminate static electricity from the television or computer screen.
54. Dissolve soap scum from shower door and tile walls. Clean the surfaces with a sheet.
55. Repel bees and bugs by tucking some in your picnic basket or under lawn furniture. You can also rub a sheet directly on your bare skin.
56. Combat static on your clothes, stockings and hair by patting with a sheet.
57. De-stink your pets: scrub incoming dogs or cats (especially wet ones) with a dryer sheet before they enter the home.
58. Soak cookware with burnt or baked-on food in warm water, with a dryer sheet or two. Makes clean-up easier than you'd expect. Also works on cook tops and dingy cabinet doors.
59. Exfoliate skin by massaging handfuls of epsom salt over wet skin, starting with your feet and continuing up toward the face. Have a bath to rinse.
60. Remove excess oil from hair by adding 9 tablespoons of epsom salt to 1/2 cup of oily hair shampoo. Apply one tablespoon of the liquid to your hair when it is dry; rinse with cold water. Next, pour lemon juice or organic apple cider vinegar through the hair, leave on for 5-10 minutes, and then rinse.
61. Remove splinter by soaking in epsom salt.
62. Tie around knees to fashion knee pads while pulling weeds or changing a tire.
63. Preserve paint brushes. To keep brushes and rollers from drying out, place them in bags and tie them or wrap them with rubber bands to keep air out. The tools will stay moist and protected for a day or so.
64. Bulk up curtain valances by stuffing them in the valances for a resilient pouf. Can also be used to stuff crafts or pillows.
65. Treat chapped hands by rubbing with a thick layer of petroleum jelly and placing them in a plastic bag for 15 minutes to half an hour.
66. Soak in a milk and honey bath. Add about 1/3 cup of honey to 2 1/4 cups of milk. Mix thoroughly. You can even add a few drops of essential oil to give your honey milk bath additional scent.
67. Treat minor skin abrasions and wounds with honey's antibacterial and antifungal properties. Apply a small amount twice daily to a wound or burn to speed up the healing process.
68. Help a hangover by spooning a few tablespoons of honey on toast for breakfast. The fructose speeds up the metabolism of alcohol.
Ice cube trays
69. Organize jewelry, small nuts and bolts and buttons in easy-to-stack trays.
70. Get rid of chlorine green hair with a ketchup shampoo. Massage ketchup generously into your hair and leave it for 15 minutes, then wash it out, using baby shampoo.
71. 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.
72. Whiten fingernails. Rub a wedge on the surface of your nails.
73. Remove soft cheese or other sticky foods from a grater. Rub both sides of the grater with the pulp side of a cut lemon.
74. Create blond highlights by adding 1/4 cup lemon juice to 3/4 cup water and rinse your hair with the mixture. Then sit in the sun until your hair dries. Lemon juice is a natural bleach.
75. Condition your hair by massaging it into your hair and scalp. Cover your head with a shower cap, wait several minutes, and shampoo.
76. Relieve sunburn pain by slathering mayonnaise liberally over the affected area.
77. Clean piano keys. If the keys to your piano are starting to yellow, tickle the ivories with a little mayonnaise applied with a soft cloth. Wait a few minutes, wipe with a damp cloth and buff.
78. Remove bumper stickers by rubbing some mayonnaise over the entire sticker. Let it sit for several minutes and wipe it off. It will also remove tar and pine sap.
79. Stop ice cream drips by placing a large marshmallow in the bottom of the cone before adding the ice cream.
80. Keep wax off birthday cakes by pushing each candle into a marshmallow and setting the marshmallow atop the frosting. The wax will melt onto the marshmallow, which you can discard. The marshmallows will add a festive look to the cake.
81. Keep brown sugar soft by adding a few marshmallows to the bag before closing it.
82. Use milk to shave with if you have nothing else to use as a barrier.
83. Clean patent leather shoes to a gleaming shine by rubbing them with a little milk on a soft cloth. Leave to dry and then buff them.
84. Remove ink stains on clothing by soaking the area in milk. This can take anything from half an hour to overnight to remove the stain completely.
85. Repair fine cracks in china plates and cups can by boiling them in milk. The milk reacts with the kaolin in china and closes the crack. Place the plate in a pan, cover it with milk (fresh or reconstituted powdered milk) and bring to a boil. As soon as it starts to boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes.
Mini photo album
86. Use to hold information for a DIY project: fabric swatches, paint color chips, measurements.
87. Make cup measurements visible by using a brightly colored polish to trace over basic measurement levels.
88. Mark levels inside a bucket with a color that stands out.
89. Seal an envelope by brushing a little polish on the underside of the flap.
90. Tighten loose screws by brushing a little nail polish on the screw threads. Nail polish will also keep nuts on machine screws or bolts from coming loose. If you need to take the nuts off, a twist with a wrench will break the seal.
91. Protect your belt buckle's shine by covering new or just-shined belt buckles with a coat of clear polish.
92. Stop a windshield crack from spreading by brushing both sides of the glass with polish to fill it.
93. Store sweaters and blankets in a few sheets to keep moths away.
94. Clean and polish windows without leaving streaks.
95. Make an impromptu ironing board by filling a pillowcase with a short stack of newspapers. Place on floor or countertop for ironing.
96. Put traction under your car wheels if you are ever stuck on a patch of ice or slush by placing a dozen sheets of newspaper under each rear wheel to gain traction.
97. Treat itchy poison ivy or chicken pox by soaking in an oatmeal bath. Grind 1 cup of oatmeal into a thin powder, pour into cheesecloth or into a clean old stocking and tie into a knot. Suspend the bag under the faucet as it fills with warm water.
98. Polish wood furniture with a teaspoon of oil and a soft rag.
99. Lubricate measuring cups and spoons for easy cleanup of sticky ingredients such as honey, grain mustards and syrups.
100. Control hair frizz by combing a bit of olive oil through dry hair to tame the frizz and flyaways on humid days or in the winter.
101. Free a stuck zipper. Use a cotton swab to apply olive oil to the teeth of a zipper, then gently ease the tab down.
102. Remove paint from your skin.
103. Fix a squeaky door by using a rag or cotton swab to apply olive oil to the top of a problematic hinge.
104. Clean car battery terminals. The acidic properties will eliminate corrosion. Pour some soda over the battery terminals and let it set. Remove the sticky residue with a wet sponge.
105. Loosen rusted-on nuts and bolts. Soak a rag in the soda and wrap it around the bolt for several minutes.
106. Make cut flowers last longer by pouring about ¼ cup into the water in a vase full of cut flowers. The sugar in the soda will make the blossoms last longer.
107. Clear out a slow drain by pouring a 2-liter bottle of cola down the drain to help remove the clog.
Tissue box (empty)
108. Store empty plastic grocery bags.
109. 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.
110. Make wool sweaters fluffier. Drop in a couple of capfuls of vinegar during the rinse cycle for an extra-soft feel.
111. Kill weeds between cracks in paving stones and sidewalks. Fill a spray bottle with straight vinegar and spray multiple times.
Wine bottle (empty)
112. Put in boots to prevent crease line.
SOURCES FOR TIPS: REAL SIMPLE, GOOD HOUSEKEEPING, READER'S DIGEST, WOMAN'S DAY AND RACHEL RAY