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Clean Your Home with Food (and Spirits) That You Already Have on Hand

6/10/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: cleaning, tea, mayonnaise, mayo, salt, ketchup, condiments, vodka, corn starch

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailI had such a great time talking with attendees at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington, this past weekend about how to make green cleaners. As always, I learned a new trick or two, and I promised everyone I’d recap our conversation here for easy access. Today let’s talk about some of the unexpected food items—most of which you already have in your kitchen cupboards—that can be used to clean your home.

tea for cleaning

Use tea to remove old furniture polish and prepare wooden furniture for polishing. Simply soak a rag in room-temperature tea, then run it over the wood. The tea’s tannic acid makes your wood shine while removing all the dirt. Once that’s done, you can use mayonnaise to make the piece shine. Just rub the mayo into the wood, then follow with a damp rag and a few drops of vinegar to remove any residue. Olive oil is also a great natural furniture


Once that’s done, you can use mayonnaise to make the piece shine. Just rub the mayo into the wood, then follow with a damp rag and a few drops of vinegar to remove any residue. Olive oil is also a great natural furniture polish. 


While we’re at it with the condiments, ketchup is a surprising copper cleaner. Massage it directly onto the copper to remove tarnish and add a pinch of salt for stubborn stains.


Salt is a natural scouring agent that has myriad cleaning uses. Sprinkle it on the mess when a pie or casserole bubbles over in the oven. It will form a crust that makes the baked-on mess much easier to clean. According to “46 Smart Uses for Salt” by, salt can be used to clean sink drains (pour salt mixed with hot water down the kitchen sink regularly), remove water rings (gently rub a thin paste of salt and vegetable oil on the white marks caused by beverage glasses and hot dishes on wooden tables), clean cast iron skillets (all you need is a good sprinkling of salt and paper towels), remove stubborn coffee and tea stains (mix salt with a dab of dish soap to make a soft scrub), clean and deodorize refrigerators (use a mixture of salt and soda water) and remove rust (mix salt and cream of tartar with just enough water to make a paste).

Salt can also be your savior when wine is spilled on your cotton or linen tablecloth; blot up as much as possible and immediately cover the wine with a pile of salt, which will help pull the remaining wine away from the fiber. After dinner, soak the tablecloth in cold water for 30 minutes before laundering.


And speaking of tipsy guests, vodka is another great all-purpose cleaner. It’s great for shining chrome, glass and porcelain fixtures and can’t be beat for getting rid of mold on caulking. Fill a spray bottle with vodka, spritz it onto the mold, let sit for 15 minutes, then scrub with an old toothbrush.

Because it kills odor-causing bacteria but doesn’t leave a scent when it dries, vodka is also great for sprucing up musty-smelling upholstery (and clothing). Spritz lightly and open the windows to allow for good ventilation while the upholstery dries. (Always test fabrics before spraying them with anything.) Vodka’s also a wonderful Windex substitute that has the added benefit of repelling insects; just mix with water and put it into a spray bottle.

corn starch 

To clean really dirty windows—without streaks—get out the corn starch. Mix ¼ cup of corn starch with 1 quart warm water to clean windows; this is also great for sprinkling on wet carpet stains. Cornstarch can be sprinkled lightly on mildewed book pages as well. Let sit for a few hours so the cornstarch can do its work before you wipe the book and shake it clean.

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