Add a slosh of white vinegar–about a tablespoon–to the sinkful of hot soapy water when washing dishes. I started doing this last spring, when we’d all been sick, because vinegar kills germs. I found out that it also cuts grease and makes the dishes really squeaky clean! (Vinegar has many other uses, too!)
Here’s some interesting info about kitchen cleanliness. Wiping up too much actually can make your kitchen dirtier! Also, wooden cutting boards are safer than plastic!
Make a shower soap sack: Take a nylon mesh bag (packaging from fruit, garlic, etc.) or cut the cord that holds together one of those mesh scrubby-puffs, unravel the puff into a long tube, cut to desired length, and tie a knot in the end. (Save remaining mesh to make a new bag when the first one wears out.) Fill with bars of soap that are too small for regular use, or just use a new bar. Tie top of bag to the neck of your shower or any hook or towel bar you may have in the shower. Rub the bag with wet hands, and the soap comes out, making a nice lather! Bars can be used down to the last molecule, and there’s no gooey mess under the soap. When we stay in hotels, we bring home the leftover soap and put it in our shower soap sack.
When boiling foods like pasta or rice, you can steam vegetables at the same time by putting them in a metal strainer set in the top of the pot. The heat from just one stove burner cooks both foods. Oddly, this never occurred to me until we bought a pot that came with a steamer basket! You do have to keep the lid on the pot to hold the steam in, which makes the boiling food cook faster than it would without the lid, so keep that in mind when planning how long each food will cook.
Need to protect a mattress from moisture? Spread a thick poly-fleece blanket over it, and use a tight-fitting mattress cover or fitted sheet to hold it in place. This is not 100% waterproof, but liquids will bead up on top of it for a good long time so you can sop them up with a towel before they soak through. (If you’re not sure your fleece is thick enough, spread it over something that can get wet, pour a glass of water on it, and come back an hour later to see what’s happened.) It is much more comfortable than a vinyl or rubber cover, has no harmful fumes, won’t crack with age, and adds cushiness to the bed.
A variation on the above tip, for times when messes on the mattress are extremely likely (spitting-up baby, bedwetting, recurrent nosebleeds) and you don’t want wet sheets: Get a poly-fleece blanket that is wider than the bed, spread it on top of the fitted sheet in the area of concern, and tuck it under the mattress at the sides. When a puddle occurs, blot up the worst of it with a towel, then pick up the fleece and put it on the laundry pile. Now you can lie down again on a dry sheet with minimal disruption!
Yucky toothbrush? Put it in a cup and pour in hydrogen peroxide until the bristles are covered. Let stand at least half an hour. Rinse thoroughly with hot water. (Peroxide on your toothbrush won’t harm you–it’s safe to use as mouthwash–but you want to rinse off all the gunk bubbled loose by the peroxide.) This is ideal when you’ve been sick and want to avoid reinfecting yourself, or you’ve dropped your toothbrush someplace unsanitary, or humid weather has prevented your toothbrush from drying completely and it’s gotten funky . . . but it’s not worn out yet, so you want to delay replacing it.
Peroxide also does a great job of removing gunk that’s under the edges of things, such as around the base of a faucet or in the grooves of a drain-plug. Pour it on, let stand until it stops bubbling (10-30 minutes), and wipe off the gunk!
Do you have a lot of return-address labels sent by organizations asking for donations–more labels than you need for your mail? Use them instead of clear tape, in places where they won’t show or you don’t care what they look like! For instance, you can make them into loops and put them on the back of a sign or drawing you’re hanging on the wall. (Be careful about damaging paint, wallpaper, or varnish, just as you would if using tape.) They’re also good for labeling things like books, CDs, or camera that you might misplace away from home. Around the house, you can use them to mark things as yours–for example, when I’ve packed some leftovers into a container that I plan to take for my lunch at work, I stick my label on it so Daniel knows that I’ll be annoyed if he eats it.
Larger unwanted labels (like bumper stickers) also are useful. Remove lint from your clothing by whisking the sticker over its surface. Use the sticker to seal a cardboard box of things you’re putting into storage.
Save paper that is blank on one side and use it for all your informal writing needs. Letter-size sheets are great for taking notes or for children’s drawings. Cut them in half the long way and then in thirds the short way to make memo paper for phone messages and shopping lists. Store these on a small clipboard if you have one, or stack them in a small basket, or hold them together with a binder clip to make a sort of notepad.
Empty egg cartons are ideal for filling gaps in boxes you’re going to mail. For smaller gaps, shred or crumple paper from your recycling bin. (I once mailed a package to a relative who said in her thank-you note: “I had such fun uncrumpling all the sheets of paper to see what they were!”)
Instead of hazardous chemical air fresheners, use essential oils to make your home smell nice! In winter, put a drop on the heat-vent grating or radiator; some of the fragrance will dissipate right away and the rest when the heat comes on. In summer, put a few drops of oil on a small piece of paper and stick it to the back of a fan, which will blow the fragrance around the room. Scent drawers by putting oil on some toilet paper or a cotton ball and rubbing it on the underside of the drawer above. (Don’t put oil directly on or next to your clothes because some oils make stains.) Scent your closet the same way, rubbing the underside of a shelf, inside of a doorjamb, etc. Then put the paper/cotton in a wastebasket to scent the surrounding area.
Finally, here’s an unusual tip from a friend who was annoyed at the teenagers in his neighborhood smoking blunts (cigars in which they’ve replaced the tobacco with marijuana): Not only is that a stupidly wasteful way to smoke, but they were leaving the unwanted tobacco in heaps on the sidewalk! Our friend learned that he could scoop up that tobacco and soak it in water to make insecticide for his garden. So, if you too are troubled by unsightly blunt-smokers, at least you can get free pest control from them! I guess this tip also would be useful if you are a blunt-smoker yourself, or if you have recently quit smoking and need a use for the leftover tobacco.
Here are some great tips in the New York Times about using the correct amount of detergent, loading a dishwasher correctly, and making sure your oven is ready for Thanksgiving.