Household hacks

Serina standing in the kitchen

Making your own household cleaning products, and finding innovative hacks to make life easier – and more sustainable – at home will save you hundreds of dollars a year.

Have you ever wondered where the name ‘soap operas‘ came from? That’s because daytime television shows were designed to draw in women so that they would then see the ads for cleaning products and buy them.  

There is big money in cleaning products. You just need to go into a supermarket and see the number of aisles dedicated to ‘miracle’ and ‘easy’ products to see that there must be a market.  Cleaning products focus on a woman’s fear of being dirty, lazy, or not being able to care for her family.  And yes, the marketing for this is usually aimed at women.

I’m putting together a list of fabulous ways that you can live the best life in your home. (Note: this list is under construction – check back for more tips soon!)

Apple cider vinegar

Rather than throwing out apple cores and apple peels, use them to make apple cider vinegar. Place in a clean glass jar, cover with water and add 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar. If you happen to have some apple cider vinegar with ‘mother’, or some kombucha SCOBY, add a little of that as well (it will make the process faster and more reliable). Cover with fabric and let it sit for a few weeks. It will form a cloudy top, which is normal and shows the fermentation is happening. When sufficiently acidic, decant and put the apple cider vinegar into jars.

(Note: this method is super simple but for some reason, my vinegar making efforts are hit or miss. I find it is easier to make in Autumn when the weather is still warm. I suspect the vinegar need to be in a sufficiently warm place for the fermentation to work.)

Aluminium – cleaning

Aluminium cooking saucepans and cakepans can often get tarnished and soiled. It is rare to find new ones sold in the shops, especially as aluminium has been linked to dementia. Cooking with stainless steel pans (if you can afford it) is much nicer! I’ve got some old bakeware from my Nana, including cream horn moulds, and this is what I do to clean them.

Add the peels of two to three granny smith apples to half a saucepan of water and boil. Add your aluminium cake pans/moulds, and simmer for half an hour. Turn the heat off and allow to sit in the water for an hour or so if you have time. Remove and polish. The acidity from the apple peels will help remove tarnish.

Bananas – ripe

Never throw out an overripe banana. Simply place the whole banana – skin and all – in the freezer. Frozen bananas are great to use in smoothies, for making banana ice-cream or in muffins or banana bread. To use, take out the frozen banana, cut into pieces, cut away the skins and either use frozen (in smoothies or ice-cream), or microwave and mash.

Banana skins

Bananas are high in potassium. The skins are organic and decompose well in soil. Tomato plants thrive when fed with banana skins – plant them in soil near tomato plants to let them decompose.

Bites and stings

If you experience swelling from a bite or a sting that causes your skin to react, quickly dab on some vinegar. Any vinegar will do. Monitor carefully for further reaction. If you believe it to be serious, visit the Poisons Information Centre for details. If in doubt, call 000.

Bolognaise sauce spilt on white clothing

If, during a meal, you end up spilling bolognaise sauce or another form of ragu on your favourite white dress, don’t despair. It’s Murphy’s Law that you are going to get your favourite white outfit stained -especially if you are on a date or out in polite company. The best thing to do is to quickly excuse yourself and make it to the kitchen. Using a cloth, add a few dots of washing detergent, lather up and use it to remove the stain. Soap or hand-wasing liquid also works, but dishwashing detergent is the best.

Ultra violet light is also effective, especially if most of the stain is out but there is still a faint shadow. Washing and hanging outside on a sunny day where the clothing will get lots of exposure to light will work wonders.

Cast iron frypans and saucepans

Where possible, avoid using dishwashing detergents on cast iron cooking vessels as you do not want to lose the lovely oiliness it has after being seasoned. After using it for cooking – especially if I’ve been frying something – I tip out any remaining oil, add around 1/2 teaspoon of salt and gentle rub with a cloth or paper towel. The salt will remove most of the excess oil and leave the pan clean and shiny. Of course, if you’ve been making something like a Vindaloo, you might need to wash it with soap and water. Ensure that you dry it thoroughly to prevent it rusting.

Chewing gum

While doing the laundry, I discovered something that I’ve always dreaded – my youngest son had stuffed chewing gum into the pocket of his school shorts and it had stuck solid. “It wasn’t me, mum!” he said. Right. Chewing gum is sticky and adheres easily to surfaces, which makes it difficult (but not impossible) to remove. It’s much easier when it is cold. I put his shorts in the freezer for an hour, and then I pulled most of it out in one lump. If the chewing gum is on an object that you can’t easily pop in the freezer (e.g. they dropped it onto your favourite lounge suite), use ice-cubes to cool the temperature and pull it off gradually. It will require patience – not just with the chewing gum but with the person who put it there.

Chewing gum in hair

Coat the chewing gum liberally with coconut oil, and allow the chewing gum to slide off.

Chopping boards

Clean your wooden chopping boards with coconut oil rather than harsh detergents.

Cigarette odour

Who smokes indoors these days? Apparently some people still do, as we found after an AirBnB guest departed. There is nothing worse than cigarette smoke. The sticky residue sticks to walls and gets into the carpet and curtains. Basically, it lingers and often it’s not as simple as just opening the doors and windows (although that’s an essential first step).

Sprinkle bicarbonate of soda onto the carpet and allow it to sit for at least half an hour. This will help to absorb the odour. Vacuum up the bicarb. Repeat if necessary. If the odour is especially bad, you may need to replace the carpet.

Wipe down walls with a solution of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water. I like to use orange vinegar, as it helps to impart a new, citrusy fragrance – and it helps cut through cigarette grease on walls.

Egg substitute

When baking, you can use one tablespoon of soy flour (plus one extra tablespoon of water) to substitute an egg.

A tablespoon of vinegar instead of an egg also works well in some recipes, especially in cake recipes.

The leftover water from cooking chickpeas (aquafaba) can also be used as an egg replacement. You can even make meringues by beating the aquafaba.

Floor cleaner

My friend Trish shared this recipe with me. I didn’t quite believe her when she said it works (could it really be that cheap and simple?) but it really does:

2 tablespoons methylated spirits
6-7 cups boiling water

Combine and use it to clean floors. It is especially brilliant on tiles.

How to get your family to help with chores

Withhold food until they do.

Just kidding. (Or maybe not.)

It’s really important that families grow up learning that they are a part of a team, and that everyone needs to pull together. Mum is not a slave.

In our household, my sons get pocket money for helping. A key chore is ‘collaboration’, which basically means unpacking the dishwasher together. Sometimes kids won’t do chores because they don’t know how, so framing it as ‘collaboration’ that you do together can help. Getting them used to putting their clothes in a laundry basket is also a help.

Every week (well, we do forget sometimes) we have ‘half an hour of power’. This involves cleaning the house together as a family. One child goes with their stepdad (Neil), and another with me. Neil is Mr Popularity; both my kids like cleaning the toilet (!) and vacuuming with him over Marie Kondo clothes folding with me. To be honest, sometimes this family cleaning ritual feels painful. Often we have to redo things, e.g. they miss key bits when they vacuum. But we persevere. It’s more about teaching my kids how to clean the house so they have basic life skills. I’m also trying to demonstrate that cleaning is not exclusively ‘women’s work’. Having an idea of the amount of work involved in cleaning is also important as then they understand why they shouldn’t be little grots. At least, that’s the theory.

Laundry powder

This is one of my most popular recipes! Try it and see why. It is super easy to make, especially if you have a quality food processor, or even better, a thermocooker. And the ingredients are eco-friendly as well.

1 bar pure soap (grated)
1 cup washing soda (lectric soda)
2 cups bicarbonate of soda
up to 20 drops of eucalyptus oil, or if your budget can extend to it, lavender oil
See my blog for details on how to make it

Leather

Coconut oil is great for conditioning and cleaning leather products. Simply wipe over with a soft cloth to clean and rejuvenate.

Lipgloss

Convert old lipstick into fashionable and conditioning lipgloss with this recipe

1/2 teaspoon lipstick
1/2 teaspoon petroleum jelly (e.g. Vaseline)
1 small container plastic or glass container

Scrape out all remaining lipstick and place in a small container. Top with the petroleum jelly. Microwave at 30 second intervals until the petroleum jelly has melted. Stir to combine and add more or less lipstick as desired. Allow to cool.

Lipstick

There is nothing worse than realising you’ve used your favourite lipstick so much that it is nearly used up. Or rather, there is no longer sufficient bulge for you to use your lipstick to paint your lips. Before you throw it out, consider that between 1/4 and 1/3 of the lipstick is still there in the tube.

One of the most frugal investments you can make is a small lipstick brush. Keep your favourite almost-used up lipsticks at home and apply with the lipstick brush. It’s a better, more professional looking way to apply in any case. You can also use a cotton wool tip. This works in a similar way, it just doesn’t look quite as nice in the bathroom – and it doesn’t last as long. The advantage, though, of a cotton wool tip is that you probably have one at home anyway.

An alternative is to make your own lipgloss. This works especially well with matt lipsticks or lipsticks that are old and have dried out. See instructions above.

Lipstick stains

A friend gave me a beautiful linen Jigsaw jacket with a lovely almost Mary Poppins style classic cut. While it was too small for me (darn!), it was perfect for the Zonta Preloved Fashion Sale. The only problem was that it had a pink mark on it, which I judged was lipstick.

I dipped metholyated spirits onto a soft cloth and rubbed it (gently) onto the lipstick. After a few minutes of rubbing, it completed disappeared. I hand washed it in hot, soapy water, dried it on a hanger and then was as good as new! Did I mention what a shame it was that is wasn’t my size?

Makeup remover

Coconut oil makes an effective, zero chemical, non-toxic makeup remover.

Milk

Before placing your milk carton in the recycle bin, fill it with water, shape it out and then use it to water plants.  This will act as a fertilizer.  Note: be careful not to use too much milk.  Source

Massage oil

Coconut oil makes a lovely massage oil. It is non-toxic, absorbs easily and smells nice. It is especially good for young children as there is no problem if they decide to eat/lick the oil.

Miracle spray

Ever found you needed a heavy-duty cleaner to help you wipe down an oily surface or do some heavy cleaning? This recipe, found on the back of the lectric soda packet, is super cheap to make, is environmentally friendly and extremely effective. We use it to clean our AirBnB – it works great in the shower. You will never need to use a commercial cleaner again.

1.5 litre water (one cup of which is boiling)
3 dessertspoons lectric soda
300ml white vinegar
60ml dishwashing liquid
1 tablespoon eucalyptus oil

Dissolve the lectric soda with boiling water. Combine all the remaining ingredients in a 2 litre bottle (e.g. a leftover vinegar bottle), and shake until combined. Pour into a spray bottle and use.

Miracle orange spray

Make as for miracle spray above, but omit eucalyptus oil and instead use orange vinegar. Orange oil is also very effective in cutting through grease, and this method is even cheaper than using eucalyptus oil. I especially like to use this spray around the kitchen.

Mirrors

I’m fanatical about clean mirrors. When we have our weekly ‘half an hour of power’ with the kids, everyone has their favourite chores. Mine is mirrors.

The best cleaner for mirrors is newspaper. Yep, plain old newspaper. You might think that since you get black ink all over your hands when you touch newspapers that it would leave streaks on mirrors. Not so. It is actually amazingly effective at getting off grubby marks and leaving mirrors sparkling clean. Simply scrunch up and wipe over. You can wet some of the newspaper for stubborn stains. For especially difficult ones, add a bit of detergent. But mostly plain newspaper works.

If you don’t have newspaper (and many houses are going paperless these days), methylated spirits on a soft cloth also works really well. In fact, I think it actually works slightly better than newspaper but I don’t really want to admit that as philosophically I love the reusing element of newspapers as a cleaner.

Pewter

To clean pewter, especially ornate designs, cover in tomato sauce (ketchup) and allow to sit in a glass or ceramic dish overnight. Rinse off with water and then polish with a soft cloth.

Red wine

I’m sure it’s happened to you: you are having a fun night at home, when suddenly you spill red wine on the carpet. Game over!

The good news is that its not the end of the world and there is no need to panic. You do, however, need to act quickly and mop up as much of the red wine as you can with a cloth or paper towels. (In my household, it’s whatever you can get quickly, which usually means the tea towel.) Once you have soaked up whatever you can with a cloth or paper towel, dab with water. Some people find soda water helps. Dry this off as much as you can with your cloth, then rub in salt. Use as much salt as you can and really rub it into the carpet. Now, go back to enjoying the last of your wine and leave the stain. When it is dry (usually overnight) vacuum it and you will find (somewhat to your relief) that most of it will have vanished.

Note: if you happen to have white carpet, my only advice is – what were you thinking? Darker carpet is ideal for homes that you actually want to live in. Save pure white for a parlour or office meeting room that you only use occasionally.

Shower screens

Shampoo and toothpaste make a great cleaner for shower screens. Pour around half a teaspoon of shampoo onto a soft cloth (I like to use pieces of polar fleece from my kid’s old jackets – #wastenotwantnot), add around half a centimetre worth of toothpaste, and then clean the shower screen using circular motions. I wash off with water, and if I’m feeling energetic I also clean it with a squeegee. This method works well if you do it immediately before you have a shower.

And it is much, mucher easier to clean shower screens if they are not covered with decades old soap scum. Clean regularly to avoid soap scum building up in the first place. We purchased a cheap, plastic squeegee that we affix to the shower wall with a suction cap. We often use it to wipe down the shower screens after a shower. In theory we do this every time, but I would be lying if I said that I remember all the time.

Silver and silver plated jewellery, cutlery etc

Many people no longer wear tarnished silver or silver plated jewellery, yet it can be returned to its original silver shine easily and cheaply. Cover a ceramic or glass bowl with aluminium foil (I like to place the shiny side up). Sprinkle on around half a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda. Place the tarnished jewellery or other items on top. Pour over enough boiling water to cover (e.g. half a cup to one cup of water). You will notice the chemical reaction that will take place, and you may be able to see the dark tarnish lift off. Remove pieces from the water after a few minutes, and polish gently with a soft cloth. For a brighter finish, polish further with a silver cloth.

Socks

Why is that pairs of socks always get separated? Especially socks that belong to children?

I hang a bag near my washing machine, and whenever I find an orphan sock I put it in the bag. When (or if) I find the matching sock, I know that its twin is in the bag. I go through the bag every few weeks or so and match up pairs. I’m always surprised at how many I find!

Reduce the amount of socks you lose in the first place by encouraging kids to put all clothes (and socks) into the laundry basket. One method I use to encourage my kids to pick up socks is to fine them $1 for every sock found. You only have to do this once or twice for them to change their habits!

Before throwing out solo socks – or socks that need repairing – use them for cleaning. They are perfect for dusting and cleaning – just put your hand in them and clean away. Little kids socks are perfect for little people to help with dusting as well.

Stains on clothing

My eldest son tends to wipe his mouth with his t-shirt (yes, gross I know). We are working on table manners, but in the meantime, I regularly remove stains from white shirts and other clothing when I do the washing. One of the best pre-wash stain removers for greasy things is dishwashing liquid. I pour a little bit on, rub it in, then wash as normal.

Stainless steel

Save the water from boiling or steaming the potatoes and use it to clean stainless steel appliances. Dip a soft cloth into a little of the warm or cold water, and rub over your appliances. Polish with a dry, soft cloth.

Sticky labels on glass jars

There are few things in life more annoying than trying to remove sticky glue from labels on glass jars. Why would you want to remove labels? Well, so that you can use glass jars for other purposes such as storage, making jams, chutney and pickles, or for taking muesli and yoghurt to work with you of a morning!

There are a few methods I have found that work. I think it depends largely on which glue is used:

  • Wash jars in a dishwasher, and strip off the label once the cycle has finished and the jars are still warm;
  • Spread over a think film of coconut oil, and scrape off glue (sounds strange, but is can be really effective). Wash jar in hot soapy water or a dishwasher to remove the coconut oil;
  • Soak in hot soapy water with a dash of eucalyptus oil – the oil will help the sticky residue dissolve;
  • Rub with eucalyptus oil and then scrub with steel wool.

Teabags

Tea made from tea leaves is nicer than teabags, reduces wastage and is also healthier. Did you know that tea made from teabags contains microplastics?

If you do use teabags, consider using ones made for pots of tea as that reduces the amount of waste needed for ‘dangling’ a tea bag. And there are some handy uses for leftover tea bags:

  • If you have wooden floors, add the tea bags to the water you use to watch them. The tannins in teabags will help keep them dark.
  • Cold tea bags make a lovely compress for tired or puffy eyes. Cold camomile tea bags can be used to treat mild conjunctivitis. (Note: conjunctivitis is contagious and see a pharmacist, or even better, your GP, for serious cases.)
  • Teabags can make good firelighters. Allow the dry, dip in mentholated spirts and then use to start a fire.

Tea and coffee stains on teacups and mugs

Make a paste from one tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda and water, and use it to wipe the stains. The stains will come away easily.

Salt and a little bit of water will also work, but it is not as effective as bicarbonate of soda and water.

Tomatoes

Store tomatoes on the benchtop rather than the fridge. They are more likely to smell and taste like a tomato when left at room temperature.

Ripen green or underripe tomatoes by storing them near bananas. The gas exuded from bananas will help the tomatoes ripen. You can hasten this process by storing tomatoes and bananas together in a paper bag.

Tomato sauce

I try not to waste anything. Getting that last little bit out of tomato sauce (ketchup) bottles can be difficult. If you plan to use it as tomato sauce, add a spoonful of white vinegar, add the lid back on and shake. The tomato sauce will then pour out easier.

Alternatively, add some warm water, shake, and then add to a bolognaise or other tomato based sauce. Tomato sauce is also widely used in Asian cooking. I especially like it in fried rice!

Toothpaste

Toothpaste makes a cleansing facial cleaner, especially in hot weather.

Toothpaste is good for getting marks off walls, especially scuff marks. It is slightly abrasive, yet not abrasive enough to affect paintwork. Place a small amount of toothpaste onto a damp piece of soft fabric and scrub.

If you have run out of toothpaste, never fear. An effective DIY toothpaste is made from a combination of coconut oil and bicarbonate of soda. In fact, I use this from time to time as I find it is more effective than toothpaste in removing tea stains from my teeth. An added advantage is it contains no chemical. To use, dip your toothpaste into coconut oil, then dip into bicarb. Brush as you would with toothpaste.

Upholstery

We bought an antique (read: second hand from the Kippax Monster Garage Sale) table and chair set several years ago. The chair covers were torn. We recovered them ourselves with some off cut material we purchased on sale at Dimmeys. The key tool here was a stapler gun.

Flash forward a few years, and the chair covers are well loved (read: my kids regularly touch them with Vegemite or Nutella smeared hands). This simple recipe is the best I’ve found so far for removing stains from the fabric.

1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon borax
A few drops eucalyptus oil
1 few drops dishwashing liquid

Combine all ingredients in a jar, shake, allow to cool and then apply with a soft cloth.