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Pantry Magic: Affordable and Simple Household Solutions for Everyday Problems

Updated on June 27, 2014
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JoyLevine is passionate for science, math, nature, & all things wild/outdoors. It influences her writing, artistry, photography & video.

Now What Do I Do?

We've all been there. You know the scenario. You're cooking dinner, the phone rings, and then you leave for a second. You try to hurry to get off the phone. On your way back to the kitchen, your two children are fussing over some toy and you have to break it up. Meanwhile, the dog is barking to go out, so you let him out the back door. Just then, you hear your something on the stove and you think, "Oh no!" You realize a few seconds turned into a few minutes too long as you smell dinner ... charred and well done!

Dinner is burned and the pot is ruined! Hmmm... or is it?

We have all had these scenarios before and many of us have tried everything in the book, buying countless chemicals to clean our stoves, our windows, our burned pots. Usually, we have very limited results, even with the best chemicals.

And yet, many of us have items in our pantries and cabinets that we use every day that could solve these problems much better than the expensive chemicals we buy, and with much less impact not only on our wallets, but also the environment! We just need to know what they are.

In this article, I am going to outline a few of the ingenious products that almost every household has that can solve common, everyday problems, simply and inexpensively.

So, let's get started!

Burned Pots: No Longer Such A Fiery Issue

Since we started out by mentioning this issue, we'll discuss this one first. How do you clean a really nasty burned pot? There are actually a few ways to attempt to clean a burned pot.

One simple, and rather unusual way, is to use a dryer sheet. Yes, you heard right. The same kind of sheet you put in your dryer to soften your clothes has special chemicals on it that will loosen the greasy burned on food and carbon in a burned pot.

Here is what you do. Take a dryer sheet, lay it in the bottom of the pot and then run hot water mixed with a little dish soap (basically hot sudsy water) and fill the pot. Leave it overnight. In the morning, all you should have to do is simply wash the pot as normal, with sudsy hot water again.

Now, you might be concerned with using a dryer sheet, considering the unknown chemicals that are used in it. This may be a legitimate concern, especially for someone concerned with your family's health and the environment. I know I was. However, the good news is that there are many "green", biodegradable and environmentally friendly dryer sheets on the market now, that you no longer have to be concerned with harsh chemicals. Yes, these environmentally friendly dryer sheets work just as good. Of course, just to be safe, just wash the pot in the morning thoroughly with hot, sudsy water to remove any residue before using the pot again.

A second trick is one I picked up while working at a Science Center up north. I always loved chemistry and this simple solution was no different.

You may have heard people suggest cleaning copper pot bottoms with a mixture of ketchup. The reason this is popular is because some of the main ingredients of ketchup are salt and vinegar. The combination of salt and vinegar produce a compound called hydrochloric acid, which basically etches away a microscopic section of the top layer of metal.

What is slightly more effective is the exact solution with no additives. Simply cover the burned area with table salt. (Use table salt, not kosher salt, as the finely ground table salt works much better). Then, simply pour vinegar over the salt and let it bubble up. Set it aside for about 15 minutes and then flush with warm water. If the pot is burned really bad, you may want to leave it sit overnight, and then wash it thoroughly in the morning.

This mixture will not burn your fingers or hands, but it is always a good idea to wear gloves, just to be on the safe side. Always wash hands thoroughly after this procedure.

Just for an added tip, this solution works very well for cleaning the bottom of copper pans and also dirty coins, especially pennies. Take a paper towel, and set it down. Set the coins on the paper towel, cover the coins in salt and then use an eye dropper to drop the vinegar on each coin. You will have shiny, new money in no time!

Air Fresheners

There are so many products on the market for air fresheners, ranging from plug in fragrance dispersers, to scented candles, sprays, carpet powders, and so much more. Some of them are inexpensive, while others can be pricey. Most air fresheners on the market tend to hide or mask the odors, although there are few odor absorbers or eliminators or neutralizers.

Again, however, there are few things hanging around in your cabinets that might help you solve your problem without even taking out your wallet.

Baking soda, of course, is a well known deodorizer. It is great at absorbing odor. Many people keep a box of baking soda in their refrigerators to absorb food smells and keep their refrigerator smelling fresh. In fact, you can put a box of baking soda anywhere you might want to absorb odors. Perhaps you need it in the bathroom, or a closet.

You can also sprinkle a little baking soda in a gallon plastic zip lock bag and carefully put a pair of smelly shoes inside. Leave overnight for an effective deodorizing treatment. For tennis shoes or other sneakers, store like this for several days. After you're done, you can toss the baking soda and baggie. Easy clean up!

Another deodorizing tip for baking soda is to use a scoop in your laundry. Fill your laundry load with water and then put a scoop of baking soda in and let it sit for about a half an hour (or overnight for more smelly laundry, such as exercise clothes). Then, proceed to wash as normal. This is great for intense odors like sweat and laundry that has sat for several days.

Another thing that you can do for smelly shoes is to put a dryer sheet inside your shoes. This also works great for deodorizing shoes in an inexpensive, effective and simple way.

Another great way of deodorizing your house and making it smell great is by using mulling spices, which is similar to simmering potpourri, but without the overpowering presence of heavy fragrances. You can find mulling spices in the spice aisle of any grocery store. Mulling spices are rather inexpensive. However, you can mix your own by putting together a simple mixture of aromatic spices, whatever might be in your pantry, such as cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, nutmeg, almond oil, mace, and the like.

Take a pot and add liquid. It's nice to use red wine to simmer the spices, but you can also just use water, whichever you prefer. Bring it to a boil. Add the spices to the pot carefully and then reduce the heat and simmer. Be careful to keep an eye always on the pot and keep adding liquid as needed, as it will continue to evaporate.

This is especially nice to do when guests are coming over. The whole house will be filled with a wonderful and delightful smell of fresh, clean warm spices. It is neither to little nor too much.

Window Cleaner

Many of us have heard about using vinegar for cleaning windows, but how many of us have ever tried it? I know I did.

However, the first time I used it, I had the same problem many others experience -- streaks. However, I learned that there is a very simple reason for this which can be remedied with an equally simple solution.

You see, most household window cleaners, such as Windex, leave a fine residue of wax on the windows which is meant to repel dust and leave a lasting finish. Vinegar and water alone is not enough to break down this wax, which is why you get the streaks. However, all you need to do is add a little dish soap to the solution and this wax is easily broken down and cleaned away.

The best recipe I have found for window cleaning with vinegar is this:

  • 2C Water
  • 1/4 C White distilled vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp liquid dish soap

(Please make sure to label the bottle clearly and keep out of reach of small children, as with all chemical solutions).

You can use a microfiber cloth for lint free results. Some have also used newspapers. I never liked this myself, but others swear by it.

This should leave you with sparking clean windows!

As a side note, another great use for vinegar is to shine your pet's coat. Mix 1C of Distilled white vinegar into 1 quart of water and rinse your pet's coat after a bath. The vinegar seals the hair shaft and will reflect more light, resulting in a shiny coat.

How Do You Get Rid of the Smell of Onions or Garlic on Your Hands?

This is a big question. How do you get rid of the smell of garlic or onion on your hands while you're cooking? Or perhaps it's another clingy smell like cumin or cilantro.

The solution is simple. Rub a little lemon juice (from a fresh cut lemon) on your hands and rinse with water. You can also rub some on your cutting board for the same effect.

If you don't want to use lemon juice, you can rub toothpaste on your hands. Use twice the amount you would in brushing your teeth. Scrub your entire hands and fingers and then rinse thoroughly.

Another effective, if slightly odd, solution is to run a stainless steel utensil, such as a spoon, under cold water and rub your hands on it for 30-60 seconds. As odd as it sounds, this is a proven method to remove the smell. There is a molecular reaction that causes the curious results. While any utensil will work, a spoon is recommended for safety purposes.

101 Things You Never Knew About Aluminum Foil

Well, maybe not 101, but at least five...

Almost everyone keeps aluminum foil in their cabinets. We all know how incredibly helpful it is with clean up in the kitchen. Line your stove with it, your pans, and clean up is a cinch. It catches all the drippings and grease. Just roll it up after dinner and throw it away and your pans look brand new.

I bet you didn't know that you can also use aluminum foil to scour the pots and pans you forgot to use the foil in, in the first place, did you? That's right. Tear off a few sheets and ball them up and start scrubbing. This works wonders for grease and cooked on food.

Do you need metal polish for chrome? Take a ball of aluminum foil or square of it and dip it in water and polish your chrome with it. This is good for two reasons. First, as we all know, aluminum foil is softer than steel, so it will not scratch the surface like some polishes with abrasives. Secondly, a by-product of the process produces a fine metal polishing compound that actually smooths the chrome surface giving it a bright shine.

Can't find that funnel quick enough? Aluminum foil works great as quick funnel solution. Just shape the foil into a funnel and proceed.

Aluminum foil also works great as a rust remover. Simply ball up a portion of foil and rub across the rust. Aluminum foil oxidizes more quickly than other metals, making it great for removing rust.

Get rid of your scissor sharpeners! Yes, you heard right. It also is great for sharpening shears and scissors. Simply take out a sheet (recycle old used foil for this) and fold it and cut through it with a dull pair of shears or scissors to sharpen them.

Uh Oh! Did You Drop Your Cell Phone in Water?

So many of us have done this. We accidentally drop our phone in a puddle or it gets exposed in a cloudburst of rain as we dash back to the car. What do we do now?

The next time your electronic device (cell phone, digital camera, mp3 player, etc.) gets an unexpected visit from the corrosive properties of h2O, dash to your cabinet and pull out the rice. Take a bag of rice, put it in an airtight container and drop your electronic device in it. Leave it for a minimum of eight hours, but up to a few days for optimum results. That may seem like a long time while you are waiting to see if it will work or if you will have to fork out a lot of money on a new one. But it's better to be patient than to spend hard earned money too soon and unnecessarily.

Rice has an ingenious absorbent property that will draw moisture out of anything. I have tried this remedy with a slim digital camera I had once and it worked. I believe in the power of rice!

Another product with similar properties you can try this trick with is kitty litter. It also is extremely absorbent in nature for obvious reasons.

Some Other Quick Tips and Helpful Hints

There are many uses for so many household items we have usually in stock around the house. I'm going to list a few of these.

Hydrogen Peroxide - Many know of this solution as an effective and painless antiseptic. However, many are not aware you can also use this on your countertops and door knobs for the same purpose: disinfecting. Use it anywhere you would a spray disinfectant.

Rubbing Alcohol - This is great for getting ink spots off hard surfaces or leather. Set in stains may take a little elbow grease. Always check to make sure it is not taking off the color, which it can do if you rub too long or too hard. It works especially good if you catch it in the first 24 hrs. Take a cotton ball and soak it for a few minutes. Always test a patch area first in an inconspicuous spot.

Drain clogged? Let's go back to chemistry class. Pour 1 pot of boiling water down the drain (if it will move at all). If it is totally blocked, use just a little. Dump 1/2 C baking soda into drain and let it sit for a few minutes. Take 1 C vinegar and 1 C very hot water and pour it over the baking soda.

If you have a drain plug and keep the solution down in the drain, put the plug in to keep it from bubbling back up. The mixture should release the sludgy grime from the drain. Rinse with very hot water or even boiling water again, once the drain clog becomes loose.

Need something to wipe down your electronics with? Use baby wipes.

Running low on zip lock bags or want to recycle? Use emptied cereal bags to store dry items. Use with a clip on top to seal.

Ant problem? Sprinkle a little cinnamon around ant trails. The ants don't seem to like the spicy smell of cinnamon and will disappear in a hurry. Who knew?

Do you need to shine that silverware? Banana peels work great. Just peel a banana and rub the inside on the silverware to make it shine like new. Don't believe me? Try it. The oil in the banana peel works wonders.

WD-40 - Everyone knows how great this stuff is at eliminating noisy creaks around door hinges. But did you know this unique product can do some other pretty amazing things?

  • insect repellant in the home (Please do not spray this on yourself... only use in the home). If you find a roach, spider, ant or the like, you can spray on the bug for a quick kill. You can also treat door frames, window frames and other places insects frequent for a lasting repellant.
  • chewing gum remover Yes, WD-40 works great at removing chewing gum out of hair, which can be a real nightmare. Just spray a little on and comb through easily. Please take care to avoid eyes and spray in a well ventilated area.
  • cleaner You can use WD-40 to clean away scuff marks on floors, remove tea stains on counters, clean toilet bowls, clean and restore your license plates.
  • waterproof your shoes or winter boots Spray down your shoes and boots for a waterproof coating before you trudge out in the rain or snow.
  • clean and lubricate your guitar strings This also works for zippers on clothing.
  • keep your bird feeders squirrel free Rub a little WD-40 on the bird feeders and poles they are sitting on to make a very slippery surface, hampering the ability of a squirrel to reach them.
  • keep your tools handles splinter free Rub a generous amount of WD-40 on wooden tool handles often to protect them from moisture and other corrosive properties and keep them from splintering
  • remove decals and stickers from glass
  • clean and treat leather
  • treat your kids' walls with it Everyone has had to deal with this one time or another. You walk into your kid's room and it's covered in crayon drawings or worse. If you spray the wall with WD-40 first, anything drawn on (within reason) can be easily removed with a little soapy water.
  • fish attractant Spray on lures to attract fish
  • protect the front grille on your car from bugs How nasty is this to clean up all the time? Well, stop overtaxing yourself. Simply spray some WD-40 on the grille to protect it and most bugs won't stick to it. What bugs do can be easily removed with a little soapy water.
  • clean your grill to make it shine like new Spray liberally on a grill and leave it sit for a few minutes. Scrub good and hose down for a shiny new grill. Make sure to do this on a grill not in use and completely cool. NEVER use WD-40 over an open fire or near heat or flame.
  • restore faded plastic patio furniture Simply spray WD-40 directly on the surface and wipe with a clean, dry cloth. You’ll be surprised at the results.

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These are just a few of the helpful household hints you can find out there. There are many inexpensive household solutions for everyday problems. To find out more, check out these links:

Please feel free to share your own ideas and experiences in your comments.

Happy solutions!


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