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Simple and effective household tips

Updated on September 7, 2014

A personal directory of useful household hints to improve your life!

Sometimes it's the little things that make our lives run smoother! I just love it when somebody makes a simple suggestion I've never heard of before. I can't wait to see if homespun household hints are really true or just a myth. Nine times out of ten, the old fashioned, natural remedies for pest control, odour removal, or cleaning your home, seem to work better than any product you find in a store. In this lens I'll be sharing the very best of the really simple, yet incredibly useful household hints I've gleaned over the years, and some of the environmentally friendly solutions I love.

I'll also be adding to this lens over time as I try out new household hints so please do drop back now and again and see what's new. And please leave me a message at the end of the page if you've got any helpful hints of your own you would like to share. Surprise me - I'm all ears!

And remember - this is a very personal directory of useful household tips and suggestions for just about anything. I'm only listing the hints that I've personally tried and tested, so you can be certain they really do work!

Natural pest control

Use bay leaves to keep silverfish away - Protect your book collection

Bay leaves and silverfish
Bay leaves and silverfish

I'm lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world - Rome, Italy. Every city has its pests, however, and whilst New York may be notorious for its cockroaches, Rome is plagued with silverfish. The pesky insects absolutely thrive in Rome's warm and humid climate, and they are extremely difficult to eradicate, living as they do, deep inside the walls of old buildings.

Silverfish will devour books, paper, foodstuffs, and even glue, so if you collect any kind of paper ephemera like stamps, postcards or books, they can be a real threat to your collection. I hate using strong poisons in the home so try to deter them from getting near my books, rather than killing them - which is both bad karma AND a losing battle!

One of the little tricks I've learned is that silverfish hate the smell of bay leaves - placing a couple of leaves between the pages of your precious books will keep them far away! You can also sprinkle a few cloves along a shelf, although I've found that this is a less practical solution.

Photo © Lépisme argenté by JR Guillaumin, on Flickr - CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo © bay leaves by Eljay, on Flickr - CC BY 2.0

Remixed by Deborah Swain

Read more about organic solutions to pests in the home - Keep bugs at bay without poisons

Natural Solutions to Things That Bug You
Natural Solutions to Things That Bug You

Keep your home free of dangerous toxins...AND keep the bugs away too!

An excellent reference book for all the natural remedies that really work to repel various insects and pests.


No flies on me! - Keep flies away from food

Lemon and cloves to repel flies
Lemon and cloves to repel flies

One of my own personal favourite solutions for keeping flies away is to cut a lemon in half and insert cloves into the cut surface. Flies hate the smell of citrus and cloves and will stay well away.

This is a great trick during the summer months if you're eating al fresco – just put one of these on the table and no flies will land on your food!

Photo © Deborah Swain

Do you use natural methods to control pests in your home? - Organic vs toxins!

Do you always use a natural method to deter pests like ants, mice or mosquitoes?

See results

Removing unpleasant odors

Bicarbonate of Soda - the miracle smell remover, and more - Every household really should have plentiful supplies of baking soda

Smelly shoes can be fixed with bicarb!
Smelly shoes can be fixed with bicarb!

Bicarbonate of soda aka good old fashioned baking soda really will magically "absorb" smells from just about anything. Here are a few of my favourite uses:

  • A cupful sitting in the back of the fridge will keep it smelling fresh.
  • Sprinkle liberally in even the stinkiest trainers or running shoes and leave over night (or longer for serious cases). The following day vacuum out the old bicarbonate and the shoes will have returned to, at the very least, a neutral odour.
  • Sprinkle a handful of baking soda in the kitchen waste bin to stop it from smelling. This is particularly effective during the summer months when food stuffs decompose more quickly.
  • Bicarbonate of soda will also remove unpleasant "new" plastic or chemical smells from cupboards, suitcases etc.
  • There's nothing worse than the moldy smell on clean towels which haven't dried properly. A teaspoon of baking soda in the washing machine will rid you of that smell the next time you wash them.

Bicarbonate of soda is also an excellent way to wash vegetable leaves that are particularly muddy. Be sure to rinse them in fresh water afterwards.

Even more uses of bicarbonate of soda! - Watch out for the gardening tips!

Want to read more amazing baking soda uses? - Check out this guide!

Baking Soda: Over 500 Fabulous, Fun, and Frugal Uses You've Probably Never Thought Of
Baking Soda: Over 500 Fabulous, Fun, and Frugal Uses You've Probably Never Thought Of

My list is just the tip of the iceberg! Read this guide to help you save money on washing products, and learn new uses in cooking, doing the laundry, even gardening tips, and cleaning your teeth!


Bicarbonate as a digestive

Be careful when ingesting bicarbonate of soda to help with digestion. Always check with your doctor first!

Toothpaste can freshen more than just teeth and breath! - Try this one and be amazed...

"bluetooth" paste by mauren veras, on Flickr
"bluetooth" paste by mauren veras, on Flickr

Anyone who loves to cook will know how unpleasant the lingering smell of onions or garlic can be on the fingers - even after you have washed your hands thoroughly. It just won't go...unless you wash your hands with a small blob of toothpaste. Seriously folks, this REALLY works!

It will also work on chopping boards which have become impregnated with strong food smells - just give them a quick wipe down with a small dab of toothpaste, rinse well and you're good to go.

Photo © "bluetooth" paste by mauren veras, on Flickr - CC BY 2.0

Distilled white vinegar removes the smell of fish - Absorbs kitchen smells rather than masking them

Vinegar removes the smell of fish
Vinegar removes the smell of fish

As anybody who has cooked a delicious fish supper at home knows, the lingering after effects the next morning are less pleasant. Drinking your morning coffee in a malodorous kitchen just isn't fun! The first trick, of course, is to be very strict about doing the washing up and clearing away anything fishy before you go to bed. Make sure the kitchen is spotless – and then, to guarantee that the cooking smells have gone by morning, pour some distilled white wine vinegar into a bowl and leave it in the middle of the room (on the kitchen table or worktop). Overnight this miracle odor eater will absorb the fish smells completely and you'll wake up to a fresh smelling kitchen!

Some more surprising uses for vinegar! - 10 more amazing household uses

Natural pain relief

Forget paracetamol - clove oil numbs toothache - Because biting on a clove is only for the brave...!

Edens Garden Clove Bud 100% Pure Therapeutic Grade Essential Oil, 30 mL
Edens Garden Clove Bud 100% Pure Therapeutic Grade Essential Oil, 30 mL

A must-have essential oil in all medicine cabinets for immediate dental pain relief.

I broke a tooth recently - on a Friday evening, right before the weekend - so I knew I had to get through three days of pain until I could see my dentist on the Monday. Thanks to some great advice from my local herbalist's shop I found a great cure for my pain. 100% pure essential clove oil soaked onto the end of a cotton bud, which I then applied directly to the tooth, completely numbed the pain.

A word of caution - the initial applications were VERY painful! But thereafter, the pain became manageable without the need for conventional painkillers.


Warning! Do NOT swallow clove oil!

Apply a tiny amount directly onto the affected tooth only

Unusual cleaning tips

Use denture tabs to clean delicate items - A surprisingly effective trick!

Efferdent Anti-Bacterial Denture Cleanser, 120 Count
Efferdent Anti-Bacterial Denture Cleanser, 120 Count

I'm a passionate collector of action figures and I will sometimes soak very grubby market stall finds in a solution of denture wash. The figures are undamaged and come out of the solution both visibly and hygienically cleaner.

I've read online that denture tabs can also be used to clean diamonds and other jewels, but being a girl of simple tastes, I've no gems to try this on myself!

Oh...and this product will clean dentures too!


More amazing tips about how to clean with denture tablets!

Baby wipes for cleaning just about anything! - Save money and buy in bulk

Another recent discovery I've made is that baby wipes can be used for cleaning far more things than just babies! Here are a few of my own favourites:

  • Cleaning computer / tablet screens, monitors and sticky keyboards.
  • Delicate but effective cleaning of my action figures.
  • Quick instant shine of leather shoes.
  • Removing deodorant marks on dark clothing.
  • Wiping the dust from the leaves of house-plants.

Stain removal

Salt on wine spills - Don't panic! There is a way to fix this!

Red wine stains
Red wine stains

I still break out in a cold sweat when I remember the time I spilled red wine on my sister's brand new CREAM-coloured carpet! Thankfully it was only the dregs of an almost finished glass and I was able to successfully use a well-known, but highly effective household trick to remove the wine stain. I poured a small mountain of table salt on the stain, waited a full 24 hours, and when I hoovered up the salt, the stain had completely disappeared!

The hardest part is the waiting, but patience really does pay in these cases. Don't be tempted to check if it's working...leave the salt well alone for as long as you possible can for it to do its magic!

In the kitchen

Freezing hot chili peppers! - Always have fresh chilies available

Frozen chilies by Deborah Swain
Frozen chilies by Deborah Swain

My local greengrocer gave me this top tip and I love it. Whenever I see a fresh bunch of chili peppers in the market I can now buy the whole lot since discovering that they freeze perfectly. Slice the peppers into smaller pieces and freeze them spread out in a tray. Once frozen, you can bag them into freezer bags to save space. The smaller pieces make it easier to add just the right amount of heat to a meal when I'm cooking.

Basil, sage, parsley and other herbs can also be frozen easily.

Photo © Deborah Swain

Freezing your homegrown chili crop

Gardening tips

Use vegetable cooking water to fertilize houseplants naturally - Let your garden benefit from the nutrients

Use your cooking water to fertilize your houseplants
Use your cooking water to fertilize your houseplants

I always try to cook my veggies using as little water as possible or use a pressure cooker. It's the healthiest way to cook them because many nutrients and much of the goodness will leach out of the vegetables into the cooking water if we cook them in large pots of boiling water. Some large leaf tougher vegetables such as black cabbage or kale, for example, or bitter greens like chicory, love to be boiled, however, so I am so pleased to have discovered a great use for the left over cooking water.

Did you know that if you leave the water to cool it can then be used to water your house plants as a light fertilizer? I usually let my cooking water cool a little then decant it into a watering can and leave it to cool completely overnight on the balcony. Your plants will get the benefit of those organic nutrients in the water! If you use a metal watering can you can decant almost immediately.

Miscellaneous tricks

Store films in the fridge - Extend the life of expired film

Films in the fridge
Films in the fridge

I've recently rediscovered the joys of analogue photography and have been buying various types of film for my different cameras. To preserve the life of some of the harder to find film types such as 127 and 120 size I store the unopened rolls in the fridge.

If you don't have time to get film developed, exposed film will also keep better in the fridge until you're ready to process it.

Just remember to let your films reach room temperature before using them. Ideally take your films out of the fridge the night before you plan to use them to avoid condensation from forming and don't open the film cannister until you're ready to use the film.

Photo © Deborah Swain

Did you find this Hub helpful? - Please let me hear your top tips before you go!

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    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 3 years ago from West Virginia

      Nice tips! I use the Swiffer lavender scented wet cloths for mopping my floors with. Ants and apparently other insects don't like the lavender smell and have stayed away.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 3 years ago from Arkansas USA

      I love tips like these! Thanks for this batch. Love the lemon and cloves. Bet that would just be nice to have around the house anyway - I'm sure it smells wonderful to us!

    • profile image

      sojourner-1 4 years ago

      These are good tips, some I have heard before, others new. Thanks.

    • Deborah Swain profile image

      Deborah Swain 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      @Lakegirl LM: When I lived in the countryside in Italy mice were a terrible problem...they would even eat plastic garden furniture! In the end I made sure there were a LOT of cats around...!

    • Lakegirl LM profile image

      Lakegirl LM 4 years ago from Australia

      Living in Australia, flies are a major problem in summer - definitely going to try the lemon with cloves ! All your tips will be filed for use. Any on how to get rid of mice?

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This is one of the most useful lenses I have come across here. I wish I knew about salt and wine on carpet. I also like the lemon with cloves to stop flies.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This is one of the most useful lenses I have come across here. I wish I knew about salt and wine on carpet. I also like the lemon with cloves to stop flies.

    • jc stone profile image

      Jordan 4 years ago

      Squid like and Pin it. Yes i did find the lemon and cloves interesting. I have to save it so i am pining it!

    • InfoCoop profile image

      InfoCoop 4 years ago

      Some excellent tips that I wasn't aware of. The clove tips were awesome!

    • greenmind profile image

      GreenMind 4 years ago from USA

      Really nice lens -- to looks good and is exceptionally well-written.

    • JeffGilbert profile image

      JeffGilbert 4 years ago

      boy, these are a lot of great ips. The toothpaste for onions I had never heard of, neither the salt for wine stains. Great lens!!

    • Deborah Swain profile image

      Deborah Swain 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      @hotsquid: ha! still using them, believe it or not!!

    • profile image

      fifinn 4 years ago

      Thanks, for a lot of useful information on this lens.

    • comfortyourfeet profile image

      comfortyourfeet 4 years ago

      I have heard of some of these, great lens.

    • hotsquid profile image

      hotsquid 4 years ago

      Store films in the fridge...when we were using films in those good old days. ;-)

    • NibsyNell profile image

      NibsyNell 4 years ago

      The tip about the bay leaves is really helpful! I'll have to try that sometime. :)

    • Deborah Swain profile image

      Deborah Swain 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      @shahedashaikh: wow! that's interesting...thanks! we get the odd gecko in the house here in italy too...but i rather like them!

    • Deborah Swain profile image

      Deborah Swain 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      @webscribbler: alas no! this lens is about finding deterrents...not killing them! you'd need some kind of poison for that!

    • shahedashaikh profile image

      shahedashaikh 4 years ago

      Very helpful,back home keep garlic cloves on window sills to prevent lizards from entering,the smell from garlic keeps them away.

    • profile image

      webscribbler 4 years ago

      @Deborah Swain: So you end up using both. Eeek. You must really see a lot of these nasty things. They're so darn hard to catch to squish and then they leave such a mess.

      I've started buying a few antique books and have been wondering if there was any way to treat them to kill anything already in them. shudders. Have you found anything that works for that?

    • Deborah Swain profile image

      Deborah Swain 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      @webscribbler: I personally put one in each book...I used to sprinkle cloves around on top, but dusting is tricky then, so now I put a few in a pot. The silverfish are always around somewhere or other, alas...I actually found some inside a picture frame recently! The idea of the bay leaves is to at least keep them away from valuable items!

    • profile image

      webscribbler 4 years ago

      Bay leaves for silverfish...will definitely have to give that one a go.

      Do you have to put them in every book for it to be effective or will a few scattered across a bookcase work?

      And, uhm, have you found those nasty buggers just move on to some other place to find their dinner?

    • profile image

      Lowsky 4 years ago

      Great tips. I love these kind of lenses great fun and helpful.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      nice lens

    • profile image

      mina009 4 years ago

      Very nice tips, thanks a lot..

    • knitstricken profile image

      knitstricken 4 years ago

      Oh so helpful! As in, SquidBlessing-worthy helpful! Consider your lens Blessed by this SquidAngel!