Handy Household Tips
Created | Updated Feb 29, 2008
Cleaning. Who needs it? Well, unfortunately, most of us do. And most of us find it a monumental pain in the behind, so to speak. But clean we must, and at the end of the day, we're better off for doing so. This entry takes a look at some brilliant little household tips that will no doubt turn your cleaning experience into a voyage of discovery; that will make cleaning the house interesting, inventive, even.
Convention has it that if you wait until you absolutely must clean, you'll find that it takes longer and you'll end up having an awful time actually doing the work. What you must do is clean periodically, like once a day or once a week. Then, you won't have to have big 'clean-up-days' where all you do is clean and get headaches and end up becoming easily aggravated.
But you know this already. What you really want to know are the little trade secrets, the ingenious wee tips that really do work. Take for instance the following gem: don't do any cleaning in your house. None whatsoever. When things become unbearable, simply buy a new house. This idea is simplicity itself.
But if this is too avant garde for your taste, don't fret - among the following household tips, you're guaranteed to find at least one that blows your mind, and in the process, cleans your house. So roll up your sleeves and read on.
Dripping, Leaking Taps
Having taps1 that drip and drip can be a real drag. Torture, almost. Whatever you do though, don't try to turn the tap off hard to stop the drip... it'll only make the drip worse in the long run. So, if your budget's low, and you need to do some handy home repairs, arm yourself with the following tools:
- Crescent wrench
- A sandwich
- Plaster sealant
Proceed to the dripping tap. Use the paper clips to clean away the grime at the base of the pipes and then use the crescent wrench to tighten the bolts where the grime was. After you have tightened all of the once-grimy bolts, apply a thin coat of the plaster sealant. If you cannot get your hands on plaster sealant, try rubber cement instead. It will do the same job, which is to hold the water in the pipe. If the pipes are still dripping, begin percussive maintenance with the hammer. Try to aim your blows (gently!) towards the parts of the pipe that leak. Try hitting it from all angles, but don't take out all of your frustrations on the pipes. Otherwise, you will have to call in a plumber who will charge you a lot of money to do the same thing.
When all pipes have stopped dripping, humbly congratulate yourself, enjoy the peaceful silence, and eat your sandwich.
Another way to look at the problem of leaking taps is to focus on the seal. The most common problem with the tap is a bad seal that's often over-squeezed and warped. To repair, first inspect the tap. Make sure it is really turned off. If it still leaks, look for the gate valves under the tap. Turning there will stop the water actually reaching the tap. If you do this one side at a time, you can see which side is leaking, the hot or the cold. However, when repairing, it is best to repair both sides at the same time.
At this point, the tap should stop leaking. Make a note of the tap's name brand, a model number if one can be found (usually on the underside of the spout) and the number of handles the tap has. Take this information to a local hardware shop and ask for a replacement seal. While you're there, get a couple of spares to prevent extra trips in the future.
Now you need to disassemble the tap. The most common set-up is to have the stems (the cartridge that controls the water flow to the tap) inside the handle or handles. You need to either remove the handle or a decorative plate to access the stem. All that is needed here is a screw driver. When you remove the handle/cover, you should see the stem. You can use a stem puller (a plumber's tool) or just an adjustable wrench to remove the stem. On the stem, you will find the bad seal. It will look something like your replacement seal from the hardware store. Swap the seals, and push the stem back into its socket. Be careful not to damage the stem or you will need to replace that as well. Reassemble the handle. Test the tap for operation by turning on the gate valves below. Does it still leak? If so, make sure the stem is in and you didn't put it in backwards.
The water should flow now, and only when you want it to.
Spiders in the Bath
It is argued by some that the only reason you find spiders in the bath is that they fall in, and can't get out again. Contrary to popular belief, they do not come up through the plug-hole, so keeping the plug in will not keep the spiders out. So, you need to give them an escape route - special 'spider ladders' are available, which hang from the taps, or you could just lie a towel over the edge of the bath so that it reaches the bottom. That's one argument anyway.
Other folk have seen with their own disbelieving eyes cockroaches crawling out of plug holes and the overflow outlets. This suggests that leaving the plug in might not help after all. Apart from learning to love your spiders, or getting a spider-loving friend to help remove them from the bath, it has been suggested that one might replace the toilet brush with a... er... hedgehog. Hedgehogs love spiders. Apparently.
Vomit. There. Said it. It's over and done with and we can now proceed without unnecessary squeamishness. If you just use bleach to try and remove the stain, in a few days it tends to start smelling just like bleach... and vomit. Instead, treat the area with white vinegar. This will neutralise the acids in the vomit and it will also dissipate the smell. Afterwards you can use the bleach to get rid of the stain and any germs.
Creaking Doors And Stuck Keys
Here's a quick and handy tip for solving the problem of creaking doors and 'sticking' keys. Grab a normal lead pencil (it's not actually lead, its graphite) and go over all the joints in your hinges. Work the door back and forward a few times and repeat the whole process. The graphite in the pencil lubricates the brass or iron without corroding it. Graphite is dry and as such it won't promote rust.
This also works for 'sticky' keys as well. Work the pencil over the grooves in the key and gently inside the key hole as well (but really gently - you don't want to break off the tip of the pencil in the lock). Then work the key in and out of the lock a few times, and gingerly work the lock with the key. Get up a good 'jiggling' motion - it will come naturally by feel as much as anything else.
Sometimes graphite comes as a 'puffer spray' bottle and this stuff's great, but it has exactly the same ingredients as a pencil, and a pencil is more likely to be to hand.
Removing Bobbles from Woolen Clothes
In the 1980s, running shoes with velcro laces were popular for a while. Anyway, times have changed and you probably wouldn't be seen dead in this kind of training shoe now. So, if you've got a pair lurking around the house, take a pair of scissors and cut the entire plastic velcro lace assembly off one of the shoes. Then wrap the binding part around your hand, inside out, so the velcro is facing away from your palm. Gently run the velcro mitten over the woolen garment. It helps if you get a friend to wear it while you do this as you can access all the nooks and crannies - it's also a great way to bond with a prospective new partner. Eventually the mitten is completely full and you can clean it with a really stiff nail brush, or, being as it's recycled, you can throw it in the bin.
Making Sure Shelves are Straight
If you're putting up shelves and want to make sure that they're straight but you don't have (or can't afford) a spirit level, then the following could help.
Get a small glass and fill it about a third with water.
Really carefully mark the top of the water with a marker on the outside of the glass, all the way around. (a quick note here - this relies fairly heavily that the surface your working on initially is nice and level and flat, that good old kitchen table is usually a winner!)
Get the shelf roughly into position and put the glass on the shelf. Now while it would be really good to have someone to help you through all this, you can do it on your own by loosely attaching one bracket, or fixing of the shelf - you'll see what I mean when you do it but if you've not done it before grab a friend.
Move the shelf around until the water in the glass is exactly on the mark on the outside of the glass. Now it's flat, and straight.
Mark the position of the shelf with a pencil remove the glass and fix in into position.
If something you own gets gum over it, either stick it in the freezer, and wait for the gum to freeze, whereupon you can scrape it off with a knife, or alternatively use vinegar, which makes it easy to scrub off.
Cut flowers like carnations and pinks last for ages if you place them in lemonade rather then water. Make sure it is proper lemonade rather then the diet variety and change it every four days or so.
Most other flowers will last longer if you put an aspirin or two in the water. Again it should be changed every four days or so.
All flowers will live longer if foxgloves are included in the floral arrangement. For delphiniums and larkspurs add sugar, daffodils and narcissi add charcoal or camphor. Put the cut ends of chrysanthemums in very hot water for a moment, then dunk in very cold. Stand tulips wrapped in newspaper up to their necks for several hours. Do not mix daffodils with anything else, but if you must, soak them for one hour in separate water, then re-rinse. Topmost buds should be nipped from delphiniums, gladioli and snapdragons.
Beyond the Fridge
Tips for defrosting freezers are premium. One Researcher, despondent at the thought of this tiresome task, recalled their last attempt at defrosting a freezer:
Last time I tried to do mine I discovered Captain Oates in there. That was before I transformed my kitchen into a scale replica of Titanic.
Don't worry - it's easy. The quickest way is to empty the freezer of its contents, drag it out in the garden and then use the hose pipe to melt and wash out the ice. It seems like a lot of work to carry it out but it's a lot quicker and there'll be no icebergs left in the middle of your kitchen floor.
This advice of course does not apply to those living in high rise flats. If you live in a very high rise flat you can just wait for the polar icecaps to melt. Or spray a lot of Impulse around to hasten the thinning of the ozone layer.
Optical Illusions and the Horrific Carpet Pattern Method
Have you ever noticed that after a while everything stops getting any more dirty and also that however often you clean there still seems to be a set amount of dust? There must be a formula somewhere to define the optimum amount of cleaning needed...
One method is to simply have a very dark carpet with very dark, random, non-repeated patterns. That way, any stains or dirt is hidden, and you do not need to clean a lot as you never notice it being dirty. Just don't drop anything dark that you need to find on it.
People often use far too much washing up liquid. This produces too many bubbles. So don't! All you need is a few drops of liquid, water as hot as is comfortable and a bit of elbow grease. Actually try to remove food/dirt from the dishes by wiping; don't just splash some water about and hope for the best. Apart from reducing bubbles, you also save on liquid.
And remember - if a plate is really clean, then it will squeak when you draw your finger across it.
Cleaning Windows and Making Wine Glasses Sparkle
Here are some great tips guaranteed to put a bit of sparkle into your days:
Cleaning windows - Use warm water with a little detergent, and a sponge. For those hard-to-reach windows, you could use a spongy floor mop to achieve a greater reach. You may even need to open one window and lean out to clean another.
Wine glasses - Wash as normal, then rinse in cold water with a splash of vinegar. Then use a lint free cloth to polish.
NB - a little vinegar in the water will also help to make your windows sparkle, blinding all your neighbours!
For smear-free windows, after you've washed them and before they dry, polish with crumpled newspaper (the local free one is good for this). Absolutely the best thing for this - as your grandma will tell you - is a little bit of baking soda added to the water.
Diary of One Who Employs a Cleaner
So you think you've got the answer to all your cleaning problems... get a cleaner! It's simple. Or is it? The following diary written by someone who employs a cleaner might make you think again.
7.30am Cleaner due in 90 minutes. Aaargh! Mad rush to clean, dust, spritz, buff and polish things so that cleaner doesn't think I'm a slob (she would of course be right). Hide dirty underwear. Bin really dirty underwear. Hide 'dirty' (ie provocative) underwear so cleaner doesn't think I'm kinky.
8am Leave house to avoid encountering cleaner - she thinks I have a proper nine to five job.
9am Realise I've forgotten to leave money for cleaner.
9.30am Return home to encounter cleaner reading my mail. Embarrassed exchange of pleasantries and 20 quid2.
9.45am Point out that windows need cleaning. Cleaner sniffs. 'Don't do windows 'cos of me back'. Neither does she do 'fridges, ovens, chip pans or cat litter'. (I don't have a cat. Perhaps she is trying to tell me my flat smells a bit?)
10am Cleaner makes tea, complains about lack of milk and asks whether I'm going to be late for work.
11am - 5pm Mooch around shops trying not to think about what cleaner might be poking about with in my flat. Contemplate shinning up drainpipe and peering through window, then remember it's too dirty to see through.
6pm Return home. Admire the way cleaner has moved every single item of furniture. Spend three hours moving it all back, and thus uncovering stains which cleaner couldn't be arsed to clean.
9pm Note marked absence of biscuits, tea, pile of nicely ironed clothes and assorted newspapers marked 'please do not chuck out as I haven't read these yet'.
10pm Sit down to watch video recording of Eastenders screened earlier on in the evening3.
10.05pm Discover that cleaner unplugged video and reset it.
10.06pm Watch unwanted eight hour video of International Golf, before falling asleep and having violent dreams about disembowelment of cleaner with a Dyson crevice tool.
Repeat once a week as necessary, and say out loud, rhetorically, 'This is 'labour-saving'?'
If you keep pets, you have to keep them clean. And a fast way of drying your dog is to use a chamois leather - not only does it dry them in half the time but it makes their coats exceptionally soft. Alternatively, if you prefer, you can let your pets dry naturally. The only possible problem with this method is finding large enough pegs to keep them on the washing line.
NB - on the subject of pets and the like, always carry a packet of mints with you at all times. They are invaluable for bribing horses, dogs and small children. Honestly.
Removing Cat/Dog Hairs
Unsightly animal hairs around the house can be a bit of a problem. One thing you can do is buy a dedicated cat/dog hair remover - it's basically a roller with sticky paper wrapped round it, sticky side out. However, a much cheaper alternative is to just wrap sticky tape around your hand (sticky side out) and press on to the 'hairy' area to remove the hairs. Easy-peasy.
Failing that, you could always dye the offending animal to match the colour of your upholstery. That way, no one will notice the animal hairs, though there's no guaranteeing they won't pass comment on the paisley patterned dog.
Another suggestion is vacuuming at least twice a week. Vacuum the whole room and conduct visual searches at the same time. If the carpets aren't tacked down to the floor, you must also vacuum underneath the carpets - both the floor and the underside of the carpets. Don't forget the upholstery - make sure and remove all the cushions and vacuum all sides of them, too. Don't just pass over the area once, it doesn't all get picked up the first time. In fact, the fine downy underhairs of black cats, don't show up even on light coloured carpets and it's especially important that these are dealt with as they are responsible for much of the discomfort that allergy/asthma sufferers have to put up with.
Cat hair actually forms a ball at the head of the vacuum cleaner and you have to pull it off and then let it pop down the tube quite often (at least every minute). If you know of any places where the animals especially like to rest, make sure you do that region at least three times. For cats, you know you've gotten it all when you no longer have hairballs forming on your vacuum head. If your animals are making the room smell, sprinkle baking soda over the smelly surfaces; let it rest for at least 15 minutes and then vacuum again.
And as for clothes, here are some prevention tips:
Keep your clothes in closed closets and drawers - don't leave them out at all. Not for a moment. Of course, once you've gotten your clothes on, your pet will want to hug you and there go your best laid plans.
Don't leave a folded guest towel just lying on the bathroom counter. A guest will reach for the towel without realising the cat loves to sit on it and then end up with a hair-covered face. Not funny.
Actually, thinking about it, this is funny. Very funny.
Nature's Alternatives To Cleaning
If you think that manufacturers of cleaning products have got you over a barrel with their multitude of products and conflicting advice (all designed to get you to part with your money), why not bypass the capitalistic middle-man and make use of Mother Nature's vast reserves of brilliant, alternative cleaning solutions?
Air Freshener - Simmer vinegar or herb mixtures in water.
Automatic Dishwasher Detergent - Mix 250ml (1 cup) borax with 125ml (1 cup) baking soda. Does a reasonable job and it's phosphate-free.
Dishwashing - Write to the manufacturer and ask if their dishwashing liquid is phosphate-free, or use pure bar soap (rub on a cloth or sponge), or dissolve 15ml (1 tablespoon) of washing soda in the sink with hot water.
For Burned-on Food - Dampen spots slightly and sprinkle liberally with baking soda. Leave overnight. Scrub with a plastic scrubber. (Works on the bottom of the oven too).
China Cleaner - Scrub cups or mugs with a little baking soda and a dampened cloth to remove tea and coffee stains.
Drain Cleaner - Use a basket strainer to catch food scraps. Don't pour fat down the drain! Collect fat in a container and let it solidify. Scrape the fat into the garbage (not the compost pile). Wash and reuse the container.
Metal Cleaners and Polishers
Brass and Copper Cleaner/Polisher - Use lemon juice or a slice of lemon sprinkled with baking soda. Rub with a soft cloth, rinse with water and dry.
Oven Cleaner - Use a paste of baking soda and water on spills.
Scouring Powder - Sprinkle baking soda, borax or washing soda on kitchen sinks, bathtubs, counters (wherever you would normally use a scouring powder). Scrub with a damp cloth or plastic mesh scrubber.
Carpet and Rug Cleaner - To determine if a carpet's colour is affected by a wet solution, test any cleaner on a small area of carpet. Never saturate a carpet with a solution. Sprinkle cornstarch on dry carpets or rugs to absorb dirt and grease, and after five minutes vacuum thoroughly.
Carpet and Rug Deodouriser - Sprinkle baking soda liberally on dry carpet or rug. Leave at least 15 minutes then vacuum thoroughly, or mix 250ml (2cups) cornmeal with 125ml (1 cup) borax and sprinkle on carpet. Leave for 15 minutes or longer. Vacuum thoroughly.
Carpet and Rug Shampoo - Mix 125ml (1 cup) of liquid dishwashing soap in 500ml (2 cups) of boiling water. Let it cool. Whip the jelly. Apply with a damp sponge or cloth to a small area and rub gently. To rinse use a clean cloth with a solution of 500ml (1 cup) white vinegar and 1 litre (4 cups) water. Wipe dry with another cloth. Repeat if necessary.
Spills - Clean spills immediately; apply soda water with a damp sponge.
Stains - Mix 50ml (1/4 cup) borax in 500ml (2 cups) of water in a spray bottle. Spray on stain and wipe from the carpet with a damp sponge, or use undiluted white vinegar or lemon juice.
Floor Polish for Wooden Floors - Melt 30ml (2 tablespoons) paraffin wax in the top of a double boiler. Mix the melted wax with 1 litre (4 cups) of mineral oil, cool and store in a glass jar. Label clearly. Apply with a soft cloth or applicator, dry and polish.
Furniture Polish - Use olive oil to polish wood that has been stained but not varnished or painted. Spread a little on the wood, dry with a clean cloth.
For Varnished or Lacquered Wood - Mix 30ml (2 tablespoons) olive oil with 15ml (1 tablespoon) white vinegar and 1 litre (4 cups) of water in a spray bottle. Spray furniture lightly; dry with a clean cloth. Label the bottle clearly.
Upholstery Cleaner - Vacuum or brush regularly. Make a shampoo with 90ml (6 tablespoons) soap flakes, 500ml (2 cups) boiling water, 30ml (2 tablespoons) bond. Cool the mixture. Shake vigorously. Use only the suds. Apply with a soft brush or cloth in a circular motion on a small area. Wipe soiled suds off with a damp cloth.
Drain Maintenance - To capture lint, secure a nylon (a knee high works well) with a wide rubber band over the washing machine hose outlet into the laundry tub. After several loads it's necessary to remove the nylon, turn it inside out and pull off the lint. Replace the nylon and the hose.
Laundry - Use soap flakes or non-phosphate detergent. If you have hard water or heavily soiled clothes, add 75ml (1/3cup) washing soda, or 125ml (1/2 cup) borax with the soap. Experiment with the amounts - use the least amount of each to get the best results.
Fabric Freshener - For items such as diapers: soak in 125ml (1/2 cup) of borax or baking soda: leave for at least two hours and launder as usual.
Fabric Softener - Add 50ml (1/4 cup) of white vinegar to the final rinse cycle.
Spot or Stain Remover - Most stains (including ring-around-the-collar) can be removed by scrubbing with a paste of soap flakes and warm water before laundering.
Closet Deodouriser - Use a cloth bag filled with cedar chips dried herbs or flowers.
Air Freshener - Leave a pot-pourri mixture of herbs (peppermint and cloves, for example), or baking soda in a small basket or jar in the bathroom (out of the reach of children).
Basin, Tub and Tile Cleaner - Sprinkle baking soda, washing soda or borax on surfaces. Scrub with a plastic mesh scrubber or sponge.
Drain Clog Prevention - Use a hair trap in sinks, showers and bathtubs.
Clogged Drain - Use a Plumber's helper (plunger) or mechanical snake. If using a plunger, fill the sink with water, hold a rag in the overflow outlet, and then plunge the drain.
If using a snake, push the snake into the drain, and move it up and down to break the clog, or pour 50ml (1/4 cup) of baking soda and 125ml (1/2 cup) white vinegar down the drain and cover tightly for a minute by stuffing a rag into the drain. The bubbling reaction should loosen the clog, then flush the drain with boiling water. If necessary, repeat the process.
Grout, Mould and Mildew Cleaner - Moisten a cloth with vinegar. Or use an old toothbrush to scrub the tile grout to remove any mildew and mould. This helps to prevent new growth. Or use a disinfectant solution.
Glass and Mirror Cleaner - Mix in a spray bottle 1/2 white vinegar and 1/2 water. Spray on the window or mirror; dry with a rag or crumpled-up newspaper rather than paper towels.
Toilet Bowl Cleaner - Use all-purpose cleaner or sprinkle baking soda or borax in the bowl. Dampen with a little water to make a paste and scrub with a toilet brush, or make a paste of lemon juice and borax. Let stand for two hours. Scrub thoroughly.
All-purpose Cleaner - Mix 45ml (three tablespoons) washing soda in 1 litre (4 cups) warm water. Wash and rinse with clean water, or mix a 50:50 solution of white vinegar and water. No need to rinse.
And finally... the trick of the vanishing tarnish! Sure to amaze your kids and friends! Line the bottom of the kitchen sink with aluminium foil. Fill with hot water and add about 50ml (1/4 cup) of table salt, rock salt or baking soda. Put the silver into the sink and whisk your audience out of the room for two or three minutes. Presto! The tarnish is attracted to the foil. Wash the silver in warm soapy water, rinse and dry. Use an old toothbrush to remove tarnish from crevices or to clean small silver pieces.
Citric Acid! Got goo on your floors? 30 seconds of soaking and the citric acid will wipe it up as quick as it would water. Got an ugly stain in the carpet? A little citric acid... Citric acid is reckoned by many to be the wonder of the cleaning world!
If you are a bachelor you will probably be well-acquainted with strange and less-than-pleasant smells. There are quite a broad range of causes for the odours and more often than not a different solution is required for each.
The first task is to locate the cause of the offending smell. While this may seem simple, it's actually not. If, for example, your nose leads you to the kitchen where your dishes are sitting in the sink it can quite plainly be any of the dishes. It could also be something in the drain trap that is setting up housekeeping. For the first, it is recommended that you put a little soap on a wet rag and wipe whatever dish you find that smells less than pleasant. This means you don't have to wash all of the dishes and it still removes the smell. For the second, mix a quarter bottle or so of your favourite bleach with three equal parts water and pour it down the sink. If both of these fail, take some of that vacation time you have saved up by calling in sick when you wanted to go fishing or such. After a week or two whatever was smelling foul will either be long gone or will have evolved to a level of intelligence whereby you can charge it rent.
For odours in the closet the cure is fairly simple, take your favourite pair of shoes and remove them to the front stoop as they are most likely the cause. For pet odours around the house a liberal dousing of both the house and pet with your favourite deodorizer: Lysol comes heartily recommended.
Once in a while you may notice your couch beginning to smell much like the uninvited house guest who has been sleeping on it. There are two methods to solve this problem. First you can sprinkle a bit of baking soda underneath the cushions of the couch as this will tend to pull the odour into itself instead of it sticking in the couch. Another method, however, again involves the use of lysol. If your timing is right you will not only be spraying it on the couch and removing the odour, but also on the guest as well, removing him too.
Dirty Coffee Pots
Dirty coffee pots - another problem caused by having hard water that blocks everything up. A good idea for this is to use a water filter. Other options include buying bottled water at ridiculous prices, or simply to move into a soft-water area, such as the Isle of Wight, UK, and you'll never have to worry about limescale again.
Some Final Frivolous Thoughts
Here's a few final light-hearted tips for your delectation. And remember, be clean by all means. Clean is good. But as they say in the USA, 'don't sweat the small things'. A fantastically clean house doesn't necessarily equate to a happy one. If you can, make your home a happy one first - the rest will surely follow. And that way, cleaning your 'happy' home will be more of a pleasure, less of a bind.
Dripping Taps - Use bottled water
Washing-up - Use paper Plates
Dusting - Employ a Cleaner
Ironing - As Above
Repairing Clothes - Don't - buy new ones
Cleaning the Oven - Don't cook
Cleaning Windows - Brick them up
Creaking Doors - Take them off
Dealing with Loose Carpets - Floorboards are nicer
Reviving Sick Plants - Put them back in the garden where they belong
Removing Dog and Cat Hairs - Free the animals
Getting Rid of Bad Odours - If they don't disappear with the animals it must be you — use deodorant you smelly git
Polishing Silver - Sell it and use the cash to expedite the whole list
Making Sure Shelves are Straight - Don't make them yourself
Making Wine Glasses Sparkle - Play a Miles Davies CD
Removing Bobbles from Woollen Clothes - Keep them - they're fun
Removing Mildew - There are bugs that eat it, you know — do you want them to starve?
Dealing with Spiders in the Bath - Clean Spiders are better than none - keep the flies down
Making the Bed - Buy one instead
Odd Socks - We all have the right to be 'odd'
Raking the Grass - Don't cut it
Cleaning Venetian Blinds - Since you've bricked-up the windows - who needs them?