6 must-know cleaning tricks using items you already have

Caitlin Browne | Improvement Center Columnist | October 9, 2013

So you want to have a clean house, but acquiring an expansive collection of fancy cleaning products just drains your budget and adds clutter to your supply cabinet, not to mention releasing noxious chemicals into your home. It turns out that some of the most effective cleaning solutions can be derived from items you already have lying around your house. A few powerhouse products, like vinegar and baking soda, can be used to clean everything from bathtub grime to stovetops to windows. Below are some must-know shortcuts for getting your house spotless with items you already have,

1. Clean your tub and shower with vinegar and Dawn

Want your beautiful bathroom to stay sparkling clean? Remove stubborn soap scum and hard water buildup from glass shower doors with a mixture of vinegar and Dawn dishwashing detergent. Just heat up half a cup of white vinegar in the microwave until hot, then mix with half a cup of Dawn detergent inside an empty spray bottle. Spray it all over your shower doors, tub, or any other surface you want clean, let sit for a minute, then wipe or scrub off. This recipe promises to leave glass doors like-new and remove buildup using much less elbow grease than other methods require.

2. Clean your stove with baking soda and salt

Many people view cleaning their stovetops as one of the most loathsome chores on their household to-do list. Kitchens seem to collect stubborn stuck-on food bits and cooking spills with such frequency that when people approach kitchen remodeling, many do it with durable and easy-to-clean materials in mind. However, that doesn't mean you have to buy a new stove if you ever want to see a clean one again. In fact, this simple recipe makes stovetop cleaning easier to tackle: simply mix a tablespoon of salt with a tablespoon of baking soda, then add a tablespoon of water to make a paste. Dip a cloth into your mixture and scrub the food stains away. Not only is the recipe simple, cheap, and effective, but it allows you to avoid the heavy-duty chemicals in commercial stove-cleaning products.

3. Steam clean your microwave with vinegar

Vinegar is your pantry's secret weapon: this miracle worker can give your microwave a thorough clean merely by being heated up inside. Mix equal parts vinegar and water and heat them in the microwave until it steams up, then pop open the door and wipe the inside clean. This simple trick leaves your microwave's inside looking like new. Recipe here.

4. Wash windows with vinegar

Outside windows are one of the toughest cleaning challenges. Windows collect more dirt and grime from their exposure to the elements than any spot inside your home. This project takes a bit of work, but once more the cleaning powers of vinegar yield tremendous results. First, use a brush to wipe away dirt, cobwebs, and other loose debris. Then, sponge the windows with a mixture of equal parts white vinegar and hot water, then use a squeegee to wipe windows dry. Detailed instructions from Martha Stewart can be found here.

5. Use Lime to Eliminate Rust Stains

If pesky rust stains litter your stainless steel sink, pots and pans, or knives, a lime can help you get rid of them and leave things shiny again. Just rub a slice of lime on the stubborn spots or go all around the inside of your pots or your sink with it. Let it sit for ten minutes, then sprinkle some salt over the top and rub away with a scouring pad. More details here.

6. Restore a White Sink with Baking Soda and Salt

If you're debating pros and cons of sink styles for a new bathroom or kitchen, here's a couple for white sinks: Con - there's an ongoing struggle to keep it free from discoloration from food stains and grime; Pro - you can restore your pristine sink with a simple sprinkling of baking soda all over a dry sink combined with a squirt of dish soap and some scrubbing. Adding some salt, tea tree oil, lemon juice, or hydrogen peroxide to the mixture can add an extra whitening boost for particularly stubborn stains.

These simple tricks will help you tackle some of your home's most daunting cleaning challenges with items you likely have on hand. But they represent only the tip of the iceberg: for every specialty cleaning product in the grocery store aisle, there's likely a do-it-yourself recipe you can whip up from items in your own pantry that's just as effective, gentler on the environment, and better for your family's bodies. So what's stopping you? Get cleaning!

About the Author

Caitlin Browne is a San Francisco-based freelance writer with a focus on education. Previously, she taught high school English and European history in Sicily, Italy. She holds a degree in history and Italian studies from Brown University.