Granny knew best: 20 old-fashioned cleaning tips that work

While we’ve made some very welcome advances in the world of domestic goddessness (thank you from the bottom of my heart, oh washing machine inventor), there are some things that perhaps never needed improving upon. When it comes to household cleaning, eschewing harsh chemicals and cleaning agents and opting instead for those good old-fashioned cleaning remedies of yesteryear is kinder to our bodies, kinder to the environment and usually kinder to our bank balance too! Check out these 20 simple and natural solutions to your cleaning problems.

Note: Borax can be hard to find in NZ, so you can substitute for baking soda if you can’t hunt any down.

1. Shampoo for your sofa

Whether you’ve got fur babies, human babies, or just a man-baby who doesn’t take his shoes off, you can benefit from this upholstery shampoo for furniture fabric. Mix 6 tablespoons of pure soap flakes and 2 tablespoons of Borax together. Slowly add 500ml boiling water, stirring well, until dry ingredients are dissolved. Allow to cool, then whip into a foam with an egg beater. Brush dry suds onto the furniture, concentrating on soiled areas, before quickly wiping them off with a damp sponge.

2. All natural pine floor cleaner

Washing soda (from the laundry section of the supermarket) is a cheap and effective way of cutting through grease and removing stubborn stains. Mix 1/2 cup soap flakes with 1/4 cup washing soda (sodium carbonate), 1 cup salt and 2 cups water in a saucepan and heat gently until dissolved. When mixture has cooled to lukewarm, add 2 teaspoons pine essential oil (available at health food or aromatherapy stores) and stir well. Store in a jar and simply use two to three tablespoons in half a bucket of hot water to clean floors. After cleaning, rinse floor with half a bucket of clean water mixed with a cup of white vinegar.

3. Non-toxic loo cleaner

Before you go to bed, sprinkle 1 cup of Borax (or substitute with 1/2 baking soda) around your toilet bowl, then drizzle with 1/2 cup white vinegar. Leave overnight before scrubbing with a toilet brush.

4. Oven cleaner that doesn’t require a gas mask

For rough, baked-on grease in your oven, mix one box baking soda (around 500g), with 1/4 cup washing soda. Wet the floor and walls of the oven with a wet rag or paper towels and generously sprinkle the mixture on the surface. Repeat and leave it to sit overnight. In the morning, wipe the mixture and the grease away, rinsing well to remove any filmy residue. You may need to scour with salt and an abrasive pad for really stubborn baked-on stains.

5. Dishwasher soap on the cheap

Mix 2 cups Borax and 2 cups washing soda and store in a closed plastic container, then simply add 2 tablespoons to the dishwasher soap compartment before use. Much cheaper than your regular dishwashing powder or tablets.

6. Spot-free dishwasher rinse

Sick of spotty dishes coming out of the dishwasher? Forget chemical rinsing agents, simply add 1 – 1 1/2 cups white vinegar to the rinse compartment of your automatic dishwasher, then wash dishes as usual. Magic!

7. DIY dishwashing liquid

If you’re a handwasher of dishes, this suds-free liquid gel cleans dishes beautifully. Combine 1/4 cup soap flakes and 2 cups of hot water in a bowl and stir until the flakes have dissolved. Allow to cool until lukewarm, then stir in 1/4 cup of glycerin and 1/2 teaspoon lemon essential oil. As the mixture cools, it forms a loose gel. Stir with a fork to break up the gel and, using a funnel, pour into a narrow-necked plastic bottle (an old shampoo bottle works a charm). To use, squirt two to three teaspoonfuls under running water into the sink.

8. Sparkled up silver

Why fork out big bikkies for silver polish when good old toothpaste will do? Simply apply a plain white toothpaste (no gels, please) to the surface of the silver with an old soft-bristle toothbrush and gently scrub away the tarnish. Then rinse silver with warm water and dry immediately with a soft cloth. Good as new!

9. Streak-free and chemical-free glass cleaner

Mix 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 2 cups warm water in a spray bottle and shake well to dissolve cornstarch. Spray generously onto glass surface then wipe dry with a clean cloth or old newspapers, buffing to a streak-free shine.

10. Non-toxic mould remover

If you live in an area where the humidity levels are high, try adding a cupful of Borax – a natural mould retardant – to your soapy water whenever you wash down the walls. Alternatively, mix 1/2 cup borax with 1/2 cup vinegar and 1 cup water in a spray bottle and spray generously on mouldy surfaces before wiping clean with a damp sponge.

11. Shoe deodoriser

Stinky shoes? Fill a spare pair of socks with a mixture of coarsely crushed dried herbs and spices – any combination of rosemary, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, orange peel, lemon peel, thyme, lavender, and pine needles. Tie the socks at the top and leave them in the shoes between each wear.

12. All-natural stain removal

Those stubborn stains need a bit of extra help, but there’s no need for expensive chemicals – try these more natural remedies.

– Blood, chocolate or coffee stains: Soak overnight in a solution of 1/4 cup borax and 2 cups cold water. Wash as usual the next day.

– Grease: Apply a paste of cornstarch and water and allow to dry before brushing away the powder and grease.

– Red wine: Sprinkle stain with salt; let sit for several hours. When dry, brush away salt and wash, or clean immediately with soda water.

– Grass: Soak stain in a 3 percent solution of hydrogen peroxide, then wash.

– Ink on a white shirt: Wet fabric with cold water and apply a paste of cream of tartar and lemon juice one hour before washing.

– Scorch marks: Rub area with a cut raw onion. After the onion juice has been absorbed, soak the stain in water for a few hours.

13. Mildew remover

For stubborn mildew on light coloured items, wash fabric in warm soapy water, then make a mixture of 2 parts salt to 1 part lemon juice and apply it to the mildewed area. Place the item in full sun, rinsing after several hours. Repeat if necessary. Don’t use on dark items though, as the lemon juice will bleach them.

14. Protective furniture polish

For a furniture polish that both protects the wood surface and makes it shine, combine 1 cup olive or vegetable oil with 1 teaspoon lemon essential oil (available at health food or aromatherapy stores). Mix the oils together thoroughly and apply sparingly with a soft rag, then wipe dry with a clean, soft cloth, buffing to a gleaming finish.

15. Fresh carpets the natural way

For a lovely fresh-smelling carpet devoid of any pet/food/wine evidence, crush 1/2 cup of lavender flowers to release their scent, then mix with 1 cup of baking soda and sprinkle liberally on carpet. Leave for 30 minutes, then vacuum.

16. The easiest garbage disposal cleanser ever

Keep your garbage disposal smelling fresh by simply dropping half a used lemon into the disposal and running the motor until the lemon is pulverized and washed down the drain. Mmm, lemony fresh!

17. Fluffed up fabrics

For soft, fluffy fabrics, fill your washing machine with water, then add 14 cups baking soda. Add your clothing, then during the final rinse cycle, add 1/2 cup white vinegar (pour it into the softener dispenser if you have one).

18. No-brainer drainer cleaner

Drains taking a long time to clear? Keep them clog-free by pouring 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain, followed by 1 cup white vinegar. Allow the mixture to fizz for several minutes, then flush down a litre of hot water. Do this weekly to keep drains in good running order.

19. Old school fabric gel wash

This fabric gel wash has a built-in water softener, making it particularly good for washing in hard water. Your clothes are guaranteed to come out beautifully clean. Heat 2 cups pure soap flakes, 1 1/2 cups borax and 6 cups of water in a saucepan, stirring until the liquid is clean, then add 1/2 cup glycerine. Once the mixture has cooled to lukewarm, add 2 teaspoons essential oil of eucalyptus, lemon or lavender (available at health food or aromatherapy stores) and stir well. Store in a wide-mouthed jar and simply add a cupful to your washing machine, ensuring the soap is fully dissolved before adding your clothes. For best results, use warm or hot water.

20. Car interior cleaner

To clean vinyl and leather upholstery in your car, mix 2 tablespoons vegetable oil-based liquid soap with 1/4 cup olive oil and 1 teaspoon lemon essential oil and apply with a sponge. Your car won’t recognise itself.

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