During the period henceforth to be known as The Great Silence of 2013 (because it’s easier than listing the things that combined to just get in the way of stuff) I learned some things. I’ve not had much time or the concentration-levels to watch tutorials or try and improve my drawing skills, so the stuff I’ve learned is rather more old-school. I’d mentioned a couple of things on Twitter and it got some interest, so I thought I’d write up some stuff I rather like using around the home. Google is your friend – you can find all sorts of advice on how to use this stuff, provided you apply basic common sense.
Bicarbonate of soda / Baking Soda (AKA Sodium Bicarbonate) I want to marry it. Yes, I’d seen various people rave about the multitude of uses for it over the years but I have a cupboard full of various things that I’m using up in an effort to be more environmentally-conscious going forward. However, I had a small amount left after baking, tried using it for a couple of things and soon started ordering in bulk to cut costs.
You can buy large amounts of bicarb quite cheaply, as it’s a common ingredient in making home made bath bombs and fizzers, as well as baking. I may try that later, but for now, I’m putting it through its paces as a cleaning product. My favourite thing to do with it is to chuck a teaspoon of the dry powder in the bottom of the dishwasher. It boosts the cleaning power of the detergent and means that the quick 30 minute wash gets everything perfectly clean which saves me water and electricity.
It’s brilliant on tea stained mugs as well – put some in the bottom, add boiling water and it pretty much melts off. Just don’t use it with aluminium or it will discolour it: see below. The dishwasher thing requires absolutely minimal effort but really makes a difference, at least with my machine which is a few years old.
An open pot, containing about a cup of bicarb cleared the fridge of the smell of cheese from Christmas which had outstayed its welcome. It just sits at the back in the bottom of the fridge and quietly absorbs any smells. When it stops working in a couple of months, I can chuck it in the kitchen sink and add some white vinegar for a foaming plughole and pipe cleaner, followed with plenty of hot water.
I first fell in love with bicarb when I learned how to use it to clean silver, when I was a child of about eight. You need to be careful with jewellery or anything with fittings that might get damaged, but if it won’t be, then mix a tablespoon in some warm water and pour it over a sheet of aluminium foil (shiny side up) and have the silver item sitting on the foil. Leave it for a bit and you’ll see the chemical reaction discolouring the aluminium as the tarnish melts off the silver. Take it out and rinse it off, give it a quick polish with a dry cloth and it’s done. I’m quite sure that someone taught me this as a way to conning me into polishing the various sports trophies we had in the house. It worked: I loved it – excellent way to con kids into cleaning stuff. 🙂
Anything sitting on the foil will get cleaner below the water line. Trophy bases generally aren’t waterproof but if you can stand them upside down, you can often get most of it cleaned the easy way.
My only bicarb failure was in making a ‘DIY air freshener‘. They looked and smelled lovely when I made them but the lemon peel very quickly (pretty much over night) turned black and manky, although the bicarb absorbed all the smell so I didn’t realise immediately. I had to bin two pots worth of bicarb after only a couple of days, which was irritating. It did, however, continue to work in the bin – it’s very good for absorbing all sorts of smells. But I won’t bother doing that again.
You can get cheap distilled malt vinegar, or use wine vinegar, but the important thing is that it’s white. Brown vinegar does not end well for anything other than adding to fish and chips. I happened to find a cheap deal on two ridiculously large bottles of white wine vinegar, which works out at about 79p a litre, and I’m sure if I’d been prepared to go and find some in a shop, I could have probably paid less. But it’s cheap enough and very versatile.
As a child, hard towels were the bane of my life (if it didn’t have holes in it, in our house it was considered usable even if thin and crispy or sandpaper-rough) and I still loathe them. The day I read something in a magazine about soaking hard towels in vinegar in the bath, I felt a glimmer of hope, but it needed a lot of vinegar so I just grew up, left home and bought soft towels of my own instead.
Then the internet was invented and I was saved. (And I got a tumble dryer, which is probably the best way to guarantee fluffy towels, although it sucks the pounds from your wallet and drives up your monthly electricity charges and is generally not great for the environment.)
In the event that you don’t have a tumble drier and are also cursed by caring about whether your bath towels are fluffy/soft, try using white vinegar in the fabric softener drawer when you wash them, instead of your normal softener. It makes them much better, although ancient towels are probably beyond saving. The effects are cumulative as the limescale on the fabric breaks down more each time, depending on how bad it is, so it can take a few washes but mine were much better immediately. Your laundry won’t smell like a chippy either. 😉
Bicarb or vinegar in your washing machine will both help to clean the innards and stop things smelling. Once a month, I run a 90 degree wash with a bath towel in it, with nothing else but cheap powder detergent and a measure of vinegar, to flush everything through. The repair guy who fixed an unrelated problem with it, asked what I used since he obviously couldn’t flog me any water softener tablets because the element was spotless, so it does seem to work as well as the far more expensive washing machine descalers I used to buy. I live in a very hard water area so it’s no mean feat.
A small dish of white vinegar is good at removing strong smells from a room and needs replacing every three days or so. Alternatively, you can use it to descale your kettle, as I did yesterday. Every time I change the water filter I descale the kettle, but there’s always a good week’s difference between how long it thinks it should last and how long it actually lasts. This week or so is characterised by noisy kettles, scummy looking tea and general disgruntlement. Nothing makes me lose my gruntle more than a scaled up kettle.
Yesterday, I boiled up half a kettle of vinegar. I watched it the entire time, suspecting that the bubbling in the viewing window would make me flick the switch before the kettle turned itself off, and I was right. (Left unattended it would be liable to overflow out of the spout.)
Once all the limescale had dissolved, I poured the hot vinegar into a couple of measuring jugs. With the kettle empty and the lid open, the remaining spots of vinegar evaporated so I didn’t need to use 3 filter jugs of water during the process to rinse away all traces of the descaler as I usually do. Full marks as a cheap and quick kettle descaler. I used about 750ml of vinegar, which seems a lot. Another time I’ll try diluting it with water and see if it still works if it boils for a bit longer. I’m sure you could get away with using less.
The warm vinegar was then used to clean the seals, door and floor of the dishwasher beautifully, using nothing more than a microfibre cloth. I gave a cloth a good dunk in the warm vinegar and then used it to remove assorted marks and the gunk that builds up around the sides of the door from splashes when you load it. (You can use vinegar instead of rinse aid too, apparently.) It took all of five minutes and required no real scrubbing on my part.
I’ll do a future post about a couple of other things that work well round the house, such as magic erasers (foam blocks) and Sticky Stuff Remover. Both of those are brilliant for people with children, animals or those who rent. I’ll also get back to baking things. If you have a tip for cleaning with bicarb or vinegar, leave a comment and let me know and I’ll try it.