I really, really, really like to recycle. I look at our city's recycling guidelines as just that—guidelines. If it looks like it could be recycled but isn't on the list, I often throw it in anyway (not the subtlest hint, but hey—I could be onto something!). So when I discover that some of the most common inhabitants of my fridge and pantry have multiple uses, it just makes me happy. I really can use those, er, elderly bananas or browning onions. Really! They can have a second life as great cheap, natural cleaners—yay! Read on for great ways to recycle perishable items you already own—and clean your casa for just pennies while you're at it.
I feel guilty when I separate bunches of bananas at the grocery store. So often I end up buying more than I can eat before they turn from yellow to brown. But now I can use the brown ones to clean!
- What to do: Just as bananas are great to eat (fresh or baked), banana peels make great natural cleaners. Use the insides of banana peels to dust houseplant leaves, wipe away CD or DVD scratches, remove ink stains from skin or clothing, bring dull wood back to a shine, and even polish tarnished silver.
If you don't have one of those pricey bottle neck scrubbies, not to worry. Raw rice grains work just as well at a fraction of the price.
- What to do: Rice works well as a cleaner in several ways. You can grind some raw rice up in your coffee maker to cut down on bean residue. You can also pour in some raw rice grains with warm water and vinegar and shake to create a mild abrasive cleansing effect.
Vinegar has the same antiseptic properties as bleach without the dire warnings attached. Whether you soak a sponge with vinegar for tough stains or dilute it with water for an overall wipe-down, it will do the trick—and safely when you have kids and pets around.
- What to do: Neutralize odors, bacteria, germs, mold, and other unwelcome visitors by giving surfaces and fixtures a thorough wipe-down with straight vinegar or a half-and-half vinegar/water mix.
Salt sometimes seems like the cure-all to me. It can ease sore throats, make bland dishes taste divine, and clean like a banshee too!
- What to do: Sprinkle salt on any spills or stains. Wait until the salt absorbs the excess, then wipe the whole mess away with a soft, clean cloth.
5. Aluminum foil
Aluminum foil can not only keep your oven from ending up as a graveyard for cooking spills, but can also clean those up quite handily.
- What to do: You can ball up used aluminum foil (save the new for storing leftovers) and scrub, scrub, scrub to remove debris on cooking sheets, oven trays, and oven surfaces.
Onions have never been my favorite. But my mom loves them, and so does my husband and most of my friends. So I typically have a couple in-house. When no one eats them, this is how I use them!
- What to do: You can expect a mess when grilling (stove-top or standalone). But surprisingly, onion is not just a common ingredient in grilled dishes, but is great at cleaning up after them too! Rub the raw side of a peeled onion over the grill bars to remove stuck-on debris.
Mayonnaise is delicious—eggs, tuna fish, sandwiches of any kind–all can be enhanced by a dab or a dollop. But mayonnaise can perform other miracles too—including the removal of water rings.
- What to do: Dab some mayo over the surface of the water ring. Rub very gently with a soft cloth (microfiber is great here). Then just let the excess remain for 2-3 minutes before you wipe it away.
Lemons are awesome smelling and great tasting, and they are natural disinfectants too.
- What to do: Cut a fresh lemon in half (or use the inside of the rind after squeezing out the juice for lemonade—this is my favorite!). Rub the half over any surface that needs sanitizing—such as surfaces where you have prepared fish or meat. Then just wipe with a soft cloth and warm water if desired.
9. Cream of tartar
Until recently, cream of tartar has always been the mystery ingredient in one of my favorite desserts—meringue. But recently my mom told me it’s a great natural cleaner too!
- What to do: If you have a tablecloth or napkin set that has become stained, mix some cream of tartar and water into a paste, then rub it into the stained areas. Let it dry, then rinse.
10. Baking soda
Baking soda holds a special place in my heart as the ingredient that makes cake, cookies, and bread rise. I do love my baked goods. But it is also a powerhouse of a natural cleaner!
- What to do: You can sprinkle baking soda in toilets, sink basins, and tubs in place of harsher commercial chemicals. Mix with vinegar, lemon juice, and water to make a great natural surface-scrubbing agent. You can also use baking soda paste (just mix with water) to restore grout to its white origins. Finally, baking soda can freshen the air—just add a drop or two of your favorite essential oil and shake in a mason jar, then place in any area where there are odors, and soon they will be gone.