Something tells me that back in the day (say, pre-WalMart) people didn’t just throw things away because of a slight imperfection or minor scratch. Whether it was the children of the Great Depression or the 1960’s back-to-the-landers, the self-reliant spirit took hold in the form of mending, fixing, and outwitting problems, without relying on fancy new items or chemically-concocted cleaners.
Although superstores offer everything we need and more, there has been a resurgence of do-it-yourself repairs, and the majority of them aren’t new. In an attempt to try to unearth some of these useful solutions, I went searching through my grandma’s book collection. Among her things (and she was a very resourceful woman) were the Farmer’s Almanac, a Reader’s Digest gardening book, and a book (circa 1950) on how to clean everything. In these tombs of knowledge I found some old-fashioned (read: practical and cheap) advice for fixing many modern day domestic problems. None of them requires darning or crocheting (two things I’ll never do), but they are easy, fast, and logically thrifty ways to cure common problems that arise in the domicile.
1. Stained Tupperware
Tupperware often stains after we put something with a lot of color—usually a tomato-based sauce—in the container. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, a great way to get rid of the stain is to take a wet cloth and scrub it away with baking soda. (Like white vinegar, baking soda plays prominently in many homemade cleaning solutions.) Another way to rid the color is to fill the Tupperware with water and drop in denture cleaning tablets, wait twenty or so minutes, and rinse out.
2. A Smelly Coffee Maker
Normally, an old coffee maker that starts to get a funky, burnt coffee smell would be reason to put it in the “give away” box and get a new one. But just because a drip coffee maker starts to emit something other than coffee aromas doesn’t mean it needs a replacement. Coffee-acid buildup is normal and can lead to a burnt bean smell that isn’t very pleasant. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, an easy to way to get rid of it is to pour white vinegar where the water normally goes and run the machine through its normal brewing process with a filter in. Repeat, but this time let the vinegar sit in the chamber for about a half an hour. Run the cycle and then run it twice through with fresh water. It should smell fresh and clean.
3. The Ants Are Attacking!
Ants usually invade the home when it’s rainy outside, though they can strike at any time they’re attracted to something sweet. Although there are numerous chemical solutions to get rid of them, many are toxic and shouldn’t be used around small children or pets. The Reader’s Digest book suggests an easy solution: grits. They expand in the ants’ stomachs and kill them. You can also try dried spearmint or peppermint near the spot where they’re coming in your house.
4. White Rings on the Table
I don’t own any wood furniture that hasn’t seen its share of wear and tear, but I know there are some people out there who strive for the shiny wood upon which no cold or hot container shall rest. But sometimes we forget the coasters (especially during parties) and that can ruin a clean grain. If this happens, make a paste of salad oil and salt and rub it into the ring that remains on the table. Let it sit for about an hour then wipe off with a cloth. Petroleum jelly, left on for a day, can also work. Another home remedy is a hot, dry iron and a cotton cloth. Fold the cloth over the stains, put the hot iron over the spot, move it around, and after about thirty seconds, the stains should be gone.
5. Dirty Drain or Small Clog
Without a garbage disposal, drains can get funky pretty fast. Even with a disposal, drains need a cleaning from the gunk that builds up. Try this: pour about 1/4 cup of baking soda down the drain followed by 1/2 cup of white vinegar. Cover with an upside down cup while it fizzes. Leave for about twenty minutes and flush out with four or so cups of boiling hot water. Your drain will be clean and gunk-free. If the drain is still moving slowly and has a serious clog, instead of a harsh chemical try using your bathroom plunger to loosen up the clog—works every time!
6. Mildewed Houseplants
During humid weather or due to overwatering, houseplants—like outdoor roses, vegetables, and other plants—can develop powdery mildew, which presents as white dust on leaves. For a simple solution, make a paste of one teaspoon baking soda mixed with several drops of vegetable oil dissolved in about two cups of water. Spray or paint it on the leaves.
7. Out of Baking Powder
There’s nothing more frustrating than being in the throws of a recipe and realizing you’re out of a certain ingredient. Some things you can substitute, but others, like baking powder, you can’t. The chemistry in baked goods just doesn’t work out right. But, if you happen to have baking soda, cornstarch, and cream of tartar, you can make your own baking powder. Mix one tablespoon baking soda, one teaspoon cornstarch, and one and a half tablespoons cream of tartar together. Voila!
8. A Damaged Window Screen
A ripped window screen is annoying because chances are, the tear will slowly get bigger and lets bugs in. An easy fix is painting over the spot with clear fingernail polish. Make sure to do both sides (if you can) and use several layers to coat it. Small tears are best because they aren’t as noticeable, so try to catch them early!
Luckily, many of the cleaning and repairing items are things we have already have at home. Vinegar, baking soda, and a little ingenuity go a long way toward cleaning and fixing—and save us some cash while we’re at it.
Updated April 19, 2011