Creative Cleaning with Everyday Products

Recently my 19-month old daughter managed to get her tiny hands on a ballpoint pen. Normally, this wouldn't have been a major event. This time was different. In the 30-45 seconds it took for me to notice, she'd thoroughly covered two-and-half cushions of our microsuede couch with a beautiful masterpiece in ink slashes and squiggles.

While I'm proud of the her dedication to detail and new art skills, this wasn't exactly the platform I wanted to her display them on. I confiscated the pen and walked straight to the computer; I knew that time is of the essence with ink.

I found a wide variety of solutions on the internet. Two simple ones were most common: rubbing alcohol and/or Windex. Really? I knew water would only make matters worse, so my first though wasn't to use rubbing alcohol.

I took a short walk to the corner store for a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a large pack of Q-Tips. Two l-o-n-g hours later, the ink was mostly gone. After the damp spots dried, the damage was all but invisible. Success!

As a fan of simplicity, I loved this easy, straight-forward solution to my problem. Afterward, I spent more time than I'd like to admit scouring the web for similar creative cleaning hacks that involve everyday products. There are more than you can imagine, but several in particular caught my eye.

The many uses for cola
It's actually scary what cola can be used to accomplish. While there are many sites dedicated to amazing uses for this common soft drink, two cleaning solutions appear on almost every list:

  • Polish tarnished chrome. Apparently the only other material you need is a piece of crumbled aluminum foil. Pour the coke on the chrome, scrub lightly with the foil, rinse with water, and repeat.  This can be used on everything from old motorcycles to bathroom sinks.
  • Clean stains out of toilet bowls. Supposedly the acid in coke works well to break down stains in a toilet bowl. While this is commonly listed as a legit cleaning solution, a 2003 episode of MythBusters concluded that this was “busted” — it doesn't really work.

However, the Myth Busters episode did confirm some other uses for cola:

  • Shine and clean pennies,
  • Help clean a battery terminal, and
  • Even remove blood stains.

I've never been a huge fan of cola, and you can be sure just makes it more likely that I won't be reaching for a can of Coke anytime soon.

Removing oil stains
Oil stains are some of the toughest to remove once they set in. When a spill occurs and you don't have specially-designed cleaner on hand, you have two other options:

  • Kitty litter
  • Powdered dish-washing detergent

With either product, you should sprinkle the granules and let them sit for fifteen minutes or so. Next, soak with hot soapy water and scrub with a push broom. (Or you can use a pressure washer, if you have one.)

I also found an interesting suggestion for using dryer lint to soak up oil on Lifehacker.  The article doesn't go into much detail, but this is a better option than paper towels or traditional towels, which tend to smear the stain rather than absorb it.

NOT-so-permanent markers
As with the oil stains, it's exponentially easier to remove permanent marker if you get to the scribbles before they have a chance to set into the paint. In this case, many straight-forward cleaning solutions work very well.

Depending on the surface of the wall and type of paint, some options cause more fading than others. When in doubt, test the following options in a closet first so you can gauge gauge any negative reaction to the paint:

  • Basic rubbing alcohol,
  • Bathroom hand sanitizer, and
  • Toothpaste (works better with baking soda as ingredient)

In all three instances, many people claim that scrubbing with a tooth brush gives good results!

Removing ink stains
In my own story above, we needed to remove ink from a microsuede couch. We had several options to choose from. In each case, though, experts suggested try the chemicals in small inconspicuous spots first since microsuede fabric has many different forms. Options included:

  • Rubbing alcohol,
  • Windex, and even
  • Nail polish remover

In our case, the rubbing alcohol did an effective job when applied to small, targeted quantities.

But let's face it: You're more likely to get an ink stain on your clothes, not your microsuede sofa. When this happens, the most important rule is not to use hot water or apply strong pressure right away. Both hot water and intense pressure actually cause the ink to set in deeper, making it more difficult to remove. Instead, try applying:

  • Hairspray,
  • Foaming shaving cream, or
  • Nail polish remover

After applying the chemical directly onto the stain, blot gently, switching the cleaning fabric frequently to maximize the amount absorbed. Once you've absorbed as much as possible, you can rinse the fabric thoroughly and attempt to wash it regularly in hot water.

Note: As a rule of thumb, you should test any alternative cleaning solution on a small sample before attacking the actual stain. And in nearly every case, you'll have greater chance of success the quicker you're able to start cleaning.

What other creative cleaning hacks have you found for around the house? Which of your homemade remedies have been most effective — and which have failed miserably?

Photo by geishaboy500.

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Kevin
Kevin
11 years ago

“I’ve never been a huge fan of cola, and you can be sure just makes it more likely that I won’t be reaching for a can of Coke anytime soon.”

Ever see what lemon juice can do as a cleaner? Should we conclude then that you’ll never consume lemon juice either?

🙂

Lindsay
Lindsay
11 years ago

Anybody got a gentle way to remove rust? I have an old metal map of the world with rust on the surface, I would like to remove it without defacing the map worse than it already is.

KEN
KEN
11 years ago

I’ll have to try that powder detergent on oil..I got some marks on my driveway…Thanks

Ben
Ben
11 years ago

@Lindsay – lemon juice, vinegar… really anything acidic. I would consider throwing in some table salt for an abrasive. Once removed, rinse well to get the acidity off.

Lindsey
Lindsey
11 years ago

My favorite is soaking blood stains in hydrogen peroxide. Sometimes it takes a few soaks with fresh peroxide, but it really bubbles the blood away. (ewwwh…)

Cory
Cory
11 years ago

I washed a black pen in a pair of khaki shorts one time and my mom soaked them in milk overnight. This removed any signs that they were formerly covered in black ink.

Gryphon
Gryphon
11 years ago

Hydrogen peroxide can be used to remove blood from cloth. It won’t completely remove it if the blood has set, but if you apply the peroxide and then wash the item it will typically remove the blood.

A bit unpleasant I know, but better to know this trick than loose a nice shirt to a cut or a nose bleed.

SF_UK
SF_UK
11 years ago

Nail polish remover is great for ball point pen, but only up to a point. When an entire penful has leaked onto a synthetic dress shirt, then yes, you can remove it, but you will also remove significant quantities of shirt material, as I discovered in college. My (male, hopeless) friend was still grateful, as he needed the shirt that night, but it was somewhat thin in place, to the point of being almost transparent. He bought a new shirt, and never left his washing in the laundry unattended again. A bit “icky”, but saliva is one of the best… Read more »

kenyantykoon
kenyantykoon
11 years ago

these pointers are really useful for a do it yourselfer. Sadly i think i would have called the cavalry to clean the mess up :). I am not much in the way of cleaning messes

Messy!
Messy!
11 years ago

Boiling water will remove cherry stains.

White vinegar is great for removing odors from clothing, just soak and then wash.

To get urine out of a carpet, blot as much as possible. Sprinkle liberally with baking soda. Wait 20 minutes or so. Vacuum it up, then pour club soda over the area. It will fizz nicely, and then you can soak up the club soda with a clean towel.

Hairspray removes sharpie marker from slick surfaces.

Rubbing alcohol will take dried latex paint off a hard surface, like woodwork or a door handle.

Toothpaste will remove silver tarnish.

Lindsay
Lindsay
11 years ago

@Ben
Thanks!

sandycheeks
sandycheeks
11 years ago

I use Microfiber cloths from the auto care aisle for cleaning windows. I use nothing but water and the cloth. I had literally given up on cleaning my windows but noticed how clean my neighbors were and asked for her secret. I am now proud of how clean mine look. For most clothing stains I use a fells naptha bar. It’s a brand of soap that’s been around almost unchanged since the late 1800’s. I wet the stain , rub the bar on it and wash as usual. It takes out most stains and lasts a very long time. We… Read more »

nmh
nmh
11 years ago

Actually you should test any cleaner (alternative or not) before you use it for the first time. Even something that you bought in a big fancy bottle that says for couches — removes ink! (for example) could still ruin your fabric or cause discoloration. For me using “alterntive” cleaners has been good because I am more careful about doing the test spot — which is kind of silly since I once ruined a carpet with carpet cleaner, i really should know better.

Anne Keckler | ACSM Certified Personal Trainer
Anne Keckler | ACSM Certified Personal Trainer
11 years ago

Citric acid will do the same thing as Coke, but without the stickiness. And it’s less expensive! You can buy it in bulk at a winemaking supply shop.

Just because there is a natural ingredient in Coke that is good for cleaning certain things, that doesn’t mean it’s doing something destructive to your internal organs or anything, as many people conclude.

A slice of lemon dipped in salt is great for cleaning the copper bottoms of cookware, but that doesn’t mean I’ll give up lemons or salt anytime soon. 😉

Shara
Shara
11 years ago

Baby wipes work wonders on ink as well. And I typically have them around when my baby goes artistic on me.

Oxyclean for blood.

Kathy F
Kathy F
11 years ago

Yes, oxyclean or peroxide will work on blood stains. If it can be soaked in a bucket, I prefer to use a mixture of cool water and Tide detergent. Maybe a capful in 5 gallons. Usually 24 hrs does it- I think the detergent has enzymes in it that help to break down the blood. If it is an old blood stain or set in, change solution and soak longer. Eventually it comes out. I only use oxyclean or peroxide on the real old stains.

Ilene
Ilene
11 years ago

We are big fans of cleaning with plain white vinegar. Does a better job on windows than any fancy cleaner I’ve purchased. Takes mild crayon stains off plastic storage tubs too. Does wonders for my ceramic tile floor too.

KC
KC
11 years ago

I was at a restaurant one time and my car wouldn’t start. I popped the hood and my battery was corroded heavily at the connections. A mechanic looking guy was also in the parking lot. He told me to go inside an get a little Coke and poor it on the connections – it would clean it enough to get the car started. I poured a dab of Coke and it just ate away the corrosion. Now I know what to do with a corroded battery – however I’ve lost a once favorite drink. After seeing what Coke does to… Read more »

Jane
Jane
11 years ago

I once managed to splatter one of my favorite shirts with paint. I did some online research, and alcohol worked wonders.

Also, peroxide on blood works best.

Another thing – I save my dryer sheets. They are great for removing soap scum in the shower. Just wet them and rub away!

Oh, and if you don’t want to use Coke in your toilet, you can also use denture cleaning tablets or Alka-seltzer. It’s the same principal.

KM @ Long-Distance Life
KM @ Long-Distance Life
11 years ago

I’ve heard that wet newspaper is good for cleaning windows, although I haven’t tested that one myself. A woman I work with also cleans her mirrors with vodka (although, while that’s certainly an interesting solution, and more environmentally friendly that chemicals, it’s not all that frugal!). I appreciate the other tips in this article & the comments.

Miss Moneypenny
Miss Moneypenny
11 years ago

By the way, Baking Soda is a GREAT way to remove stains. I remember once in high school, my friend Jenna and I spilled nail polish on what was probably a very expensive rug. Baking soda, a toothbrush, and a few scrubs, and the stain was gone!

http://missmoneypenny.squarespace.com

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
11 years ago

Alright, I guess, but what’s the point? Why not just use regular cleaners?

You can tell me rubbing alcohol is cheaper at $0.99 than fabric cleaner at $2.99 I guess, but considering I might go through one bottle per year of either, it hardly makes a difference financially.

Might as well post 101 ways to opener a beer without a bottle opener. I can do it with a butter knife or the edge of a counter. I’ve seen people do it with their teeth, which is sort of a cool party trick.

Lesley
Lesley
11 years ago

@Tyler: the sort of stains that are being discussed are often NOT removable by the standard products. Ink is a great example, I had tried all the commecial products I had on hand before someone told me about the hairspray trick. Which, by the way, worked even though the item had been washed and dried many times in previous attempts to remove the stain. Sometimes, it’s about creative ways to save something otherwise unsalvageable.

Lyn
Lyn
11 years ago

If you have a woodstove/fireplace with glass doors the very best cleaner is damp newspaper. Dip the damp paper in ash (not too much) and scrub. All of the black soot comes right off.

Judy
Judy
11 years ago

Lindsay, My dh used to work in salt water and needed to ware a name tag which would leave rust stains on his white shirt. We would rub a little “whitening toothpast on them before washing and the rust came right out…it might be worth a try on your maps.

Oleg Mokhov
Oleg Mokhov
11 years ago

Hey Adam, Finding multiple uses for everyday items around you is a win-win situation: you save money and increase simplicity. You don’t have to constantly buy single-function items for just-in-case scenarios (“you never know when the cat will take a poop on this vinyl-covered stool… so that’s why we need Poop-A-Way Vinyl-Edition”), so you save tons of money. And because you have less items around the house, you increase simplicity. You don’t need to think about just-in-case scenarios. Rather, when a situation does arise, you simply figure out how to effectively solve the problem with items you already have and… Read more »

Teresa
Teresa
11 years ago

My boyfriend some how got ink on his shirt, which made it through the dryer. We thought the $80 shirt was ruined forever. However, after doing some research and trial and error I found that good old baking soda and mineral water helped fade the stain so much that he can wear his favorite shirt again!

I was suprised it worked so well on something that has been through the dryer, everything I read made me feel like we were doomed once it went through all that heat.

Kathy
Kathy
11 years ago

Cuticle cream for permanent marker on leather — works like a dream and doesn’t hurt the leather.

Craig
Craig
11 years ago

These may or may not work but if you are going to go out of your way and clean, might as well use cleaning products and techniques that work. I don’t think you save by using other products, you still have to pay for them.

Money Funk
Money Funk
11 years ago

Hairspray was always are choice for getting ink out of our clothes in high school. Glad you found a way to get it out of the couch! Ink pen… ouch.

Jane
Jane
11 years ago

@Tyler, Another reason this is useful is because there is sometimes a time constraint with a stain. In Adam’s example, he only had a short time period before the stain set in his couch, so he had to use what was on hand. Sure, if you had a cleaner available that would work, it would make sense to use that, but sometimes you don’t, and everyday items that we all have in our house can also work in a pinch. And if you want to be greener, it makes sense to use baking soda rather than a commercial cleaner, even… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
11 years ago

Anyone know how to get candle wax off carpet after it has dried. Happend on Halloween when moving the pumkin with candle in it and not aware that it tipped over and spilt until after it dried.

Lauren
Lauren
11 years ago

For getting juice and wine stains out of clothes – especially with any sort of dark red/purple juice and red wine – the best solution I’ve ever found is to pour boiling water through the article of clothing directly over the stain. I found this trick on a really old “how to remove stains” guide that my mother saved from the mid-sixties. While most advice says to stay away from hot water, using *boiling* water on the red juice or wine spots melts the stain out like magic. The trick is to get the water as hot as possible (I… Read more »

M
M
11 years ago

I recently used Dawn dishwashing detergent on a shirt that had a set in grease stain (it had been washed and dried several times already.) I just rubbed a little Dawn in the stain and washed with the next load. The stain came out and I moved the shirt from the “yard work” drawer to the “ok to wear in public” drawer.

Phil
Phil
11 years ago

Lisa, for candle wax I remember my mom would cover the wax with a brown paper shopping bag and use an iron on it. The paper would absorb most of the melted wax. Can anyone else back me up on this?

valletta
valletta
11 years ago

As a certified wino (ahem, oenophile) my favorite tip is to use white wine to remove red wine stains.
But you have to apply it right away, not usually a problem since most people are aware when red wine spills 🙂

Jane
Jane
11 years ago

@Lisa – I’ve done the exact same thing that Phil did, only with a paper towel and an iron instead of a shopping bag. It works really well. You might have to do it multiple times it it’s a lot of wax.

SF_UK
SF_UK
11 years ago

Lisa: use ice in a double plastic bag to harden the wax. It will become brittle and you can break off the bigger bits. This is also the best way to get wax off hard surfaces (e.g. wood, which you would not want to iron!). Then, once you’ve removed the worst of it, use the paper and iron trick that Phil suggested. Start with the lowest possible heat so that you don’t melt the carpet unless you know its composition… Also, keep moving the area of paper, so that the wax doesn’t stick to the iron or go onto another… Read more »

Anna
Anna
11 years ago

My daughter disassembled an ink pen in our new-to-us minivan. I used rubbing alcohol, too. Hairspray is largely alcohol-based, but it’s more likely to have on hand. When possible, use the original form, without the scents of hairspray.

Beware of peroxide on clothing, too much can put holes in the fabric. But it takes several applications.

family man
family man
11 years ago

Rubbing alcohol with take most marks off of white walls too. Just don;t use too much or you’ll take the paint too!

Kevin@OutOfYourRut
11 years ago

Wow–you’ve got kids, you’ve got stains! We’ve found the best thing to do in most stain situations is to soak them a.s.a.p. Not wipe them up, but to apply water or club soda so that the substance can’t dry and also to let the water or club soda break up the stain before it becomes entrenched. At a minimum this buys time to come up with the long term solution. Club soda seems to work better, perhaps because of the bubbles. A handy man in our area also offered up this advice to those with kids. Instead of painting the… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
11 years ago

@ Lisa #32, I concur with Phil – brown paper and an iron works to remove candle wax from carpet. The heat melts the wax and capillary action draws the liquid wax up into the paper. Fold it over and repeat with a non-waxy section. Worked great for me. Polish off the base of your iron with a paper towel or rag before it completely cools. You can also get wax residue out of candle votives easily with heat. Put the votive in a small saucepan, add water around the votive (just a half inch will do), heat on low… Read more »

Kevin@OutOfYourRut
11 years ago

chacha1 (41)–we tried that on candle wax in the carpet and it didn’t work. Maybe because the candle was red (it was Christmas time). Nothing seems to be capable of removing red stains from a light colored carpet. We had a door to door salesman come in with one of those Billy Mays type cleaners, swearing that his snake oil could remove any stain. So I showed him the red stain in the carpet and told him I’d buy a couple of gallons from him if he could remove the stain from our carpet. 45 minutes and a lot of… Read more »

quinsy
quinsy
11 years ago

this is not a cleaning hack, but it’s a cola hack. 🙂 I’m an emergency department physician, and I see a good number of people who come to the emergency department with food stuck in their throats. Yes, sometimes it’s just a feeling of irritation in their throats from being scratched by food, and not an actual piece of food. But when it is, we do call GI specialists a lot of the time and get a scope put down your throat to take a look and possibly take it out. I learned this trick from another ED physician to… Read more »

don
don
11 years ago

Bugspray! Actually, almost any of the “old style” propellants, but I’ve found bugspray about the best.
Good for removing permanent ink from car doors without scratching or tarnishing the surface; and the sticky residue left by over-glued tags on glass/plastic ornaments.

nancy
nancy
11 years ago

Excellent article. Borax works on the toilet bowl. If you have kids and gum you have problems. If gum gets in their hair peanut butter works to sofen and you can wash with shampoo. For clothes or carpet ice the area then you can scrape it off. I have also used rubbing alochol to remove marker from the wall be careful not to use too much or you will take the paint off.

Lord
Lord
11 years ago

Nothing works on toilets as well as Saniflush did. Nothing. It is a shame it is no longer sold.

Shara
Shara
11 years ago

@don

by “old style” propellants do you mean Freon? Freon by itself is an interesting and very effective cleaner. At work we have had an awful time coming up with anything comparable for some of the delicate parts we have. Alas Freon is now a no-no.

E
E
11 years ago

I used the paper towel + iron trick to get red wax out of a beige carpet. It is still possible to see red if you put your eye right to the spot, but it’s completely invisible when standing (which most people do in our hallway). To get candle stubs or wax out of containers I put them in the freezer. They snap right out after just a few minutes. I use vinegar and baking soda for 90% of our cleaning. Partly to save money, but also because I am sensitive to some chemical cleaners. The smell of carpet cleaner… Read more »

Emma
Emma
11 years ago

For getting stains out of clothing without risking the colors in the clothes, use liquid dish soap. I’ve gotten week old dried blood out of a turquoise shirt with it – fill the kitchen sink with cold water, rub the soap in. Might take two or three times, but it’s gone for good. I’ve also used it to get out ground-in dark chocolate from a white knit shirt.

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