10 Ways to Reuse Common Household Items

by Janey Osterlind on 14 April 2011 16 comments
Photo: feserc

If you’re anything like me, you’re throwing out too much with the trash. Even though I recycle, I often think that I could surely be doing more to cut down on waste. With a little creative thinking, I’ve come up with a list of 10 household items I could be saving rather than tossing out. Here they are, along with some of the ways they can be reused. (See also: Garbage Into Gold: Great Ways to Recycle Old Containers)

Dish Soap Bottles

Use an old, thoroughly cleaned dish soap bottle (or any squeeze bottle) to dole out a perfect amount of pancake batter onto a hot griddle. You can also use a squeeze bottle as a convenient way to fill an iron with water or water out-of-the-way plants.

Egg Cartons

Used egg cartons (preferably well-cleaned Styrofoam ones) are excellent for freezing individual portions of all kinds of things — cookie dough batter, meatballs, homemade herb-butter patties. You could also use the cartons as convenient Jell-O molds for fun treats. They're also a great way to start seedlings for your garden. And if you have enough, use the cartons to store golf balls or organize change, which is especially convenient for garage and bake sales.

Floor Tiles

Make a beautiful piece of mosaic art. Gather up unused remnant tiles (or ask for some from your local home-improvement store), break carefully into pieces in a cloth bag, and arrange in a pattern on any solid surface. Adhere with floor-tile adhesive, and use a putty knife to push grout into the cracks after the adhesive dries. Wipe excess grout away with a damp cloth before it sets. You can also make a mosaic table or use large tiles to make an old tabletop new. Smaller tiles can be used for trivets.

Old Socks

Use the lone socks that the sock gnome left behind to keep small toys organized or to keep odds and ends like screws and paper clips in one convenient location. You could also put old socks over your shoes when doing something messy (like painting), or when your shoes are a wreck but you need to run inside for a minute. Feel free to hand them out to maintenance men and repairmen who tromp through your house, too. Try using others as dog or cat toys — put a tennis ball in one for the dog, or catnip in the cat’s, and sew closed. (See also: 10 DIY Dob Toys You Can Make for Pennies)

Old T-Shirts

When your husband’s fraternity T-shirts have more holes in them than the family colander, it’s time to retire the man-jersey. Pay homage to his favorite tees by sewing them into a pillow (for the man-cave), or just throw them into the dog’s crate. Better yet, use those babies for cleaning rags or to wrap breakables when moving. Your husband will appreciate his old shirts being given new life. Maybe.

Paper Towel Rolls

Keep your plastic bags contained by stuffing them in an empty paper towel roll. And while you’re at it, keep extension cords untangled by rolling them up and putting them through a paper towel roll. You can also organize hair bands and hair clips, roll your linens around paper towel rolls to keep them crease-free, or make boot trees so your over-the-knee boots won’t get unsightly creases in them after spending the summer slouched over in the back of your closet.

Plastic Shopping Bags

You already know how to keep plastic shopping bags contained in an empty paper towel roll. Now put the bags to use by lining bathroom waste cans with them. If you collect enough, plastic bags make excellent packing material in place of those awful packing peanuts. They’re also great for keeping flour and sugar from spilling all over your pantry shelves.

Shoe Boxes

Being a small-time shoe diva myself, I’ve collected more than my fair share of empty shoe boxes over the years. I put the boxes to good use by making them into storage bins for my closet — rather than spend a fortune on matching boxes, I’ve wrapped them all in similar wrapping paper and printed off labels for easy identification. I also use empty shoe boxes as dresser-drawer organizers. You might also want to use your empty shoe boxes for, well, shoe storage. Take pictures of your inventory and tape them to the outside of the boxes to quickly spot the pair you’re looking for in the closet.

Shower Curtains

I know this is a surprise, but I have somehow accumulated a number of old shower curtains over the years. I plan on using some as tablecloths for an outdoor gathering, while others I’ll use as drop cloths the next time I paint the walls. Another will be reused as a windshield cover to prevent frost build-up. Simply cut the shower curtain to the size of your windshield and hem in magnets to keep the cover in place. The magnets should stick to your car's metal windshield frame (see this windshield cover for an idea of how it should work). (See also: 3 Cheap and Easy Formulas for Homemade Windshield De-Icer)

Wine Corks

Don’t just toss all the wine corks you’ve accumulated over the years! Make a floating keychain to keep track of your keys the next time you set sail, or use another to safely store knives in a drawer. Use some to make a stylish wreath for your front door. You could also make an actual cork board to hold messages and important pieces of paper. (See also: 25 Things to Do with Used Corks)

What about you? Are there any household items that you reuse in a creative way, or do you have another use for one of these items? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Guest's picture
Suzanne Favreau

Good ideas here, but styrofoam egg cartons aren't a good choice for freezing food. Donate egg cartons to people who sell eggs, scout leaders, day care centers or schools for art projects. Old socks with the toes cut off make great arm warmers/snow protectors for young children. Keep a plastic shopping bag on the kitchen counter when cooking and put all your food waste in there as you prepare your meal. When your're done cooking, wrap it up and throw it away.

Guest's picture

I always re-use my shopping bags as trash bags in the restroom.

Love your idea for the shoes boxes! I am a huge shoe diva myself and have so many pairs that I haven't even worn once.

I save the boxes that merchandise comes in from online shopping and re-use them for shipping out stuff that I sell on eBay.

Guest's picture

Use the old corks for a laptop "stand" to keep it from overheating. I use 2 corks taped together on the bottom left of the laptop & one on the other side to balance it out. I have read that you can use synthetic corks as erasers, but i haven't tried that yet.

Guest's picture
Guest

We use the plastic bags that dry cleaning comes back in as wastepaper basket liners; just tie a knot on the end where there is a small opening and you're god to go. They are stronger that you would think and work well. We also use stryofoam egg cartons to line our window boxes. Just punch a few small holes in the bottom of each egg cup, turn the carton upside own and place in the window box before adding soil. The space provides air to roots and helps with water drainage.

Guest's picture
Guest

Use old shower curtains under the litterbox to make cleanup of that litter kitty kicked out fast and easy. Protects the floor too!

Guest's picture
Joanna

Paper towel rolls are also great for children's craft projects. They can be anything from a castle tower to a laser gun. Free entertainment for my nephew, and nutures his imagination!

Guest's picture
Guest

I am a preschool teacher and I cut paper towel rolls & tp rolls into small pieces (circular pieces about 1 to 2 inches wide.) When the kids have paintings, drawings, collages or any project on a piece of paper I roll the project and slide 1 or 2 of the roll pieces over it to keep it rolled. The parents appreciate getting that project home without it getting all folded up or torn up!

Guest's picture

I think the writer and a few of the readers have the wrong idea about consumption.

Really question some of the purchases you've always made and see if there is some way you can change them to waste the least before purchase.

For instance, you won't really get plastic bags if you bring your own reusable bag. There is no bag to 'find a reuse for or recycle' if you didn't waste in the first place.

Consider doing away with all of your paper towels and use kitchen towels and fabric napkins. The fanciest restaurants used fabric napkins, why can't you. Also, you will see an immediate cash savings when you stop literally throwing your money away on paper towel. I won't even mention the problems with this for the ecosystem.

You could get eggs in paper cartons (or from your farmer and get no carton at all - but a lot of people don't have this choice) and find a reuse and then add to the carton to your compost. Styrofoam doesn't recycle guys, do your research!

Yes, there are tons of reuses for shower curtains, but they can also be simply placed in the washing machine and be reused for YEARS.

Trash bags even. If you are composting all the food, recycling what paper, glass, cans you've reused to the end already, what are you really throwing away? At most meat leftovers (if you aren't making your own chicken broth w/chicken bones or your own beef or fish broth). I can go two to three months without changing my trash bag (no it doesn't smell b/c there's really nothing in there that can smell) and I'm still working to improve that b/c technically there is no such thing as trash. This will reduce your trash bill, what goes to the landfill, give you rich compost (or someone else if you live in a condo like me), and save you money on trash bags. A lot of people suggest not even using trash bags, if you have no liquids or anything thats majorly gross simply put it in the trash can and empty it into your curb can (unless laws prohibit you from tossing garbage straight in).

I think we've been doing things so long like we always have, that we don't really think about the waste we are creating. Even though we all have the best intentions when it comes to 'recycling' or 'changing a lightbulb' the big problem is still driving and waste. We could easily clean those two up with little effort if we put some thought into simply using and wasting less.

Remember it's REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE. RECYCLE is last.

Guest's picture
Lisa

A great use for old socks (aside from using them for dusting and the other uses already listed) is to roll them and stuff them end to end in used/ripped pantyhose to make a draft stopper. I also take used pantyhose or knee-high stockings, stuff them with used dryer sheets, and insert into my shoes between wearing - keeps them in shape and smelling nice.

Guest's picture

Thanks for the egg carton tip. I have seeds sitting on my counter, and I was thinking I would start them in a pot inside before transplanting, but the egg carton is a much better idea. Thanks for the suggestion.

Guest's picture
GuestDebra

I take the mesh bags that I bought my apples in and crochet a handle and the bottom I crochet up . They make great bags for caring toys and clothes for little ones . I crocheted some in the school colors and the cheerleaders used them for their pompoms and water bottle and sunscreen and stuff .

Guest's picture
slb

Good ideas except for recycling the dish detergent bottle as pancake batter squeezer (or for that matter, recycling any plastic not designed for holding food into a food container). That bottle likely isn't food grade, meaning whatever you put in it can leach harmful additives from the plastic. And it's likely that the detergent has leached into the plastic itself, no matter how thoroughly it's cleaned.

Guest's picture
rachel, UK

thanks for these great ideas.

another idea is to use an ice cream scoop to scoop washing powder to put into the washing machine, thats what i do, very handy and helpful when i was only going to throw it away recently as i dont often buy ice cream.

Guest's picture
Mommiest

Egg cartons are not a great way to start most seedlings: they need room to get their roots started, and many seedlings are not ready for transplanting until they have at least two "true" leaves on them, a sign that additional roots have developed after germination. If you look at the actual depth of soil you'll have for them, there's not much there.

Yogurt cups with holes drilled in them are much, much better. Even paper cups or those made from rolled newspaper.

I have approximately 1000 seedlings goings right now, and have tried egg cartons. Never again.

Guest's picture
NE Kelly

Old shower curtains also make yard clean up a breeze. Lay out a shower curtain, rake your leaves onto it and pick it up by the corners and dump into your bin - saves your back!

Guest's picture
Guest

Some brilliant tips there, thankyou. I especially like using the old shower curtain to prevent frost on the windscreen and also using toilet role tubes to detangle wires.