Household Cleaning Hacks That Save You Money

By Nora Dunn on 14 August 2009 (Updated 8 June 2011) 35 comments
Photo: bark / Flickr

Here is an assortment of ways to get more bang for your cleaning buck and efforts. From making your own cleaning solutions to ensuring your appliances are working optimally, most of the techniques below can be used with what you already have on hand. Why not give them a try?

Appliance Maintenance: Dusty Refrigerators

Your fridge is a pig on power and the worst offender in your house. But many fridges are not running optimally to begin with, and you can fix this quite easily.

The coils behind the fridge tend to attract dust, which in turn insulates the coil, making it work harder to actually cool the fridge. The remedy? Unplug the fridge, pull it away from the wall, and vacuum the dust off all the coils. Doing this once per season will save you on power costs. (See also: 7 Ways to Make the Most of a Tiny Kitchen)

Appliance Use: Ironing Efficiency

Run your iron over a sheet of aluminum foil to clean the plate. Then, place the foil under your ironing surface and iron your clothes as usual. The foil acts as a conductor, allowing you to iron from the top and bottom simultaneously.

Natural Air Freshener

Simply dip a cotton ball in an essential oil of your choice and add it to your vacuum bag. Instead of smelling that vacuum odor when you clean, the cotton ball will infuse the air with a light scent. (This technique won't work in all vacuum cleaners; it depends on the kind you have.)

Remove Floor Scratches

Don't worry about spending a small fortune on special scratch remover; simply apply lemon juice and olive oil to your scratch and buff it away. This mixture also makes a good overall furniture polish.

Word of caution: Always test out on a small patch of floor or furniture first.

Homemade Stain Remover

This is a pre-treatment for tough stains on clothes. Make a paste of lemon juice and baking soda. Massage into the stain, then wash as usual. (Again, it's not a bad idea to test this out first, as the lemon juice could affect bright colors.)

Homemade Laundry Detergent

I don't like the chemicals in most detergents. (I say if you can't pronounce it, it's probably not good to eat or wash with.) Not only that, but many commercial detergents require a much higher dose than is necessary. Here are 10 Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipes, and you can choose the one you think will work best based on what you have on hand. The basic ingredients are a combination of washing soda, baking soda, bar soap, and/or borax.

Tea and Coffee Stains

Salt is a great abrasive that can lift ingrained coffee and tea stains quite easily.

Cups and Mugs: Simply apply salt and rub into the stain with your fingers. If you are afraid the salt will scratch your cup, then dilute it with a little water and scrub the stains with a soft pad.

Coffee Pots and Coffee Percolators: Fill the pot or percolator with water, add a ¼ cup of salt, and boil or percolate as usual. Pour out the salt water near your garden to repel pests. During winter months, reuse the salt water to wash the insides of your windows to prevent frost. (This is also great for the car, and vinegar also works well for this purpose.)

Over to you: What are your special household cleaning hacks that save you money?

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Guest's picture
Ian

Simple Green is underated for house cleaning. Buy the concentrate. It's cheaper than vinegar in the long run, and it won't irritate your lungs (which vinegar fumes do). Use it to mop the floor, clean counters, or add it to the laundry if the clothes are really dirty (say you've been working outside). It's made of pine oils, and it's pretty harmless. Smells like a breathmint.

It's good for washing your car. Use a floor mop and a bucket of SG, and you can scrub all that air pollution and soot off your vehicle without using a lot of water. Make sure the mop heap is soft and not crushed so you don't scratch the paint of your car with the mop hardware. The mop handle makes it easy to scrub the top of your car too, especially if you have a van or pickup. The automatic wash is fun, but this is cheaper.

There's some good tips in this article. The refrigerator tip reminds me of our hot water heater. The pilot kept going out and wouldn't stay on. After letting the water heater cool down for a few hours, I wiped the underside of the water heater with a paper towel and found years of lint and crud. I cleaned it off as best I could, and the water heater's worked fine ever since.

Guest's picture
JCHen

About 10 yrs ago my husband lived in an area that received a flood that was the largest the area has seen in 100 years. Much of his clothing and stuff was drenched in mud and whatever goo left by the river. We took the bedding and clothing and washed them several times in hot water, laundry soap, and large amounts of Simple Green. It was wonderful to find that a large amount of the stains had disappeared. I attribute this to the Simple Green. We always keep a large jug in the laundry room and use it there and also for other household cleaning. Just spray the Simple Green on your stain. This is a must for all households!

Guest's picture
falnfenix

i second the Simple Green recommendation. we use it for everything.

Guest's picture
Guest

Agreed! I love the stuff. It's especially nice when you have little ones. One time when my daughter was a baby she grabbed a bottle and squirted it directly in her eyes. (So much for the child-proof cabinet latches! and I was in the room just a couple arm lengths away but couldn't get to her in time). I freaked out - but on the package it just said if it gets in your eyes, just flush with water. No warnings about seeking medical treatment or anything. After a quick rinse with water, she was perfectly fine! :)

Guest's picture
Heron

I appreciate the interest in using alternatives to commercial laundry detergents. But I would like to point out that some of the alternatives you suggest can also be problematic. For example, washing soda (sodium carbonate) is a fairly strong alkali - the dust from handling it can be irritating in your air passages, it's hard on your skin, and you really do not want to get it in your eyes. I use sodium carbonate when I dye fabric at home - but I wear a dust mask, rubber gloves and safety glasses when I mix the stuff up, and keep the gloves on when I work with the solution.

I checked the material safety data sheet for Borax, and it presents similar problems.

Guest's picture
Sarah

I make my own laundry soap, and most recipes call for borax, washing soda, or both. I've substituted baking soda and haven't had any problems. Here's the recipe I use - it makes small batches, and is great for college:

1 cup castile liquid soap
2 cups water
1/3 cup salt
1 cup baking soda

Warm the salt and baking soda in water until mostly dissolved. Transfer to a one gallon container. Add your soap fill the rest of the jar with water, this giving you 1 gallon of detergent. Use 1/4 -1/2 cup per load, depending upon how dirty the load is. Add a tablespoon or two of vinegar to your wash during the rinse cycle.
^ from Passionate Homemaking

Guest's picture
Guest

These items are biodegradable and natural cleaners. There are problems with everything we use in life except elbow grease (even water has issues these days, and I expect there are folks that develop some kind of joint problem from scrubbing too). I am so pleased with borax, vinegar, and washing powder. I use all three in various combinations to do the tough cleaning in my house and to wash clothes as did my grandmother. I use common sense when using any kind of substance whether it be for play or work. Added bonus: I have not had a skin allergy outbreak in several years!

Guest's picture

wow! these are really some great tips! I would never have thought about the fridge idea! thanks for this!

Guest's picture
Guest

A lot of refrigerators now have the coils under the bottom rather than on the back. There's a special brush available for cleaning them. It looks kind of like a furry pool cue, and does a great job of getting all the stuff out.

Guest's picture

Deee-lighted to hear I'm not the only one who uses Simple Green to wash the car. I thought I'd slipped my cog when I dreamed this one up, having run out of whatever supposedly car-friendly product I was using. It really works well.

Also you can clean the hard stuff in the interior very nicely with diluted Murphy's oil soap. Smells great and does a fine job.

Guest's picture
steve

Simple green will indeed clean your car, but I believe it will also tend to strip the wax off your car, exposing the clearcoat and paint and speeding up oxidation and mechanical abrasion of the factory paint job. Double check this to be sure before taking my word for it, but I'm pretty sure I'm correct.

This method of washing the car could be penny wise and pound foolish.

If you really want to know how to wash a car, go to a car website that will better explain the issues involved.

Guest's picture

HVAC systems are the biggest users of power in most buildings- around 45% of total. And HVAC systems must be properly sized and maintained regularly to realize desired efficiency results. For example, according to US Dept of Energy website up to 30% energy savings can result from compressor energy alone if coils are cleaned vs. not. In addition this may help with dust control, promote equipment longevity, and improved indoor air quality and comfort. Most manufacturers and US Dept of Energy suggest that you inspect and clean coils and other components as much as annually. Coil cleaning is also important for other systems including coolers, auto radiatiors, refrigerators, de-humidifiers and any other device whose successful operation depends on coils for thermo-dynamic transfer. To learn more you can visit:

www.nadca.com
www.safetyking.com
www.ductpro.com
www.ductcleanersnetwork.org
www.energy.gov

MJ Palazzolo
President
Safety King Inc
An Energy Star Service Partner

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

Thank you for the comments, all! I second (or by this time, fourth or fifth!) the endorsement for Simple Green, as I have used it in the past with great results. What I was going for with this article are homemade solutions, but sometimes the storebought solution can be both cost effective as well as good for the environment and ourselves.

Keep 'em coming, folks! What are your household cleaning hacks?

Guest's picture
Guest

No need to buy all those fancy cleaners/disinfectants. Buy a jug of bleach and you are good to go (cleans toilets, sinks, fridge, tubs). Cleans and disinfects everything at $0.99 a jug!

Guest's picture
mgwalker86

I used to use bleach for my cleaning needs but have found that vinegar works just as well to disinfect and clean, but has less risk. If my children want to come right behind me and lick the floor I just moped (yes it has happened) then I'm not worried about them getting ill. It also works as a fabric softener, replaces Windex to clean glass, and many more that you can find.

Guest's picture
steve

Just because you can't pronounce it doesn't mean it's something that's bad. Borax is pronouncable under the term borax; but sodium tetraborate (it's chemical name) is harder to pronounce (actually, I don't think it is; I've never had a problem with latin names).

It is used as an insecticide. It is used as flux for the welding process. It is used as a cleaning additive. It is definitely toxic, as are most things are. Just understand the appropriate use and concentration of it.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate, the most common surfactants in many cleaners and in toothpaste and shampoo, have some degree of toxicity as well. The key to safety is in the amount of the chemical per weight of product, and the fact that these products are intended for intermittent use followed by complete rinsing.

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

@Steve #13 - You are absolutely right; just because you can't pronounce it doesn't mean it is bad - that was an oversimplification on my part. Thank you!

@Steve #14 - So true. Paint can react in different ways to different solutions. Best to consult the experts if you want to take good care of your wheels!

Guest's picture

Great tips! Like the one on dusty refridgerators.

Guest's picture
Guest

I use homemade laundry detergent for all my cleaning needs-
Washing clothes, diluted for washing floors, diluted in a spray bottle for all surface cleaning. I even use it in my dishwasher- I run one cycle with 1 tablespoon bleach (after it fills with water), then next cycle throw in 1 cup of the laundry detergent. Seems to work in my water and I do have an old dishwasher so I'm not worried about bleach damaging the seals.
Anyway, overall this saves me a fair bit of money!

Guest's picture

wonderful these are really some great tips! I would never have thought about the fridge idea! thanks a lot and appreciate so much

Guest's picture
Clayton

Another great product is Hydrogen Peroxide. It does amazing things and is extremely useful as a way to kill germs on your skin, sink, and wherever. You can find sites that have lists of what you can do with it and it's really cheap and has a really long shelf life.

Guest's picture
Sara A

We clean surfaces with a spray of H2O2 and then a spray of vinegar. This has the advantage of killing all the germs while being a cheap and easy way to clean.

We get the windows with vinegar and old newspapers something about the ink and the acid makes the windows super clean and shiny.

A mild drain clog can often be cleared with baking soda and vinegar

Baking soda is also great to get stains off of the stove if you haven't cleaned it in a while.

I also give wood cutting boards a good scour down with salt and vinegar about once a month. It does make them smell like pickles but it can save a beat up old cutting board.

Guest's picture
Sri

You can also use baking soda instead of vinegar.

Guest's picture
Sri

Great ideas - I especially liked the use of cotton dipped in oil as natural freshener.

Guest's picture
Guest Charlie

Re: cleaning behind the refrigerator. What if you have a water hose going into the fridge? I'm worried that if I pull the machine out I may also rip out the water hose and that's Trouble.

Guest's picture
Guest

Hi Charlie, you should not have any problem pulling the fridge out from the wall, most new ones have icemakers built in and the line is usually plastic and long enough to do so. The way they put them in is to have the fridge out far enough to get behind it, but if you are concerned, stand beside it and pull it out so you can see behind it as it is pulled out. If you see the line becoming to tight, stop and reach behind with a long vac hose and attachments. Good luck, don't worry, it is meant to be pulled out.

Guest's picture

Soap nuts! These are brilliant. I bought a 1kg bag of them 2 years ago and I am still using them. They are natural products which come from the Soap Nut or Soap Berry tree. They contain a natural soap called saponin. You just pop about 6 into a sock or little linen pouch - tie up and throw into your washing machine instead of detergent.

You can use them to make washing up liquid, shampoo, household cleaner. After using in the washing machine, they work brilliantly in a damp rag as a scrubby product on all sorts of surfaces. They are also anti-fungal and repel moths.

One tip when using them in washing machine is to add some essential oils such as lavender to give a nice smell.

Guest's picture
Rachel

for your coffee pots, you don't necessarily need to boil the water - if you take the salt and put some ice chips in the pot and "swirl" it around, the salt and ice chips will "clean" the coffee stains off the pot. If you are trying to clean a restaurant size coffee maker - that the coffee sits in the stainless steel "well" and you fill the pots from the spout - if it is stained use a lemon and "scrub" the sides with that....you will be surprised at how well this works. This is how we used to clean the pots and machines in the restaurant where I used to work way back when!

Guest's picture
Adam

I have to second the salt and ice theory here. I used to be the "coffee supply" for a night-shift industrial maintenance crew that would consume multiple pots per shift and the pot itself would get stained rather quickly. A healthy dose of salt with some ice "swirled" around the inside gets it as clean as any soap could ever do and is so ridiculously cheap you'll wonder why you wasted $0.99 on the vinegar...

Guest's picture
yolande

Use bleach (diluted to 1 part bleach / 3 parts water) instead of those expensive "mold and mildew" fighters and spray the shower/tub tiles. I re-use what ever spray bottle I have around the house. Just remember to label the sprayer with a permanent marker so as not to confuse it with the original contents. I also re-use paper towels or napkins (moisten them before hand) to wipe up the bathroom floor before scrubbing the room down. The hair clings to the wet paper towel making it easier to wash the floor without stopping every few feet to remove hair from your rag.

Guest's picture
Jeff

This is the best laundry stain remover and works well for cleaning bath tub soap scum.

equal parts ammonia, water and liquid dish soap (like Palmolive)

Guest's picture
Guest

Not sure if this is well known or not but you can use simple toothpaste to clean your jewelry. Not the gel stuff but the plain toothpaste actually works better than the expensive jewelry cleaner. Dab a little on a paper towel rub gently then rinse. And whats best.. its already in your bathroom!
Happy Cleaning!!! :)

Guest's picture
Guest

You can also use the toothpaste to polish your silver. I do this with my grandmother all the time and it works beautifully! I'm actually the one that told HER about it and now she uses toothpaste on all of her silver! =)

Guest's picture

Love these ideas, Wisebread! As I run out of store bought cleaners and personal care products I am experiementing on making my own. So far we make homemade: diaper spray and bubble bath. This week we are trying out homemade shampoo and conditioner. Next on the list; laundry detergent and dishwasher detergent.

Guest's picture
Guest

Lately I have been using instead only a half/half mix of salt & baking soda (2 TB of that mix) in the clothes washer AND 2-4TB of the mix in the dishwasher. Only those two products and it has better results than I ever saw with detergent & I no longer feel like there are harmful residues on the dishes & clothes. I haven't noticed any static or a need for softener either and we live in a high static area. I used to notice so much static when I used detergent.
Not even on the Arm & Hammer website do they say you can actually just use baking soda & salt to clean clothes, I think it is so they too can sell detergent. Everyone thinks they have to have detergent! Our society needs to wake up & realize all these products pushed down our throats are bad for us & it is just more corporate greed.
I was thrilled to find that you really need only 2 products, and non-toxic edible products at that! PASS IT ON!! Happy cleaning!