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9 Old-School Cleaning Tricks Everyone Forgets

These tips may be old, but they'll make your house look as good as new.

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Nowadays, cleaning products take up an entire aisle in the grocery store. But before many of these supplies existed, our grandparents and great-grandparents came up with their own cleaning solutions. The tricks they discovered are gentler and cheaper than modern commercial cleaning products, not to mention more conveniently located—since they call for items that are probably already in your house. So, don’t let the innovations of previous generations go to waste! Here are nine of their best tried-and-true tricks to keep in mind.

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Make your own glass cleaner

Combine two tablespoons of ammonia with two quarts of warm water for a mixture that gets smudges off of windows and mirrors without leaving streaks. Bonus tip: wipe it away with old newspaper instead of using paper towels. “You will get ink on your hands,” says Reader’s Digest research editor, Genevieve Looby. “But I’ve always found it very effective.” Find out more uses for ammonia.

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Beer that’s gone bad can varnish wood

Put flat or stale beer to good use by giving your wood furniture a refresh. If beer doesn’t last long enough in your house to go bad, you can also use olive oil. Either way, use a cloth to lightly rub it into the wooden surface, then dry it with a separate rag. Here are some other surprising ways to use olive oil.

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Dust with diapers

While it may sound strange, think of a Swiffer duster: soft and absorbent. Cloth diapers have the same properties. They also have the added benefit of being more eco-friendly since you can launder and reuse them. And if protecting the planet is your thing, here are other great green cleaning products. If you aren’t already buying diapers, you don’t need to start. Old t-shirts (or any cotton-based clothing, really) will also work well.

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Replace bad smells with your favorite brew

Coffee beans not only neutralize unpleasant odors but also replaces them with warm, inviting aromas. “Put a small cup of beans by the garbage can, or just leave an opened bag of them in the kitchen,” advises Lariza Diaz, owner of Sweeping Dimensions, a Chicago-based cleaning service. “It’s very simple, very effective, and really inexpensive,” she says.

water cleaning tricks Jose A. Bernat Bacete/Getty Images

Water: The original disinfectant

Simply submerge items like your kids’ plastic toys or the sponge you use on dishes in boiling water to rid them of bacteria. For an extra boost of cleaning power, “dilute lemon or orange peel in the water and let it steep for a while,” says Diaz, who is also a climate action ambassador for the Chicago Illinois Green Alliance. You’ll be left with what Diaz describes as “a concentrated citrus disinfectant without harsh chemicals.”

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Toothpaste polishes more than just teeth

Before you replace tarnished silverware, try restoring its former luster with toothpaste. The key here is to use a plain white paste—not the newfangled gel stuff. Once applied, take (what else?) a toothbrush and gently scrub the silver until you see it shine. Here are some other surprising ways to use toothpaste.

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Baking soda banishes stains

Given enough time, baking soda will get tough, baked-on stains off of your burnt pots and pans, and even your oven without scrubbing. “Make a paste of baking soda and water, then paint it on thickly and leave it for 4-6 hours,” says Laura Smith, founder of Colorado’s All Star Cleaning Services. “Spray it occasionally with water to keep it moist, then simply wipe it out.”

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Conquer soap scum with soap

It may seem counterintuitive, but “soap scum is primarily made of body oil, a.k.a. grease,” says Smith. “Dish soap is made for grease!” Smith recommends squirting it straight on shower walls, but her praise for dish soap doesn’t stop there. “It’s an amazing safe-for-all-surfaces general-purpose cleaner,” she says. “It works wonderfully on everything from floors to glass to stainless steel.”

Spilled saltart-4-art/Getty Images

Sprinkle salt on spills

It’s important to attack stains quickly. And while there are a few different homemade stain removers, try sprinkling salt atop a spill before you reach for a rag. Let the salt sit for a few hours, then brush it away and wash what’s left of the stain with soap and water. This trick even erases stubborn messes like those from mustard and red wine.