Cleaning Tricks Your Grandma Used That Still Work Today

Some advice from the elder generation is best left in the past. But several gems have withstood the test of time. For example, Grandma likely knew a few cleaning tricks. So we compiled the most helpful cleaning hacks below. One odd food item will make your pots and pans look brand new (page 10).

1. Clean the counters with grapefruit

Grapefruit segments on a wooden table
Grapefruit can clean your countertops. |

What you need: a grapefruit and some salt

For a sweetly scented, sparkling countertop, follow in Grandma’s footsteps by wiping the surface with a grapefruit sliced in half. Then, sprinkle the area with salt and rinse with hot water. Wipe down the countertop with a sponge or microfiber cloth.

Next: This could kill you if you don’t clean it.

2. Get a hold on mold with tea tree oil

window with black mold spores
Mold is more than just disgusting. |

What you need: tea tree oil

Mold is toxic! It’s even associated with some cancers. If you notice it lingering on your windowsills, walls, or bathroom crevices, “mix about 10 drops tea tree essential oil or a teaspoon with a cup of water,” says Health Extremist. Spray the tea tree mixture on the mold, let it sit for a few hours to kill the mold, and then wipe it all off. You can spray another layer of the mixture and leave it there to prevent future mold, too.

Next: A beverage that does more than quench your thirst.

3. Strip rust and get rid of grease with Coca-Cola

Coka-Cola and Diet Coke
Coke and Diet Coke both have beneficial bubbles. | vicm/iStock/Getty Images

What you need: a couple cans (or a 2-liter) of Coca-Cola

Place your rusted tools and hardware in a big bowl of Coke and let it sit overnight. The carbonated beverage will loosen up all the rust, making it easier for you to wipe off the next day. You can also soak oil stains on your driveway (or on your clothes, for that matter) in room-temperature Coke for a couple hours; rinse it away the next day and your pavement will look new.

Next: Your family heirlooms need this solution.

4. Make tarnished silver look brand new

The cutlery drawer needs a cleanup. | Hanohiki/iStock/Getty Images

What you need: aluminum foil and soda crystals

Tarnished silver is often covered in bacteria — and you can’t wash any of it in the dishwasher. Instead, line a bowl with aluminum foil and drop in those candlesticks or cutlery. Pour in a cup of soda crystals (aka washing soda) and add enough hot water to cover your silver. When the water stops bubbling, you can take out the silver and polish it.

Next: Make showering more enjoyable.

5. Descale the showerhead with vinegar

Shower with running water
Vinegar will make your showerhead shine. |

What you need: white vinegar and a plastic bag

Buildup on your showerhead can easily be removed with cheap, plain white vinegar. Add a few cups of vinegar to a resealable bag. Secure it around your showerhead with a rubber band, and let it sit for a few hours. Then, run the water, and use an old toothbrush or scrubber to remove the grime.

Next: No more gray-ish white linens.

6. Whiten your whites with lemon juice

Stack of clean bedding sheets
Lemon will whiten your linens. | belchonock

What you need: a lemon and hot water

Over time, pure white linens and towels may yellow — but Grandma knows an easy trick. Make a natural lemon whitener by squeezing the juice of one lemon into a gallon of hot water, and let your linens soak for a few hours. Then, rinse out by hand or in the washer. Hang to dry.

Next: Alcohol isn’t enough to sanitize a flask.

7. Get inside that dirty flask

eggs shells
Most people have a half-used flask they’ve forgotten about. | Source: iStock

What you need: a few eggs and white vinegar

Need to wash that flask or thermos, but can’t reach in there? Put crushed eggshells inside the bottle and fill it with vinegar. Let it stand for a couple hours, then empty it, rinse, and dry. Now, it’s ready for your next camping trip or sporting event.

Next: Spice up your life.

8. De-stink shoes with spices

Pair of men's worn leather shoes or boots in doorway of home
Stinky, old leather shoes are pretty horrifying to smell. | jodiejohnson/iStock/Getty Images

What you need: a sock and some herbs

Try putting some crushed spices or herbs in a spare pair of socks, and keep them in your shoes when you’re not wearing them. Some good ones to try are cinnamon sticks, cloves, lemon peel, thyme, lavender, pine needles, and rosemary.

Next: People rarely clean the place they store food.

9. Deodorize your refrigerator

food refrigerator
Fridges are often full of germs. | totalpics/iStock/Getty Images

What you need: soda water and salt

You don’t want your produce exposed to chemical-based cleaners. Instead, use a mixture of soda water and salt to wipe down and deodorize the inside of your refrigerator.

Next: This odd food item will make your old pots and pans look brand new.

10. Restore pots and pans with bread crust

Pan before and after cleaning
Don’t be so quick to discard those bread crusts. |

What you need: old bread and baking soda

It may sound like magic — and it kind of is. If your pots and pans are crusted with old, burnt bits, add baking soda and warm water and then used bread crusts to scrub. This works on all kinds of cookware, as well as utensils. For stubborn spots, try soaking pots and pans in baking soda and water overnight to loosen the debris.

Next: Don’t waste money on stinky blue window cleaner.

11. Clean windows with vinegar

Women hand holding spray bottle
Skip store-bought window cleaners. | solar22

What you need: white vinegar and hot water

For a streak-free, chemical-free, and naturally antibacterial shine, combine equal parts hot water with distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle. You can even add a few drops of your favorite essential oil. And skip the paper towels. You can achieve a streak-free shine by drying your windows with newspaper or a reusable cloth.

Next: Lemons to the rescue.

12. Polish wood with lemon juice

House cleaning products
Lemon and oil are all you need to make furniture glow. |

What you need: a lemon and olive oil

Pre-made wood polish is a totally unnecessary expense. Make your wood gleam by mixing 1 part lemon juice with 3 parts olive oil. Scrub with a microfiber cloth.

Next: You don’t have to bake cookies to make your house smell amazing.

13. Freshen the air with vanilla extract

stainless steel stove with oven
Don’t use chemical air fresheners. |

What you need: vanilla extract

Instead, add a few tablespoons of vanilla extract to an oven safe dish, like a ceramic mug, and bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour. After 20 minutes, your house will smell amazing. Not a fan of vanilla? Just use a few drops of pure essential oils.

Next: These are functional and look nice.

14. Use tea towels instead of paper towels

Tea towels arranged in a drawer
Tea towels for cleaning are much less wasteful than paper towels. | InaTs

What you need: old tea towels

Paper towels are wasteful. Linen tea towels may seem charmingly retro, but they’re actually quite useful and have been making a real comeback. Use them in place of paper towels to wipe down countertops, dishes, glasses, and appliances. When you’re done, throw them right in the washer and dryer. They look really cute, too, and come in tons of different patterns and styles to match any type of kitchen.

Next: Get artsy in the kitchen.

15. Tea dye your dingy linens

Two tea bags
Tea will give your linens a new look. |

What you need: black tea and hot water

Instead of throwing away stained sheets or towels and starting over, the bygone generation made do with what it had. If you have any stained linens, you can tea-stain them for a uniform look that’s also wonderfully chic.

To do this trick, add four or five black tea bags to a bucket of hot water, and let it steep for at least 10 minutes. Remove the tea bags, and add your soiled sheets, swishing them around to absorb all the water. Let it sit for as long as you like. (The longer they stay in, the darker they’ll get.) Let them dry, and then wash in cold water to set.

Next: A do-it-all solution

16. Try some borax for just about everything

baking soda on spoon
Borax works all around the house. |

What you need: borax

Instead of purchasing a special cleaner for each space in your house, try one multi-purpose cleaner that’s been around forever. Borax is endlessly versatile and can be used to clean tile, porcelain, sinks, faucets, and even grease-spattered kitchen cabinets. It also works well as a pre-treatment for stains.

Next: Don’t buy the store version of this.

17. Make your own dish-washing liquid

loading dishwasher
White vinegar will make your dishes sparkle. |

What you need: white vinegar

Dish-washing fluid is pricey, so go ahead and make your own. For sparkly clean dishes and zero hassle, add 1.5 cups of regular white vinegar to your rinse compartment, and run as you normally would.

Next: Manage your home more efficiently.

18. Rethink your cleaning schedule

House cleaning product variety
Cleaning a little bit every day makes everything less overwhelming. | Tatomm/iStock/Getty Images

What you need: a pen and a piece of paper

Grandma stuck to a daily cleaning schedule — and you should, too. Breaking down chores for the week and creating a schedule will make cleaning easier and less time-consuming. After all, who wants to spend their hard-earned days off playing catch-up on housework? Some daily tasks that make a big impact: bed-making, dishes, sweeping, and vacuuming.

Next: Don’t gross out your guests.

19. Clean the commode with Borax

hand with yellow protective rubber glove over toilet
Use borax in the bathroom. |

What you need: borax and white vinegar

It’s Borax to the rescue again. To combat a yucky toilet, sprinkle 1 cup of Borax around the bowl, and drizzle with ½ cup of white vinegar. Let it sit overnight, and scrub it the next morning with a toilet brush. It’ll look good as new.

Next: There’s no excuse for stained clothes anymore.

20. Combat clothing stains naturally

lemon, baking soda, and toothbrush with stain
Use natural remedies to combat stains. |

Stains happen, but you don’t need expensive stain removers to fix the problem. In fact, savvy grandmas know most stains can be removed with some common household products you probably have lying around. Here are some stain-specific natural remedies:

  • Blood, chocolate, or coffee stains: Soak overnight in ¼ cup borax and 2 cups cold water. Wash as usual the next day.
  • Grease: Apply a paste made of cornstarch and water, and allow to dry before brushing away the powder and grease.
  • Red wine: Sprinkle the stain with salt, and let it sit for several hours. When it’s dry, brush away the salt and wash, or dab immediately with soda water.
  • Grass: Soak the stained garment in a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide, then wash.
  • Ink on a white shirt: Wet fabric with cold water, and apply a paste of cream of tartar and lemon juice for one hour before washing.
  • Scorch marks: Rub the area with a cut raw onion. After the onion juice has been absorbed, soak the stain in water for a few hours.