Cleaning Tricks Your Grandma Used That Still Work Today

Some advice from the elder generation is best left in the past. For instance, there’s the idea that a woman should always be dressed perfectly while serving her husband the dinner she prepared (from scratch). But some gems from the past have withstood the test of time.

For example, Grandma probably had a few cleaning tricks up her sleeve that didn’t require fancy or expensive products. And remember how spotless her house always looked? Channel your inner domestic goddess, and make your own cleaners at home the same way they did it 50 years ago with these retro cleaning tricks that still work today.

1. Use vinegar to clean windows

Women hand holding spray bottle

Skip store-bought window cleaners. | iStock.com/ solar22

Why waste money on stinky blue window cleaner when you can make your own using items you have lying around the house? For a streak-free, chemical-free, and naturally antibacterial shine, combine equal parts hot water with distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle, and get going on those windows and mirrors. For a lovely scent, you can even add a few drops of your favorite essential oil (lemon smells like clean, as Grandma would say).

And skip the paper towels, too. A streak-free shine can be achieved by drying your windows with newspaper or a reusable cloth.

2. Combat clothing stains naturally

lemon, baking soda, and toothbrush with stain

Use natural remedies to combat stains. | iStock.com

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.

3. Restore pots and pans with bread crust

Pan before and after cleaning

Don’t be so quick to discard those bread crusts. | iStock.com/ themanwhophoto

It might sound like magic — and it kind of is. If Grandma’s pan became crusted up with burnt-on bits, she simply added baking soda and warm water and then used the crusts of her bread as a scrubber. This works on all kinds of pots and pans and on utensils, too. For stubborn spots, try soaking pots and pans in baking soda and water overnight to loosen up the stubborn debris.

4. Clean the counters with grapefruit

Grapefruit segments on a wooden table

Grapefruit can clean your countertops. | iStock.com

Chemical-laced sprays have no place in Grandma’s kitchen. For a sweetly scented and sparkling countertop, simply follow in her footsteps by wiping down the surface with a grapefruit sliced in half. Follow that by sprinkling with salt and rinsing with very hot water. Then, wipe down with a sponge or microfiber cloth.

5. Clean a little bit every day

Sepia toned image of a feather broom and bucket in front of retro wallpaper

A little cleaning every day goes a long way. | iStock.com/DutchScenery

Chances are Grandma had a daily cleaning schedule she stuck to — and you should, too. Even if you don’t have a lot of time to devote to your cleaning tasks, breaking down chores for the week and staying on top of things makes 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 to tackle that will make a big impact: bed-making, dishes, sweeping, and vacuuming.

6. Use tea towels instead of paper towels

Tea towels arranged in a drawer

Tea towels for cleaning are much less wasteful than paper towels. | iStock.com/ InaTs

Paper towels are wasteful, and Grandma doesn’t approve of wasting anything. Linen tea towels might seem charmingly retro, but beyond that 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.

7. Tea dye your dingy linens

Two tea bags

Tea will give your linens a new look. | iStock.com/winterling

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.

8. Try some borax for just about everything

baking soda on spoon

Borax works all around the house. | iStock.com/Geo-grafika

Instead of purchasing a special cleaner for each space in your house, try one multi-purpose cleaner that’s been around basically 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 and can be added to your laundry as a booster.

9. Freshen the air with vanilla extract

stainless steel stove with oven

Don’t use chemical air fresheners. | iStock.com/dpproductions

You don’t have to whip up a batch of cookies from scratch to make your house smell amazing. Instead, add a few tablespoons of vanilla extract to an oven safe dish, such as a ceramic mug, and bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour. After about 20 minutes, your house will start to smell amazing, no pricey air fresheners required.

Not a fan of vanilla? (Or afraid it will make you hungry?) You can achieve the same effect with a few drops of pure essential oils.

10. Descale the showerhead with vinegar

Shower with running water

Vinegar will make your showerhead shine. | iStock.com/silverjohn

Buildup on your showerhead can easily be removed with plain (and super cheap) white vinegar. Add a few cups of vinegar to a resealable or plastic shopping bag. Use a rubber band to secure it around your showerhead, and let it sit for a few hours. Then, run the water, and use an old toothbrush or scrub brush to remove the grime easily.

11. Whiten your whites naturally

Stack of clean bedding sheets

Lemon will whiten your linens. | iStock.com/ belchonock

Over time, pure white linens and towels might get a little yellow — but Grandma knows just the trick to fix that. 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 couple hours. Then, rinse out by hand or in the washer. Hang to dry.

12. Make your own dish-washing liquid

loading dishwasher

White vinegar will make your dishes sparkle. | iStock.com

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.

13. Clean the commode with Borax

hand with yellow protective rubber glove over toilet

Use borax in the bathroom. | iStock.com/djedzura

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 the concoction sit overnight, and give a good scrub the next morning with a toilet brush. It’ll look good as new.

14. Polish wood with lemon juice

House cleaning products

Lemon and oil are all you need to make furniture glow. | iStock.com/lisaaMC

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

15. De-stink shoes with spices

Herb leaf and flower bunches of thyme

Herbs and spices freshen just about anything. | iStock.com/marilyna

Grandma would never throw out an old stinky pair of shoes. Instead, try putting some crushed herbs and spices in a spare pair of socks, and keep them in your shoes anytime you’re not wearing them. Some to try are cinnamon sticks, cloves, lemon peel, thyme, lavender, pine needles, rosemary, or anything else that pleases your nose.