Clark Kent. Peter Parker. They looked like ordinary guys, right? But underneath their day-to-day exteriors, they were superheroes. In their spirit, we’ve rounded up our favorite, unassuming household items — products you probably already have on hand — that have amazing versatility.
They may not be faster than a speeding bullet, but they can move from kitchen to laundry to medicine cabinet, or even to the garden, with equal ease. Read on for the hidden powers of ordinary products.
You probably don’t think twice about the salt that graces your table, but at one time, salt was so highly prized that it was used as currency.
- 1. Remove a wine stain: Blot (don’t rub) the spill to remove as much as possible, then cover the stain liberally with salt and let it sit for 10 minutes. Rinse with cold water, if possible, then repeat if necessary. If the spill is on a carpet, you can wait for the salt to dry and then vacuum it up.
- 2. Make drip-proof candles: Soak new candles in salt water for a few hours, then let them dry. They will burn drip-free.
Distilled white vinegar
The Native Americans were right: Corn is our friend. Not only is it delicious on the cob or off, it’s the source of white distilled vinegar, which — as our grandmothers knew — can make a salad dressing or clean the walls with equal aplomb.
- 3. Revive wilted vegetables: Soak wilted greens or other vegetables in a bath of one tablespoon of white vinegar to two cups of water for 10 minutes.
- 4. Keep colors from running: Add one cup of white vinegar to the wash to help set the color of new towels or other items.
- 5. Prevent cheese from getting moldy: Dampen a paper towel in white vinegar and wrap it around hard cheese to prevent mold spores from forming.
Unless you’re swimming the English Channel, we don’t recommend slathering your body with petroleum jelly. As the name implies, it’s a byproduct of oil refining, so a little dab will do you.
That said, it’s been in use since 1870, and high-quality brands (like Vaseline, for example) are generally recognized as safe.
- 6. Keep car doors from freezing shut: We got this tip from an Air Force mechanic: Put a thin layer of petroleum jelly around the insulation of your car door, and you won’t have to worry about your car doors freezing shut when the next polar vortex hits.
- 7. Make an at-home mani/pedi look perfect: Use a cotton swab to outline your nails and nail polish won’t stick to your skin. Also, a thin layer of jelly around the tops of your nail polish bottles will keep them opening easily.
- 8. Keep ants out of the doggy bowl: Coat the outside of Fido or Fluffy’s food dish with a thin layer of jelly and ants will dine elsewhere.
Apple cider vinegar
Next time you buy apple cider vinegar, skip the clear, refined stuff and go raw and organic. (Look for a brand that may look a little cloudy, and has bits of sediment in it; those are the enzymes that make it so powerful.)
- 9. Use it to tame a rosacea flare-up: For some rosacea sufferers, applying apple cider vinegar diluted with water as a toner can help soothe the redness and burning or itching of rosacea.
- 10. Condition your hair: Add a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of warm water and rinse your hair with it after you shampoo. It will remove any soapy residue and leave your hair shiny and manageable! (Don’t do this if you color your hair, though, as it may interact with, or strip away, the dye.)
- 11. Remove fish scales more easily: When your favorite fisherman brings you his catch of the day, rub it with vinegar before you clean it. The scales will come off more easily, and your hands will smell less fishy, too.
Raw, organic honey is one of nature’s superfoods, and you should definitely keep a jar on hand. If you can, buy honey that is produced locally. (Some of the honey sold in supermarkets has been found to contain high fructose corn syrup and red food dye.)
Besides being delicious, the good stuff can help keep you beautiful inside and out.
- 12. Ease a hangover: Next time you’ve overindulged, try a tablespoon of honey. (You can add it to herbal tea or hot water or drizzle it on toast, if you prefer not to eat it straight.) The fructose is thought to help speed up the metabolism of the alcohol, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry in the UK.
- 13. As a dressing for minor wounds: Honey is antimicrobial and antibacterial, which means the bad stuff can’t grow in it. You can use raw honey as an ointment on minor burns, cuts and scrapes. It also can banish blemishes for the same reason. Just be sure you cover the area with a bandage so you won’t be tempted to lick it off – and, of course, to keep the sticky stuff off your clothes and furniture!
Though willow bark has been used for thousands of years to relieve pain and inflammation, it wasn’t until 1897 that a German chemist was able to modify its active ingredient – salicin – to create acetylsalicylic acid, which is gentler on stomachs and the basis of modern aspirin. But this “miracle drug” can do more than treat a headache.
- 14. Soften your feet: Remove calluses from your feet (or hands) with aspirin. Crush six to eight tablets and mix them with a teaspoon or two of lemon juice, and enough warm water to make a paste. Spread the paste on the calloused area, then wrap in a warm towel and cover with a plastic bag. Leave on for ten or fifteen minutes, then scrub with a pumice stone to remove the callous. (NOTE: Do not try this if you are diabetic or have impaired circulation.)
- 15. Make your plants healthier: Aspirin may just be a gardener’s best friend. A solution of one aspirin in a gallon of water can help plants that have been traumatized by moving or replanting to recover, and can help new plants to develop strong root systems. Or add a little mild, liquid soap to the aspirin water and spray it on plant leaves to discourage pests. (The soap will keep the solution from just rolling off the plant.)
- 16. Banish sweat stains: If a favorite shirt or blouse is marred by armpit stains, crush three or four aspirin and dissolve in a bowl of water. Soak the stained area of the fabric in the solution for two to three hours. If the stain remains, repeat the procedure.
Almost every kitchen has a bottle of this gold-green elixir that can dress a salad or sauté vegetables, imparting heart-healthy fat in every teaspoon.
But olive oil (regular or light, save expensive extra-virgin for flavoring food) can also help make dirty work a little easier:
- 17. Remove paint: Forget the harsh chemicals. To remove paint from your skin, just use olive oil and a little granulated sugar or salt. The paint will come off and your skin will be exfoliated and moisturized, too.
- 18. Take it outside!: Olive oil can help you do your yard work. Spritz it onto lawn mower blades in the summer to help keep grass from sticking, and onto snow shovels in the winter so that snow will slide off the shovel more easily. You can use it on other garden tools like hoes and rakes, too.
- 19. Polish leather shoes: No need to use that nasty-smelling chemical stuff. A little olive oil and a soft cloth will keep your shoes looking great.
- 20. Get gum out of hair: Apply the olive oil to the gum and the surrounding hair; work it through gently and let it sit for a few minutes. Work a comb through the strands until the gum is gone, then wash with shampoo.