Health and Cleaning Uses of Common Household Items
Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on July 13, 2020
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Sodium bicarbonate can absorb odors in your fridge or under your armpits. It’s only mildly abrasive. That means it’ll clean your dishes, tub, or teeth without scratching them. Mix with water and swish some around if you have morning sickness or throw up after cancer treatment. It can wash away stomach acid that might hurt your teeth. Here are more tips on how to use baking soda:
General cleaner. Add 4 tablespoons of baking soda to 1 quart of water, or sprinkle some on a wet sponge.
Mouth rinse. Mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda with 4 cups of water.
Ease itchiness from poison ivy or bug bites. Mix with water to make a paste and put it on your skin.
Deodorant. Pat some under your arm.
For fresh laundry. Add a 1/2 cup of baking soda to the wash.
Vinegar and Your Body
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Studies show 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar (white or apple cider) might help control your blood sugar after a meal. It can’t fix an unhealthy diet or replace your medicine if you have type 2 diabetes, but it may ease symptoms. Don’t drink large amounts because that might hurt your stomach. Talk to your doctor before you use vinegar on your head or body. It may soothe dandruff or itchiness from psoriasis, but it could also bother your scalp or skin.
Vinegar and Your Home
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Use distilled white vinegar to clean glass or:
Kill food germs. Leave surface visibly wet for 10 minutes to kill salmonella. Vinegar isn’t effective on most other viruses and bacteria.
Clean pet stains. Mix 1/2 cup vinegar with 1 quart of water. Dab the area and let sit for a few minutes. Test a small area first. Vinegar can fade colors.
Get rid of sweat stains. Spray the armpits or collars. Let soak for 24 hours in cold water before washing.
Clean your coffee pot. Use a 1:1 mix of vinegar and water, like 3 cups of water and 3 cups of vinegar. Run through your pot like you would coffee.
Take away soap scum. Clean your shower head or curtain with full-strength white vinegar.
Get rid of odors. Place cups with 1-2 ounces of vinegar around your house.
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This oily moisturizer can soothe dry skin, including your nails and cuticles. Put it on small cuts and scratches to help them heal faster. It also treats diaper rash and might ease symptoms of atopic dermatitis or psoriasis. There’s some evidence that it works better than other home remedies to suffocate adult lice. But it won’t kill their eggs. You’ll need a special medicine to do that.
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Chlorine bleach -- the kind that’s not safe for colored clothes -- is a cheap and strong way to kill germs. It can tackle the bacteria that make your toilet bowl pink and the virus that causes COVID-19. To make your own solution, mix 4 teaspoons of bleach with 1 quart of room temperature water. Open windows and doors, and keep your eyes and skin covered. Wipe the surface and leave it visibly wet for at least 1 minute. Make a new batch every 24 hours. Always use bleach exactly as directed. Never mix it with another cleaning product. This can make toxic fumes.
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A few drops of hydrogen peroxide can soften earwax buildup. Rinse with half hydrogen peroxide and half water to kill the bacteria that cause gingivitis. Try not to swallow any. You’ll probably be OK if it’s just a little bit, but large amounts can hurt your stomach or make you throw up. Don’t use it to clean wounds. It does kill bacteria, but it may worsen scarring or cause inflammation. Use soap and water instead.
Rubbing (Isopropyl) Alcohol
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It can kill germs, but it evaporates really fast. The wetness needs to linger for at least 30 seconds to kill germs. That’s why it’s best to use rubbing alcohol on small, hard surfaces. That includes your smartphone, computer keyboard, remote control, or anything with a touchscreen. Just don’t soak your electronics or get liquid near any openings.
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You can use household ammonia by itself, but it’s usually found in other cleaning products. That includes glass cleaner. It evaporates really fast -- that’s how it gives your windows a streak-free shine. To clean your oven, put 1/2 cup of ammonia inside a glass container. Leave inside your cold oven overnight. The fumes will break down the grease and make it easier to wipe off later. Don’t turn your oven on. Ammonia can catch fire. Never mix it with bleach because a dangerous gas can form
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Full-fat mayonnaise can get rid of cloudy water stains on your wood table. All you do is spread the mayo out and let it sit for several hours. Let it soak overnight for old stains. Cover it up if you think your pets will lick it. Do it again if you need to.
Some people use mayonnaise to kill head lice. But there’s no evidence that this works.
Virgin Coconut Oil
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It’s a natural moisturizer. It’s also anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. Experts think that might be why it seems to ease certain skin conditions, like atopic dermatitis. Just don’t slather it all over your face, especially if you have oily skin. It might clog your pores. There’s some evidence that coconut oil can protect your hair from damage if you put it on before you shower. It’s also a natural way to take off your eye makeup.
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This kitchen staple might help a cut heal faster, but you probably don’t want to use it as an all-over moisturizer. It’s made mostly of oleic acid. Studies show that can break down certain layers of your skin.
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It’s best to use it on places like your legs, hands, and feet. It might clog your pores if you put it on your face. You can also use it to ease the dryness and itchiness that comes with dandruff or scalp eczema. Let the baby oil soak on your head for about an hour. Then run a comb through your hair before you wash it.
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This popular condiment can also shine your silver. The secret is the acetic acid. That’s another name for vinegar, which breaks down the chemicals that make silver look dull. Just put some ketchup in a dish and drop your silver in. Make sure it’s fully covered. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Wash off the ketchup with warm water and dry with a cloth.
Steve Xu, MD, dermatologist and instructor, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine.
Erica Hartmann, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern University.
The Journal of Clinical Dentistry: “Enhancement of plaque removal efficacy by tooth brushing with baking soda dentifrices: Results of five clinical studies.”
Michigan State University Extension: “Cleaning on a Shoestring,” “Endless uses of baking soda,” “Red and white vinegar cooking and household uses,” “Silver cleaning secrets.”
MouthHealthy.org: “Cancer: Taking Care of Your Teeth Before Treatment,” “Whitening: 5 Things to Know About Getting a Brighter Smile.”
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “Mouth Care During Your Cancer Treatment.”
DailyMed (NIH): “Arm and Hammer Baking Soda.”
Clinical Nutrition ESPEN: “The Effect of Apple Vinegar Consumption on Glycemic Indices, Blood Pressure, Oxidative Stress, and Homocysteine in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes and Dyslipidemia: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial.”
Journal of Diabetes Research: “Vinegar Consumption Increases Insulin-Stimulated Glucose Uptake by the Forearm Muscle in Humans with Type 2 Diabetes.”
Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine: “Diabetes Control: Is Vinegar a Promising Candidate to Help Achieve Targets?”
Mayo Clinic: “Drinking apple cider vinegar for weight loss seems far-fetched. Does it work?” “Earwax blockage,” “Moisturizers: Options for softer skin,” “Seborrheic dermatitis.”
The National Psoriasis Foundation: “Herbal and Natural Remedies.”
Pediatric Dermatology: “Apple Cider Vinegar Soaks (0.5%) as a Treatment for Atopic Dermatitis Do Not Improve Skin Barrier Integrity.”
National Eczema Association: “Get the Facts: Apple Cider Vinegar.”
The Ohio State University Extension: “Cleaning & Sanitizing the Kitchen Using inexpensive household food-safe products.”
Rutgers: “The Best Ways to Kill Coronavirus in Your Home.”
Indian Journal of Dermatology: “Moisturizers: The Slippery Road.”
American Academy of Dermatology: “5 Ways to Use Petroleum Jelly For Skin Care.”
The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: “Petrolatum: Barrier Repair and Antimicrobial Responses Underlying This “Inert” Moisturizer.”
Journal of Pediatric Nursing: “Home Remedies to Control Head Lice.”
CDC: “Parasites Treatment: General Guidelines,” “Natural Disasters and Severe Weather, Cleaning With Bleach,” “How to Clean and Disinfect,” “Coronavirus Disease 2019, Detailed Disinfection Guidance,” “Parasites, Treatment FAQs.”
The City of Norfolk: “Why Do I Have Pink Stains on My Fixtures?”
ChemicalSafetyFacts.org: “Hydrogen Peroxide,” “Ammonia.”
Journal of International Society of Preventive & Community Dentistry: “Evaluation of the effect of hydrogen peroxide as a mouthwash in comparison with chlorhexidine in chronic periodontitis patients: A Clinical study.”
National Capital Poison Center (Poison Control): “Hydrogen Peroxide: How to Prevent and Treat Unintentional Poisonings.”
GE Appliances: “Wall Ovens and Ranges — Manually Cleaning Self Clean Oven.”
Washington State Department of Health: “Dangers of Mixing Bleach with Cleaners.”
Merry Maids: “How to Remove Water Stains from Wood.”
Drugs In Context: “Emollient treatment of atopic dermatitis: latest evidence and clinical treatment of atopic dermatitis: latest evidence and clinical considerations.”
Dermatitis: “Novel antibacterial and Emollient Effects of Coconut and Virgin Olive Oils in Adult Atopic Dermatitis.”
International Journal of Dermatology: “The Effect of Topical Virgin Coconut Oil on SCORAD Index, Transepidermal Water Loss, and Skin Capacitance in Mild to Moderate Pediatric Atopic Dermatitis: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Clinical Trial.”
International Journal of Trichology: “Hair Cosmetics: An Overview.”
International Journal of Molecular Sciences: “Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils.”