10 Cheap Household Staples That Double as Cleaning Supplies

White vinegar bottle

Pantry staples like vinegar, baking soda, and salt make house cleaning easier and cheaper. Photo: Perry Goh

The last time I went shopping for cleaning supplies, there were so many items to choose from I quickly got overwhelmed, grabbed a few things off my list, and made a dash for the exit. Of course, I was missing a few items when it was time to start cleaning, but I made it work.

Why the initial shock? Well, it had been several years since I’d actually shopped for cleaning supplies. During my couponing days, I only purchased the items that were practically free and found creative ways to put them to use; sometimes, the results weren’t so favorable. Anyhow, I eventually created a stockpile so large that I didn’t have to shop for cleaning supplies for quite some time.

But once I began running low, I was reminded how expensive some of these items could be. There were at least five to six products per task, ranging from $2 to $6 apiece. Doesn’t seem like much, but they add up quickly if you get a different set of products formulated for each particular task — windows, disinfectant, soap scum, etc. — and for each section of the home.

Shortly after that shopping trip, I recalled a conversation I’d had with a friend who makes her own all-natural cleaning products using oils. Not a bad idea — but too bad some of the tiny vials of oil were on the pricey end of the spectrum.

Desperate for other, cheaper alternatives, I did some online research and realized how many items I already had lying around the house that are just as effective as the stuff in the cleaning supplies aisle. Here is a comprehensive list of some of the products I’ve found most helpful to my cost-cutting cleaning efforts:

1. White Vinegar

Clogged Drains

There’s nothing more disgusting than brushing your teeth only to return to the sink 10 minutes later and spot the same cloudy water floating around. This was the story of my life, even after hiring a plumber. So we turned to vinegar, coupled with baking soda, and it worked like a charm to unclog drains.

If you plan to do the same, just dump some baking soda into the drain first, then pour in twice the amount of vinegar. It will fizz up — this is the chemical reaction the kid with the volcano likely harnessed at your school science fair — and will break down clogged hair and other debris in the drain. Flush with plenty of water afterward, and repeat if necessary.

Filthy Grout

Our home came with beige grout. We didn’t realize how problematic it would be until about six months — and at least a hundred mopping sessions — later. Ditch the traditional grout cleaner. Just dip a toothbrush in vinegar and get to scrubbing.

Foggy Windows and Streaky Mirrors

Who needs Windex? Dilute vinegar with some water, and the solution will give your mirrors and windows the streak-free shine they deserve so you can style your hair and apply your makeup with confidence each morning.

Disinfectant

For those heavily-used surfaces prone to collecting germs, such as telephones and door handles, a vinegar wipe-down will kill most bacteria and other germs. Researchers found that adding a little hydrogen peroxide or bleach to the solution made it more effective against even stubborn salmonella and other bacteria.

Sticky Counter Tops

Spilled a little juice or milk? Spray some solution and wipe the messes away while simultaneously disinfecting the area.

2. Rubbing Alcohol

Chrome Fixtures

Are your faucets or shower door handles looking filthy? Wipe away the saliva, sticky hair products, and water residue with a washcloth or paper towel dabbed with rubbing alcohol.

Foggy Mirrors

Just like vinegar, rubbing alcohol can also be used to clear the haze on your mirror.

Ink Stains

Tossing a particle of clothing with an ink stain in the washer won’t do the job, but applying rubbing alcohol to the area and letting it sit for 5 to 10 minutes will. Just don’t forget to rinse the area thoroughly.

Greasy Handheld Devices

If your remote control, telephone, or door handles are getting a bit greasy, use a little rubbing alcohol to cut the grime. And don’t forget about those smartphone and tablet cases.

Stainless Steel Appliances

Use rubbing alcohol in place of the pricey stainless steel sprays that often leave the floors and other surrounding surfaces slippery from application. I’ve actually found it to be more effective than the spray-on solution.

3. White Rice

Coffeemakers

If you’re a coffee drinker who routinely uses a household coffeemaker, mix a few spoonfuls of white rice with warm water into the carafe to eliminate the built-up residue from the grounds and keep it clean. (Brewing a pot of coffee with a half cup of vinegar added to the water is another easy, cheap way to thoroughly clean your coffeemaker from the inside.)

Odd-Shaped Storage Containers

Tired of spending too much time at the kitchen sink trying to reach those small crevices? Simply dump a few spoonfuls of white rice, add some lukewarm water to the half-way mark, and shake away until it’s all clean.

This method also works to clean vases. Since we often display fresh flowers for a few weeks at a time, the bottom of our vases get filthy and require a vigorous shake to cut through the gunk remaining from the liquid plant food.

4. Salt

Bottoms of Pots and Pans

After whipping up your favorite dish, sticky residue may remain at the bottom of the pan. This happens to me when I prepare certain types of chicken or eggs. But a dash or two of salt always helps lift the stains the moment the pan hits the dishwater.

Soap Scum

Mix a spoonful of salt with four spoonfuls of vinegar and apply the solution to those stubborn soap scum stains on the bathroom tile. We also use this solution to remove the water stains from the glass shower door.

Coffee Mug Stains

If you constantly have to remind yourself that your mug is in fact clean, despite all the stains, mix some salt into a paste with vinegar or lemon juice to eradicate the stains.

Rust Remover

Sometimes the problem is also the solution. It seems counterintuitive, since salt causes rust in the first place, but applying that same salt and lemon juice paste on rusty scissors or other metal items can restore their shine.

Sponge Cleaner

Bacteria love kitchen sponges. If your sponges smell a bit rank, to say the least, after a thorough cleaning session in the kitchen, soak them overnight in a warm saltwater solution. You can add vinegar to increase the potency.

5. Baking Soda

Smelly Trash Cans

Tired of bleaching that stinky trash can? Sprinkle some baking soda at the bottom to cut the funk. I do this very often since we prepare some form of meat or seafood in our house at least three times per week. (And if you’ve ever smelled spoiled meat, you know it’s not pleasant).

Carpet or Furniture Cleaner

Did your feline or furry friend let it go on the carpet or couch? Immerse the surface in vinegar followed by baking soda. Once the mixture dries, suction the contents up with a vacuum.

We once had our friend’s cat over and he failed to make it outside to do his business. We tried every cleaning solution in the book to eliminate the unbearable stench, including the most expensive solutions we could find, but baking soda was the only thing that actually worked.

Tough Stains

Stains that seem to be permanently ingrained on the stove top or bathroom surfaces can be removed by scrubbing them with a baking soda paste. It’s one of the only things that works on sticky grease build-up above the stove.

6. Hydrogen Peroxide

Disinfectant

Bacteria left behind by meat and seafood products can make you ill, so use hydrogen peroxide to disinfect those cutting boards, pots, pans, and counter tops. Mix a bit into your vinegar solution to increase its antibacterial powers.

Kitchen Sponge Sanitizer

You can also sanitize your kitchen sponges by letting them soak in a bowl of warm water and hydrogen.

Toy Cleaner

After an extensive amount of use, children’s toys need a little cleaning up. Even if a bulk of the toys are kept inside, germs are everywhere, not to mention all the items their little hands come in contact with to usher in germs prior to playtime. Another perk: sanitizing the toys will help minimize the risk of spreading around a bacterial infection.

Stain Remover

Saturate the stain with a little 3% hydrogen peroxide, let it soak, and watch it wash away in the laundry. Peroxide works wonders on blood stains.

Floor Shiner

Before you dip the mop into the warm bucket of water, add a half cup of hydrogen peroxide and get to work. You may be accustomed to using bleach or some other liquid floor cleaning solution, but hydrogen peroxide is just as effective without the strong stench. And since it’s non-abrasive, it’s safe on many surfaces.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Replace harsh toilet bowl cleaners with a half cup of hydrogen peroxide, but be sure to let it soak for 30 minutes or so prior to scrubbing. We don’t have the best water in my county, so I find that hydrogen peroxide works better than traditional cleaners to remove the ring of mineral and chemical deposits.

6. Corn Starch

Odor Eater for Shoes

Is foot funk getting the best of your nostrils? Suppress the disgusting odor with a sprinkle or two of cornstarch in the soles. I live in a home full of active males who tend to sweat heavily when participating in athletic activities, so cornstarch definitely comes in handy to mitigate smelly shoes. Plus, it’s much cheaper than the powder sold by Dr. Scholl’s.

Leather Cleaner

After an extensive amount of use, leather tends to get a bit greasy. But that can be eliminated by applying a bit of cornstarch to the affected area, waiting for 8 hours or so, and removing the mixture with a soft-bristle brush. It’s best to do this overnight in order to give the cornstarch an ample amount of time to do its job.

Carpet Cleaner

Spilled a cup of juice or plate of veggies on your carpet? Simply remove the debris, apply corn starch to the surface for 30 minutes and allow it to soak up the stain, then suck up the powder with a vacuum. I can’t even begin to recall how many times corn starch saved the day before we eventually invested in wood flooring.

7. Ketchup

Stainless Steel Sink Restorer

Tired of noticing all the scratches, scuff marks, and other blemishes on the interior of your kitchen sink? Apply ketchup to the surface and scrub away. Rinse and repeat until you achieve the desired results. Personally, I absolutely despise the smell of ketchup, but it’s such a miracle worker in the sink that I place a mask over my nose and keep it moving.

The salt and vinegar in the ketchup also make it useful for removing tarnish on copper pots and pans.

8. Lemon Juice

Glass Cleaner

Wipe windows, wine glasses, and mirrors with lemon juice for the streak-free shine you’ve been looking for. Lemon juice also leaves a fresh scent in the bathroom, so you won’t have to whip out the air freshener.

Garbage Disposal Odors

Bleach emits a strong smell and has the potential to make you feel like you’re suffocating, but lemon juice dropped in the drain area has the opposite effect. For many years, we struggled with rank garbage disposal odors. On several occasions we lost power, and we’d always be left with clots or rotting particles that secreted a disgusting odor. We don’t use it as much these days, but a tablespoon of lemon juice each week minimizes any odors.

Cutting Board Stains

The wood surface can be restored by applying lemon juice for 20 minutes and rinsing with warm water.

9. White bread

Broken Glass

Did your little one accidentally knock your plate off the table? No worries! Once you’ve gathered the larger pieces, use white bread to pick up what remains since the tiny particles will adhere to the surface.

Dusty Surfaces

It’s also versatile enough to remove dust from heavily saturated surfaces. But you may want to follow it up with a tad bit of lemon cleaner to freshen up the surface. White bread, minus the lemon juice, also works great on oil paintings.

Liquid spills

No paper towels? No problem! You can use white bread in a pinch and it’s just as effective. Use stale slices you’re not going to eat anyway to keep it cost effective.

10. Coffee Grounds

Odor Eliminator

Along with baking soda and lemon juice, coffee grounds also possess odor-fighting capabilities. You can either sprinkle some in the bottom of your trash can or place a bowl of them in the refrigerator to achieve a fresh scent.

Bottom Line

Chances are you can tackle all your household cleaning chores with cheap, everyday items you already have in your home. And since most of these products are all natural, the dangers associated with contact or inhalation are minimal. But if you have any reservations about the products I’ve recommended, don’t hesitate to test them out on a small surface first to ease your mind.

After that, go ahead and get started. Let me know how it goes in the comments below, and most importantly, happy cleaning!