Updated on 12.06.13

12 Clever Substitutions That Save Money (Nearly) Effortlessly

Trent Hamm

One of my favorite ways to trim money from my spending is to find simple little substitutes for my regular expenses. If I can trim a few bucks from the cost of household supplies, routine purchases, and other things like that, over the long run, that can add up to a lot of money with virtually no change in my life. Here are twelve of my favorites (not including my “infamous” homemade laundry detergent).

Laundry Softener -> Vinegar
Instead of buying expensive laundry detergent, just use half a cup of white vinegar to the “softener” cup in your washing machine. It accomplishes the same effect as softener – it makes your clothes really soft – plus it breaks down the laundry detergent, making the clothes much better for people with sensitive skin or allergies. What about the smell? Once the clothes are dried, you smell nothing at all. You can buy four gallons of vinegar for $6, meaning the cost per load is about $0.05, while a load’s worth of Downy costs about $0.15. You save a dime per load and your clothes are less chemical laden.

Ziplocs -> Reusable Containers
Ziplocs – especially the small ones – usually wind up in the trash after one use. On the other hand, a reusable container can last for years. Since a typical Ziploc costs about $0.10 and you can get a reusable Rubbermaid container for about $1.00, you break even on the container after about twelve uses or so (the cost of washing the container in the dishwasher is estimated there) and everything thereafter is pure savings.

Dishwashing Detergent -> Simple Homebrew
Instead of using liquid or powder dishwashing detergent (and paying a stiff premium for it), just take an old milk jug, put two teaspoons of liquid dish detergent and four teaspoons of baking powder in it, then slowly fill the jug with warm water, sloshing it while you do it (even better, just slowly add the soap as you’re adding the water). Then put that jug under the sink. Each time you do a load, fill up the cup with the homebrew. It works like a charm. The jug will provide enough for eight to ten loads of dishes for about a penny each, compared to about thirteen cents per load for ordinary detergent.

Knife Set -> Chef’s Knife
You’re just getting started in the kitchen and you think it’s time to get yourself a big ol’ knife set. Don’t. Unless you’re doing crazy things in the kitchen, all day every day, you really only need one knife – a chef’s knife. Head down to your local retailer and check them out. One good chef’s knife will make kitchen work easier than an entire block’s worth of other knives. It’s really all you need – I can’t even remember the last time I used a knife besides that one. Just learn how to properly hone it and sharpen it (both are easy – check out this YouTube video).

Windex -> Vinegar
Seriously. Just use vinegar instead of Windex when you clean your windows. It cleans off almost anything on a window and doesn’t streak and, more importantly, doesn’t leave a film behind as Windex often does. Just put some vinegar in a spray bottle – maybe that Windex one that you didn’t buy a replacement for – and just wash windows as normal. You’ll be quite happy with the results – and you’ll save about a penny per squirt.

Paper Towels -> Reusable Cotton Cloths
Cotton cloths work better, absorb more, and you can get a five pound (!) box for about the same price as a jumbo pack of paper towels. But what about the WASHING? It’s easy – just keep a ton of them in a drawer in the kitchen and use them for spills and filtering and other purposes until they’re dirty, then just toss them into any load of socks or underwear or towels. Even a big handful take up barely any room at all and before you know it, you’ve refilled your supply. Better yet, you’re not buying any more paper towels and you’re reducing your garbage.

Drain Cleaner -> Baking Soda and Vinegar
Remember those nifty volcanoes that kids tend to make for science fair projects in grade school? The basic mixture that made them bubble up was baking soda and vinegar – it expands nicely and pushes itself into everything. Perfect for clearing a clogged drain, no? Just put in a quarter cup of baking soda, chase it with half a cup of vinegar, then cover the drain and wait fifteen minutes. Once that’s done, chase it with a gallon or so of boiling water. This will clean almost any drain and save you from blowing unnecessary amounts of money on a big bottle of Drano. This also works as a toilet bowl cleaner – it’ll foam up like crazy at first, but after fifteen minutes, you’ll be able to scrub your toilet with a brush with ease.

Television -> Old Computer
If you need a new television somewhere, why not just use an old computer instead? A computer that’s five years old with a ‘net connection can easily be a substitute for a television. You can watch tons of programs full screen on Hulu and many channels offer a full screen stream, too, plus it’s simple to watch DVDs on a computer as well. Even better, you can stow the box somewhere out of the way (in a cabinet, perhaps) and just leave the monitor somewhere easy to access. This can be a great solution in a kitchen, where you can watch television on it or use it to call up YouTube videos to tutor you through a meal prep – plus you don’t have the cost of buying anything to get it working.

Oven Cleaner -> Ammonia
If you cook at home, you’ll eventually have to clean your oven – and it can be a nasty job. There are lots of products out there that claim to be able to make this process easy, but the easiest way I’ve found is far cheaper – and far easier. Just put a cup of ammonia in a glass bowl in the evening, put that bowl in your oven, and close the door. Let it sit overnight. The next morning, get rid of the ammonia and you’ll find scrubbing down the inside of your oven is suddenly quite easy. The burnt-on drippings from spilled dishes will come right up with no problems. Plus, a jug of ammonia is far cheaper than some spray-on solution.

Soft Scrub -> Baking Soda and Dish Soap
Soft Scrub does a great job of cleaning up serious stains all around the house, but you don’t need to drop four bucks on a small bottle of it. Just put half a cup of baking soda (cost: about a quarter) and then add a little bit of liquid dish soap and stir. Add a bit more liquid soap and keep stirring until you have a paste that’s about the consistency of frosting – and you’re ready to go. It costs about forty cents to make more than enough to clean anything you want to clean – far cheaper than Soft Scrub and with the same results.

Air Freshener -> Baking Soda
I actually don’t like most air fresheners – they usually make a room smell like chemistry. Fortunately, there’s a much easier solution – just put out a saucer with some baking soda sprinkled in it near where the odor is and it’ll go away. Got a baby diaper pail? Just put some baking soda in it. Baking soda just eats odors.

Carpet Cleaner -> Baking Soda and Peroxide (or Club Soda)
Got a nasty spot on your carpet? (I could tell you a horrible story about a blood stain on a couch, but I’ll spare you the details.) You don’t need carpet cleaner to get rid of it. Just dump a few spoonfuls of baking soda on it, rub it in, then put some hydrogen peroxide (a capful) or club soda (as much as you want) on the soda and rub it in as it bubbles. This gets rid of almost any carpet or upholstery stain you’ll face – it literally saved some microfiber for us that seemed to have a permanent stain on it. Plus, it’s cheap – baking soda is really inexpensive and even club soda is something inexpensive you might have in the cupboard.

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  1. Molly says:

    SERIOUSLY?! You can make homemade dishwashing detergent?! GENIUS! Why didn’t that occur to me earlier?!

    I will be implementing this one. THANK YOU!

    How big should the milk jug be?

  2. Another point on using vinegar in lieu of Windex, a window washer at a building I used to work in used only water and newspapers to clean windows. He said it worked much better than Windex and paper towels, especially on car windshields. Apparently the combination doesn’t leave streaks.

    I tried it a couple of times, but that was in the less frugal times in my life, so I didn’t continue it.

    We’ve used club soda on the carpet and it works quite well. However, nothing on the planet will remove the color red from a light color carpet!

  3. Terry says:

    The Who never mentioned any of these.

  4. Adam says:

    Great list. Love that you mentioned using only reusable containers instead of Ziploc bags.

    One more I would add: Instead of using expensive brushes to wash bugs off the front of your car, just use a dryer sheet. One sheet will clean off the whole bumper and cost you about a nickel.

  5. deb says:

    Before making a whole jug of the dishwasher detergent, try making and using a little bit first. It didn’t work for me, the load came out pretty nasty.

    I use vinegar instead of softener in the warm months when I can hang to dry. In the winter I have to use the dryer, and vinegar just doesn’t work for static reduction. I wish it did, I hate using softener.

    Instead of cotton rags for cleaning I buy big packs of microfiber cloths in the automotive section. They clean so much better than cotton that you hardly need to use any cleansers at all. I make up an all-purpose spray with distilled water (our water is very hard), vinegar, a little rubbing alcohol and a couple drops of dish soap.

    Oh, I tried newspapers once for cleaning the windows but the ink rubbed off onto the white trim around the window. But the glass was very clean.

  6. chzplz says:

    re: Paper Towels -> Reusable Cotton Cloths
    I have almost made this transition, except for where I use paper towels to absorb grease off foods (bacon etc). I’d like to drop paper towels entirely – any suggestions??

  7. Anne KD says:

    A friend who is a cleaning lady gave me the ‘housewarming gift’ of cleaning our apartment for free. She showed me several tricks, one of which is cutting up old tshirts to use as rags. We have plenty of stained holey raggedy tshirts, so I cut them up and now have a pile that I use for cleaning. I find that my husband’s undershirts don’t do as good a job as the thicker shirts. Haven’t calculated the savings on that, though.

    I also stopped using kitchen sponges, and now use dishcloths that I just throw in the wash with kitchen towels and the rags mentioned above. Dishcloths can be knitted or crocheted with leftover yarn, if you’re into that kind of thing. That alone has saved me at least $20 over the past 6 months.

  8. Angie says:

    I once had a strawberry explosion on my white carpet which went unnoticed for a few hours. Think melted frozen strawberries on cheap white apartment carpet. store brand Oxyclean although not as frugal will get red out of white!

  9. Johanna says:

    Can the poor Ziploc bag users get a break? If we wash and reuse them, we’re being “extreme,” but if we don’t, we’re being wasteful. What to do?

    Also, instead of paying for Rubbermaid containers, how about saving things like margarine containers, (multi-serving) yogurt containers, take-out containers (when you’re lucky enough to get a resealable plastic one, rather than a styrofoam one), etc.? I have such a big collection of these that I don’t think I’ll pay for a container ever again.

    @chzplz: Easy. Stop eating bacon.

  10. Leah says:

    I love posts like these. Household hacks are the best. Keep it up!

  11. Ellen says:

    The one about baking soda and vinegar for drain cleaner is great. I use that all the time. Also, if you have a clogged drain (even a REALLY clogged drain) you can use a clean plunger to unclog it instead of calling the plumber or taking anything apart.
    Great post! I’ll have to try some of these.

  12. Kim says:

    Replace paper napkins with cloth. They work better, look better, and cost better.

  13. Jen says:

    I know of people who use brown paper grocery bags or newspaper to drain bacon. I haven’t tried it. You could just keep a roll of paper towels on hand, but out of sight, for bacon only.

    I’m definitely going to try the homemade dishwashing detergent too. Thanks!

  14. kit says:

    I love this list! I have only one different choice I make, which is I use a paring knife every day in addition to a bigger knife. A lot of the time it’s easier to be able to hold the knife right up next to whatever you’re cutting, so I’m never giving up the paring knife.

  15. Deda says:

    To comment 6, we use newspapers to absorb bacon grease. It also works well for other fried foods.

    Green tea bags can also be a great deoderizer. We let them dry after using and then hang them in closets. ALso good in the ole cat box, or can be used as a carpet deoderizer.

  16. It sounds like you own stock in the vinegar company, but seriously, vinegar in the laundry? It doesn’t put a smell into the clothes? Reusable containers beats Ziplocs that’s for sure.

    Thanks for writing, as always!

    John DeFlumeri Jr, Clearwater

  17. alan says:

    This might be weird, but we ran out of toilet paper the other day(we run out a lot), and instead of buying more I’ve been using a bulk supply of paper towels that have been sitting around for months because we never use them.

    They’re the select-a-size kind, and the smallest of the sizes you can rip off is enough to clean even the dirtiest bum. I just keep folding it. Hahahaha

    I was worried about clogging the toilet but I don’t use enough of the paper towels for that to be a problem.

  18. kim says:

    My five year old loves to help clean the kitchen. I let her make a paste of baking soda and water then (with an old paint brush) paint the mixture on the sinks. She can then spray it with our vinegar spray bottle and watch it fizz. When I’m ready to wipe it out, the sink gets super shiny!

  19. Larabara says:

    John at #16, I thought my laundry would smell like vinegar too, but I tried 1/2 cup in the rinse. The vinegar took all of the soap residue out, and didn’t smell at all.

    My question is about the dishwasing detergent: is it for the dishwasher? Wouldn’t that make suds, which will make an overflowing mess? This happened to a roommate of mine once. We ran out of dishwasher detergent, so she used Dawn instead. It was a horrible nightmare, and I don’t want to risk that happening again.

    Deb at #5, could you elaborate when you said the dishes came out “pretty nasty?”

    I want to try it, but I need more details before I do.


  20. Patty says:

    Vinegar being the flavor here, I will also use it to wipe down the chrome fixtures – it leaves them bright and shiny.

    Take it a step further – take those savings that are outlined above and put them in your savings account and let the compound interest make you rich.

    All great ideas – thanks so much!

  21. Paul says:

    You can escape the paper towels for draining bacon with the cooling racks that bakers use. As Alton Brown said on a good eats episode, paper towels aren’t really getting the grease away from the food. I think he was drying fried chicken.

  22. deb says:

    #19 Larabara:
    They had dried bits of food on them and a white film. I rewashed them by hand. We have pretty hard water, that may be why it doesn’t work for us.

    I agree on the vinegar in the laundry – there is no vinegar odor once the fabric is dry.

  23. Kate says:

    Yes, yes, yes to the ammonia for cleaning ovens. It definitely works and is much easier on the nose than the canned cleaner.

  24. Canadian says:

    #9 Johanna – How about don’t use them at all?

  25. Mike Piper says:

    Hehe, I was just about to say “you never use a paring knife?” But it looks like Kit beat me to the punch. :)

    Also, I think I’ll be trying out both the Drano replacement and the dishwasher detergent replacement tomorrow. Thanks for the tips!

  26. Kathy says:

    One word about the ammonia–if you do use this to clean your oven, please make sure your house/apartment is well ventilated when you do this, because when you open the oven door the next day, the smell is going to knock you on your keister. That’s based upon my own experience doing this.

  27. deRuiter says:

    Great Post Trent! Word of caution is DON’T get creative and mix amonia with bleach, NEVER DO THIS! Also if you have a really tough clog and have exhausted all options, a small can of crystal lye from the hardware store, very cheap, will do the job. BE SUPER CAUTIOUS WITH LYE, DON’T SPLASH IT AROUND, DO NOT GET ON SKIN, FOLLOW DIRECTIONS ON LABEL. A regular toilet plunger is not as good as what is called a “super plunger” which has a longer, rather sci-fi look, great tool, very cheap and very efficient! Best thing in the world to get smelly odors out of the bathroom after using the toilet is to light two wood matches and let them burn for a few seconds. The sulphur burning dissolves the unpleasant smell.

  28. deRuiter says:

    Previous post: Make that a really tough “clog”! DON’T USE THIS ON YOUR DOG! HARD TO TYPE EARLY IN THE AM!!!

  29. Denise says:

    I like all of the ideas with vinegar and it certainly is homemade and green. I have found that the dollar store often has cheaper cleaning products that I can make. I have tried the vinegar in the laundry and it gets the whites really clean if you put it in the wash, with the detergent, once a month or so. It eliminates the detergent build-up.

  30. Thanks for the tip. I enjoyed browsing through all of them!

    However, wouldn’t using vinegar as softener will make your cloth vinegary in smell or detergent will perhaps mask it?

  31. Jane says:

    Instead of plastic containers, we use glass pyrex storage containers with lids. They last much longer and don’t get gross or retain smells like plastic does.

  32. EGD says:

    I tried vinegar as laundry softener for a few months and wasn’t satisfied with the results. The smell was not noticeable once the clothes were dry, but neither was the detergent smell. We line-dry all our clothes and they were not noticeably “soft.” I got tired of all the crusty towels that never smelled clean, so we switched back to liquid softener — using coupons stacked with sales, of course. I do still use vinegar run through a load occasionally to clean the softener dispenser. It’s very good for removing that gunk.

  33. EGD says:

    I also like glass food storage containers for anything that has to be reheated. Makes it easy to take leftovers to work for lunch, no stains, no worries about nuking chemicals into my food from plastics.

  34. NMPatricia says:

    What pleased me is that I do many of these things already. I try to use glass containers for food leftovers but find that the Rubbermaid has more sizes and are handy. Use vinegar for just about everything – no it doesn’t make the laundry smell. Use paper bags (I will cut them for the size I need so I can use them judiciouly – don’t get many of them) for bacon and other greasy things. I am glad I don’t do much of that kind of cooking. I use cloth rags and napkins. I am grateful for the oven cleaner one. Wash’t sure what to do for that and I just used my automatic cleaner moaning the use of the electricity. Next time – amonia. I am pretty reluctant to do the dishwashing thing. However, I have it down to using so little that I haven’t had to buy any in over a year. Still trying to decide about using homemade laundry detergent in my high efficieny washer. Read too many comments about other than he laundry detergent resulting in disasterous results. Thanks for the post. As usual, Trent, very useful and thought producing.

  35. mary says:

    @ deb – Vinegar is good for static. Try a little on a washrag and throw in with the load drying or spray a little into the dryer. I’ve even used it on one of my dog’s who has a lot of static in her fur in cold weather.

    Vinegar has tons of uses. It’s antifungal, antibacterial, cleans, deodorizes, etc.

    Baking soda is a good oven cleaner. Sprinkle a generous amount on the dirty stuff and cover with a very wet cloth for a few hours or overnight. Everything pretty much wipes up the next day. I’ve had good results with this in a couple of my rental properties with ovens that looked like they had not been cleaned in a couple years.

  36. Karen says:

    I’m a pretty serious cook, and while a GOOD chef’s knife and a couple of cheap paring knives (I like the $1 ones from Pampered Chef) is an ok starting point, if having hte right tools encourages you to cook from scratch, it’s not a waste of money. In addition to using two different sizes of chefs knives regularly, I use a santuko, a bread knife, and a carving knife (for roasts and whole roasted poultry). I’m also still missing my tomato knife, which somehow dissapeared in our last move. I also ADORE my Henkels kitchen shears, which come apart for dishwashing … great for so many raw chicken related tasks!

    BUT building a knife set one at a time (perhaps one each birthday) is better than buying a set – as you probably don’t need some of their “standard” knives.

  37. Chloe says:

    For my oven I make a paste of baking soda and water, leave it on the dirty parts of the oven over night and then wipe away. Takes a little elbow grease, but we don’t have the ammonia scent! I also use a sheet of “heavy duty” foil below the element in the oven. When food drips I can replace the sheet and only clean the racks of perimeter of the oven. Not the cheapest in terms of products used, but being at work full time and going to school and being responsible for all the dinners around here it is a huge relief to pull that bad boy out and replace it with a new sheet of foil!

    I also have trouble with vinegar properly softening my clothes that go into the dryer. I buy “free and clear” dryer sheets and cut them into thirds or fourths. My husband actually will do this for me with an old pair of scissors during commercials in football season. Cut this way I still have all the static eliminated and a box of 100 sheets turns into 300-400 loads worth! That’s more than a year for us! Easy way to stretch $2.50 and have the results I like in laundry.

  38. Little House says:

    Vinegar must be the best invention ever!
    I also want to add that I’ve used vinegar to clean up pet urine and it works pretty well.

    Now, I’ve tried using the baking soda/vinegar mix to clean my shower, and it didn’t work as well as I would have hoped. However, I didn’t know you could use it as a drain cleaner. I will definitely try it next time.

    And thanks #27 deRuiter for mentioning to NOT mix bleach and ammonia, I know of a very sad story. The fumes are toxic and deadly.

    thanks again for all the ideas-
    Little House

  39. sbt says:

    @Deb at #5, You mention later that you have “very hard water” and that’s probably why the homemade dishwasher formula didn’t work well for you. Adding washing soda or trying a different formula would probably help.

    The solution is dilute enough that it shouldn’t foam up like using straight dish soap.

    Another vinegar tip: try filling the rinse aid dispenser with it. Some newer, low water dishwashers really require a rinse aid to get good results. Depending on the hardness of your water, again, vinegar can fill the bill.

  40. Laura K says:

    @Terry #3 The Who never mentioned any of these.

    Cracking up!

    There are some great new ideas in this post that I need to try. I use old socks instead of buying rags. (I get big holes before any part of them gets threadbare.) Ripping up clothes that have reached the end of their life also works well.

  41. We do all of these things, and I have one other suggestion. If you have a TV that’s sitting pretty much unused (like ours was) because we didn’t have cable and were watching everything on a much smaller monitor, you can buy a video card for pretty cheap that lets you hook up your computer to the TV as a second monitor. Yes, it requires buying something, but for us it was worth it since it meant we could use the couch in the family room again instead of clustering around my husband’s desk on folding chairs.

    Also, with regard to knives, we cook just about everything from scratch and we only use two chef’s knives and one paring knife for EVERYTHING. We could easily get rid of the smaller chef’s knife, too.

  42. heather t says:

    Best post EVER! I already do about 4 of these, and there are 4 more I’m going to try almost immediately. THANKS!!

  43. We’ve taken to re-using dryer sheets 2-3 times each. Not a big savings, but it can stretch a one month supply to two or three. Maybe that saves $20/year, but it’s better in our pockets than in someone elses.

    A lot of products can be used multiple times, and while none of the re-using saves a fortune, it can add up the more you do it.

  44. Ace Davis says:

    Great tips, but one more caveat: if you have PVC drains, don’t use boiling water.

  45. Bavaria says:

    Is that a 2 qt. or a 4 qt. milk jug on the dishwasher soap?

  46. Chelsea says:

    Awesome tips! I’ve tweeted them out today. Going to get some vinegar stat.

    Chelsea, Quicken

  47. megscole64 says:

    With four dogs, paper towels are imperative. We’d go through an entire drawer of cloth in just two days and some of the stuff we have to clean up isn’t pleasant. Throwing away a gross paper towel is way easier.

    I do love the suggestion about usng an old computer for a TV. We have an old computer in the garage with a nice big monitor and it would be perfect to watch DVDs on! I’m going to mention it to my hubby. =)

  48. Stephan F- says:

    The best knife is one that is comfortable to use. I am big and need a 10 inch Chef’s and my petite wife is comfortable with a 6 inch. We gave away the 8 incher neither of us used.

    We also like to get a pack of whole chickens from Sam’s Club and cut them up ourselves. That is less expensive and we can customize our cuts and a boning knife makes that a lot easier.

    When my wife was baking bread often (winter) the bread knife is the best.

    Knives are basic tools going back millions of years, get a few good ones.

    Already using a computer as media center.

  49. Lilly says:

    I just read a tip the other day about using tennis balls in the dryer rather than dryer sheets. I haven’t tried it yet, but just thought I would mention it and see if anybody had tried it!

  50. Georgia says:

    I love these hints and do several of them. I do have 2-3 to mention.

    1) Get a book about the uses of vinegar. It is unbelievable. Rinse your hair after shampooing, put in your bath, it’s the best skin softener going, cleans, pickles, cleans suede, and on and on and on.

    2.) I have an incredible amount of old clothes and instead of pitching them, I am using them as cleaning rags. But I do not bother to wash them. Since they are stuff I would have pitched anyway, I just pitch them when dirty. Saves water, detergent, etc.

    3.) For the dishwashing liquid, I bought a bunch of bottles of Dove, Dawn, and Palmolive at $1.25 each. I take an empty bottle, pour half into it, and fill both bottles with water. Goes 2x as far and works just as well. I used to do this with laundry detergent too, but I now use Trent’s. This also works for shampoos.

    4.) I had a very bad burned on set of burners from an old stove. I put it in a large bag, added 1/4 cup ammonia, tied shut & left for a day or two. It all wiped right out. They say it is the fumes that clean. Whew!!! I can believe it. And I did do the bleach and ammonia one time and believe me, I came that close to dying. It really shook me up and I read caustic cleaner directions very carefully now. I did make the mistake a second time, but unknowingly. I put bleach in the washer with my sons football pants. To be extra clean, I added some shaved lye soap my grandmother had made. Big mistake!

    Trent – thanks for all the useful hints and thanks to all you commenters for extra ideas.

    And don’t forget the sites that tell you dozens of uses for regular and used softener sheets and for coffee filters. Is great to know.

  51. Georgia says:

    Ooops!! #3 above does not mean that Trent’s formula is good for shampoos. Just dilute and double your shampoo amount like the dishwashing stuff. Sorry.

  52. Amy K. says:

    I have a new, efficient Bosch dishwasher and can attest to the poster above’s comment that new ones require rinse aid. We use the automatic wash, and pouring vinegar in the rise aid dispenser shortens the cycle (as displayed on the front when started) from 120 minutes to 107.

    I’m curious about the milk jug size for homemade dishwasher detergent also – 8 to 10 loads of dishes would have to be no more than 2 cups of final solution, based on the 2 tablespoons that my dishwasher cup holds. That’s a milk “chug” like I’ve seen at the gas station. Sound right?

    I’m thinking I could sub a shampoo or ketchup bottle for easy dispensing, once we get the size sorted out.

  53. Sharon L says:

    If you have asthma, be very cautious about using ammonia. Also, cut your dryer sheets in half; using a full sheet leaves a residue in the dryer. Then reuse the half sheet until it no longer smells.

    And no, you absolutely, positively should NOT EVER use paper towels in the toilet. Toilet paper is formulated to dissolve and not clog. Paper towels are not. Somewhere down the sewer line those paper towels will create a blockage, and the further down the sewer line, the more expensive it will be to clear it. Don’t put facial tissues down the toilet, either. They will do the same clogging.

  54. Sharon L says:

    Oops. Clog. New glasses!

  55. FrugalCubicle says:

    According to Wikipedia:

    Household ammonia is a solution of NH3 in water used as a general purpose cleaner for many surfaces. Because ammonia results in a relatively streak-free shine, one of its most common uses is to clean glass, porcelain and stainless steel. It is also frequently used for cleaning ovens and soaking items to loosen baked-on or caked-on grime. Household ammonia ranges in concentration from 5 to 10 weight percent ammonia.

    Also, Ammonia has been proposed as a practical alternative to fossil fuel for internal combustion engines.[33] The calorific value of ammonia is 22.5 MJ/kg (9690 BTU/lb) which is about half that of diesel. In a normal engine, in which the water vapor is not condensed, the calorific value of ammonia will be about 21% less than this figure. It can be used in existing engines with only minor modifications to carburetors/injectors.

  56. Sarah T says:

    For knives, check out the Pure Komachi 2 ones. They’ve been getting great reviews and are way more affordable than most good knives. (They’re made by a subsidiary of Shun.) I use three knives (chef’s, paring, and serrated), and could have afforded to get them all at once at those prices!

    On food storage: my favorite solution is Mason jars, which cost less than a dollar new. Spring for the $5 canning funnel: it will make it easy to fill them with everything from powdered sugar to stew. (I also use them for homemade laundry detergent; the wide mouth pint glasses make especially good drinking glasses too.)

  57. Debbie M says:

    1. Vinegar as rinse agent – do you use vinegar with a 5% or 9% acidity? (If you use the cheapest one, it’s probably 5%.) I’m guessing you’d need less of the one with higher acidity, thus saving storage space or trips to the store.

    2. Vinegar as window cleaner – when the Windex spray nozzle breaks, I don’t recommend getting the cheapest spray bottle you can find—they can break right away.

    3. Drain cleaner – In my house, what clogs the drains is hair: a few long hairs (mine) mixed with a bunch of short hairs (trimmed from a beard that’s not mine). What works best is to prevent the clog by having strainers in the drain. In my bathroom sink, the plug is attached, so I can’t use a strainer. (TMI warning) I periodically just poke a Q-tip down into the spaces and pull up the globs of hair.

    @Jane and EGD, do your glass containers stack well (or at all)? That’s my favorite thing about the plastic containers—so many can fit on a shelf (neatly).

  58. Larabara says:

    I haven’t tried this yet, but I heard that you can make cloth grocery bags from t-shirts that no longer fit but are still in very good condition(we’re talking medium and small sizes…the larger ones tend to be too unwieldy when they are full of groceries).
    Just turn the t-shirt inside out, then cut the sleeves off. Sew the waistband closed, and turn it back to right side out. You can sew reinforcing seams on the shoulder seam, the arm holes, and the waistband to make them extra strong.

    The neck hole is the opening of the bag (you can tear out the neck seam to make the hole bigger), and the handles are the “shoulders.” I’m going to try this on some t-shirts that I got for free, but can’t wear.

    Anyway, thanks Deb for the feedback.

  59. Cindy says:

    I can see ammonia working well in an electric oven, but wouldn’t it be dangerous in a gas oven? I’ve always been afraid to try it…

    Great suggestions!

  60. Great stuff–

    one I recently started doing was to use smaller trash cans around my house and to line them with the millions of plastic bags that I end up with after grocery shopping. No more need for buying garbage bags.

    Love all the ones mentioned, though

  61. Sharon L says:

    I used to do that, too. Until I got Max, our Maltese. He loves those bags — they make it so easy to drag the entire contents of the can out at once!

  62. Cheryl says:

    Yep, I’m another one wondering about the size of the milk jug for the dishwasher detergent. Around here we go through 3-4 gallons of milk a week, but that doesn’t sound the right size for only 8 loads.

    Great idea on the mason jars! I used them for drinking glasses but they would be perfect for leftovers, you can see them! I think I will go to that consignment shop and buy those 2 boxes!

    Question on the laundry detergent: Mine always comes out semi-solid. Do I need to add more water next time? I’m using one of those huge white buckets with a lid that I get from the bakery that held jelly filling.

    Thanks Trent, this was a very helpful post.

  63. Cheryl says:

    Is the dishwasher detergent liquid made with liquid dish liquid like Dawn, or liquid dishwasher detergent?

  64. amberwitch says:

    Careful about the vinegar in the washer – it may be a contributing factor to rusting. Just an observation gleaned from my father.

  65. graytham says:

    Could someone please explain the joke with The Who?

  66. Susan says:

    I don’t use dryer sheets or fabric softener at all. I got two sets of ‘dryer balls’ from the dollar store and use them in the dryer. They help move the clothes around which seems to help them dry faster. Anything heavy, like a teenager’s hoodie or jeans, I hang to dry. I live in a dry climate and they are ready to wear over night.

  67. Andrea says:

    I have always used vinegar in the wash water, and most of the time hang clothes. It’s so humid here in the summer and early fall that I need to use the dryer if it isn’t hot enough to dry clothes despite the humidity (drying clothes in cooler temps (75) takes forever and the clothes smell musty), but cutting up dryer sheets works well. I have nasal allergies, so always use either free and clear detergents or homemade soaps, so I don’t associate an artificial fragrance with “clean”.

    A plumber told me about the vinegar/baking soda for pipes, and recommended that I use it at least 1x/month. I clean my lampwork beads and mandrels in the sink, and if I was so dissatisfied with a bead that I just let it air cool, it cracks into sharp shards as I remove it from the mandrel, so strainers are a good thing — and necessary if you have cast-iron pipes.

    A friend who cleans houses showed me that vinegar works beautifully in a carpet steam cleaner as an anti-sudser; throw in a cup instead of buying the expensive stuff! You can also use a combo of Eletrasol (she recommended that specifically) and a powdered bleach (1/2 cup each) instead of steam machine soap, too. It works a treat! But please beware of two things. One: TEST the diluted mix on your carpet first. When I had carpet I never had it affect the colour, but that is truly a YMMV issue. Two (BIG BIG BIG issue): Remember the problems, like toxic fumes, caused by mixing bleach and ammonia? Pet urine = high ammonia content. DO NOT use this particular mix on a carpet that has had any recent (or even old and poorly treated) urine spots. A different friend used this mix on his basement carpet, where his elderly incontinent cat had stayed — it was hours before he could get back into the house. Luckily he, and the cat, were both fine (and he was a *chemist*, too! I teased him about that for months The carpet was clean, though!)

    Regarding old T-Shirts–it flabbergasts me that people DON’T cut up old holey T-shirts for rags! Towels, too. In my house I have several towel sets. One is the set for my bath, plus a couple nice ones for the guest bath. The next = stained or overly worn ones that I use for the dogs. When you foster Golden Retrievers, you have a lot of slobber in summer and wet muddy paws in spring. When the towels get too old for *that*, I rip them up and use them for cleaning rags. There’s a separate pile for the very worst rags I use with things I don’t want to mix with my foods: acids like Sparex, for buffing Renaissance Wax on metals, for soldering flux, and things of that nature.

    Finally, the majority of the doctors in the hospital division where my sister works use hydrogen peroxide on their counters. Spray on, wipe up, spray vinegar, wipe up. The smell does not linger, and your counters are clean. If it is good enough for them it is good enough for me!

  68. Linked to this on my weekly roundup! (post is under my name.) For dishwasher detergent, I use a 1:1:1 combo of powdered cascade, borax and washing soda, and then I’ve found I must use Lemishine (our water is too hard, vinegar doesn’t do it!) in my dishwasher or my dishes come out with a white film. (I posted on that here.) I’ve also been playing around with some fabric softener recipes, but see mention above on hard water. Thanks, Trent!

  69. tammy says:

    I also want to know the size of the milk jug used for the dishwashing detergent. Also did you really mean baking powder in that recipe? I would think you meant baking soda instead. Please update this post with that information. A lot of people are wondering.

  70. Ah Yes…

    I see that you are well trained in the art of vinegar and baking soda. :)

    This is a good list. Using these ingredients not only save money but are a lot healthier… which will also save money.

  71. Great list. I love these substitute lists!

  72. Mary says:

    I make my homemade glass cleaner with water, vinegar and little rubbing alcohol. Seems to work better than just the vinegar.

    My plastic drinking glasses became all cloudy when I made my own dishwashing detergent (similiar recipe to yours..it’s the baking soda), so I stopped using it. I tried using vinegar to get them shining again but I ended up throwing them out. so I agree with the other poster, try it before making a lot of it.

    Most of the other things on your list I do with great success.

  73. Tamarah says:

    The laundry detergent works very well and all these suggestions are eco-friendly as well.

  74. Pam says:

    I absolutely LOVE your frugal recipes! I’ve been using the laundry detergent for at least a year and I’m very pleased. I won’t use the store bought stuff again. Re: Dishwashing detergent. Although the recipe calls for Baking Powder, I “read” Baking Soda, so that’s what I used. I also used a one gallon jug. The dishes and glasses came out clean and shiny with no cloudiness! However I would like to know for sure: 1. Is it Baking Powder or Baking Soda, and what size should the jug be? Thanks so much for all you do.

  75. Davina says:


    Check out the various brands and styles of high quality knives such as Wusthoff at Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table, record the model numbers you want, then buy on eBay from the many dependable sellers for about half price. I bought chef’s, paring, serrated and cheese knives one by one; the four have been all that I’ve needed for 20 years of cooking. They’re a pleasure to use and will probably last the rest of my life.

  76. Sarah says:

    Can the dish washing detergent be used in a dishwasher?

  77. Sarah says:

    How many litres is the milk jug you use for the dish washing detergent?

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