If you’re like me you have been collecting random household hacks and hints all your life. Some things you have no idea where you learned them, while others, perhaps, were passed down from your mom or grandmother. Many, now considered old wives tales, are ditched along the way, but other helpful hints really do work and therefore have staying power!

I remember the first time I was stung by a bee, my mother put wet tobacco on the bee sting. Since she was a smoker, it didn’t seem that odd. But in retrospect, I wonder who gave her that tip. By the way, it worked. Others tout the use of apple cider vinegar and even honey to remove the pain and swelling of a bee sting. Who knew? Which is exactly my point. Is there some gremlin lurking around that makes this stuff up?

Assembled below are some household hints I have learned from family, friends and professionals in their fields.

IN THE GARDEN

Add life to your fresh-cut flowers.

Flowers can deteriorate quickly based on bacteria in the water. One easy way to eliminate bacteria is to be sure the vase you are using is squeaky clean. Use hot water and soap — even some bleach — to be sure the vase is free of bacteria. Next, cut the stems at a diagonal and remove as many leaves from the stem as possible. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 teaspoons of bleach to the vase, fill with warm water and add the flowers.

Household hacks

Give your flowers staying power by adding 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 teaspoons of bleach to the vase and fill with warm water.

Improve the quality of your soil.

Nitrogen is important because it is a major component of chlorophyll, the compound by which plants use sunlight energy to produce sugars from water and carbon dioxide (i.e. photosynthesis). Coffee grounds are a good source of nitrogen in your compost. The benefit of adding coffee grounds directly to your soil is that it adds an organic compound, improving drainage, water retention and aeration. Not to mention the earthworms are attracted to them, which is good because they burrow through the soil allowing water and oxygen to penetrate while carbon dioxide escapes.

Feed your roses.

When planting a rose bush, give it an early boost and throw a banana peel or two into each hole prior to setting the root ball. Or for that matter, not just the banana peel but a whole banana would do just fine. The natural source of potassium from the banana won’t over-feed the rose, but it will safely and naturally decompose and provide the rose with potassium. And this makes for showier and more abundant blooms, which every flower gardener wants.

Get rid of weeds in your garden.

Use newspaper to deter weeds in your garden. Use only the black and white print (no comics!), and put it in the areas where weeds are most likely to grow. Generously water your garden, then arrange the newspaper around your plants. Once you’ve done this, spray the newspaper again with water so it won’t blow away. Then add your favorite mulch on top.

Get rid of pests on your outdoor plants.

Avoid harsh chemicals to rid your plants of pests by using your leftover dishwater and a small amount of cayenne pepper. If you don’t have leftover dishwater and start from scratch, then add a small amount of vegetable oil, dish soap and cayenne pepper to clean water. Spray it on the leaves of your plants, and don’t forget to spray underneath the leaves. The oil coats the plant and the cayenne pepper is a deterrent for the pests.

Household hacks

Keep your outdoor plants pristine with a simple solution. Image: Dan Chung

Protect your plants from slugs.

There’s nothing worse than finding your Hostas devoured by slugs.  A great long-lasting solution is to place pine straw or pine needles around the base of your plant as the slugs hate the texture.

IN THE KITCHEN

Remove candle wax.

Candle wax can be problematic, especially if you have nice votives. The best solution to remove any wax is to put your votives/candlesticks in the freezer. By doing so, you will find that the wax hardens and is removed easily after about an hour in the freezer.

Get beautifully ironed linen napkins.

Another trick using your freezer is to take damp cloth napkins and place them in the freezer. Not sure why, but once they are chilled (about 20 minutes), they can be easily ironed and look like a professional service did them.

Clean your garbage disposal.

There are lots of ideas on how to clean and refresh your garbage disposal. A plumber gave me this idea, and it works. Pack your garbage disposal with ice, turn on the faucet slowly with warm water and turn on the garbage disposal. You’ll find that all the debris in your garbage disposal adheres to the ice and fills the sink. Keep adding ice until the water is clear.

Make your own window cleaner.

Not sure when she has time, but our sales manager Ginny Staggs never ceases to amaze me. In between her industrious work for StyleBlueprint, she makes her own version of a window cleaner. The recipe and container were given to her by her father. It’s a fairly simple concoction: 2 cups water, ¼ cup white vinegar, ¼ cup rubbing alcohol, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 2 drops of food coloring. NOTE: This is only good for windows and not granite or marble countertops.

Remove water stains on wood furniture.

To get rid of white water stain rings on your wood furniture, take mayonnaise and cover the stain until the mayo is absorbed into the wood. The mayo will replenish the wood with the oils and the stain disappears.

Household hacks

Breathe new life into a stained wood table with a touch of … mayo! Image: Ryan Riggins

Get rid of fruit flies.

In the summer, inevitably you will get fruit flies. Fill up a lid or small container halfway with apple cider vinegar and 2 drops of Dawn dish cleaner. Place beside your fruit, and the fruit flies will be attracted to the mixture, which will kill them.

Extend the life of your berries.

Wash produce, especially berries, in a big bowl of water with ¼ cup of white vinegar. Rinse thoroughly and dry. The vinegar kills the bacteria, which is what causes berries to get mold on them so quickly.

Keep your brown sugar soft.

It’s too simple to be true! Put a marshmallow in your brown sugar after opening the bag, then reseal. The marshmallow will keep your brown sugar soft for months.

Keeping poached eggs intact.

When making poached eggs, add a small amount of white vinegar to the water. The vinegar helps the whites of eggs coagulate, making it easier to remove from the pan.

Refresh your celery.

There’s nothing more disheartening than a Bloody Mary ready to be garnished only to find your celery is limp. So sad. Give your celery new life — cut the end off of limp celery and place the stalks in a glass of water. I put mine back in the refrigerator to get it extra crispy.

Cook your spaghetti squash whole.

I find myself not eating spaghetti squash or butternut squash because they are so hard to cut in half. This hack from Elizabeth Karmel of Milk Street Magazine has me back on the squash train. Wash the entire squash and place it whole in a 350 degree oven. There is no need to prick it or score it. Cook for one hour, then turn off the oven and let it cook in the residual heat for another 30 minutes. The pulp is perfect, and the seeds scoop out easily.

Cut the perfect brownie.

I went to a cooking class and learned a great tip. The instructor said, “Don’t ever make brownies from scratch. Buy Ghirardelli’s. I promise you no one will know the difference.” I heeded her advice but always got frustrated when I cut them in the pan. They were so moist that the brownies stuck to my knife. Exasperated, I mentioned it to a friend who chimed in, “You need to use a plastic knife.” Unbelievable! It works like a charm.

Household hacks

Cutting the perfect brownie is as easy as using a plastic knife. Image: Alison Marras

IN THE BATHROOM

Unclog your drain without using chemicals.

First step, get “The Stick.” I come from a family of four sisters, and I have three daughters, and all of us have big hair. When I say big hair, I mean long, thick and prone to clog the drain every time we (collectively) wash our hair. Honestly, I’d never seen “The Stick” before until I went to visit my daughter at college. All you do is feed The Stick down the drain and what you pull out will be completely disgusting. But, it’s worth it considering the cost of a plumber.

IN THE LAUNDRY ROOM

Get wine out of anything.

Every fun lovin’ gal who loves a nice Merlot should own a bottle or two of Wine Away. It is simply the best. If you get wine on your white blouse from an over-exuberant toast, all you do is spray Wine Away on the stain and throw it in the washing machine. Also, if you get wine on the carpet or white napkins, it works perfectly. Wine Away can be found at lots of liquor stores, too.

Get stains out of most things.

My sister, who lived in London, first discovered Stain Devils in the stores over there. Stain Devils are customized to specific stains: fat and cooking oil; tea, wine and juice; ink and crayon; blood, milk and more. And they work!

Another reliable stain remover used by sports moms everywhere is Purex Fels-Naptha. This miracle soap removes grease, oil, perspiration and rings around collars. With over a 100-year history, it’s tried and true. All you do is rub the stain with a wet bard of Purex Fels-Naptha and let it sit for a few minutes, then throw the clothes in the washing machine. They come out just like new!

Enjoy these hacks!

********

Keep up with the best of life in the South. Subscribe to StyleBlueprint for your best “me moment” of the day!