5 pantry items that double as cleaning products


When it comes to cleaning our homes, many of us reach for expensive, often harsh products.

You may have heard that you can replace many commercial cleaning products with inexpensive items you’ve already got in your kitchen pantry — but you might not know the science behind why they work.

We asked scientist Tanya Ha to take us through some quick cleaning hacks, and explain what makes them so effective.

Video You don’t need harsh chemicals to spring clean this year.

1. Bicarb soda

Illustration of a box of bicarb soda surrounded by suds to depict pantry products you can clean the house with.
Image Bicarb soda is as versatile in the home as duct tape, but avoid using it on marble surfaces.(ABC Life: Nathan Nankervis)

Bicarb soda (aka sodium bicarbonate) is a versatile pantry item, used most commonly for baking. And because it’s abrasive, it’s also good for general cleaning.

It’s also mildly alkaline, which means it can be used to neutralise acids (like the smelly butyric and propanoic acids in body odour).

Uses:

  • Cleaning benches and surfaces. Instead of a commercial chemical spray, you can use bicarb on your kitchen, bathroom and laundry surfaces. Sprinkle it liberally on your countertops and rub with a damp microfibre cloth, before wiping it off.
  • Deodorising shoes. Shake some bicarb into your shoes and leave overnight (just don’t forget to shake it out in the morning). The alkaline nature of the bicarb means it counteracts the acids in the stinky shoes.
  • Unclogging drains. Drains are often stuck with gunk, hair and other disgusting bits of glop. Pour half a cup of bicarb and a dash of vinegar down the drain to help de-clog it. The bicarb soda reacts with acetic acid in the vinegar, forming bubbles of carbon dioxide. These help to loosen the grit and grime in the sink.
  • Cleaning silver. You’ll need some form of aluminium (like an old food tray), ½ cup of vinegar, 1 Tbsp sea salt, 1 Tbsp bicarb soda and very hot water. See method below.

Method:

  1. 1.Add the hot water, sea salt and bicarb to the tray. Lastly, add the white vinegar — it will react with the bicarb and fizz up.
  2. 2.Place the silver items in the tray (they must be in contact with the aluminium to complete the circuit in this electrochemical reaction). The reaction from the electrolyte solution will remove the outer tarnish (the black compound silver sulphide), while leaving the silver.
  3. 3.Leave for a few minutes, then rub off the tarnish with an old cloth. Don’t be alarmed if you recognise a rotten egg smell — that’s just the hydrogen sulphide gas which has formed as a by-product.

Tips: While this method is great for cleaning silver jewellery, don’t use it with pearls. They’re made from calcium carbonate, which the acid in vinegar can dissolve. The same goes for carbonate materials like marble — as bicarb is abrasive, it can damage some surfaces.

2. Lemons

Illustration of a lemon with a face showing a bitter expression to depict pantry products you can clean the house with.
Image When life gives you lemons, use them to clean (except copper or brass surfaces).(ABC Life: Nathan Nankervis)

There are lots of mild acids in the pantry, like lemons or even cola fizzy drink, that are useful for cleaning.

Uses:

  • Descaling kettles. Mild acids can be used to get rid of mineral deposits, like limescale in your kettle, particularly if you’ve got hard water (looking at you, Adelaide). Add the juice of a lemon and a liberal splash of vinegar to the kettle and leave for an hour. Rinse it out and wipe it over with a microfibre cloth.
  • Removing soap scum. Lemon juice can also be used to remove soap scum and other alkaline types of stains.

Tip: Don’t clean surfaces like copper or brass as it will react and cause corrosion in the long-term.

3. Vinegar

Illustration of a bottle on vinegar about products in the pantry can be used for cleaning
Image Use vinegar to clean shiny surfaces — but not marble. They are not good companions.(ABC Life: Nathan Nankervis)

Vinegar is another handy acid that’s great for cleaning (don’t worry, the smell dissipates quickly).

Uses:

  • Cleaning glass. Great for wiping down shiny surfaces like mirrors, windows and glass.
  • Rinse-aid. It can also be used instead of rinse-aid in the dishwasher. Just add a couple of teaspoons to the compartment and run as normal.

Tip: Don’t use vinegar on marble surfaces. Marble is made from carbonate material that will react to the acid in the vinegar unless they’re properly sealed.

4. Olive oil

Illustration of a bottle of oil with a relaxed face and olives to depict pantry products you can clean the house with.
Image Aside from making great salad dressings, olive oil can also silence squeaky door hinges.(ABC Life: Nathan Nankervis)

You’ve probably heard oil and water don’t mix. That’s why rubbing oil on wooden surfaces will make them more hydrophobic (water repellent).

Uses:

  • Sealing wood. Wooden chopping boards are quite a porous surface and absorb food scraps. Wipe a liberal amount of oil over it with a cloth. This will help seal it and, as an added bonus, it will bring out the colour of the wood.
  • Cleaning and sealing cast iron. You can also use oil to clean and seal cast-iron pans.
  • Removing sticky materials. Vegetable oil or oily peanut butter is also a great way to remove chewing gum stuck in your hair. Cover the gum completely and wait for a few minutes. The oil and the gum mix, and the gum becomes stiffer and less sticky.

Tip: You can also spray oil on squeaky door hinges.

5. Toothpaste

Illustration of a smiling green tube of toothpaste to depict pantry products you can clean the house with.
Image Toothpaste doesn’t just clean your pearly whites.(ABC Life: Nathan Nankervis)

Toothpaste contains bicarb soda and other carbonate salts in it. That’s why it’s a bit abrasive and helps clean your teeth — as well as other dirty marks.

Uses:

  • Removing wall marks. You can put a squeeze of toothpaste on a damp cloth and use it to remove marks on walls (like pen). Some toothpastes have hydrogen peroxide added, which is a mild bleach, making it even more useful on white walls.
  • Cleaning off scuff marks. Using the same method, it can also remove scuffs from leather shoes.

Tip: If you have high-gloss walls, test an area first in case it removes the shine.



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