14 Housekeeping Tips: Using What You Got

Here are 14 housekeeping tips on keeping a house tidy, including washing wood, bug repellent, mice, dampness and must, grease spots and stains, septic tanks.
By Karen Trainer
January/February 1976
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There is no need to buy a bunch of spray bottles at the local store. These 14 tips will help homesteaders use things they already have around the home.

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Friends, forget that Super-Duper Wonderworking Miracle in the plastic bottle with the spray attachment on top. You don't need such stuff — or vacuum cleaners, chemical spot removers, aerosol bombs, or detergents — to keep your home clean, tidy, and sweet smelling.

Many of the ingredients called for in the following housekeeping tips will be found in your kitchen cupboard or shed or growing beside the duck pond. Others can be bought at a pharmacy or hardware store for a fraction of what you'd pay for a name brand polluter.

When something breaks, sticks, gets dirty, or takes more elbow grease than seems necessary, you really don't have to go to the store for an answer. Instead, look around you. Use the materials at hand and make do. And if your ideas work, pass 'em on!

1. When you sweep, give your broom extra muscle by first sprinkling the rugs and floors with damp sawdust, bran, old tea leaves, fresh crass cuttings, or salt (best of all for taking up ashes and soot). Dust and dirt cling to these substances instead of just blowing around.

2. To prevent dampness in your cellar or milk room, place a box of fresh lime on the floor. A peck of the chemical will absorb three quarts of water and still appear dry. When the lime has served its purpose indoors, use it in the garden to condition overly acid soil.

3. Cover grease spots in carpets with buckwheat and repeat the application until all the oil is absorbed. If the stain is kerosene, sprinkle it with powdered chalk, lay a brown paper bag over the area, and place a hot iron on top of the sack to draw out the mark.

4. Soda has many household uses. In a warm water solution, it's good for washing iceboxes, refrigerators, and all porcelain surfaces and for cleaning ceilings and walls blackened by kerosene lamps. To remove paint and stains from windows, make a paste of soda and water. Spread a thin layer of the mixture over the glass and let it dry. Then wash the panes with warm water (add strong vinegar if the discoloration is stubborn) and dry them with newspapers.

5. Unvarnished wood can be washed with cold tea to bring out its fine grain.

6. Sassafras sprinkled on dried fruit will keep insects away. If the bugs got there first, heat the fruit for 15 minutes in a moderate oven to destroy any eggs they might have left, and add the sassafras when the food cools.

7. Mice dislike the smell of fresh peppermint. Add sprigs of the herb to your kitchen cupboards to ward off the rodents and freshen the air at the same time. Change the cuttings often.

8. To repair cracks in an iron cook stove, mix a pint of wood ashes, three teaspoons of salt, and enough water to make a stiff paste. Fill the cracks while the stove is hot. Your homemade gunk will be as hard as cement when it dries.

9. Polish zinc counters with kerosene and newspapers. Kerosene also works well on brass and copper kitchen tools, and newsprint will help you shine up teapots, mirrors, silver and old stoves that haven't been blackened in a while.

10. Here's a recipe for fireproof, waterproof cement that's strong enough to use on iron utensils: Combine lime and the whites of eggs until a paste is formed (don't let it get too thick). Add some iron filings and unite the broken pieces. Allow the mend to dry slowly.

11. To make a good flypaper, mix together equal parts of melted resin and castor oil. Then, using a warm knife, spread the goo on strong paper. (Leave the edges uncoated to hold down the mess.) Writing paper, catalog and slick magazine covers, handbills, paperback book jackets, and any other non-porous stock are fine — newsprint doesn't work.

12. The feathered wings of geese, turkeys, and other fowl make fine dusters and are also good for sweeping out the hearth. If you have running water and a septic tank, put a spoonful of bakers' yeast down your sink drain once a month. This creates a healthy supply of bacteria that help break down the waste.

13. For a non-stick greaseless griddle, rub the cooking surface with a fresh-cut turnip before use.

14. Does your home smell musty, fishy, or closed in? Put a few cloves in water and let them simmer on the back of the stove. The aroma will fill the whole house. Try other spices, too — alone or in combinations. This is a good trick to use in winter when you just can't open a window.

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