15 Traditional Cleaning Tricks You Never Knew

This story was originally published on February 19, 2015

One of the biggest Lunar New Year traditions in China — besides the red envelopes and parades — is the house-cleaning ritual, known as da sao chu. Days before the new year, families undertake a total home purge, scrubbing down every nook and cranny in hopes of sweeping out bad luck and welcoming the future with open arms. Everything has to be spotless.

In my own childhood, I dreaded this practice due to all the obligatory housework involved. (Duh, what kid wants to reorganize a bookshelf?) But, as I grew older and moved out, I found myself gravitating toward the tricks my parents learned through word-of-mouth. So many things we just have laying around can be repurposed as cleaning tools. No wonder they were always reminding me how wasteful it is to toss things out.

To make sure that the Western world is also in on the wisdom, we enlisted Sona Queen, a Taiwanese author and lifestyle guru, to share her favorite hacks. Get ready for 15 unexpected household-cleaning remedies, and brace yourself — these call for expired milk, onions, and sprouted potatoes.

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
To eliminate dust bunnies that just won't quit, use the rules of attraction to your advantage. DIY a cleaning wand by wrapping a stocking around a broomstick or hangers to reach ceilings and nooks and crannies. This method works because nylon attracts dust particles with static, according to Queen. Bonus points if you can repurpose used or ripped hosiery.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Got milk? When it comes to drinking it, you've got to keep the expiration date in mind. Luckily, a cloth wipe soaked in stale milk — as long as it's still odorless and not coagulated — can be used to restore luster to wooden, marble, and lacquered surfaces. Just give it another once-over with a piece of damp fabric afterward, so your nightstand won't smell like dairy.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Scrubbing down a stained toilet bowl is by far the ickiest part of home cleaning. Avoid the harsh smells of chemical cleansers by pouring down some Coke and waiting overnight before brushing. "The beverage contains acids that form a soluble mixture with dirt," says Queen. "It's also a great way to get rid of a bottle that's been sitting out and lost its fizzle."
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
When it comes to cleaning, baking soda is your best friend. Queen suggests using it for one of the most labor-intensive chores around the house — cleaning your carpet. Spread an even amount of powder over your rugs (use a floor brush if needed) and leave it overnight. Vacuum thoroughly the next day, et voilà: no blotting, wringing, or scrubbing needed.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
You can use food to clean cooking appliances — who knew? "Potatoes are actually really effective stain removers and can be used to tackle toughies around the kitchen," says Queen. Double the effect by dipping half a spud — use a sprouted one if you don't want to be wasteful — in salt to give your pots, pans, and stove a much-needed scrub.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
"Orange peel is an amazing natural tool for cutting through grease and food odors," says Queen. "Plus, it smells so much better than artificial aromas." After a year's worth of oven accidents (a.k.a. forgetting your lids), the insides of your microwave need some attention, stat. Plop in some fresh orange rinds, and heat for 60 seconds before wiping down the appliance — the steam will help get those citrus oils everywhere with no chemical residues.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
A little bit of heat is all you need to combat those stubborn grease patches in your kitchen, since oil oxidizes and breaks down at high temperatures. To work this to your advantage, spray an abundant amount of all-purpose cleaner over the surfaces of your utensils. Cover them in Saran wrap, and blowdry on a high heat setting for two minutes. Wipe down with a sponge after removing the plastic film.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Your toothpaste can clean a whole lot more than dentures. Chongqing Evening Paper conducted a product smackdown to find out what the ultimate stain remover was. Surprisingly, toothpaste emerged victorious, beating out lemon juice, salt, and even laundry detergent. Use it to spot-clean everything from curtains to your buttoned-down shirts to witness its magic.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Yes, your shower drains, rods, and faucets could benefit from an old-fashioned brushing, too. Rid them of rust and water stains with toothpaste or tooth powder.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Whites, hold the yolk! You can use the clear part of an uncooked egg to buff out scratches on your leather furnishings — it does a great job restoring the original shine of the hide.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
It might be hard to imagine a dirty washing machine — after all, its main duty is to clean — but the insides can get moldy and rife with germs. To get rid of these unwanted inhabitants, fill your machine with water, add a small amount of white, distilled vinegar — a great homemade disinfectant — and run the cycle for 10 to 20 minutes.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Brew a strong pot of tea, and pour it on a hand towel. Wiping down your wooden furniture with it will give it a nice gloss — and a fragrant smell. Remember to save some for yourself, too!
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
"Dust accumulates due to static cling, and fabric softeners [are] a common household item you can use to prevent build-up," says Queen. Add a few drops of the solution to a bucket of water before wiping down your furniture with a soaked towel.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Anyone who has silicone caulk — the translucent, glue-like edges on your tiles and tubs — knows that it doesn't stay spotless for long. "That's the million-dollar question I get asked on every speaking engagement," says Queen. "Those moldy, seemingly insignificant spots really drag down the overall appearance of your bathroom!" Luckily, you can easily remedy this by putting bleach-soaked paper towels on those edges. Leave them on for a couple of hours, so that the bleach really seeps through, and remember to rinse out the surface before taking your next shower.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Ditch your Lysol wipes — an onion is the secret to spotless glass. Cut it in half, smear the cross-section on dirty windows, and wipe them down before the juice dries up. Another pro tip: Use old newspapers as your weapon of choice.