Toothpaste to polish silver? One mom cleans green and finds big savings

Comedian Erma Bombeck once wrote that her second favorite household chore was ironing and the first was hitting her head on the top bunk bed until she fainted.

Although there are many who agree with Bombeck and would prefer to sweep the room with only a glance, there are also those (and you know who you are) who have been known to catch a buzz from a good Swiffer session. Personally, my own enthusiasm for housework falls somewhere between company's-coming-code-red, and I-can't-put-this-book-down-slob-fest. So, when I heard about a website called, AltUse.com, an extensive listing of imaginative ways to use everyday commodities, I decided to turn this week's scrub sesh into a science experiment.

On the site, members are encouraged to divulge secret strategies for solving just about anything. Insomnia? Try vinegar. Want to make your own hummingbird food? Sugar and water! Looking for ways to cut costs on health and beauty aids? Think olive oil. Need a hangover remedy? Use bananas, a cucumber, baking soda, or ginger root! A cure for warts? Duct tape! The clever crowd of thrifty do-it-yourselfers at Altuse.com seems full of new ways to look at old standbys and save money. Out of deodorant? Use a lemon! Who knew!

After surfing several product categories including baking soda, olive oil, vinegar, duct tape, vodka and Vaseline I decided to start with toothpaste. A miracle product purported to not only clean teeth, but also heal bruises bee stings and mosquito bites, cure acne, eliminate scratches on CDs and eyeglasses or pinch hit as wall Spackle. Would it really clean silver? Submitted by DKKevents, the posting for cleaning silver with toothpaste had been viewed 2,156 times and given a 3-star rating. Users had also voted this post as 100% "excellent" (as opposed to being labeled "good" or "didn't work"), and 100% "easy" (rather than "average" or "difficult"). Still, I felt a bit skeptical.

Using a soft cloth I squeezed a small amount of Colgate Tartar Protection Whitening Cool-Mint Gel and rubbed gently on a clean, dry silver tray. It began to remove the dirty patina immediately. My first cleaning rush! After rubbing in circles, I rinsed the tray with cool water. It sparkled! Could this mean I was no longer tied to an expensive, sulfur-smelling silver polish that I was afraid to let touch my skin? I sought out a couple of trial-sized tubes to test different brands. Colgate Total and Aquafresh Extreme Clean both worked wonders and left my silver smelling minty fresh. I could envision a new chore for the kids ...

With the fervor of the newly converted, I used a little Aquafresh to clean the discolored metal plate of a cold iron. It looked brand new. Admittedly, the bottom of the iron wasn't very dirty, but what little patina was on the bottom was gone. Success!

Next, would toothpaste remove the water mark circles left by a glass on a wood table? Since my wooden dining room table is on the shabby chic side of style, I didn't have much to lose. Still, I was careful to start with a small area. I rubbed Colgate Total onto the stain and then wiped clean with a damp sponge. It lightened, but didn't disappear. A second application did the trick on one stain, but it took a couple more tries for a second water mark. Still, it worked! The post was rated 2.5 stars and given a 100% "difficult" rating.

I moved on to the baking soda category. An Altuser going by the name Sneal, suggested using baking soda to clean sinks, tubs and showers. Still riding my toothpaste high, I wet the sink and shower and sprinkled baking soda over the surfaces. Next, I used a spray bottle of vinegar to coat the area. If you listened closely you could hear a slight fizzing sound, and the smell reminded me of dying Easter eggs. I let it sit for a minute and scrubbed clean (there is simply no way around the scrubbing part). The surfaces looked the same as if I had cleaned them with Comet or Ajax, and although I think there might be a slight cost savings, it seems the real pay-off would be for housekeepers looking to go "greener."

Altuse.com member, Goldendag, suggested cleaning the inside of the microwave by adding baking soda to a bowl of water and boiling it on high. After it boiled I let it sit for two minutes without opening the door, then wiped the inside of the microwave clean. It was easy and effective. The microwave tip was viewed by 2,280 readers. I clicked on Goldendag's name to see what other wisdom they had imparted. The posts ranged from eradicating roaches with corn starch to planting chili peppers in the garden to ward away deer and rabbits. It's funny what people know.

There were several suggestions on the site that could probably be considered common knowledge. For instance, my mother has always cleaned windows using newspaper instead of paper towels, and a spray mixture of half water, half vinegar --a cleaning classic. What I hadn't considered -- using paper coffee filters to clean glass and mirrors -- no residual bits!

Some of the ideas struck me as creative, but costly. Washing grout and tile with vodka? Using wine to wash fruit or clean cement? Cool, but if I'm cracking open a bottle of wine or making a cleaning cocktail it'll be for "inspiration," not pouring down the drain. Similarly, I hesitate to clean my toilet using Gatorade -- you can get the same effect by using bleach and it costs a lot less. Orange Gatorade was also suggested as a way to polish wood furniture. Doesn't it make you wonder how someone figured that out?

Olive oil was listed in two separate posts as the answer to shining and cleaning finger prints off of stainless steel. Happily, I can report that the Champions of Clean were right again. Another tidy tipster reported that used dryer sheets do double duty wiping down stainless steel appliances when they're done making the towels smell nice. Cha-ching!

As I scoured the site I discovered several cost-saving, greener-cleaning ideas that are sure to find their way into my weekly routine, as well as a few particularly interesting solutions for getting oil stains off the driveway. I'm printing those out for my husband -- he'll be so excited.

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