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5 Time-Tested Cleaning Tricks That Actually Work

Photo: FollowTheFlow/Getty Images

As cleaning products continue to take up increasing amounts of real estate in grocery store aisles and under-sink cabinets, there’s something so appealing about returning to the simple supplies and techniques that have been keeping homes clean for decades—or, in some cases, centuries. With the rise of CleanTok during the pandemic, our feeds have been inundated by cleaning tricks and hacks that are designed to optimize the time we spend completing these tasks. But these popular posts don’t necessarily suggest using the latest products and tools; in fact, many introduce new audiences to traditional, time-honored cleaning tactics.

“There’s a sense of trust and familiarity with these tried-and-true methods, as they’ve been passed down through generations, providing a connection to the past and a sense of reliability,” says Angela Rubin, a professional cleaner and the outreach manager for Hellamaid.

This is why Karina Toner, operations manager at Spekless Cleaning, refers to baking soda, white vinegar, and lemons as the “Swiss Army knives of cleaning supplies,” and her “ride or die” products. Axel Avery, a professional cleaner with Oakville Maids also points out that specialized cleansers designed to target a particular room or surface aren’t always worth it. “A good cleaning product needs to have a balance between effectiveness, price, and versatility,” he says. “I’ve found that the best ones can be bought in bulk, while still being effective and safe enough to use on different surfaces.”

Whether you’re looking to simplify your cleaning routine or clear out your pantry, here are the top five cleaning tricks that continue to stand the test of time.

<h1 class="title">Sink drain cleaning process using baking soda and white vinegar</h1><cite class="credit">Photo: Andrei Zonenko/Getty Images</cite>

Sink drain cleaning process using baking soda and white vinegar

Photo: Andrei Zonenko/Getty Images

Using baking soda to clean kitchen and bathroom surfaces

When bicarbonate of soda first became commercially available in the mid-1800s, brands like Arm & Hammer marketed it as a chemical leavening agent used for baking. In 1860, the company published the first of more than 135 editions of their Valuable Recipes mini-cookbooks, which, by 1900, also detailed the ways baking soda could be used to clean homes, do laundry, and put out fires.

More than a century later, baking soda’s versatility has made it a perennially popular cleaning product. “Baking soda’s mild abrasive properties make it effective for scrubbing surfaces without causing damage, while its natural deodorizing qualities eliminate odors,” Rubin explains. To clean various kitchen and bathroom surfaces, she recommends sprinkling a small amount of baking soda on the section you want to clean, gently scrub it using a damp cloth or sponge, and rinse the area thoroughly.

<cite class="credit">Photo: Anastasiia Krivenok/Getty Images</cite>
Photo: Anastasiia Krivenok/Getty Images

Opening a window

The practice of opening windows to allow clean, fresh air to enter a home began centuries ago—when people thought foul-smelling vapors known as “miasmas” were responsible for illness—and continued even after germ theory caught on in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. For instance, the Encyclopedia of Health and Home, published in 1916, notes that “as disinfectants, fresh air, efficient ventilation, and cleanliness are of paramount importance.” In addition to flushing stale or unpleasant odors out of a room, “good ventilation is also valuable as a means of removing dust,” according to a housekeeping manual titled Household Discoveries from 1909.

Today, the introduction of outdoor air remains an important part of promoting good indoor air quality, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On days when opening a window isn’t an option because of wildfires, industry, smog, or other pollutants, we also have the option of using air cleaners, filters, and purifiers to improve the quality of the air inside our homes.

Using lemon juice as a general-purpose cleaner

<h1 class="title">Lemon and its juice use for cleaning</h1><cite class="credit">Photo: kittimages/Getty Images</cite>

Lemon and its juice use for cleaning

Photo: kittimages/Getty Images

Long before lemon-scented cleaning products, people relied on the real thing for everything from deodorizing to degreasing. The 1909 book Little Helps for Homemakers suggests using fresh lemons to remove rust stains, as well as “purify” a sponge. “Its natural acidity helps cut through grease and grime, while leaving behind a fresh citrus scent,” says Toner. “Mixing lemon juice with water creates a powerful cleaning solution that's perfect for wiping down countertops, cutting boards, and other kitchen surfaces.

Putting white vinegar to work on mineral deposits

While distilled white vinegar is also great at cutting through grease, its ability to break up mineral deposits and hard water stains is where it really shines. In fact, the 1928 edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac recommends this technique: as does Rubin and Toner. Rubin suggests mixing one-part water and one-part white vinegar in a spray bottle, spraying the surface you want to clean, letting it sit for a few minutes, then wiping the area clean using a cloth or sponge. “It’s an eco-friendly and budget-friendly solution that works wonders on faucets, shower heads, and glass surfaces,” Toner adds.

Tackling organic stains with hydrogen peroxide

In addition to being an effective disinfectant, hydrogen peroxide is also a powerful stain remover, according to The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning: A Manual for House Keepers, published in 1910. To tackle stains using hydrogen peroxide, Avery recommends using it as a spot treatment — particularly for organic stains like those from grass, mold, and blood. You can also mix it with mild dish soap if the stains are greasy or oily, he says. Avery adds that “if you’re spot cleaning, remember to blot and not scrub.” While hydrogen peroxide is less damaging to clothing than bleach, he says that it, too, can have a lightening effect on colored fabrics, and suggests using it with caution.

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest