5 Italian Housekeeping Tricks You’ll Be Happy to Know

September 22, 2018

It's Italy Week! All week long, we're celebrating all things Italian with our partner Lagostina. Stay tuned for more great recipes, stories, and travel tips.

When I have a headache, my Italian aunt will fill a handkerchief with sliced potatoes and lay it on my head. Supposedly, the spud-filled napkin helps alleviate the pain. The medical viability of such a method remains to be seen, but my aunt swears by it and I find it funny, so I let it happen.

Maybe this is my genetic bias speaking, but Italians are more often than not renowned for their food, their style, their gesticular prowess. And yes, for the most part, people from the boot-shaped country excel in any or all of the above categories. But what of their homemaking skills? Potato head wrap aside, what are some unignorable, must-try tips for keeping a clean and tidy home?

My family always jokes that the Italian love for olive oil extends well beyond the kitchen. Squeaky door hinge? Try olive oil. Dry hands? Rub some olive oil on them. Stubborn sticker residue? You get the drill. It’s like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, except instead of blue window cleaner, we’ve always got a bottle of extra virgin on hand. As it turns out, Italians have a few tricks up their sleeves when it comes to housekeeping. I canvassed the web—and my own family—for some of the best.

Whip It!

This one’s a keeper—and it comes straight from an Italian nonna, so you know it’s good. Basically, here’s a tip for drying your greens—without a salad spinner—after you’ve given them a solid rinse. You place your wet greens in a towel, fold the edges together so they can’t spill out and make like Devo and whip it (the towel that is). Jerk the greens-filled towel over your shoulder back and forth until all the water spritzes out. Feel free to lean out a window while you do this.

An Egg-celent Hack

This tip comes to us from a community member’s Italian mother. According to mrslarkin, when you’re short on measuring spoons, an eggshell is a perfectly viable alternative. Here’s how it works: Say you’re baking and you’ve got some empty eggshells lying around. Instead of tossing them, use them to eyeball out some of your other ingredients. Apparently, an egg yolk is roughly one tablespoon in volume while the egg whites are about two. This puts half an eggshell somewhere around 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons in volume—perfect for measuring out baking soda.

Laundry’s Surprise Superhero

My favorite memories from visits to my nonna’s house in Italy almost always involve laundry. It sounds mundane, but there was something about the smell and the clothes hanging in the courtyard that will always punctuate my time there. Recently, I asked my dad what made nonna’s laundry smell so good. The secret, he told me, was vinegar. I balked. Apparently, a splash of a vinegar and water solution in your laundry machine keeps your clothes soft, refreshed, and super clean. Try pouring a half cup of distilled white vinegar in your washing machine (along with your detergent) next time you do a load.

Iron Your Intimates

This one may sound weird, but bear with me. Keeping with the theme of laundry is the Italian propensity for running an iron over your socks and underwear. Many Italian homes forego the dryer for a clothesline to allow their laundry to dry, and then pass their clothes under a hot iron to steam out the creases. Including your freshly washed underwear in this group might seem strange but—trust us—that little extra press will go a long way.

Freshen Up

Italians love their homes to smell clean, clean, clean. Most of their cleaning products go hard on the scent. Odor control is, of course, an essential element of making a room feel fresh. If you’re going for a super smelling room, perhaps a natural scent solution is in order. If even after scrubbing and spraying, you’re still not loving the smell of your kitchen, turn to the stove. Yep, fill a pot with water, some lemon peels, a sprig or two of rosemary and bring the whole affair to a boil. Let that roll for some time—anyone who walks in the room will notice immediately.

Here are just a few ways Italian keep their homes spick and span. Maybe you’ve even heard of some. I’ve incorporated a splash of vinegar into my laundry and let me tell you, there’s no going back. It may not be as soft and sweet smelling as my nonna’s laundry, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. And that’s something I can get behind.

Speaking of Olive OIl

Have you learned any housekeeping tricks from an Italian in your life? Share them in the comments below.

Grab your copy

It's here: Our game-changing guide to everyone's favorite room in the house. Your Do-Anything Kitchen gathers the smartest ideas and savviest tricks—from our community, test kitchen, and cooks we love—to help transform your space into its best self.

Grab your copy

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Adrienne Nelson
    Adrienne Nelson
  • hetao
  • Michael Clason
    Michael Clason
  • Carry Bean
    Carry Bean
  • Janet
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


Adrienne N. October 23, 2018
Ironing many underwear fabrics will ruin them even at low temperatures, they are not supposed to be ironed.
hetao October 9, 2018
Hello! there
Michael C. September 30, 2018
Google uses for white vinegar (wash floors to make a salad dressing, too many to list here). It is one of the wonders of the western world.
Carry B. September 23, 2018
The vinegar should be added to the rinse water, not with the detergent. You won’t need fabric softener sheets.
Janet September 22, 2018
For unclogging a shower drain add white vinegar and baking soda and let it stay in drain for 24 hours then flush with hot water for 5 to 10 minutes.
Kristen September 22, 2018
Splash some apple cider vinegar into the dishwasher and glasses come out shining. Also, you could put a half lemon in for extra sparkle!
Joe September 22, 2018
my grandmother had rules to keep her home spotless:
1 are your shoes off on the porch, not in the house.
2 no cooking allowed in the kitchen, use the kitchen in the basement.
3 if your clothes are dirty take them off in the basement
4 grandpa wasn’t allowed to smoke in the house
5 no food allowed in the living room
JoAnn September 30, 2018
Definitely agree with them, but especially with #4. It causes an orangey-brown deposit to stick to the walls and windows.
Toni September 22, 2018
My Italian mother always dried salad greens in an “impeccably clean” dish towel. She also ironed my dad’s & brothers’ underwear...thank goodness for dryers! The potato trick must have gone global, because my Peruvian mother-in-law used it to relieve her headaches as well, and that was more than 60 years ago in Lima! (Of course, the potato originated in the Andes.)
june September 22, 2018
Before ironing a tablecloth, dampen it, roll it up and put it in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. It will iron up beautifully.
Kim P. September 23, 2018
omg my grandmother did that and I had forgotten till I read your comment. Thank you for that sweet memory ❤️