9 Pantry Items that Double as Cleaning Tools

October 29, 2013

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Household cleaners don't have to be complicated, in fact, they can come straight out of your pantry.

How to Use Pantry Items Like Vinegar as Cleaning Tools, from Food52

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With holiday season right around the corner, it’s time to prepare for guests (and their aftermath) and get your house clean and in top-top shape. Luckily, you don’t need to add a trip to the store to your to-do list—you have an arsenal of cleaning supplies lurking in your pantry. Roll-up your sleeves and get ready to pat yourself on the back for how resourceful you are.

Vinegar. Vinegar’s place on this list will come as a surprise to no one; it can help you clean in almost every room of your house. (Don't worry, the smell dissipates.) Vinegar is acidic, which helps cut through dirt while killing mold, bacteria, and viruses. You might already know that a solution with equal parts white (also called distilled) vinegar and water can help you clean kitchen and bathroom surfaces—just remember to keep it away from marble and other porous stone surfaces—but it can do so much more.

Don’t want your dinner guests to know you spent $4 on that bottle of wine? Remove the price tag (and other papery stickers) by sponging on vinegar, letting it sit for a few minutes and then scraping off the sticker. And stop averting your eyes from the crumb-catching crack between your oven and counter. Grab a thin, blunt instrument (like a butter knife), wrap it once in a vinegar-soaked cloth, and slowly drag the knife toward you in the crack. 

9 Pantry Items that Double as Cleaning Tools, from Food52

Baking soda. Vinegar’s partner in crime, baking soda cuts odors and can be used as a gently abrasive cleaner. The combination of the vinegar and baking soda can help keep drains clear and de-skunk dogs (Really. We tested this one twice just to be thorough.). Give your oven a good cleaning by wetting down the inside surfaces with water with a sponge or a spray bottle, and then sprinkle baking soda all over—or make a thick paste of the two and cover the surfaces. Let the baking soda do its work for a few hours (or overnight) and then wipe clean. Remove marks (like a crayon masterpiece) from painted walls with baking soda on a damp sponge. Water and baking soda can also be used to remove stains on fabric, or to gently clean surfaces.

9 Pantry Items that Double as Cleaning Tools, from Food52

Salt. Salt can be used to spot-clean a stained wooden cutting board; make a thick paste with salt, water, and baking soda, and scrub away your stains. When a dish boils over in the oven, cover the spill with salt while it’s still wet, it will make it easier to clean up later—after the oven cools down of course. Don’t worry if your guests ignored the stack of coasters you set out; make a thin paste of salt and vegetable oil and rub it on the white rings their beverages left on your wooden tables. Salt can also help you clean your cast iron pans by gently scrubbing away stubborn bits of food from without removing your seasoning.

More: While you're at it though, it might be time to re-season your cast iron pan.

Black tea from food52 

Tea. Make yourself a pot of black tea. Then brew another batch of tea with the used tea bags and get cleaning. Watered-down tea works well to clean mirrors. Brewed tea can be used to polish wood too—shine up your furniture, cabinets, and hardwood floors. Remove rust by soaking them in black tea and then wiping away the rust. We cleaned up rusty canning jar lids, but you could also tend to those garden tools you neglected all summer. 

9 Pantry Items that Double as Cleaners, from Food52

Lemon. Lemon’s mildly acidic nature will help you you make quick work of grease and grime, with an all-natural fresh scent to boot. Just add water to lemon juice to remove grease on your stove and appliances. Lemon juice can clean up brass—just double-check that the item is brass, and not brass-plated! Amanda gets serious about washing dishes—take it to the next level and add a little lemon juice to your dish soap when you’re filling the sink with hot, soapy water. Combining lemon juice with with kosher salt and mineral oil can help you deep-clean a wooden cutting board, and after you’re done cooking (or cleaning) with a lemon, don’t forget to put it through your garbage disposal to get rid of any lingering odors.

9 Pantry Items that Double as Cleaners, from Food52

Olive oil. Mix two parts olive oil with one part fresh lemon juice for a simple wood furniture polish (test it on an inconspicuous spot first). You can store this in the refrigerator for a few weeks, just let it come to room temperature before using. If you’re out of shoe polish, or just hate the smell, shine your shoes with unrefined olive oil—the addition of a little lemon juice is optional—let it soak in and then buff.

More: Lemon juice and olive oil also come together in a genius (edible) custard.

9 Pantry Items that Double as Cleaning Tools, from Food52

Rice. Uncooked white rice can help you clean out vases or thin-necked bottles. Partially fill them with warm water and a handful of rice and shake vigorously—cover the top of the vase with your hand please. If your vase has a stubborn white film in it, fill the vase with white vinegar (enough to cover the residue), let it sit for a bit, and then add the rice and shake. Add a handful of uncooked rice to your blade coffee grinder and whizz it up to remove oily residue. (Don’t use this method on a burr grinder, and you do this often, stick with uncooked instant rice.)

Ketchup from Food52 

Ketchup. Clean up tarnished copper (whether it’s a vintage preserve pan or a copper-bottomed saucepan) with a dab of ketchup on a cloth. Rub to bring back the original shine, rinse with water, and dry—this works for tarnished silver items as well. Clean up your pile of pennies that you’re using as pie weights and make them gleam too. Out of ketchup? Other pantry items work to clean copper too—grab the vinegar, baking soda, or salt and lemon.

Club soda from Food52 

Club soda. It isn’t just for your favorite 3-ingredient drink—it’s also great for when you spill it. Club soda works to remove stains from fabrics and carpets if you act quickly. Pour or dab it on liberally, then blot and gently rub the spot away. Streaks on stainless steel will disappear after being buffed with a club soda-soaked cloth, and porcelain sinks and fixtures can be cleaned with club soda too. Give the inside of your refrigerator a good wipe down with a mixture of salt and soda water and then re-organize it.

Do you have any other pantry items you use to clean? Let us know in the comments!

This article was originally published in October 2013.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • wilton777
  • Kim
  • Arlene
  • Arion
  • Patricia Robinson
    Patricia Robinson
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


wilton777 June 3, 2021
Really interesting uses of vinegar and lemon.
Kim April 22, 2019
I also appreciate all the suggestions on cleaning everything. My suggestion is
purchase several denture toothbrush's. Keep one in the bathroom and another
in the kitchen. They are great for cleaning around the sink area......around the hot and
cold water handles and the faucet area, around the toilet, scrubbing pots and pans handles plus those little stuck burned food spots inside.
Arlene March 21, 2019
Clean the shower head by putting vinegar in a plastic bag covering the holes, tie it on and leave it for a few hours. It straightened the flow in my shower. I was delighted.
Arion January 9, 2017
Wrong: "Vinegar is acetic". Should read 'Vinegar is acidic'. Vinegar is diluted acetic acid.
Lindsay-Jean H. January 9, 2017
Thanks for catching that typo, it's been corrected!
Patricia R. January 9, 2017
I love all the cleaning help thank you so much
Kerry H. July 19, 2016
Wooo. You have made an awesome post. I was searching for effective cleaning tools on google.Fortunately I found this post.You have written everything in detailed. And I found this as a very effective and helpful post. You deserve a big thanks.

Best Regards
Ardyth E. February 22, 2016
Artificial vanilla will remove almost any smell. I haven't tested it on skunky dogs, but it did work -- perfectly -- on an unplugged refrigerator full of rotten meat.
Donna January 7, 2015
Okay guys, I used distilled vinegar in a bath to de-skunk my 4 dogs. They smelled like pickled skunk for 3 weeks. I have found a better method.
Bri January 7, 2015
Anyone know how to get Agnostura Bitters stains off of linoleum floors? Everything I've tried just spreads the stain....
Regina May 10, 2014
Use fresh lemon juice on white clothes, tablecloths,napkins to get out stains. Apply to the stain and let it sit in the sunshine for a few hours.
Colleen April 9, 2014
I run a ocean program for kids called Ocean Girl Project in Hawaii and love sharing and teaching kids helpful environmentally friendly tips like these, mahalo.
mumsie February 23, 2014
My grandmother who was born in 1891 would be pleased to know her cleaning 'stuff' was still being used today but she could have used some delicious hand creams of today, all she had was rosewater and glycerine. We can all learn all the time.
Verena H. February 10, 2014
I like to clean the inside of my microwave with lemon too. Heat a bowl of water with a half or whole lemon. Allow it to steam up the inside of the microwave and let it sit for a while. Wipe away debris with a dish towel.
mamameeka February 4, 2014
My mother taught me to use baking soda for burned pans, it not only helps to release the burned food, but also neutralizes the disgusting smell. My sister gave me a recipe years ago for cream of tartar as a drain cleaner, but it is so expensive that I was overjoyed to learn to use baking soda and vinegar instead. Thank you one and all for your postings, every little bit helps.
mamameeka February 4, 2014
I keep an old child sized tooth brush around for cleaning in areas like the white gasket that is around the inside of the refrigerator door, the crumb filled area between the oven and the counter, etc, etc.
joan M. January 11, 2014
Hydrogen proxide can be used to clean mirrors, metal fausets, metal knobs, re-sanitize cutting boards, counter tops after using especially after cutting chicken.
Zara A. November 10, 2013
Salt can be also very helpful for oily stains. Just sprinkle the salt all over the stain and wait till it absorbs the oil.
cheese1227 October 30, 2013
Very cool to have all this info in one place! Thanks.
HalfPint October 29, 2013
Cream of tartar is a good cleaning agent to as well as a oxidizer. It can be used to scrub pots and whiten cotton fabric.

Rice is also good for saving your cell phone, should you accidentally drop it in water or get it wet. Just drop the phone into a bag or bin of rice and the rice will wick away the moisture.

Vinegar is a great natural fabric softener and is really good at getting out odors, especially pet odors, from clothing and furniture.
Baking soda and vinegar together can unclog your sink drains without having to resort to Drano.
AntoniaJames October 29, 2013
Very helpful, HalfPint. Thanks for posting! ;o)
jthelwell October 29, 2013
When I burn a pot (hey, it happens!), I cover the burned material with a thick layer of baking soda, add a small amount of water and let it sit overnight. The burned material will wipe off.
AntoniaJames October 29, 2013
I learned about this recently on a Hotline thread, and had occasion to use the method. It worked like a charm! I heated the pan with the baking soda and water briefly first, and then let it sit for 24 hours (because I was busy doing other things, procrastinating, etc.) Very little "elbow grease" was necessary to get the badly burned, crusty black stuff off. ;o)
Nancy February 24, 2014
Has anyone ever heard of boiling potato skins to clean a burned pan? I've never tried it, but heard about it somewhere.