Sunday, January 11, 2009

Vinegar solves problems - low-cost, ecologically sane

I love these tips from This Old House (Jan/Feb 2009)and Woman's Day (Nov. 11, 2008) magazines regarding uses of vinegar.

Yesterday, my sister and I tried one out - using vinegar and warm water to remove 1970's wallpaper from her kitchen - and it worked extremely well. When we used a scraper, it seemed the paper just melted away from the wall - big, long, satisfying strips of paper peeling off. The trick was to thoroughly saturate the paper. Also, we had to use it on two layers of paper - the pretty outside stuff and the bottom gluey stuff. Her 6 year old joined in, it was so easy. And with my physical limitations, I had to sit - but that didn't stop me from contributing huge swathes of paper removal, with this technique.

Before I list the tips, I have a comment on apple cider vs. white vinegar. Apple cider is in most households, so you probably won't have to go out to buy it but it stinks - literally. You may have to go out to buy white vinegar; however, it is equally inexpensive as apple cider vinegar (you don't need the organic kind for cleaning!) and it doesn't smell very much at all. It's up to you as to which you use, except when one is recommended.

These are the tips:

1. Peel off wallpaper. This Old House recommends equal parts of vinegar and water. We used mostly water and about two tablespoons of vinegar per spray bottle. And we used white vinegar to avoid a smell.

2. Clean dirty windows. This is my own tip based on personal experience. Years ago, I cleaned New York City kitchen windows with apple cider vinegar and warm water and used newspaper. The solution cut through decades of city soot and grime and left the windows sparkling clean. It took two or three applications and wipings. The newspaper eliminated streaks and lint residue - plus cost nothing (and we recycled it later). Sure, it smelled, but no worse than a glass cleaner and it was a LOT less expensive.

3. Revive old paint brushes. This Old House recommends that we soak gunked up nylon brushes in hot vinegar for up to 30 minutes, wash with soap and water, rinse and dry. I have to try this with some old brushes I have. I take it that this method may not work with natural bristles. And I'll bet it will work only with latex water-based paint, not oil-based.

4. Woman's Day reminds us that we can clean coffee makers by brewing up 1 part white vinegar and 2 parts water. They recommend doing this every three weeks.

5. Kill grass and weeds. Obviously, this means unwanted grass and weeds, specifically those between bricks and flagstones. I have experience with this Woman's Day tip, finding it to work pretty well. It only works with weeds that already are apparent, and I had to repeat many times that summer. I love organic solutions and am willing to do the ongoing maintenance required by such an approach.

6. Remove decals and stickers. By daubing vinegar onto the sticker, it loosens the adhesive. You still have to scrape with an appropriate scraper (single edge razor blades works well, IF you keep them out of reach of kids). Like This Old House, I have gotten stubborn adhesive residue off with all kinds of vinegar.

7. Avoid moldy cheese. I am eager to try this Woman's Day suggestion, because I love cheese and hate when it gets moldy. Now that I'm on my weight-release program, I eat less cheese and it goes bad way too quickly. For this, I'll use white vinegar.

8. Whiten grout. If you have white grout that now is yellow or stained, This Old House suggests dipping a stiff toothbrush in vinegar and then scrubbing. This tip helps me use those old toothbrushes that are completely unsuitable for brushing teeth because they rip at my gums!

9. Keep paint from peeling. Leave it to This Old House to have two paint-related tips for vinegar! In this one, they refer specifically to painting galvanized metal or concrete. If you are one of those who might do so, use a lint-free applicator to wipe the surface down with vinegar and apparently the paint will last longer. How much longer, they don't say. It can't hurt to try adding this extra step to what must be an unusual paint project.

10. Prevent colors from running. In the "extra step" department that might pay off big, Woman's Day suggests soaking new clothes or towels for 15 minutes before washing in equal parts vinegar and cold water. I'm going to try this, because I have had too many colors run onto things I don't want them to run onto. I wash in cold water, so I assume wrongly that colors won't run. But they do!! Dark colors somehow get a dark shadow from the darker article of clothing. My bright pink shirt got a very slight red pattern from its red laundry mate. It's very annoying. Vinegar to the rescue! It's a good use for my bucket, too.

11. Dissolve rust. If any of you are like me in forgetting garden tools outside in the rain, this tip is for us. This Old House suggests soaking old tools and corroded nuts and bolts in vinegar for a few days, then rinsing with water and watching the rust disappear. I will try it come spring time when I can limit the smell and mess to the outdoors or garage.

12. Test soil pH. Finally, an inexpensive way to tell whether my garden will produce pink or blue hydrangeas! This Old House tells me to put a handful of dirt in a small container and sprinkle vinegar on top. Alkaline soil will fizz. I guess acid soil does nothing. Now I just have to find out what color hydrangea is produced by what kind of soil and decide what I want.

13. Freshen wilted vegetables. I eat at home all the time and still have wilted vegetables. I buy a lot of produce when I shop and simply can't/shouldn't eat all of it in the short time frame before wilt sets in. Woman's Day says I can at least salvage the leafy vegetables by soaking them in 2 cups of cold water mixed with one tablespoon of vinegar for 10 minutes. Leafy vegetables to me means lettuce and greens. Personally, I've extended the life of my lettuce by wrapping it in a damp paper towel and storing in a plastic bag. I don't know how necessary the vinegar is.

14. Remove mineral deposits from showerheads. I've read this tip before, but This Old House improves on it by suggesting using warm vinegar in a resealable plastic bag. Completely submerge the showerhead holes in the vinegar and then seal the bag for an hour. After rinsing and wiping clean, the showerhead should run clear once it is reattached. I don't know if my showerhead is clogged by mineral deposits, but if it is, I'll try this.

15. Remove wax or polish build up. This Old House says you can remove build up on wood or leather. For wood, use equal parts water and vinegar and wipe with the wood's grain. Leather requires 2 parts water to 1 part vinegar and a circular rubbing motion. I'd want to make sure I have build up on my wood before I try this, as my sense is that water and vinegar can be very drying to wood. I plan to try it on my leather car seats.

16. The last tip is counterintuitive to me, for This Old House says I can protect my hands from irritation when I'm using concrete, drywall and other building materials. Rinsing with a mix of 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water before washing up will neutralize the caustic alkaline content of such materials and reduce the possibility of skin irritation. Hmm...I'll suggest that my brother the handyman try this one.

There are so many other uses for vinegar - low cost, ecologically safe, easily obtained. Perfect for this time in our world!

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