Special care for special items

  • Fluff fluffy stuff with a sports shoe

When drying a feather-filled item - whether a pillow, donna or parka — toss a clean old sneaker or jogger into the tumble-drier (the less smelly, the better). The soft-soled shoe will make a bit of noise, but will fluff up the item nicely as it bounces around.

  • Speed-dry a wet blanket

Make a soggy blanket fresh from the washing machine look warm and welcoming again in no time. First, put two large towels in the tumble-drier and let them heat for 20 minutes. Then throw in the blanket and let the towels soak up the moisture. Take the blanket out when it's still damp and drape it over the backs of two chairs (ideally, garden chairs out in the sun) or two parallel clothes lines to air-dry.

  • Prevent runs in pantihose

Runs in a pair of pantihose can ruin the look of the sharpest outfit, so take action before wearing them. Wash new pantihose, let them dry and then soak for 3 hours in a solution of 4 litres water and 2 cups (360g) salt.

  • Salt your new jeans

Nothing's more comfortable than a pair of jeans, but it can take a little time before the stiffness of new denim wears off. Hasten the process by throwing a new pair of jeans into the washing machine with 1/3 cup salt. They’ll feel softer the first time you pull them on.

  • New life for soiled whites

It's a sad day when a favourite white shirt or blouse just can't be seen in public anymore — yellow stains, a dreary cast and a seemingly permanent ring around the collar. But all is not lost. Perk up the garment by working a paste of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda directly onto stained and soiled areas, then hang the garment outside in the sun for a couple of hours. If the collar remains soiled, pour a capful of 3 per cent hydrogen peroxide along the ring. Now wash in hot water as you normally would and welcome your favourite shirt back into the cupboard.

  • Kettle-clean a felt hat

To deep clean wool felt hat, fill a kettle with water and bring to the boil. Carefully hold the hat above the steam, rotating it as necessary. Brush with a dry toothbrush, then let it dry.

  • Wash silk in hair shampoo

Use a protein-based hair shampoo and cool water to hand-wash silk garments; the protein will feed the protein in the silk, giving the garment body and making it last longer.

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Everyday laundry tips

  • Outfox the sock bandit

The invisible sock bandit who hangs around washing machines and snatches one sock from a pair will probably never be apprehended, but here's a way to thwart him. Give each family member a mesh bag for their dirty socks. Then, on washday, close the bags and throw them into the washing machine. The sneaky thief will leave empty-handed and you should only have to replace socks when they wear out.

  • Freshen a laundry basket

Baskets are handy for keeping dirty laundry in one place, but they can get very smelly when packed with soiled clothes. Here are two ways to prevent stale clothes smells:

  1. Cut the foot off a pair of old pantihose, fill it with bicarbonate of soda, knot it and throw the makeshift odour-eater into the basket. Replace the bicarbonate of soda every month or so.

  2. Keep a box of bicarbonate of soda next to the basket and sprinkle some onto the soiled clothes as you put them into the washing machine, where the soda will freshen and soften the load.

  • Whiter whites

Do your white T-shirts tend to go grey? White socks look dirty no matter how many times they're washed? Try one of these tried and trusted methods for making whites stay white.

• Soak in a solution of 4 litres water and 1 cup (180g) bicarbonate of soda.

• Soak in hot water in which you've dissolved 5 aspirin tablets (325mg each).

• Add 1 cup (250ml) white vinegar to the washing machine's rinse cycle.

  • Blacker blacks, darker darks

While faded and distressed-looking garments are sometimes the height of fashion, you may prefer not to look as if the last time you went clothes shopping was in the 80s. Here are some tips for keeping black and dark-coloured clothes looking like new.

  1. For black clothes, add 2 cups (500ml) brewed coffee or tea to the rinse cycle.

  2. For dark colours like navy blue or plum, add 1 cup (180g) table salt to the rinse cycle.

  3. To keep denim from fading quickly, soak jeans in salt water or a 50:50 solution of water and white vinegar before the first wash. Turn the jeans inside out before putting them in the machine and turn the temperature setting to cold.

  • Two starch substitutes

There's no need to run out and buy starch to stiffen shirt collars or restore body to shapeless clothing. Make your own by pouring 2 cups (500ml) water into a jar and adding 2 tablespoons cornflour. Screw the jar lid on tightly and shake well. Now pour the solution into a spray bottle for use when ironing.

If some garments are looking a bit shapeless, don't use starch when ironing. Instead, add a cup of powdered milk to the final rinse cycle of the wash to give the fabric back its body.

  • Boil yellowed cottons

With time, white cotton and linen tend to turn yellow — hardly the fresh, crisp look for which these fabrics are famous. Mix 1/4 cup (45g) salt and 1/4 cup (45g) bicarbonate of soda into 4 litres water in a large saucepan. Add the yellowed items and boil them for 1 hour to get rid of the yellow.

  • Brightening rugs and curtains

If cotton rugs or cotton curtains have faded, simply add 1/4 cup (45g) salt to your laundry detergent to brighten the colours. If a rug is too large for machine washing, scrub it well with a clean rag dipped in salt water.

  • Banish odours

Get rid of dye or chemical smells in new sheets or shirts and the rank odour of sweaty gym clothes left to fester for weeks. Here are two old but effective deodorising standbys. First, add 1/3 cup (90g) bicarbonate of soda to 4 litres water and presoak any smelly washable items for about 2 hours. Then, as you machine-wash them, add 1/2 cup (125ml) white vinegar to the rinse cycle.

  • Dry jumpers with a pair of pantihose

Don't peg jumpers directly onto the line; run an old pair of pantihose through one sleeve, the neck and out the other sleeve then hang out.

  • Clean your drier vent from the outside

Stuffed-up drier vents can, in worst case scenarios, cause fires, but most of us never think of examining the vent from the outside, on a regular basis. To do this, carefully lift up the vent flap and clean it out.

  • An improvised drying rack

Air-drying anything saves money, and you don't even need a sunny day. Suspend an old fridge shelf or oven racks from a beam in the laundry, if there’s room, and hang wet clothes on coat hangers onto the rack.

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Get rid of pests

  • Lure ants with sugar

Trap ants by giving them what they want: sugar. Add 2-3 teaspoons sugar to 1 cup (250ml) water, moisten a few paper towels or old kitchen sponges in the solution and put the traps in spots where you have seen ants. Leave them overnight and check them in the morning. If they're crawling with ants (almost a certainty), sweep the traps into an empty dustpan and pour a kettle of hot water over them. Repeat the process until there are no ants left to lure.

  • Repel ants with vinegar

If ants love sugar, it only makes sense that they hate vinegar. To get rid of these unwelcome visitors, mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and squirt it onto benchtops, windowsills, kickboards and anywhere else ants are to be found wandering.

  • Spiced-out silverfish

These wingless insects enjoy munching on, among other things, paper, glue and starch. But they don't like herbs. Leave sachets or tea bags of dried lavender, mint, sage or bay leaves in bathroom and kitchen cupboards, where silverfish typically congregate. Wiping down surfaces with lavender oil or a similarly potent herbal solution should also encourage silverfish to go somewhere else.

  • A lethal treat for cockroaches

Ingesting bicarbonate of soda will kill roaches, but the trick is to make it palatable. Bait them by mixing bicarb with equal parts of icing sugar and sprinkling the mixture inside cabinets and other potential cockroach hidey-holes.

  • Minty mouse repellent

Whip up a batch of peppermint tea — not for your morning cuppa but to repel any mice that may be scurrying about at night. Boil 2 cups (500ml) water, turn off the heat and add 4-6 peppermint tea bags and let the tea steep for 6-8 hours. Now stir in 2 teaspoons washing-up liquid to make the super-strong solution stick to surfaces for longer. Fill a spray bottle with the tea and coat kickboards and any areas where you suspect mice may be getting into the house.

  • Ground flying insects

As much as you may enjoy the aromas of basil, oranges and cloves, flies and other flying insects are repelled by them — one whiff and they'll wing their way elsewhere. So chase them off while treating yourself to some delightful scents.

  1.  Put dried basil in organza and muslin sachets (sold at craft and kitchenware shops). Hang the bags in the kitchen and anywhere else flies and other winged pests like to buzz around and they'll quickly stop dropping by.

  2.  Make a pomander — a whole orange stuck with cloves. Hang it from a light fixture or hook and you'll enjoy pest-free air and a fruity scent as well.

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Window treatments

  • Gelatine for window curtains

Machine-washable cotton curtains may emerge from the washer fresh as a daisy, but more often than not, they come out so creased that you're in for a tough time at the ironing board. How to keep creasing to a minimum when washing cotton curtains? Dissolve 1 tablespoon plain gelatine in 1 cup (250ml) boiling water and add to the final rinse cycle. The same trick will restore shine to glazed cotton curtains.

  • Use a blackboard eraser

You’ve washed your windows and when you step back to admire your handiwork you spot the dreaded streaks. What’s worse, you can’t tell whether they’re on the inside or the outside of the pane. You’ll have to clean the panes on both sides again, but with what? One of the best tools is a clean blackboard eraser, rubbed in a circular motion. To keep from guessing about which side of a window is streaked, try this trick next time: use an up-and-down motion when cleaning and drying one side of the window and a back-and-forth motion on the other side. You'll then know which side to 'erase'.

  • Two old window-washing standbys

People have probably argued about the best ways to clean windows since glass was invented. Two formulations that never disappoint are (a) 1/2 cup (125ml) ammonia in 8 litres warm water or (b) 1 cup (250ml) white vinegar in 1 litre water. To remove isolated smudges and sort other spots swiftly, wipe windowpanes with a soft cloth dipped in white vinegar.

  • Effervescent washer

One of the simplest and most effective glass window cleaners around is soda water, which dries without streaking. Just pour it into a spray bottle and spritz the windows, then dry with a cloth.

  • Solve the dirty windowsill problem

If you like fresh air and keep your windows open, it can be hard to keep out all the dust and soot that soils indoor sills, especially if you live in an area with heavy traffic. Outdoor sills fare even worse, of course, since their surfaces tend to trap dirt in pits and cracks. To make cleaning windowsills a breeze, wash them thoroughly, let dry and spray the sills lightly with a little clear floor wax.

  • Awesome awnings

A good spray with the garden hose every once in a while will help to keep awnings clean and free of debris, but they also need a thorough clean every few months. Scrub awnings that are made of canvas and most other materials with a brush dipped in warm water and a mild detergent. If you're faced with stubborn stains or mildew, sprinkle bicarbonate of soda onto a stain and let it sit for about 5 minutes before rinsing it off with a garden hose. Treat mildew with a solution of 1 part colour fast bleach and 3 parts water; just let it soak into the material for 3-4 minutes and then rinse.

  • Don't wash windows on a hot day!

It might be tempting to do your window washing on a warm day, but you'll find you're in a worse situation than you were when you started. Why? Your window-washing solution will dry on contact, leaving the windows streaky.

  • Super-green curtain poles

For smaller windows, try a natural alternative to a traditional curtain rod. Find an appropriate length and width of fallen tree branch — say 1.5m long and 7cm in circumference for a 1.2m-wide window — and run it through the tops of curtains or through the curtain rings.

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Buff up your bathroom

  •  Keep showerheads unclogged

If you live in an area with very hard water, you'll have noticed how mineral deposits can block showerheads. You don't need a new one - use denture tablets or vinegar to unclog it.

  1.  If you can remove the showerhead, dissolve 4-5 denture tablets in a bowl of water and put the head in to soak. Or let it soak overnight in white vinegar. (For extra cleaning action, heat the vinegar in the microwave first.)

  2.  If the showerhead isn't removable, pour the denture tablet solution or vinegar into a plastic bag, tape or tie the bag to the fixture so the showerhead is completely immersed and leave the bag in place for 1-2 hours. To make sure the showerhead is completely unblocked, clean out the holes with a needle, piece of wire or toothpick. Then wipe the head with a cloth dipped in vinegar.

  •  Goodbye to grime and soap scum

Forget about buying 'miracle' products. Instead, stir 3 tablespoons bicarbonate of soda and 1/2 cup (125ml) household ammonia into 2 cups (500ml) warm water. Once you've wiped the solution on and rinsed it off with a sponge or rag, bathroom surfaces will gleam.

  •  Make glass shower doors sparkle

Glass shower doors are a convenient feature of any bathroom but can quickly cloud up with soap scum. For some heavy-duty cleaning, try:

  1. Shaving cream Squirt on the foam and wipe clean with a dry rag; the foam will leave a film that keeps the door from fogging and makes it harder for scum to stick.

  2. White vinegar Keep a spray bottle filled with vinegar and a sponge by (or in) the shower so you can make washing down the surfaces part of your post-shower routine.

  3. Bicarbonate of soda-plus Make a solution of 1/4 cup (60ml) washing-up liquid, 1/4 cup (60ml) hydrogen peroxide and 3 tablespoons bicarb, then scrub onto doors with a sponge.

  4. Vegetable oil Simply pour a little vegetable oil onto a sponge or paper towel and scrub the doors, adding more oil as you need it.

  5. Furniture polish Use a cloth to rub polish directly on doors, then wipe it off with a clean cloth. The polish cleans and also protects against the build-up of soap scum.

  •  Mildew-free shower curtains

The moist environment of a bathroom is just made for mildew, so don’t be surprised when it appears on the shower curtain. You can keep it at bay for a while, at least, by soaking curtains and liners in salt water before hanging them. Once they're up and any mildew appears:

  1.  Add 1/3 cup (60g) borax and 1/2 cup (125ml) vinegar to 2 cups (500ml) water, pour onto the affected areas and let sit for 8-10 minutes. Then scrub with a sponge or cloth.

  2.  Mix 2 tablespoons washing-up liquid with 2 cups (500ml) household bleach and spray the solution onto the curtain.

  3.  Make a paste of vinegar and salt, and spread it onto the mildewed area. Dry for 1-2 hours and then clean curtain with a damp cloth.

  •  Lemony toilet cleaner

Make a paste of 2-3 parts borax and 1 part lemon juice (stir the juice in gradually until you have the right consistency) and apply it to a stained toilet bowl, rim included. Let it sit for 1-1/2 -2 hours and then scrub it off with a toilet brush. This treatment is especially effective for getting rid of the ring that often appears at water level on the toilet bowl.

  •  Clean that ceiling

You're probably so busy cleaning the fixtures and tiles in your bathroom that you don't even think about the ceiling. Look up, but prepare yourself for what you might see — mildew, spots, built-up grime. To clean it easily, fill a mop bucket with equal parts water and white vinegar. Then put on goggles or other protective eyewear. Dip a long-handled sponge mop into the solution, squeeze it out and reach up to clean one section of the ceiling at a time.

  •  Good riddance to grout grime

The grouting between bathroom tiles is a magnet for dirt and germs and it's easy to miss those hard-to-reach crevices during regular cleaning. It also looks bad, so every so often:

  1.  Make a paste of 1 part borax, 2 parts bicarbonate of soda and 1-2 parts water and scrub it onto the grout with a toothbrush.

  2.  Rub away grime with a new pencil eraser, that's well suited to reaching these narrow spaces.

  3.  Scrub with a mouthwash containing a tooth-whitening agent.

  4.  Soak a cotton wool ball in household bleach and place on stained benchtop grout for a few hours; for walls, attach the cotton ball with gaffer tape.

  •  Solutions for stubborn scum and water spots

Bathroom surfaces — including ceramic tiles, glass fibre and acrylic shower units — can become dulled by water spots and built-up scum just as easily as tubs and sinks. Tackle these heavily soiled surfaces with vigour and ...

  1.  2 cups (360g) salt dissolved in 4 litres hot water.

  2.  Half a cup (125ml) vinegar, 1/2 cup (125ml) ammonia and 2-1/2 tablespoons bicarbonate of soda in 4 litres warm water. Apply one of these two solutions, let sit for about 15 minutes, then scrub off and rinse thoroughly.

  •  Brush away rust stains

To get rid of hard-water rust stains on toilets, baths and sinks, just squeeze a little toothpaste onto an old toothbrush and scrub away. Or scrub at the stain with a paste of borax and lemon juice or a solution of equal parts turpentine and salt. Whichever method you choose, attack the rust stains right away. The sooner you deal with them, the easier they will be to remove.

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