They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend. That may be true for some girls, but this country gal’s best friends are baking soda and vinegar. Diamonds are lovely, without a doubt, but they do get in the way sometimes and are hardly as useful as my baking soda and vinegar buddies. These are the comrades that make my life easier. They help me keep a healthy home, garden, pets, and family; and this is infinitely more valuable to me than glittering knuckles. Separately, baking soda and vinegar are handy and powerful in and of themselves, but together they make an indomitable cleaning combination. And cleanliness is next to Godliness, right? Or, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? That always makes me think of a clean bathroom and an organized first aid kit/medicine cabinet. Anyway, that’s enough with the clichés. Baking soda, vinegar, and I get together and conquer household chores, gardening, pet care, car cleaning, laundry, and even first aid like the most seasoned professionals.
Every good homesteader knows that no job is too big when the right tools and a little ingenuity are employed. Since most of my jobs involve caring for our home and all the living things in and around it, plant and animal (and bird and human) alike, the right tools for me include my big plastic bucket, my gallon jug of vinegar, and my industrial sized bag of baking soda. Also in my metaphorical tool-shed include my garden hose, borax, sponges, microfiber cloths, dish soap, a squeegee, baby oil, rubber gloves, clothespins, scissors, masking tape, a sharpie, and safety pins. If I could just roll a wheelbarrow around with all these things inside it, I might make it through most of my chores without having to stop and waste time going back to the house or the barn for the correct tool.
Baking soda can be used in several different ways: directly, dissolved in water, or as a paste. Vinegar, likewise, can be used directly but is more commonly combined with water to dilute the strength of its acidity.
Around the House
Most mornings I feel like I wake up in my kitchen. I’m making coffee and trying to wrap my head around breakfast while measuring a cup of baking soda into a plastic measuring cup that I will wind up returning to the sink for several times throughout the course of my day. Yes, I pour a cup of baking soda before I even pour a cup of coffee. That is how dependent the success of the day is on that magical powder. I also make sure my spray bottle filled with half vinegar and half water is full and is placed in the readily available location in front of everything else under my sink.
When the coffee pot finishes percolating, I pour the invigorating liquid into a thermal carafe so that I can run a pot of water spiked with a teaspoon of vinegar through the machine. I do this because my next task is one of the most important and seldom noticed of my chores: making sweet tea. While I can’t make public my super-special-secret-southern recipe, I can say that I cannot proceed with the tea-making until the machine is clean and odorless. Good sweet tea doesn’t smell or taste like coffee… thanks to this little trick. Vinegar makes the conception of my signature brew more streamlined than boiling water in a sauce-pan, and keeps my kitchen cool and humidity-free in summertime.
All this stuff I do before I go outside gets done pretty quickly because, as a rule, when consciousness returns to me each new day my first thoughts are usually of my gardens and my backyard flock. I can’t wait to put those ripped and stained garden gloves back on, grab my spray bottle of vinegar and my hand cultivator and head up the hill to the homegrown vegetables and the chicken coop, all the while trying to guess in my head how many eggs and red, ripe tomatoes await me. Why do I take a bottle of vinegar to the garden? It’s my secret weapon against weeds, ants, and slugs. I hate slugs; they’re slimy. Vinegar can also be sprayed on spigots, tools, screws, anything that needs a little rust-removal. It will sanitize outdoor furniture, helps remove mold, removes berry stains from your hands, and can serve as a pre-wash for the veggies you harvest. You can also spray it on minor cuts and scrapes or insect stings as a soothing disinfectant. You need a gallon of this miracle liquid in your garden shed, right? Right!
While you’re outside, spray the vinegar anywhere you don’t want your cat. The sandbox, the flower bed, the vegetable garden, the picnic table. Cats hate vinegar almost as much as slugs do, except that it doesn’t kill them the way it will slimy slugs. Don’t spray it directly on the flowers and veggies of course, but place a couple vinegar soaked cotton balls near the border; kitties will vanish from the area. Acid-loving plants like rhododendron, hydrangea, dogwood, heather, azalea, and many berries do benefit from a little vinegar, though. Mix one cup vinegar with one gallon of water and spray directly onto the soil around the base of these plants. Dogs aren’t bothered by vinegar as much as cats. You can rub vinegar on your dog’s ear to soothe itchiness. I’ve also heard that you can add a touch of it to their drinking water to keep fleas away; just hope those biting fleas don’t find your vinegar-loathing felines. A fifty-fifty mixture of vinegar and water will also keep flies away from livestock, but you must spray often.
So, once you’ve tended to all the wonderful living things on your farm and you must finally return to the indoor chores, your good friend vinegar will remain close to your heart and within arm’s reach, always ready to be useful. This is when my other good friend, baking soda, joins the party.
In the Kitchen
I feel like I must admit at this point that I’m not the dainty type. Hence, I do not bother with the dainty box of baking soda that most folks use as a refrigerator ornament. I buy the thirteen-pound bag from my local farm supply. I mean business when I break out the baking soda. From this mammoth bag I fill an old reused olive jar for the teaspoon I need here and there while cooking. The same is true for vinegar. I buy gallons at a time. I should really get a sponsorship of some kind for all the vinegar I purchase. From one of these gallons I fill an old pickle jar to use in cooking, but I use more apple cider vinegar in my food recipes, and standard white vinegar in my cleaning recipes. (Recipes follow.)
It’s the jobs that I used to think had no solution that have been remedied with baking soda. Stained, plastic food-storage containers and plastic utensils have been cleaned and deodorized with a baking soda solution of four tablespoons per quart of water. Stubborn stains can be lifted by adding lemon juice to the solution. That same solution can revive old sponges and scrub brushes when those tools are left to soak overnight. It also will work on wooden bowls and utensils just as well.
Greasy pans or cooked-on food will loosen its grip on pots and pans by sprinkling baking soda onto the surfaces and boiling water in them. It works well with cookie sheets too — just place the sheet with the baking soda/water solution in the oven and heat it up. When the sheet has cooled again, remove it from the oven and wipe it clean. Then wipe the inside of the oven with vinegar and see how easily it comes clean. If you use the baking soda solution to clean cast-iron skillets, be sure to re-season them with cooking oil.
Another obligatory admission: I am obsessed with a clean sink. I am that person who dries the sink when I’m finished with it. I fold my fitted sheets, too, but that has nothing to do with baking soda and vinegar; unless you count the ½ cup of baking soda that goes in with the wash, or the cup of vinegar that goes through the empty cycle to clean the machine periodically.
Anyway, back to the stainless steel sink. Here’s how it works: at the end of the day, which is signaled by the last dirty dish being washed, dried, and put away with care, I bust out the baking soda and apply it directly to my dish sponge to scrub the day away from the sink and countertop. It makes a little bit of a film. Then I dunk my sponge in vinegar and admire the sizzle it makes before wiping once again the sink and countertop. The whole thing then gets wiped again with warm water, the sponge is wrung out, and the dishtowel that was clean just this morning is employed for its grand finale before its trip to the hamper as a sink/counter dryer. If company is coming the next day or if I’m feeling super-obsessive, sometimes I even dab a little baby oil on a paper towel and buff the clean stainless steel to a high shine. Then I stand there with my baking soda and vinegar pals and admire the beautiful sink. Silly? Yes. Do I care? No. By the way, the baking soda and vinegar combo is good for the drain, too.
If you spend some time getting to know baking soda and vinegar, I know you will learn to love them as much as I do, and they will contribute to your quality of life as much as they have mine. As promised, here are more handy tips and recipes:
Baking soda removes crayon marks from painted walls. Use a wet sponge and baking soda directly on the stain.
Greasy food stains can be removed from upholstery when the stain is fresh by using equal parts baking soda and salt. Sprinkle it on, rub it in just a little, let it dry undisturbed, and then vacuum it up.
Make a sachet for storage areas or seldom-used luggage by filling old panty hose toes with baking soda, then tie off the foot and cut the desired length if you plan to hang them.
Mix baking soda with regular white glue to use as a permanent filler for nail holes in white walls.
Add a half a cup of baking soda to bath water to soften your skin. Then use a dab of vinegar on a cotton ball to tone facial skin.
Fiberglass tubs and showers can be cleaned with a paste made from baking soda and dishwashing liquid. Metal fixtures can be descaled with straight vinegar.
Dab vinegar on perspiration stains.
Smoky odors can be removed from clothing by soaking them in a baking soda/water solution before they go into the wash.
Add a teaspoon of baking soda to your shampoo to help it remove buildup from hair products and improve manageability.
Sprinkle baking soda onto your combs and brushes then soak in vinegar to remove buildup and to disinfect.
Wipe fingernails with a cotton ball soaked in vinegar before you polish them; the polish will last longer. Rubbing your cuticles with baking soda will soften them so they’re easier to remove.
Make an exfoliating body or facial scrub by mixing up baking soda and oatmeal in your blender.
Coat-Shine (for animal coats, not your winter coat):
- 1 c. Vinegar
- 1 qt. Water
- Fly-Away (to keep the flies away, not to make you levitate)
- Half Vinegar
- Half Water
- Air Freshener
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 Cup water
- Few drops of essential oil. (Eucalyptus and Mint is my favorite combo.)
Acid-Loving Plant Spray
- 1 Cup vinegar
- 1 Gallon Water
- Cut Flower Preservation
- 2 Tablespoons vinegar
- 1 Teaspoon sugar
- 1 quart water
- ¼ cup baking soda
- 1 teaspoon liquid detergent
- Enough vinegar to make a thick, creamy paste
G.P.S. (General Purpose Spray)
- 1 teaspoon Borax
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon dish soap
- 2 cups hot water
- Wear rubber gloves
- ¼ cup baking soda
- ½ cup vinegar
- 1 cup ammonia
- 1 gallon hot water
- Wear rubber gloves
- 1 cup ammonia
- 1 cup baking soda
- 1 gallon water
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup dry herbs (I like lavender—I grow a lot of it)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground clove
Play Clay (you know… for fun)
- 2 cups baking soda
- 1 cup cornstarch
- 1 ¼ cups cold water
- Food coloring