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12 substitutions that save money

You don't need all of those store-bought cleaners

By Karen Datko Sep 18, 2009 11:17AM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.


One of my favorite ways to trim my spending is to find simple substitutes for my regular expenses. If I can trim a few bucks from the cost of household supplies and other routine purchases, over the long run that can add up to a lot of money with virtually no change in my life.


Here are 12 of my favorites (not including my "infamous" homemade laundry detergent).


Vinegar instead of fabric softener. Instead of buying expensive fabric softener, just use half a cup of white vinegar in the softener cup in your washing machine. It accomplishes the same effect as softener -- it makes your clothes really soft -- plus it breaks down the laundry detergent, making the clothes much better for people with sensitive skin or allergies. What about the smell? Once the clothes are dried, you smell nothing at all. You can buy four gallons of vinegar for $6, meaning the cost per load is about 5 cents, while a load's worth of Downy costs about 15 ccents.  You save a dime per load and your clothes are less chemical-laden.

Bing: More uses for vinegar

Reusable containers instead of Ziplocs. Ziplocs -- especially the small ones -- usually wind up in the trash after one use. On the other hand, a reusable container can last for years. Because a typical Ziploc costs about 10 cents and you can get a reusable Rubbermaid container for about $1, you break even on the container after about 12 uses (the cost of washing the container in the dishwasher is estimated there) and everything thereafter is pure savings.


Simple homebrew instead of dish detergent. Instead of using liquid or powder dishwashing detergent (and paying a stiff premium for it), put two teaspoons of liquid dish detergent and four teaspoons of baking powder in an old milk jug, then slowly fill the jug with warm water, sloshing it while you do it (even better, just slowly add the soap as you're adding the water). Then put the jug under the sink. Each time you do a load, fill up the cup with the homebrew. It works like a charm. The jug will provide enough for eight to 10 loads of dishes for about a penny each, compared with about 13 cents per load for ordinary detergent.


Chef's knife instead of a knife set. You're just getting started in the kitchen and you think it's time to get yourself a big ol' knife set. Don't. Unless you're doing crazy things in the kitchen, all day every day, you really need only one knife -- a chef's knife. Head down to your local retailer and check them out. One good chef's knife will make kitchen work easier than an entire block's worth of other knives. It's really all you need. I can't even remember the last time I used a knife besides that one. Just learn how to properly hone it and sharpen it.


Vinegar instead of Windex. Seriously. Just use vinegar instead of Windex when you clean your windows. It cleans almost anything on a window and doesn't streak and, more importantly, doesn't leave a film behind as Windex often does. Just put some vinegar in a spray bottle -- maybe that Windex one that you didn't buy a replacement for -- and wash windows as normal. You'll be quite happy with the results -- and you'll save about a penny per squirt.


Reusable cotton cloths instead of paper towels. Cotton cloths work better, absorb more, and you can get a 5-pound box for about the same price as a jumbo pack of paper towels. But what about the washing? It's easy. Keep them in a kitchen drawer and use them for spills and filtering and other purposes until they're dirty, then toss them into any load of socks or underwear or towels. Even a big handful takes up barely any room at all and before you know it, you've refilled your supply. Better yet, you're not buying paper towels and you're reducing your garbage.


Baking soda and vinegar instead of drain cleaner. Remember those nifty volcanoes that kids make for science fair projects in grade school? The basic mixture that made them bubble up was baking soda and vinegar. It expands nicely and pushes itself into everything. Perfect for clearing a clogged drain, no? Just pour in a quarter cup of baking soda, chase it with half a cup of vinegar, then cover the drain and wait 15 minutes. Once that's done, chase it with a gallon or so of boiling water. This will clean almost any drain and save you from blowing unnecessary amounts of money on a big bottle of Drano. This also works as a toilet bowl cleaner. It'll foam up like crazy at first, but after 15 minutes you'll be able to scrub your toilet with a brush with ease.


Old computer instead of new television. If you need a new television somewhere, why not just use an old computer instead? A computer that's five years old with an Internet connection can easily be a substitute for a television. You can watch tons of programs on Hulu, and many channels offer a full-screen stream, too, plus it's simple to watch DVDs on a computer as well. Even better, you can stow the box somewhere out of the way (in a cabinet, perhaps) and leave the monitor somewhere easy to access. This can be a great solution in a kitchen, where you can watch television on it or use it to call up YouTube videos to tutor you through a meal prep -- plus you don't have the cost of buying anything to get it working.


Ammonia instead of oven cleaner. If you cook at home, you'll eventually have to clean your oven, and it can be a nasty job. There are lots of products out there that claim to be able to make this process easy, but the easiest way I've found is far cheaper and far easier. Just put a cup of ammonia in a glass bowl in the evening, put that bowl in your oven, and close the door. Let it sit overnight. The next morning, get rid of the ammonia and you'll find that scrubbing the inside of your oven is suddenly quite easy. The burnt-on drippings will come right off with no problems. Plus, a jug of ammonia is far cheaper than some spray-on solution.


Baking soda and dish soap instead of Soft Scrub. Soft Scrub does a great job of cleaning up serious stains all around the house, but you don't need to drop four bucks on a small bottle of it. Just combine half a cup of baking soda (cost: about a quarter) and a little bit of liquid dish soap and stir. Add a bit more liquid soap and keep stirring until you have a paste that's about the consistency of frosting, and you're ready to go. It costs about 40 cents to make more than enough to clean anything you want to clean -- far cheaper than Soft Scrub and with the same results.


Baking soda instead of air freshener. I actually don't like most air fresheners. They usually make a room smell like chemicals. Fortunately, there's a much easier solution. Put out a saucer with some baking soda sprinkled in it near where the odor is and it'll go away. Got a baby diaper pail? Just put some baking soda in it. Baking soda just eats odors.


Baking soda and peroxide (or club soda) instead of carpet cleaner. Got a nasty spot on your carpet? You don't need carpet cleaner to get rid of it. Just dump a few spoonfuls of baking soda on it, rub it in, then put some hydrogen peroxide (a capful) or club soda (as much as you want) on the stain and rub it in as it bubbles. This gets rid of almost any carpet or upholstery stain you'll face. It literally saved some microfiber for us that seemed to have a permanent stain on it. Plus, it's cheap.


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