Beyond Lemons and Vinegar: How to Clean With Ketchup, Vodka, Butter and More

Tomato sauce. Softened butter. Red wine.

We usually think of our favorite foods and drinks as the stuff that make the stains on our clothes, not what we use to remove them. And sure, most people know about using lemons and salt and white vinegar, oh beloved white vinegar, for all kinds of cleaning needs. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.

We’re here to talk about Tabasco — yes, everyone’s favorite hot sauce can be used for cleaning. As can Coca-Cola. And granulated sugar. And even sliced bread.

For the purposes of this exercise, we’ve omitted food and drink items that are very commonly known for their cleaning prowess, like club soda, baking soda, citrus fruits, salt and, yes, white vinegar, in favor of focusing on more esoteric — at least in the realm of cleaning — foodstuffs. Like ketchup.


Cornstarch will absorb a grease stain, making it the perfect thing to use on nonwashable or delicate materials like suede and silk. Place a mound of cornstarch on the stain and allow it to sit, undisturbed for 12 to 48 hours. Then brush the cornstarch away or dump it into a trashcan. If any traces of the grease stain remain, simply repeat the process with fresh cornstarch.


Cornmeal is excellent at removing grime from and fluffing up decorative fur (real or faux!), whether it’s a coat collar that’s gotten matted from wear or the interior of a beloved pair of fuzzy slippers that have gotten impossibly dingy.

Beyond Lemons and Vinegar: How to Clean With Ketchup, Vodka, Butter and More

You’ll need a brown paper or sealable plastic bag, into which you’ll pour about a cup or two of dry cornmeal (more for larger items, less for smaller). Place the cornmeal and your dingy furry thing in the bag, seal it tight and shake it in the same way you would Shake ’N Bake, say, a pork chop. Dump the cornmeal and the bag, and brush any stray granules off the fur using your hands, or knock them loose by clapping a pair of shoes together over a garbage can or sink.

Sliced Bread or Sliced Potatoes

When glass breaks, we usually reach for the broom and dustpan set, which is a good thing to do to quickly pick up large pieces of glass. But shards tend to stick around, which is where good old sliced bread comes in: Palm a slice in your hand and pat the shard-y expanse.

The slivers of glass will stick to the squishy bread, which should then, of course, be tossed in the trash. Similarly, you can perform the same operation by using the cut side of a potato.

Tabasco, V8 or Ketchup

If you have copper or brass that’s gone all tarnish-y, skip the specialty polishes and grab the bottle of Tabasco, V8 or ketchup. The acidity of those products will lift tarnish from copper and brass.

Tabasco and V8 should be applied to a rag for polishing, while ketchup, because of its viscosity, can be smeared directly onto copper or brass. Allow it to sit on the metal for five minutes (longer for heavy tarnishing) before wiping away. Then wash the item using soap and water. Ketchup can also be used to remove rusting from cast iron.

White Wine

Barbra Streisand swears by this one, and I always think of it as “The Barbra Streisand Trick” (different thing entirely from the Streisand Effect). Here’s what it is, and you may know this because it’s also an old hostess trick: White wine can be used to remove red wine stains from clothing, carpet and upholstered furniture by applying a small amount of the white to a white or light-colored cloth or rag, then tamping at the red. Repeat as needed, adding more white wine to the cloth as you go.


Vodka is an excellent odor neutralizer, and a favorite of costume designers and figure skaters for freshening up delicate or elaborately embellished items to extend the time in between hand-laundering or professional cleaning.

Decant the vodka — go ahead and use the cheap stuff and save the good stuff for drinking, by all means — into a spray bottle and spritz the garment lightly. As the vodka dries, its smell will dissipate, taking lingering malodor with it.

Butter or Mayonnaise

Fair warning: This method for removing white water rings and marks from wood surfaces is gross but wildly effective. It also happens to be a thing that was passed down to me by the women in my family (they aren’t all that big on cleaning and mostly just wonder where I came from).

Here’s the “recipe” to follow: Make a paste by mixing softened butter or mayonnaise with cigar, cigarette or fireplace ashes. Apply the paste to a soft cloth or rag, like an old T-shirt, and buff the water marks vigorously in a circular motion before wiping the mixture away using a clean section of the rag.


This may break your soda habit for good. Cola, because it contains phosphoric acid, will unclog a stopped-up drain. It also works as a toilet cleaner: Pour the cola directly into the bowl, leave it for an hour and then flush.

Car enthusiasts will also want to know about this: Pour a can of cola into a load of wash, along with your regular detergent, to remove oil and grease stains from your wrenching clothes. Cola can also be used with a scrub brush to lift oil and grease stains from a driveway.


If you have the unfortunate experience of knocking a bottle nail polish over on a hard surface like tile or hardwood, pour some sugar on it. Sugar is adsorbent, so the paint will adhere to it, allowing you to then pick or sweep up the sugar — and the nail polish along with it.

Meat Tenderizer

This might be the strangest one of the bunch: Unseasoned meat tenderizer is great for treating blood stains — especially older, more set-in stains.

Make a paste by mixing a tablespoon or two (more for larger stains) in a bowl with enough water to make a thick paste. Spread it on the stain and allow it to sit for 30 to 90 minutes before flushing with cold water and laundering as usual. If you’re using the meat tenderizer on something nonlaunderable, like a mattress, wipe the paste away using a damp rag.

Olive Oil

If you have a pair of rubber boots like Hunters or Xtratufs, over time they may develop chalky white patches, known as “bloom.” While some people like the look of bloom, others would prefer their wellies to look pristine, which is where olive oil comes in: Using a soft cloth, buff the chalky patches with a small amount of olive oil to reverse the effect of blooming on your boots. Olive oil can also be used to rehydrate dried-out wood, from cutting boards to furniture.

Do you have an unusual cleaning method that involves food? I’d love to hear about the offbeat ways you’re using foodstuffs in homekeeping and laundry! Tweet me @joliekerr or email me at