How to Stretch Household Products
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22 Lessons From Grandparents to Make Your Household Essentials Last Longer

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How to Stretch Household Products
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Old-School Savings

Your grandparents were probably well-schooled in ways to stretch a buck, and penny-pinching tactics that might have inspired eyerolls in boom times suddenly don’t seem so quaint. As everyone scrambles to save money and limit trips to the store, it’s time to get creative with household products and figure out how to eek the most out of things we normally take for granted. Here are some time-worn tips for doing just that.

Related: 25 Pieces of Advice from Seniors to Millennials

Maintain Your Appliances
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Maintain Your Appliances

Just as cars need regular oil changes and scheduled maintenance to stay in good shape, appliances need some love, too — no one wants a dead fridge or dishwasher right now. Aside from scheduling regular checkups with technicians, there are small maintenance tasks that most of us can tackle on our own. For instance, it’s fairly easy to clean a refrigerator’s coils yourself, or wipe down a sticky gasket.

Dilute Your Shampoo (or Just Use Less)
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Dilute Your Shampoo (or Just Use Less)

Yes, you can add water to bottles of soap and shampoo and still clean your body and hair, just like grandma said. You can also simply use less. Most people can get away with shampooing every two to three days or even less — in fact, doing it more can dry out all but the thickest, oiliest hair. And police the size of that dollop, too. For medium-length hair, anything more than a quarter-size amount is probably too much.

Store Bottles Upside Down
Store Bottles Upside Down by Eric.Ray (CC BY-NC)

Store Bottles Upside Down

From ketchup to body wash, hear grandma’s cry: If you can store a squeeze bottle upside down, do it. That will make it much easier to get every last bit from the bottle, all without getting a hand injury from too much slapping. In the fridge, you can keep all those upside-down condiments from tipping by organizing them with an egg carton.

Spend Less on Laundry
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Cut Back on Laundry Detergent

Today’s detergents are ultra-concentrated, and if you’re using a capful on each load, you’re overdoing it, possibly using as much as double what you actually need. Consumer Reports recommends using a marker to highlight those hard-to-see fill lines. Some of them are only halfway up the cap, making it easy to overshoot and waste that precious detergent.

Related: Are You Making These Laundry Mistakes?

Cut Dryer Sheets in Half and Reuse Them
Cut Dryer Sheets in Half and Reuse Them by trenttsd (CC BY)

Cut Up Sponges and Dryer Sheets

This one is from the common-sense department so beloved by Gramps and Gram: Unless you’re tackling a mess of epic proportions, half a sponge will probably pack all the scrubbing power you need. Similarly, using half a dryer sheet will still reduce static cling just fine, so why not get double the mileage out of your next box?

Get Every Last Bit of Toothpaste
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Get Every Last Bit of Toothpaste

Don’t put your scissors away just yet. Instead of leaving who knows how many days’ worth of toothpaste languishing in the tube when you can no longer squeeze it out, cut the tube open. Then use your toothbrush to scoop out what remains.

Dry Your Soap (Yes, Really)
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Dry Your Soap (Yes, Really)

If you like a good old-fashioned bar of soap, it will last longer if allowed to dry completely between uses. Even better, store it away from the steamy shower stall, in a soap dish with holes that provides plenty of air circulation. Bonus points: Use it with a washcloth or loofah that can lather up far better than your hands, and you won’t need nearly as much.

Bring Soap Slivers Back to Life
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Bring Soap Slivers Back to Life

Speaking of soap, don’t just scrape those leftover slivers off the tile and throw them away. Instead, use them to make soap balls. Once you’ve collected plenty of bits and pieces, shred them into uniform sizes with a cheese grater, then start pressing the shreds into a ball. Keep going and you may even have something approaching grandma’s fancy guest-room soaps.

Don’t Leave Razors in the Shower
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Don’t Leave Razors in the Shower

Even if you use cheapie disposables instead of grandpa’s dependable metal safety razor, you can safely stretch their lives by following a few shaving best practices, Good Housekeeping recommends. Chief among them: Rinse all traces of shaving cream, lotion, or other products from the blades after use, gently pat the razor dry, then store it in a cool, dry place (your shower definitely doesn’t qualify). That will keep the blades strong and rust-free for longer.

Use a DIY Bidet to Save Toilet Paper
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Use a DIY Bidet to Save Toilet Paper

Your grandparents may have wiped with pages from the phone book or Sears catalog, and toilet-paper alternatives are definitely still fair game (though as plumbers will caution you, never flush them). Another approach? Keep that roll of toilet paper much fatter by rinsing instead of wiping. Any squeeze bottle can become a DIY bidet that can help you rinse your way to cleanliness, cutting way down on your need for TP.

Related: 11 Highly Rated Bidets to Help Stretch Your Toilet Paper

Repurpose Old Containers
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Repurpose Old Containers

Part of the fun of grabbing a snack at Grandma’s house? Figuring out which plastic tubs of yogurt or butter actually held yogurt or butter, and which ones were harboring the previous night’s leftovers (or a cold, thick layer of cooking grease). She knew there’s no reason to spend big on food storage containers when we already get so many from the store. You also don’t need to stop at leftovers: Plastic jugs, bottles, and containers can become planters, piggy banks, and even charging docks.

Read Up On Proper Food Storage
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Read Up On Proper Food Storage

Did your grandma can pickles or jam, store bread in a bread box, or put flour in the fridge? If so, you may want to follow in her footsteps. The number of tips in this particular category are many, but they can all help you cut down on a ton of food waste and go longer between trips to the store. For instance, that old-school bread box is an especially good tool for keeping homemade or bakery bread in peak condition for longer because it keeps loaves moist while still allowing enough airflow to combat mold.

Start a Small Garden
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Start a Small Garden

Tough times always means a resurgence of interest in gardening, and Depression gardens can definitely help you stretch the time between grocery trips, helping those pantry staples last and last. The first rule? Move away from that gardening-as-a-hobby mentality, instead treating a garden as an extension of your fridge and pantry. Plant only what you’ll eat, and use what you have on hand, including scrap wood for plant stakes or trellises and kitchen scraps for compost.

Related: 22 Tips to Keep Gardening Dirt Cheap

Reuse Plastic Storage Bags …
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Reuse Plastic Storage Bags …

Grandma knew that plastic storage bags can get expensive, and there’s no reason not to rinse them out and use them again. (Of course, that’s not the case if you used the bag for raw meat, eggs, or something else that could harbor E. coli or other bacteria.) Other than that, though, bags that held food that was safe to eat and, more obviously, non-food items can be reused as long as they resist holes and other wear.

… and Aluminum Foil, Too
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… and Aluminum Foil, Too

This other kitchen MVP is also ripe for a second (or third, or fourth) life. Rinse it in the sink, or even wash it in the dishwasher and it’s like it came right off the roll. Once it’s too crumpled or ripped to line pans or wrap leftovers, get creative: Use it to shine up your silverware, sharpen scissors, scrub dishes, or even scare off pesky birds.

Put DIY Cleaners In Your Cleaning Rotation
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Put DIY Cleaners In Your Cleaning Rotation

Even today, daily use of disinfectants on every surface in the house is probably overkill, experts caution. Save them for the surfaces you touch most frequently, bumping up use if someone in the home is symptomatic. Otherwise, mix one part vinegar with one part water for a budget-friendly, grandparent-approved, all-purpose cleaner that will keep your house gleaming, letting you save stretch that bottle of disinfectant.

Use Cloth, Not Paper Towels
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Use Cloth, Not Paper Towels

Why take out an entire roll of those precious paper towels in an effort to wipe down a kitchen or bathroom? Your grandparents probably had a whole drawer of rags for cleaning, and chances are you already have plenty of washable options, from cloth napkins to dish towels to microfiber cloths. Gramps and Gram may have also given newspapers a whirl, too, especially to clean windows.

Candles
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Freeze Those Candles

Candles are a lovely way to add ambience to a room, or a necessary one when the power goes out. But as any candle lover knows, they can be an expensive addiction. Make them last longer by popping them in the freezer before lighting them. This hardens the wax, which lengthens the overall melt time. Another tip, according to BobVila.com: Sprinkle salt into the hot liquid wax once the candle has burned for a bit. It will also slow the burn next time.

Learn Some Basic Sewing Techniques
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Learn Some Basic Sewing Techniques

Even after we’re allowed to waltz around our favorite store again, why not learn how to keep your favorite clothes in rotation for longer? Lifehacker demonstrates five simple stitches that can help you confidently sew on a button, patch a pair of pants, and close a busted seam. You don’t even need a fancy sewing machine — just a needle, thread, and willing fingers.

Don’t Throw Out (Some) Expired Medicine
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Don’t Throw Out (Some) Expired Medicine

Common over-the-counter drugs can be safe and potent far beyond the date stamped on the bottle. Experts say the pill forms of ibuprofen, acetaminophen, allergy medicine, and aspirin are typically fine to take for years beyond their supposed expiration. However, when it comes to liquid medications, stick to the dates on the bottle. Antibiotics and prescription medicines should always be taken as directed, too.

Fix Your Shoes Instead of Pitching Them
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Bring Old Markers Back to Life
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Bring Old Markers Back to Life

Got some rubbing alcohol? That’s all you need to revive those old, dried-out Sharpies. Soak the marker’s tip in a capful of the alcohol until ink starts leaking out. After that, put the cap back on for at least 15 minutes to bring the marker back from the dead. Try the same trick on washable markers by using water instead of rubbing alcohol, Lifehacker suggests.