My Abuelita Shares 16 of Her Best Home and Kitchen Hacks

published Feb 25, 2022
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Though some people ascribe to spring cleaning, fall cleaning, or both, my abuelita firmly believes there should be no such thing as the two. Pita believes that tidying the home a bit every day and adopting the right habits leaves no need for either. 

In the spirit of giving, I’ve put together a list of favorite hacks I’ve learned from my abuelita to help you clean, care, and organize smarter, not harder. Best of all, tackling those tasks doesn’t have to take all day or break the bank, even if your chore to-do list has grown long, or what little you have on it is enough to leave you with a sense of dread. Whether you’re preparing for visitors, want to simply restore the sparkle in your home, or are trying to keep your home smelling great and insect-free, Pita has you covered.

1. To Keep Your Wooden Cutting Board Looking Great…

To get rid of food stains and odors absorbed by wooden cutting boards, my grandma sprinkles salt over the affected area and scrubs the board with the cut side of a lime half. After letting it sit overnight, she rinses and dries it off immediately. To avoid ruining her wooden cutting boards, she never puts them in the dishwasher, and always dries them before letting them finish air-drying on their own. (These habits can lead to your board warping and cracking.) The key to ensure a wooden cutting board will last and stay even for years to come is to remove moisture promptly after each use and wash. 

2. For Tough Dish Gunk…

For tough messes, look no further than a little lemon juice and baking soda. The combination is extremely effective on grease, and might save you a workout, too. Abuelita generously squeezes lemon juice over stubborn dish grime. Then, she sprinkles baking soda over the lemon juice to form a paste, adding more of either ingredient as needed. She lets the paste sit for at least 15 minutes and then scrubs away the grime with a dish brush or sponge. It works on hard crust, grease, and even baked-on food! 

3. To Remove Grease From Plastic Containers

Pita taught me that lemon is my best friend in battling grease-stained plastic food containers. If the grease stain is fresh, she’ll first wipe the container with a paper towel and dish soap before rubbing the cut side of a lemon half over the grease-stained container, squeezing juice as she goes. Then, she adds a little water and dish soap into the container and microwaves it for 30 to 45 seconds before washing it as usual. 

4. If You Need to Fit Corks Back Into Wine Bottles…

Simple! Pita just runs a rolling pin over the cork. The cork shrinks without damaging the smooth surface, making it easy to slip back into the bottle. Cheers! 

5. How to Repel Flies From Garbage…

There’s one thing Pita likes to avoid at all costs: buzzing flies anywhere near her beloved kitchen. To deter them from the trash, she sprinkles Borax directly into the bin every day and into each freshly applied bag. It works! 

6. … and Repel Insects Naturally With Lime or Lemon…

To repel moths, Pita removes the rinds from a few limes or lemons, lets the peels dry, and hangs them from breathable sachets in closets. They will also leave your clothes freshly scented.

For ants, cockroaches, and other insects, Pita relies on lemon or lime juice. She squeezes the juice directly over areas pests have been spotted and around windows and doors. To get hard-to-reach places, she recommends transferring the lemon or lime juice into a spray bottle and spraying directly.

7. How to Make a DIY Fruit Fly Trap 

Simple! Pita pours apple cider vinegar into a small bowl, adds a few drops of dish soap, and sets it out in the affected area. You’ll be amazed (and grossed out) at how many fruit flies the vinegar attracts and drowns. 

8. How to Restore Copper

Abuelita has a couple different techniques for reviving copper pots, jewelry, and household items. The first is by rubbing a small amount of ketchup over the tarnish using a soft clean cloth, then rinsing and drying the item. For more stubborn tarnish, she mixes two tablespoons of salt and a cup and a half of white vinegar with four cups of water before bringing the mixture to a boil in a pot with the copper pieces until the tarnish and muck come away. 

9. To Clean Silver…

Abuelita boils some water and lines a baking dish with aluminum foil. She sets the tarnished pieces of silver in the prepared pan and pours enough of the hot water in to fully submerge them. Then, she generously shakes baking soda into the hot water. Everything will start to fizzle! She allows the silver pieces to sit in the water for 15 to 20 minutes, or as long as it takes to get the tarnish off. The rust will transfer onto the aluminum foil, and what doesn’t is easily smeared off. Using silicone tongs or a sterling silver utensil, Pita removes the silver from the baking dish. She wipes each piece off with a soft clean cloth, and voila! 

10. To Fit Candles Into Smaller Stands…

Pita warms up the end of the candle in hot water to soften. The soft wax will then adjust into the candle holder. 

11. To Remove Water Stains From Wood…

Pita applies mayonnaise directly to the water stain and allows it to sit overnight. In the morning, she wipes the mayo away with a clean dish rag. The water stain will be gone! 

12. To Remove Bathtub Rings…

Pita cuts a grapefruit in half, sprinkles the cut side with a little salt, and scrubs over the rings in the bathtub. The acid in grapefruit breaks down the grime and the salt acts as an abrasive, buffing it away. 

13. For an Odorless Blender…

To get rid of strong flavors and odors collected by her blender, my grandma blends a few lime halves with a little bit of water. It even gets the smell of peppers out! 

14. To Prevent Lint in Your Laundry…

Abuelita adds half a cup of white vinegar into the rinsing cycle. The vinegar relaxes fabric fibers and softens the water, loosening lint from the clothing. Say goodbye to lint and pet hair! 

15. For Spotless Glass…

To avoid the trail of lint left behind when cleaning windows and mirrors, Pita doesn’t use paper towels or cloth, and buffs with newspaper instead. In contrast to its polishing rivals, newspaper fibers are densely packed and don’t separate, therefore cause no lint. The newspaper is also great at absorbing the liquid instead of just pushing it around on the glass.

16. For a Home That Naturally Smells Great 

Pita has quite a few tricks up her sleeve when it comes to keeping the home smelling good. Her kitchen is outfitted with a garbage disposal, so she runs citrus rinds down it with a hefty dose of water. She especially loves the aroma of lemons lingering in the air, and sometimes combines them with orange peels for a special summer scent. 

She also makes simmer pots with aromas that reach into every room by bringing a pot of water to a boil, then adding a few key ingredients and reducing the heat to a low simmer. (The variety of what she simmers is endless: Orange slices, apple slices, pear slices, berries, cinnamon sticks, vanilla, coffee beans, rosemary sprigs, nutmeg, lavender springs, mint leaves… the list goes on.) She’ll keep an eye on the pot, checking that there’s still enough water every so often, for up to several hours, remembering to be cautious of the stove. Her favorite combination is cinnamon sticks, ginger, cloves, and almond extract. And to mimic the smell of freshly baked dessert, she bakes a couple of tablespoons of vanilla extract in a baking dish at 300 degrees for 25 minutes.

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 16 Home and Kitchen Hacks My Abuelita Swears By (You Won’t Believe They Actually Work!)