For sustainable lifestyle devotees, finding alternate uses for pantry essentials like salt, vinegar, potatoes or cinnamon can be especially satisfying. When you take a standard ingredient and turn it into a cleaning agent, you’re saying no to harsh chemicals that can damage the environment. Finding one last use for that other half of the lemon that you’ve had in your fridge for a little too long is a way to prevent food waste in your home. And when you somehow transform a staple food into a beauty product, you simply win at life. Yep, when you get right down to it, it’s the same for anyone: figuring out how to hack your kitchen cupboards for various projects around the house makes you feel like a real suburban MacGyver.
But you can always use more tips, and that’s why we’ve gathered together these 15 pieces of expert advice on ways to use everyday foods for cleaning, first-aid, skin care, pest control and more. Some of these green living ideas are very handy in a pinch. For example, you’ll learn which foods you could use as an emergency burn salve at your next barbecue. You’ll hear about a simple tactic for removing gum from the carpet. And we’ve got some cool ideas for routine home maintenance, too, including a rust removal trick and a way to clean your microwave by using your microwave.
Ready? Alright. May the following green living ideas remind you once again just why the sustainable lifestyle is the epitome of awesomeness.
15 Food Hacks For a More Sustainable Lifestyle
1. Salt in the Fireplace. There are a million green living ideas associated with simple table salt, but our favorite food tip for salt comes from author Jill Nystul, who dishes out tons of DIY know-how on her blog, One Good Thing by Jillee. “Occasionally throw a handful of salt on the flames in your fireplace,” she says. “It will help loosen soot from the chimney, and salt makes a bright yellow flame.”
2. The Peanut Butter Gum Remover. Jonathan Dick, a blogger at The Ready Store, notes that you can use peanut butter to remove gum from the carpet. First, he says, “remove as much of the gum as possible by heating the area with a hair dryer and rubbing it with a plastic bag. That should remove the majority of the gum, but the peanut butter should get the rest of it. Rub a small drop of peanut butter on the spot and let it sit for five minutes. Then wipe it with a damp cloth. Finally, dab the spot with warm water mixed with one teaspoon of dishwashing liquid.”
3. Cornstarch Your Windows. Thrifty Sue is full of good advice for a sustainable lifestyle, and this tip for cornstarch lets you wash your windows without buying chemical cleaners: “Fill a two-quart pan with warm water, then add about 1/4 cup of corn starch and stir. Use a terry cloth towel to wash your glass and windows with this mixture. Wipe with a clean towel.”
4. Lemon-Bomb Your Microwave. Wiping down a microwave is one of the most unpleasant kitchen cleaning tasks around, but author Natasha Carmon has an easy way to get rid of caked-on grime. “Using lemons is a good way to clean your microwave without using harsh chemicals. Just take a used lemon, place it inside a bowl of water, and microwave for five minutes. All of the food residue inside the microwave will wipe clean without scrubbing.” Great tip, Natasha! The sustainable lifestyle is all about turning lemons into lemonade … or, in this case, microwaved lemon water.
5. The Potato Brush. Emily Ho, a food educator and writer, notes on The Kitchn that the oxalic acid in a potato is useful for dissolving rust deposits. “To clean rust with a potato,” she says, “cut it in half lengthwise or crosswise, depending on how large a surface area you want. Dip the cut end in dish soap or baking soda and firmly rub it over the rusted area. If the end of the potato gets slick, slice it off and apply more soap or abrasive. Repeat until the rust is removed, then rinse and dry.” This is especially useful advice for cast-iron pans.
6. The Deep Ear Olive Oil Cleanse. Looking for a way to use the last few drops in your bottle of olive oil? Well, if you’ve ever had problems with ear wax, Chris Gardner, editor-in-chief at DIY haven Curbly, has a hygiene trick that can also help prevent food waste. “Very carefully,” Gardner says, “use a cotton swab to apply olive oil to the outside ear cavity to help with earaches and excess wax.” The problem with all that wax is that it’s built to repel water – olive oil, on the other hand, will penetrate a troublesome plug, softening it and helping to break it up. Plus, the oil acts as a gentle lubricant, providing an easy exit strategy for your wax. Gross, but effective.
7. Garlic for Your Feet. Lots of people take garlic supplements, and it’s no wonder: the plant is seriously good for us. But who would’ve thought to use it on your skin? Katie Waldeck, an author at Care2 who focuses on food, suggests using garlic’s natural healing powers to combat athlete’s foot. “If there’s anything garlic doesn’t like,” she says, “it’s fungus, so treating your athlete’s foot with the stuff works wonders! Crush a couple of cloves and toss them in a foot bath filled with warm water. Soak for about half an hour.” We think that’s a great idea, since garlic has serious antifungal and antibacterial properties. And isn’t lemon a natural deodorizer? Boom – two more ways to prevent food waste.
8. An Onion a Day. Amanda Cook, a certified health coach and the creator of natural health and beauty site Vintage Amanda, uses a combination of onion slices and sugar to create a home remedy for coughs and colds. Here’s what she recommends: “Find a container (with a lid) that fits the onion, then peel and slice. Layer the sugar and onion slices in the jar, then top them with more sugar and cover with the lid. Let it sit overnight on the countertop. Pretty soon you’ll see a liquid in the container – take a spoonful of this liquid as needed for coughs and colds.”
9. Coconut Oil Skin Lotion. In a guest post at Once a Month Meals, author Stephanie Langford mentions a number of green living ideas for coconut oil – and it turns out that it’s great for moisturizing skin. “Coconut oil helps to soothe skin irritations like mosquito bites and shingles,” she says. “Spreading a thin layer on the area can speed up the healing process with burns and cuts. It can even help nursing moms with stretch marks.”
10. Mustard Salve. Say you’re barbecuing at the neighborhood park with your family and friends when somebody accidentally gets too close to the grill. Is there a way to momentarily relieve the pain until you can apply proper first aid? Reach for the mustard bottle, says foodie Christina Conrad in a guest post at A Passionate Plate. “Mustard will help draw out the sting and prevent blistering. Smear cool mustard on a fresh (minor) burn and let it sit for 30 minutes or more. Carefully rinse with cool water once it’s dry.”
11. Honey Balm. For an alternative treatment for scrapes, try a bit of honey, says author Sarah Umm Yusuf at Healthy Planet. “Smooth a thick layer of honey over minor cuts and burns,” she says. “It acts as an antibiotic ointment to help kill any bacteria, reduce inflammation and protect the exposed skin from dirt and debris.”
12. The Baking Soda Pedi. Our favorite repurposed food tip for personal beauty care comes from cleaning expert Anna Moseley, the founder of Ask Anna. “For a great exfoliating pedicure,” Anna says, “blend two tablespoons of Arm & Hammer baking soda in a basin of warm water. After a nice soak, make a scrub using three parts baking soda and one part water. Follow with an application of a rich moisturizer and a warm towel foot wrap, then let sit for 5 to 10 minutes.”
13. Vinegar Herbicide. Since it’s a weak acid, vinegar is a great all-purpose cleaner. Author Andrea Dekker suggests a way to use vinegar that never occurred to us, though: weed killer. “Looking for a natural way to kill unwanted grass and weeds?” she says. “Try heating some white vinegar until it’s hot, but not boiling. Then pour it on cracks in your driveway, sidewalks, or anywhere else you want to kill stray plants.”
14. The Wine Trap. Pest control can be a real pain when you’re sticking to your sustainable lifestyle guns. It’s just so easy to kill bugs with fancy chemicals from the supermarket! Well, here’s a natural way to capture flying insects that really works, courtesy of environmental stewardship expert Stephanie Rogers at EcoSalon: “Just pour a half-inch of red wine into a glass and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Then, poke a few small holes in the wrap. That will let the flies in, but they won’t be able exit.” This is a great way to prevent food waste, too. When a party guest doesn’t finish their glass, you can use the glass to finish off unwelcome pests.
15. Cinnamon Mothballs. Self-professed “food fanatic” Danielle Addimandi of The Crafty Hostess uses cinnamon as replacement for mothballs. Here’s her tip: “Break four cinnamon sticks and combine them with a half-cup of whole black peppercorns. Fill small squares of fabric with a tablespoon of this mixture, then tie them shut and hang them in your closets.” And if the pests you’re after are attacking from the ground instead of the air, try using cinnamon to ward them off. “Sprinkle the powdered version of the spice around any openings or crevices that give insects entrance to your home, and they’ll steer clear.”
And with that, you’ve got all the tools you need to start fixing minor ailments, cleaning small messes and repelling insect invaders in a way that meshes with your already sustainable lifestyle. Careful, though: once you start down this path, you might not be satisfied until you’ve found alternative uses for practically everything in your cupboard. This could be the start of an (awesome) addiction. Then again, repurposing the food in your pantry might save your life someday. Just ask MacGyver.
Do you have any favorite green living ideas for kitchen ingredients around the house? Did we miss a sustainable lifestyle tip that will help prevent food waste by repurposing leftover spices, oils or vegetable pieces? Add your favorite in the comments section below!