Ripe for Reuse

With a little creative repurposing, you can breathe new life into many common household items - including those destined for the trash heap.

These clever recycling tips are good for the planet and your wallet, too!

Photo: This Old House

Charcoal 

Don't let that half-empty bag from last summer sit around taking up space. Charcoal - the natural lump variety made from hardwood - can do more than cook burgers and smoke ribs. Find another use for the black pieces and finally toss out that almost-empty bag in the garage.

Photo: Laura Moss

  1. Nourish Your Compost Heap: mix charcoal into your compost pile to increase its carbon content. (If the pile smells like ammonia, it needs carbon.)
  2. Disguise an Imperfection: rub charcoal onto scratches on dark wood floors and furniture to temporarily "stain" them until you have time for a real repair job.
  3. Keep Air Fresh: place charcoal, in open bowls or perforated bags, in your fridge or drawers to banish odors.
  4. Make Cut Flowers Last Longer: put a lump of charcoal beneath the cut stems in a vase to help the water stay clean and clear.
  5. Use it as Mulch: break charcoal into chunks about 1 inch in diameter and spread them on beds or beneath bushes to keep soil moist and suppress weeds.
  6. Entertain Kids or Adults: use a piece of charcoal to draw hopscotch or other game templates on your sidewalk. Wash away the marks with a quick squirt from your house. 
  7. Keep Driveway Deicers from Clumping: before storing rock salt and sand to use this winter, mix a few lumps of charcoal into the bag or bucket. They'll soak up dampness and prevent these materials from freezing or caking together.
  8. Decorate Your Yard: turn lumps of charcoal into a scare-crow's eyes for Halloween or a snowman's face in wintertime.
  9. Help Potted Orchids Grow: these bloomers benefit from charcoal's alkalinity. Mix small pieces with your potting medium (e.g. bark or wood chunks) to nourish the flowers. 
  10. Keep Rust Off Tools: place a few lumps of charcoal in your tool box to absorb moisture and keep the metal from oxidizing. 

Yogurt Cups

Photo: Tina Rupp

  1. Sort Hardware: while doing repairs, use containers as repositories for screws, bolts, and other small parts you've removed.
  2. Start Seeds: poke some holes in the bottom of a cup for drainage, fill with potting soil, and plant seeds. Once they sprout, pop out the seedlings and transplant them. 
  3. Catch Paint Drips: cut a hole in a lid large enough for  a paintbrush handle. Slip the handle through the opening, and paint mess-free.
  4. Make an Ice-pop Mold: fill a cup halfway with fruit juice, and cover with aluminum foil. Slit a hole in the foil, insert a popsicle stick, then freeze for a frosty treat.
  5. Decant Paint: use containers to hold small batches of color for touch-ups and other little projects. 
  6. Feed Birds: combine heated suet or lard in a cup with birdseed. Insert a loop of string into the mixture, refrigerate until sold. Remove the cup and hang the feeder in a tree. 
  7. Create a Funnel: cut a hole in a container's bottom for funneling small amounts of sand or liquid.
  8. Protect a Faucet: when recaulking or painting your bathroom, drop containers over the sink's faucet handles to keep them pristine. 
  9. Trap Slugs: dig a hole in your yard the size of a yogurt container near any plants being eaten by slugs. Place the cup flush with the ground, and fill with beer or salted water. Bait the rim with sliced potatoes; the pests will crawl into the container and drown.
  10. Use as a Template: trace a container's mouth with a pencil to create a guideline for cutting small curves in wood. 

Vinegar

Forget about salad dressing. This inexpensive kitchen staple - the distilled white kind, that is - can multi-task in any room of the house.

Photo: Wendell T. Webber

  1. Peel off Wallpaper: using a sponge or spray bottle, saturate wallpaper with a solution of equal parts vinegar and water. Let stand for several minutes, then start scraping. The paper should come off easily.
  2. Revive Old Paintbrushes: soak gunked-up nylon brushes in hot vinegar for up to 30 minutes to remove paint and soften the bristles. Afterward, wash them in hot, soapy water, brushing off paint as needed, then rinse and let dry - good as new. 
  3. Test Your Soil's pH: place a handful of dirt into a small container (i.e. a yogurt cup) and sprinkle vinegar on it. If it fizzes, the soil is alkaline; adjust the pH with an acid amendment. 
  4. Remove Mineral Deposits from Showerheads: pour 1/2 cup of warm vinegar into a resealable plastic bag. Drop in the showerhead, making sure the holes are submerged, and seal the bag. Let sit for 1 hour. Rinse and wipe clean, then reattach.
  5. Keep Paint from Peeling: before painting galvanized metal or concrete, wipe down the object or surface with vinegar, using a sponge or lint-free cloth. This little trick will help your paint job last longer.
  6. Banish Decals and Stickers: dab vinegar onto stubborn price tags and stickers affixed to glass, plastic, or wood. Scrape the surface clean, then rub the area with more vinega to remove any sticky residue.
  7. Wipe off Wax or Polish Buildup: on wood surfaces or furniture, use a mix of equal parts vinegar and water to remove buildup, wiping with the grain of the wood. For leather furniture, make a weaker solution - 2 parts water to 1 part vinegar - and rub the material using a circular motion.
  8. Whiten Grout: for stubborn stains on ceramic-tile surfaces, scrub grout with a stiff-bristled toothbrush dipped in vinegar and watch it whiten before your eyes.
    • CAUTION - vinegar can harm marble and other natural stone surfaces, so avoid using on these materials. Test a small, unobtrusive area first if you want to be extra careful. 
  9. Dissolve Rust: soak old tools and corroded nuts and bolts in vinegar for a few days. Rinse them with water and watch rust and scale disappear.
  10. Protect Your Hands: caustic ingredients in concrete, drywall, and other building materials can cause painful skin irritation. If you handle them often, rinse your hands with a mixture of 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water before washing up - the acid neutralizes their alkaline content.

Foam Packing Peanuts

It always helps to have a stash of the little white foam squiggles around for boxing up breakables. But you can also put packing peanuts to use in these innovative ways.

NOTE: These suggestions are intended for packing peanuts made from polystyrene foam and may not be appropriate for peanuts made from biodegradable materials, such as corn starch.

Photo: Wendell T. Webber

  1. Hold Nails in Place: to drive little brad nails or finish nails with small heads without bashing your fingers, push the tip through a peanut and use it to steady the nail against the wall. After a few hammer taps, pull away the foam and finish driving the nail.
  2. Apply Sticky Stuff: in place of a small foam brush, use a peanut to spread wood glue and other adhesives, then toss it when you're done.
  3. Buffer Sharp Blades: cover the tips of pointy tools, like awls, with peanuts to keep fingers safe from jabs when rummaging around in the toolbox.
  4. Use them as Spacers: cut peanuts in half and glue them to the back corners of hanging mirrors and picture frames to protect painted walls.
  5. Give Blooms a Boost: stuck with dried flowers that are too short? Add peanuts to the bottom of the vase to lift them to the right height.
  6. Fluff Up a Beanbag Chair: unzip the cover and stuff in a few handfuls of peanuts to restore the chair's loft. 
  7. Doctor a Screw: to make a screw fit into a slightly-too-large hole, insert the screw into a peanut, drive it into the hole, then pull away the extra material. Foam bits that cling to the threads help to secure the screw.
  8. Line a Ditch: dig a trench to carry water away from a downspout extension, then line it with land-scape fabric and a layer of peanuts before laying a perforated pipe. Wrap the fabric over the top and backfill the trench. Now water will percolate into the soil as it drains. 
  9. Glue up a Snowman: put extra peanuts in your kids' craft area. Glue them together to build a faux Frosty and friends.
  10. Lighten up Big, Heavy Planters: pour peanuts into a large pot and add soil to boost drainage and make it easier to move. 

Aluminum Foil

It's been capping casseroles and wrapping brownies for nearly 100 years. Check out these other clever uses for foil.

Photo: Laura Moss

  1. Get Rid of Rust: crumple a piece of foil, and use it to rub rust spots off car bumpers and shower-curtain rods.
  2. Make a Funnel: curl a section of foil into a cone shape, secure it with tape, and start pouring.
  3. Fix a Loose Connection: fold a 1-square-inch piece of foil several times and insert it between a battery and a loose spring to hold it in place and complete the circuit.
  4. Glue Down Loose Vinyl Tile: place a sheet of foil over a loose self-stick vinyl tile, and press a hot iron over the foil until the adhesive backing melts and sticks to the subfloor.
  5. Sharpen Scissors: fold a sheet of foil several times and cut through it with a pair of dull scissors to sharpen the blades.
  6. Radiate Heat: wrap a piece of plywood in foil and tuck it behind a radiator to reflect heat into the room.
  7. Guard Against Drips: wrap door handles, knobs, and drawer pulls with foil for quick paint-job protection.
  8. Decrust Your Grill: ball up a square of foil, and use it to scrub off black bits.
  9. Save Your Steel Wool: set your scrubber on a piece of foil to keep rust away.
  10. Make Silver Shine: line a glass pan with foil, add several spoonfuls of baking soda, fill the pan with boiling water, and drop in tarnished silverware for a quick cleaning.

Gift Cards

Long after you spent the money on them, gift cards can save you a bundle. Here are some handy ideas for things to do with your used cards.

Photo: Laura Moss

  1. Use as a Straightedge: keep a few cards in your workshop for marking cuts on small pieces of trim and other materials.
  2. Spot-fix a Tile Floor: why dirty a towel when gluing down a few loose tiles? Instead, snip off one edge of a card with pinking shears to make a zigzag edge, use it to apply the mastic, then toss it. 
  3. Get Rid of Air Bubbles: rub the edge of a card along a freshly wallpapered surface - especially in corners and around tight spots near windows and doors - to help the paper lie smoothly.
  4. Mix and Apply Glues and Putties: use a card to mix and apply small batches of patching compound or two-part epoxy, or to work stiff putty until it's elastic enough to apply.
  5. Scrape Off Gunk: keep a few cards on hand in your workshop and kitchen to remove paint drips, stubborn labels, candle wax, and other sticky stuff from smooth surfaces.
  6. Help Caulk Your Tub: scrape away old, moldy caulk with the corners of a card (or two). Then cut off one corner using utility scissors, wet the edge, and use it to smooth down a freshly squeezed bead
  7. Level Just About Anything: cut cards to size and use them as shims to level a countertop or help a door hang plumb.
  8. Remove Paint From Details: when scraping paint or stain off decorative moldings or turned-leg furniture, cut a card to match the piece's profile and trim off any excess with a utility knife. Then use your custom scraper to get at every little nook and cranny. 
  9. Stabilize Furniture: cut cards to shape and size and fit the pieces under the legs of wobbly tables and desks to help them stand up straight. If necessary, use glue or double-sided tape to keep the cards in place.
  10. Mark Screw-Hole Locations: create a template by using an awl to pierce holes in a card at the appropriate spacing. Then hold the card to each and mark the spots to be drilled with an awl or pencil.

Plastic Plant Pots

You can always return them to the nursery for reuse, but we came up with some reasons to keep a few on hand.

Photo: Beth Perkins

  1. Displace Dirt in a Larger Pot: when repotting a plant, turn a plastic pot upside down in the new, larger container and add soil around it. When you're done, pull out the plastic pot and there will be plenty of room inside the bigger container to place your plant's root ball.
  2. Protect Blades: flip seedling trays upside down and use the crevices to store saws or workshop knives so that the blades don't get damaged in storage. 
  3. Clean Fruits and Veggies: place stuff you pick from the garden in clean pots and rinse off dirt with water from your outdoor tap. Let the water drain out the bottom holes before storing your bounty.
  4. Lift a Paint Project Off the Ground: use four or more pots to prop up a cabinet door, piece of trim, or other item you're painting so that you can reach every nook and cranny. 
  5. Keep Twine Untangled: put a ball of twine in a plastic pot, and pull the end through a hole in the bottom to keep it neat when using. 
  6. Store Holiday Ornaments: keep small decorations segregated by enclosing them in seedling trays. Place items in the bottom tray, invert the second tray on top of it, and seal with packing tape. For very small items, place in a single tray, top with a scrap piece of cardboard, and tape closed.
  7. Sift Salt Onto an Icy Spot: stack two plastic pots, holding them so that there's an inch or so of space between their bottom surfaces, and fill the top one with rock salt. Shake the pots over the surface of your driveway or walkway. Using two pots prevents the salt from falling through the bottom holes too quickly.
  8. Encourage Kids to Save: give your kids clean seedling trays and have them sort spare change- one section each for pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters.
  9. Organize Cables or Electric Cords: bundle and stash cords in upside-down pots in a garage or workroom. When cords are in use, pull the needed length through the bottom hole, enlarging it as necessary.
  10. Organize Hardware: use seedling trays in drawers or on your workbench to sort and store nuts, bolts, nails, as well as odds and ends.

Shellac

This old-fashioned finish is made from a resin secreted by an insect - but don't let that bug you. Here are some ways on how to put it to work.

Photo: Wendell T. Webber

  1. Make a Tack Cloth: dip cheesecloth into a solution of 1 part premixed shellac and 1 part denatured alcohol. Wring out and let dry till sticky, then wipe onto walls to remove dust.
  2. Make Wood Workable: apply shellac thinned 1-to-1 with alcohol to make fibrous or brittle wood easier to shave, plane, or sand. 
  3. Restore Old Hardware: after removing dirt and paint drips from hinges, knobs, and pulls; seal the pieces with clear shellac - it will keep brasses from tarnishing too.
  4. Even Out Coats of Stain: prime pine or other soft wood with a layer of shellac to help it absorb stain evenly. Use a waxless version, sold premixed as SealCoat, if you plan to apply a polyurethane finish, which won't adhere to wax. 
  5. Keep Tools Rust-Free: coat metal tools with a layer of shellac to keep out moisture and dirt.
  6. Disguise Flaws on Painted Surfaces: before repainting, brush shellac onto stains, burn marks, or residue to prevent these blemishes from bleeding through fresh coats.
  7. Cover Oil and Gas Stains: apply a few coats of shellac to stains on your driveway before adding new asphalt or sealer. It will keep the oil or gas from dissolving the patching material.
  8. Make a French Polish: one of the oldest and easiest-to-repair finishes for wood furniture. Wipe waxless shellac onto furniture with a pad made of cheesecloth wrapped tightly in a scrap of an old lint-free cotton sheet. Lubricate the pad with mineral oil as needed to keep it from sticking as you work. 
  9. Eliminate Odors Under Carpets: where mildew or pet accidents have been a problem - remove the carpet, clean the floor or subfloor, then create an odor barrier over the affected areas by applying a coat or two of shellac before replacing the carpet
  10. Seal Cuts in Lumber: when drying or storing green lumber, brush shellac over the open grain to prevent the ends from splitting.

Carpet Scraps

Don't toss those pieces of old carpet. You'll reach for them again and again for projects at home.

Photo: Rob Howard

  1. Move Heavy Furniture: slide pieces of carpet pile-side down under-neath the legs of a bureau, bed, or dresser, then push it across the floor - much easier then lifting. 
  2. Get Your Mower Going: does your riding mower get mired in the spring mud? No problem. Wedge scraps of carpet under the front edge of the trapped wheel, which will provide traction to dislodge it. 
  3. Cushion Your Knees When Gardening: roll up a scrap of carpet and kneel on it when spreading mulch, planting flowers, or weeding.
  4. Keep Fido or Fluff Happy: line a dog house with old carpet to make it cozy, or make a scratching post for your cat by gluing scarp carpet to a 4x4 post.
  5. Insulate Your Compost Pile: when it's cold outside, place a large scrap of carpet over your compost pile to keep heat and moisture in, which will speed decomposition.
  6. Protect Your Car Doors from Damage: attach strips of carpet to the wall of your garage so that you don't ding your door when you open it.
  7. Scrub Window Screens: dip a clean piece of carpet into warm, sudsy water, and rub the pile side onto screens to get rid of gunk, dust, and buildup.
  8. Clean a Scraper While You Work: scrapers and putty knives quickly gum up with residue as you remove paint with a chemical stripper. Wipe yours on a carpet scrap from time to time to keep the working edge clean and sharp. 
  9. Muffle Your Washer and Dryer: place scraps of carpet underneath the feet of laundry machines to dampen thumping noises.
  10. Keep Your Sink Scratch-free: place a piece of carpet pile-side up in the basin when working on the faucet so that your tools don't damage the bowl.

Sponges

An essential for any cleanup, these thirsty cellulose rectangles boast an absorbing array of other uses.

Photo: Ian Spanier

  1. Sprout Seeds: embed flax, radish, or other fast-growing seeds in a damp sponge and place it under an inverted glass bowl in a sunny location. Moisten occasionally. Once you notice seedlings, transfer them to soil.
  2. Catch Oil Leaks: place a sponge on a plastic bag under any leaking piece of motorized equipment to absorb the oil until the item can be repaired.
  3. Pad Your Grip: make a shovel or rake more comfortable to hold by wrapping it with a flexible sponge secured with rubber bands.
  4. Cradle Valuables in Storage: cut damp sponges into small squares and place between breakables. As they dry, they'll conform to the contours of whatever they surround. 
  5. Dry the Inside of a Vase: affix a small sponge to a ruler or dowel and use it to mop up moisture inside a narrow-neck container.
  6. Save Your Soap: make a bar of soap last longer between uses by allowing it to dry out on a sponge next to the sink or in the shower.
  7. Deodorize the Refrigerator: sprinkle a damp sponge with baking soda and set in an empty fridge drawer to absorb odors between cleanings.
  8. Protect Scratchable Surfaces: adhere small sponge squares to the underside of vases, the bottom of chair feet, or the back of picture frames so that they don't make scuff marks.
  9. Loosen Stubborn Wallpaper: in a pinch, soak a sponge in fabric softener diluted with hot water and wipe over wallpaper to break down the adhesive and make it easier to remove.
  10. Keep Water-Loving Plants Moist: place a sponge in the bottom of a planter before adding soil to keep water in reserve.

Coffee Filters

They're a must-have item in the kitchen, of course. But lint-free, tear-resistant coffee filters are mighty handy in the workshop - and pretty much everywhere else.

Photo: Laura Moss

  1. Prevent Rust: place a coffee filter inside a cast-iron skillet to absorb excess moisture when it's not in use.
  2. Keep Hardware Organized: pile nails, screws, and fasteners into separate coffee filters while you're working, to keep them from rolling off the table.
  3. Make an Air Freshener: place a tablespoon of baking soda in the center of a coffee filter and tie it closed with twine. Stash the packet in the fridge to absorb odors.
  4. Keep Windows Clear: spray panes with glass cleaner, then wipe away with a doubled-up coffee filter. No lint, no streaks.
  5. Fix a Wobbly Leg: fold a coffee filter several times, cut to size if needed, and tuck it into the space between a loose table leg and the tabletop.
  6. Strain Solvents: got paint thinner with residue floating in it? Strain it through a coffee filter into a clean container, then safely dispose of the filter and residue after they've dried out.
  7. Make Houseplants Less Messy: line flowerpots and planters with coffee filters to stop soil from falling through the drainage hole.
  8. Absorb Spills on Upholstery: use coffee filters to blot liquids off sofas or fabric car seats. They won't leave lint behind like paper towels do.
  9. Prep a Stain: to darken a stain, leave the can open for one week, then strain the stain through a coffee filter to remove surface dust before applying it.
  10. Shine Shoes: use a coffee filter to buff your favorite pair of loafers or heels. For brown shoes, a used filter will work - just let it dry first.

Car Wax

Whether in paste or liquid form, car wax is formulated to fill scratches and give a high shine to nonporous surfaces like glass and metal, while protecting them from smudges and stains. It's handy in other ways, too, so grab a lint-free cloth and get to work.

Photo: Laura Moss

  1. Keep Appliances Fingerprint Free: apply a thin coat of car wax to stainless-steel fridges and stoves. Buff clean to resist fingerprints and smudges.
  2. Give Faucets a Shine: rub car wax onto kitchen and bathroom metal fixtures to keep them shiny and spot-free.
  3. Unstick Hinges: use car wax to lubricate the hinges of garden shears and scissors.
  4. Fix a Skipping CD: apply a small dab of car wax to a scratched CD and buff it clean using short strokes along the length of the scratch, not across it. Rinse the CD with water and let it air dry before playing.
  5. Combat Corrosion: apply a thin coat of car wax to brass door knockers, mailboxes, and other outdoor fixtures to keep them from tarnishing.
  6. Fight Mildew: after using your regular cleanser, apply a layer of car wax to the inside and outside of a shower door and buff off with a dry cloth to stave off mildew growth.
  7. Make Drawers and Windows Easier to Open: rub a small dab of car wax onto the tracks of drawers and windows so they'll slide more smoothly.
  8. Prevent Bumper Sticker Residue: before placing a sticker on your car's bumper, rub a tiny bit of car wax onto the area the sticker will cover. Later, it will peel off easily - no gummy mess to scrape off. 
  9. Keep Snow from Sticking: shoveling is hard enough when snow is heavy and damp. Apply two thick coats of car wax to the head of a shovel (or to the inside of your snowblower's chute) to prevent the white stuff from sticking.
  10. Make a Mirror Fog Free: rub a thin layer of car wax on a bathroom mirror and buff it clean. Next time you step out of the shower, you'll be able to see your reflection without having to wipe away condensation first.

Sand

Photo: Ted Morrison

  1. Clean Up an Oil Leak: sprinkle a generous amount of sand onto a garage floor spill. Let the grains soak up the oil then sweep up the mess.
  2. Light a Path: fill mason jars with sand and drop a tea light into each to create a welcoming - and inexpensive - glow along a walkway.
  3. Steady an Item for Repair: bury the larger part of a broken item, such as a coffee mug, halfway in a container filled with sand. The grains will hold the item in place while you glue it back together.
  4. Give Your Paint Some Grip: in a bucket, combine 2 cups of paint with ¾ cup of sand. Use the mixture to coat stair treads; let dry, then top them with a coat of regular paint.
  5. Cushion a Play Area: lay a foundation of 12 inches of sand under a children's swing set or slide (it's been shown to decrease risk of injury better than wood chips).
  6. Distress a Wood Finish: scrub a painted or stained piece of furniture with a mixture of 2 parts sand to 1 part water to give it a worn, rustic look. 
  7. Quell a Grease Fire: keep a small bucket of sand near a charcoal grill for dousing flare-ups.
  8. Condition Garden Tools: fill a 5-gallon bucket with sand and about a quart of old motor oil. Knock soil off tools after use, then dip their heads into the bucket a few times. Brush off the sand and store the tools as usual.
  9. Clean a Narrow-Neck Container: put a little sand and soapy warm water in your vessel. Swish the solution around to help loosen residue, then rinse thoroughly.
  10. Hold Open a Door: center a sealed ziplock bag of sand on a square of fabric. Gather the material at the bag's top and secure with raffia, then place in front of a door.

Plastic Bags

Leftover shopping bags aren't just for lining the bathroom trash can or pick up dog poop. Check out these other clever recycling ideas too.

Photo: Matthew Benson

  1. Fill in Gaps: stuff plastic bags into cavities around pipes, ducts, or other wall of floor penetrations to provide a substrate before filling voids with spray foam or caulk.
  2. Protect Fruit: in late fall, tie plastic bags over nearly ripe fruit on a tree to keep out bugs and guard against frost damage.
  3. Apply Waxes and Creams: Use a bag as a mitt to spread furniture wax or polish. Then buff to a shiny finish using a soft dry cloth.
  4. Transport Unpotted Plants: divide overgrown perennials and place extras in bags to contain the soil and keep in moisture while you carry them to a friend.
  5. Seal a Paint Can: when you're done painting, slip a plastic bag over the paint can lid before replacing it so that dirt or flakes of dried paint on the lid's underside won't fall into the liquid.
  6. Keep Your Jeans Clean: cut holes in the bottom of two bags and wear the bags like kneepads to protect your pants while you're gardening.
  7. Make Sure Glue Won't Stick to the Wrong Thing: before clamping up a woodworking project that's just been glued, slip a plastic bag between the piece you've worked on and the clamp blocks. Once the glue has dried, the blocks will slip off your piece easily.
  8. Save Time After a Storm: expecting snow or sleet? Tie plastic bags around your car's side-view mirrors so that you don't have to scrape ice off them; just yank the bags off and you're on your way. 
  9. Keep Your Dog or Cat Comfy: stuff an old pillowcase tightly with plastic bags, sew the open end closed, and let your pet lounge on it during nap time.
  10. Corral Hardware: line tool-belt pockets with a bag trimmed to size. No more stabbing yourself as you reach for nails deep in the seams.

Chopsticks

Turn your Chinese takeout utensils into household helpers! Photo: Wendell T. Webber

  1. Skewer Food: don't have enough bamboo skewers at your barbecue? Soak chopsticks in water for 15 minutes, then use them to spear meat and veggies, and place on the grill.
  2. Prop Up Plants: poke a chopstick into the soil near a spindly seedling to give it some needed support.
  3. Fill a Stripped Screw Hole: dip a chopstick into a little glue and insert into the screw hole. Let dry, then break off the rest of the stick to create a new spot for driving in the screw.
  4. Stir Paint: hold chopsticks as you would when eating to "whisk up" paint or stain before applying it.
  5. Toast Marshmallows: make the fixings for s'mores by popping a marshmallow onto the end of a chopstick and carefully holding it over a low flame.
  6. Eliminate Dirt in Hard-to-Reach Spots: use a chopstick to push a cleaning cloth into the top groove of a paint can, between air-conditioner vents, behind sink faucets, and in other narrow areas.
  7. Unclog Bottles: free up tubes of caulk or bottles of glue by poking the narrower end of a chopstick into the gunked-up tip.
  8. Clean Muddy Shoes: keep chopsticks by your door and use them to loosen dried dirt or mud from the crevices of shoe soles before stepping inside.
  9. Prevent Oozing Mastic: when tiling, use the tip of a chopstick to help clean up excess mastic that escapes into grout voids.
  10. Label Your Plants: create markers by stapling a plant's seed packet to a chopstick and placing it inside the pot or bed.

Copper Pipe

With scrap tubing selling for as much as $4 per pound, copper bits are worth recycling - if you had 'em by the truckload and if gas weren't $4 a gallon. Fortunately, a trip to the scrap yard isn't the only way to give new life to the odd end of fitting left over from your last DIY plumbing job.

Photo: Mark Powers

  1. Hold a Roll: copper gleams as a support for toilet paper. To keep its sheen, spray it with lacquer.
  2. Protect Plantings: solder or caulk a copper cap to one end of a 16-inch-long tube, then drive the other end into the soil to keep the garden hose from dragging over your day lilies.
  3. Make a Wind Chime: cut various lengths of tube; the longer the piece, the deeper the sound, says Dale Powell of the Copper Development Association. Drill a hole an inch from their tops. Loop fishing line through the openings and hang from a wood disc.
  4. Aim High: Connect assorted adapters and elbows to a length of ½-inch tubing to form a hooked staff. Screw a showerhead on the hook end and a garden hose on the other to make a watering wand for drenching hanging baskets.
  5. Shim a Post: short offcuts pounded flat make durable outdoor shims. Depending on tubing gauge, shims will range from 1/16-inch to 3/32-inch thick
  6. Deck Out a Stair: use 1-inch-diameter pipe instead of wood for balusters. Be sure to follow local codes for spacing. Left in the weather untreated, copper develops a verdigris patina.
  7. Clean Gutters: pound flat the last 6 inches of a long length of tubing, then bend the tip to form a 90 degree angle to rake out hard-to-reach muck.
  8. Move Mountains: pyramid builders in ancient Egypt transported heavy stones by rolling them over pipe like cylinders - it works with overfilled trash cans, too.
  9. Coax a Climber: make a rot-proof trellis out of tubing and fittings. Mount it on a wall or anchor it in the soil for a freestanding ladder for vines to grow on.
  10. Clean Up: duct-tape copper tubing to the end of a vacuum hose to suck spiders from rafters. Don't run the vacuum for more than a few minutes, though, or the increased back pressure caused by the narrow, makeshift extension will strain the motor.

Plastic Milk Jugs

Glass was once the king of containers. But that era died with the milkman. Today, jugs are HDPE, or high-density polyethylene, a lightweight and flexible plastic that's easily formed into a variety of shapes and sizes. When recycled, these jugs are often put to good reuse as the major ingredient in plastic lumber. But why not give a jug an extra job first? All you need is a sharp utility knife or shop scissors to cut them.

Photo: This Old House

  1. Scoop Nails: you've dumped a coffee can full of fasteners onto your workbench in search of an elusive 10d; now clean up the mess with a milk-jug scoop. Make one by slicing a liter jub diagonally from the base of the handle to the opposing bottom corner.
  2. Chill Out: This Old House general contractor Tom Silva fills quart jugs three-quarters full with water and freezes them to use in his job-site cooler. The contained ice won't make sandwiches soggy, and when it melts, you have water to sip.
  3. Spread Salt: slice the bottom off a capped jug and fill the top with ice-melting granules. Grip the handle and flick your wrist to toss ribbons of salt over a slippery sidewalk.
  4. Get the Muck Out: Connecticut homeowner Rob Doble drains his small pond for the season by siphoning most of the water out with a hose and removing the dregs with a milk-jug bailer. Its flexible sides conform to the pond's irregular cement bottom.
  5. Yank a Commode: plumbers use a wet/dry shop vac to suck water from the toilet tank and bowl before removing it. But bailing with a quart-size container will do the job almost as quickly. A sponge absorbs remaining moisture.
  6. Start a Seedling: cut the bottom off a gallon jug and upend it to serve as a cloche. Remove the cap as needed to control temperature in the mini greenhouse.
  7. Gas Up: This Old House carpenter Norm Abram lops the bottom off a jug, removes the cap, then uses the funnel to pour fuel into his lawn mower.
  8. Weight it Down: Arizona contractor Michael Sondgeroth uses water-filled gallon jugs to hold a plywood countertop substrate in place while the glue dries.
  9. Shim It: strips and squares cut from the flat side of a jug serve as moisture-proof shims or oversize washers.
  10. Stymie a Storm: rope pairs of water-filled gallon jugs together and use them as anchors to hold a tarp over a small pile of firewood to keep it dry.

Dental Floss

Nine out of 10 dentists recommend it. But surprising tensile strength and the fact that it comes in Teflon mean floss also has lots of nontooth applications. Literally millions of miles of it are sold annually, and not every inch is destined to save those pearly whites. Here's what else you can do with it.

Photo: Don Penny/Time Inc. Digital Studio

  1. Tame Your Frames: This Old House general contractor Tom Silva likes to hang pictures with it instead of braided wire, which can mar wall paint.
  2. Sew Something: to reattach buttons, Eagle Scout and avid DIY'er Jason Gordon packs a needle with an eye large enough for threading it. 
  3. Seal Connections: Tom Silva has also used it instead of Teflon tape, to block leaky gaps around parts that screw into place. He just winds a length around the fitting's threads half a dozen turns before screwing it on.
  4. Foil Frays: wrapping rope ends with floss is called whipping and stops unraveling.
  5. Protect Bits: remove the guide and empty spool, and the container itself can cradle a router;s trim bit.
  6. Tie Down Trunks: ten loops actually hold. 
  7. Replace a Broken Shoelace
  8. Floss Tools: the braided kind works best in crevices between equipment parts.
  9. Repair Wood: a length of floss stretched taut, rolled in glue, and then worked into split seams fills fissures with adhesive.
  10. Hang it All: it's a clothesline for bathing suits, and, as This Old House reader and dental hygienist Lee Ibes learned - mint green is an invisible tieback for natural garlands.

Magazines

When the pile of glossies on your nightstand gets too tall, use them elsewhere.

Photo: Don Penny/Time Inc. Digital Studio

  1. Store Extension Cords: secure a rolled-up magazine with tape, then wrap an extension cord around it to keep it from tangling.
  2. Line a Pond: before adding a liner, place a thick layer of magazine pages over the surface of the excavated area to keep rocks and roots from puncturing the liner. Newspaper works, too.
  3. Keep Glass Paint-Free: who needs tape? Before painting window muntins, wet the edges of magazine pages and press them onto the panes, edges against the muntins. After painting, the paper peels off easily.
  4. Protect Work Surfaces: line your worktable and the floor beneath it with magazine pages for easy cleanup after a messy job.
  5. Wrap a Present: why pay for gift wrap? Recycle colorful pages from old magazines instead.
  6. Improvise an End Table: stack magazines inside a cardboard box, seal the box with tape, and then glue magazine pages, fabric or wallpaper to the outside.
  7. Line Your Drawers: use heavyweight magazine pages to keep drawer bottoms clean.
  8. Use as a Trivet: slide a magazine under a hot pot or dish to protect your tabletop.
  9. Make Boot Trees: roll up a couple of magazines and put them inside tall boots while they dry.
  10. Elevate a Plant: potted plant too short for a planter? Pile magazines at the bottom of the planter, and put the pot on top.

Old Flatware

Don't let mismatched forks, knives and spoons clutter up precious drawer space. Instead, try these clever reuse ideas for your orphaned utensils.

Photo: Wendell T. Webber

  1. Smooth Grout: the convex side of a spoon has just the right curve for shaping grout or caulk as you press it into a seam. Coat the spoon with liquid dish soap first to prevent it from sticking.
  2. Hold Finishing Nails Straight: trap a nailhead between two lines of a fork to keep fingers out of harm's way - especially helpful when hammering trim overhead.
  3. Turn Spoons Into Hooks: bend spoons, then screw them to a piece of vintage molding or a wall to make a hang-out for dish towels.
  4. Clean a Paintbrush: can't find your metal brush comb? Forks are just as good at getting between the bristles and whisking out every last drop.
  5. Transplant Seedlings: carefully lift roots from starter soil with a fork when transferring plants to the garden.
  6. Use as Cabinet Pulls: small spoons and forks make attractive pulls for kitchen built-ins. Cut two short pieces from a dowel to use as spacers. Place one behind each end of a utensil and bolt through the front. 
  7. Untangle Rug Tassels: to remove snarls in the fringe of a carpet, rake through it with a fork.
  8. Fix Splitting Upholstery: use a butter knife to poke loose fabric and threads back in before pinning the seam and sewing it closed.
  9. Scrape Away Peeling Paint: after applying a liquid or gel paint stripper and letting the surface bubble up, run a spoon along curved profiles - or a fork inside crevices - to remove layers of old paint.
  10. Make Plant Markers: get a metal-stamping set (like Tekton 6610, $23; amazon.com) to emboss lightweight butter knives; stick deep into soil.

Mayonnaise

Who knew that our favored BLT condiment was so versatile around the house? In a pinch, use it to help you tackle these everyday tasks.

Photo: Laura Moss

  1. Remove Tree Sap: coat still-tacky tree sap with mayo and let sit for a few minutes. Wipe away the softened sap with a clean rap.
  2. Slide a Ring Off a Swollen Finger: rub a generous amount of mayo around the ring. After a few minutes, you should be able to slip it off easily.
  3. Erase Crayon From Walls: coat doodles on surfaces covered with scrubbable paint. After a few minutes, wipe off the mayo and crayon marks with a damp cloth.
  4. Make Plant Leaves Shine: bring luster to dusty houseplants by adding a dab of mayo to each leaf. Buff with a paper towel or a soft rag.
  5. Banish Fingerprints on Stainless Steel: cover messy prints with a thin coat of mayo and use a clean, dry cloth to wipe them away.
  6. Silence a Squeaky Hinge: place a dab of mayo on a clean rag and rub it onto a noisy hinge. Open and close the door a few times to work it in and wipe away any excess.
  7. Kill Head Lice: before bedtime, comb mayo through hair and cover with a shower cap overnight. In the morning, comb out hair, then shampoo and rinse thoroughly. Repeat as necessary.
  8. Get Rid of Tar: use mayo to coat tar that's stuck to your shoes or car. Let sit for several minutes, then wipe off.
  9. Rub out Water Rings: cover water rings on wood furniture with mayo. Let sit for a minute or two. Wipe off and buff with a soft, clean cloth.
  10. Remove Sticker Residue: dab mayo on stubborn price tags and the like, let sit for a few minutes, then rub off. The oil dissolves adhesives.

Coffee Grounds

Once you've brewed your morning cup of joe, perk up around-the-house tasks with this surprisingly versatile leftover.

Photo: Laura Moss

  1. Deodorize Your Fridge: place a bowl of dry grounds in your refrigerator or freezer to neutralize odors left by stale or spoiled food.
  2. Clean Tools and Dishware: place a few teaspoons of grounds on a thin cleaning rag and use to scour away grease and grime. Finish with a thorough rinsing. 
  3. Hide Furniture Scratches: dip a cotton swab into steeped grounds and dab on scratches in dark wood furniture to minimize them. Just test in an inconspicuous area first.
  4. Give Paper an Antique Look: dip paper or sheets of stationery in a soupy mix of grounds and water; allow them to sit for a minute or two, then let dry and brush off the grounds.
  5. Repel Insects: mound grounds into a ring to create a protective border around plants that will ward off ants and slugs.
  6. Grow Blue Hydrangeas: work grounds into the soil at the base of mophead hydrangeas to increase the acidity level. This helps the shrubs absorb aluminum, which you can add to the soil to keep the flowers a vibrant blue. 
  7. Contain Ashes: sprinkle damp grounds on fireplace ashes to cut down on airborne dust as you sweep them up.
  8. Scrub Hands: rub a scoop of grounds between palms as an exfoliant to remove dead skin and help eliminate smells from foods like fish and garlic.
  9. Make a Cockroach Trap: fill a can or jar with an inch or two of moistened coffee grounds, then line the container's neck with extra-sticky double-sided tape. The scent will draw the roaches into the trap.
  10. Fortify Plants: give seedlings a nitrogen boost by stirring grounds into soil or a watering can.

Vodka

While it's pricier than rubbing alcohol, this bar staple has the same antiseptic properties, making it a clever replacement in a pinch. Read on for spirited ways to put it to use.

Photo: Don Penny/Time Inc. Digital Studio

  1. Erase Window Streaks: as an alternative to using chemical cleansers, spray glass panes with diluted vodka, then wipe them with a lint-free cloth.
  2. Shine Chrome: put an end to soap scum on hard-water spots by soaking a soft cloth in vodka and wiping it over shiny fixtures.
  3. Deodorize Laundry: spritz undiluted vodka on clothes to help remove musty smells, then hang-dry them in a well-ventilated area.
  4. Remove Rust from Screws: leave a weathered screw in vodka for just a few hours, then wipe to get rid of rust.
  5. Preserve Cut Flowers: save your budget by mixing a few drops of vodka with a teaspoon of sugar to inhibit the production of ethylene, which makes flowers wilt.
  6. Remove Stains from Upholstery: dip a clean cloth in vodka and rub it on fabric to help take out stubborn stains caused by ink, grass, and some foods.
  7. Kill Weeds: mix 1 ounce of vodka, a few drops of liquid dish soap, and 2 cups of water in a spray bottle. Apply on a sunny day to broadleaf weeds that grow in direct sunlight; the vodka will help remove the leaves' waxy coating, causing them to dry out.
  8. Clean Mold and Mildew: rid tile and caulk of dark spots by spraying them with vodka. Let sit for up to 30 minutes, scrub with a grout brush or old toothbrush, and rinse thoroughly.
  9. Sooth Aching Muscles: treat sore muscles with a pack made by pouring equal parts of vodka and water into a resealable bag and freezing it to create a super-cold slushy mix. Whether you treat yourself to a cocktail afterward is up to you.
  10. Stop Odors: boots smelling ripe? Spritz the insides with diluted vodka; let dry. No more odor.

Window Screens

If replacing yours this summer left you with extra fiberglass material, don't just scrap it. Instead, tailor it to these new purposes.

Photo: Laura Moss

  1. Protect Newly Seeded Grass: stop hungry birds from devouring the seeds you planted in a bare spot of lawn by covering it with a patch of screen. Tack it in place with a few long nails; remove them once the blades sprout.
  2. Prevent Drain Clogs: wad up some screen scraps and tuck them into a utility sink's drain to keep debris from slipping through. 
  3. Scrub Your Skin Clean: gently rub a length of mesh over hands to scrape away dried-on paint.
  4. Sift Unmixed Grout: use a piece of screen as a sieve to uncake powdered grout and remove any lumps before mixing with water.
  5. Dry Herbs: staple mesh to a wood frame to make a platform for drying fresh sprigs. Place the frame wood-side-down to air flowers beneath the mesh.
  6. Keep Critters Out: think like an insect, then stuff strips of screen into narrow crevices in your home - like those around pipe entries under sinks - to foil pests. 
  7. Make Compost Tea: bundle a half pound of compost in a 1-foot square of mesh, and cinch with twine to make a tea bag. Soak the bag in a 5-gallon bucket of water for a week or so, stirring daily. Fertilize a veggie patch with the brew.
  8. Give a Sponge Scour Power: cover a plain household sponge with a piece of screen, and tie with string at both ends to prep it for heavy scrubbing jobs.
  9. Strain Old Paint: pour paint through a piece of screening to filter out debris from an otherwise still-good batch.
  10. Keep Soil Inside a Flowerpot: line the bottom with a patch of screen before filling it, to stop dirt from washing out through the drain hole.

Spare Change

There's more than one way to make your money work for you. Check out these savvy around-the-house ideas for loose change.

Photo: Laura Moss

  1. Hang a Cabinet Door: before fastening hinges to a cabinet, ensure there'll be enough clearance along the bottom for the door to swing freely by resting it on a nickel during installation.
  2. Tighten a Screw: a dime is just the right width to drive a standard slotted screw, making it a thrifty stand-in for a flathead screwdriver.
  3. Space Tile: when setting tile, place pennies on end between the corners of each piece for spacers that are easy to remove.
  4. Temporarily Fix a Wobble: set a coin or two under the short leg of a shaky table to keep it from rocking until you can come up with a more permanent fix.
  5. Straighten Drapes: instead of spending on store-bought drapery weights, tuck some pennies inside the bottom hem of way ward curtains to encourage them to hang evenly.
  6. Make a Doorstop: for a weight that'll keep a door open, empty a few handfuls (or a large jar) of pennies into a small canvas bag and tie it closed with colorful ribbon or twine. Total cost: under $10.
  7. Test Tire Treads: place a quarter upside down in one of the grooves. If it just touches George Washington's head, the tread's depth is only ⅛ inch, and it's probably time for a new tire.
  8. Pop a Top: slip a quarter under the snap-on lid of plastic containers, such as those that hold epoxy, patching compound, and drywall, to help pry them open.
  9. Take a Quick Measurement: don't have a ruler on hand? A quarter's diameter is just under 1 inch; a penny's diameter is exactly ¾ inch.
  10. Fluff Carpet: steam indents made by furniture, then scrape the edge of a coin across the pile to revive it.

Vinyl Tiles

You'll be floored by the clever ways This Old House reader Stan Williams repurposes these peel-and-stick squares, with an without paper backing.

Photo: Wendell T. Webber

  1. Protect Against Leaks: line the bottom of a cabinet under a sink to prevent water damage or cover one that's already been beat up (just be sure to fix the leak first).
  2. Make a Jig: a measured length of tile becomes a guide for drilling holes a consistent distance apart - when installing new cabinet knobs, for example.
  3. Pad Your Clamps: use tile scraps as barriers to keep metal clamp feet from denting your wood-working project.
  4. Clad a Birdhouse Roof: to create a rainproof covering, use a utility knife to cut tiles into small rectangles, and layer the "shingle" courses. For long-term adhesion, dot the back of each piece with waterproof glue.
  5. Decorate a Lampshade: cast a shadow design by sticking small tile pieces, trimmed into shapes, to the inside of an inexpensive paper shade.
  6. Create Plant Coasters: for a no-ring solution under a potted plant, cut two tiles into matching circles and stick them back-to-back.
  7. Shim Stuff: use cut strips to stabilize a leaning bookcase or a wobbly table, or to align a door during installation.
  8. Add a Backsplash: cover the wall behind the washer or dryer or the utility sink for a hit of color and easy wipe-clean surface.
  9. Scoop Up Messes: a tile makes a great in-a-pinch dustpan. Press one edge flat to the floor. Hold the other side up to make a snow-shovel-like curve against which to sweep your broom.
  10. Customize Wood Shutters: draw a shape on a tile and cut it out to make a template. Center the guide on the shutter's top panel, trace the shape, and use a jigsaw to cut the wood.

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