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When it comes to utility, not all grocery items are created equal.

If value can be defined by versatility then, some grocery items offer a lot more bang for your buck than others.

Sure, everybody knows about the incredible and legendary versatility of duct tape. Heck, duct tape can even fix your personal finances.

Savvy grocery shoppers often take advantage of highly versatile products in the supermarket too. Specifically, here are the six most valuable products in your typical supermarket — along with a partial list of their many uses.

Just keep in mind that I haven’t personally verified all of these tips — so, please, use them at your own risk.


When it comes to grocery store products, vinegar is liquid gold. People have been using it for ages — and not just for cooking and preserving foods. Vinegar’s versatility is virtually unmatched; there are literally hundreds of potential applications. Aside from its primary applications, here is just a small sample of all the other things vinegar can be used for:

1. Disinfect wood cutting boards
2. Soothe a sore throat; use 1 tsp of vinegar per glass of water, then gargle
3. Fight dandruff; after shampooing, rinse hair with vinegar and 2 cups of warm water
4. Remove warts; apply daily a 50/50 solution of cider vinegar and glycerin until they’re gone
5. Cure an upset stomach; drink 2 tsp apple cider vinegar in one cup of water
6. Polish chrome
7. Keep boiled eggs from cracking; add 2 tbsp to water before boiling
8. Clean deposits from fish tanks
9. Remove urine stains from carpet
10. Keep fleas off dogs; add a little vinegar to the dog’s drinking water
11. Keep car windows from frosting up; use a solution of 3 oz. vinegar to 1 oz. water
12. Clean dentures; soak overnight in vinegar and then brush
13. Get rid of lint in clothes; add 0.5 cup vinegar to rinse cycle
14. Remove grease from suede
15. Kill grass on sidewalks and driveways
16. Make wool blankets softer; add 2 cups distilled vinegar to rinse cycle
17. Remove skunk odor from a dog; rub fur with full strength vinegar and rinse
18. Freshen wilted vegetables; soak them in 1 tbsp vinegar and a cup of water
19. Dissolve mineral deposits in drip coffee makers
20. Deodorize drains; pour a cup down the drain once a week, let sit for 30 minutes, then rinse
21. Use as a replacement for a lemon; 0.25 tsp vinegar substitutes for 1 tsp of lemon juice
22. Make rice fluffier; add 1 tsp of vinegar to water when it boils
23. Prevent grease build-up in ovens; wipe oven with cleaning rag soaked in distilled vinegar and water
24. Kill germs; mix a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water in a spray bottle.
25. Unclog shower heads; place in a pot with 50-50 solution of vinegar and water, bring it to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes
26. Shine patent leather
27. Make propane lantern wicks burn longer/brighter; soak them in vinegar for 3 hours, let dry
28. Act as an an air freshener
29. Soften paint brushes; soak in hot vinegar then rinse with soapy water
30. Remove bumper stickers and decals; simply cover them with vinegar-soaked cloth for several minutes
31. Prolong the life of fresh-cut flowers; use 2 tbsp of vinegar and 3 tbsp of sugar per quart of warm water

All of these vinegar applications — and scores more — can be found here.

Baking Soda

Aside from its primary use as a baking agent, baking soda is another grocery item with an almost countless number of applications. For example, baking soda can be used to:

1. Deodorize your refrigerator; put an open box in the fridge
2. Remove odors from shoes
3. Keep drains clean and free-flowing; use 4 tbspns of soda and flush with hot water
4. Keep your underarms smelling fresh
5. Soften your skin
6. Relieve diaper rash
7. Relieve sunburn; apply a paste of soda and water
8. Extinguish small grease and electrical fires
9. Polish silverware
10. Clean your refrigerator. (Or your neighbors, for that matter.)
11. Remove cat box odors; cover the bottom of the box with soda, then top with kitty litter
12. Clean and remove stale odors from thermos bottles and coolers
13. Make dried beans more digestible by soaking them in a solution of baking soda and water
14. Make wild game taste less, well, “gamey”
15. Remove oil and grease stains from laundry; add baking soda to the wash water
16. Remove stains from marble, Formica or plastic surfaces; apply a paste of soda and water
17. Remove grease from garage floors
18. Clean vegetables and fruit; sprinkle some in water, then soak and rinse
19. Wash garbage cans
20. Clean and remove odors from your dishwasher; just run it with soda instead of soap
21. Inhibit smoldering butts in ashtrays
22. Clean shower curtains
23. Keep teeth or dentures clean. (Preferably, yours.)
24. Relieve indigestion and heartburn; drink 0.5 tsp of soda in 4 oz of water
25. Use as a mouthwash and/or relieve canker sore pain; gargle with 0.5 tsp of soda in 4 oz of water
26. Remove baked-on food from pots and pans; soak in soda and water for 15 minutes
27. Relieve bee sting pain
28. Make homemade Play Dough; combine 1.25 cups water, 2 cups soda, 1 cup cornstarch
29. Remove feathers more easily when scalding a chicken; just add to the water
30. As a windshield water repellent
31. Clean canvas handbags
32. Shine chrome and stainless steel

For even more baking soda applications, check out this site.


You can’t get a gallon of milk at your local Home Depot, but you can often find WD-40 in a grocery store! WD-40 was originally developed as a water repellent and corrosion preventer, but today the manufacturer claims the product has over 2000 uses. But, Len, if there are 2000 uses why didn’t you rank it number one? Well, the answer is two-fold: 1) because most of those 2000 uses are just variations of the same basic applications; 2) this is my list and I’ll do as I want. (So there.)

Here are 20 of the more arcane ones which have actually been verified:

1. Removes road tar and grime from cars
2. Loosens stuck zippers
3. Untangles jewelry chains
4. Keeps pigeons off the balcony. (Apparently, they hate the smell.)
5. Lubricates prosthetic limbs
6. Protects silver from tarnishing
7. Keeps ceramic and terra-cotta garden pots from oxidizing
8. Keeps scissors working smoothly
9. Lubricates squeaky home and vehicle door hinges
10. Lubricates gear shifts and deck levers on riding mowers
11. Eliminates squeaks from kids’ swings
12. Makes home windows easier to open. (And it’s safer than a hammer!)
13. Helps stubborn umbrellas to open and close
14. Restores and cleans vehicle roof racks
15. Lubricates and stops squeaks in electric fans
16. Lubricates wheel sprockets on tricycles, wagons, and bicycles
17. Removes residual duct tape adhesive
18. Cleans bugs off of grills and bumpers
19. Displaces the moisture and allows a car to start when sprayed on the distributor cap
20. Removes black scuff marks from floors


Wisebread highlighted a whole bunch of clever uses for Coke or Pepsi. Here are some of the more interesting ones:

1. Remove grease and blood stains from clothing and fabric
2. Clean oil stains from a garage floor
3. Remove rust. (My mom said she used to do this as a kid do get corrosion off her bike — I guess she didn’t have any WD-40!)
4. Loosen a rusty bolt. (Another WD-40 trick. Am I the only one here beginning to think Coke is a main ingredient in that stuff?)
5. Tenderize and add extra flavor to a pot roast. (Okay. Let’s see WD-40 do this!)
6. Kill slugs and snails
7. Help a lawn become lush and green
8. Prevent an asthma attack
9. Defrost a frozen windshield. (I prefer using hot coffee — black — but that’s just me.)
10. Clean burnt pans
11. Neutralize a jellyfish sting
12. Clean car battery terminals.(I’ve done this before. It works!)
13. Entertain the kids by creating an exploding fountain. (With the help of a pack of Mentos.)
14. Make your hair curly
15. Age documents and photos
16. Clean tile grout
17. Make better compost. (The the acidity and sugar feeds microorganisms.)
18. Remove gum from hair
19. Remove stains from vitreous china
20. Clear up swimming pool water
21. Deodorize laundry
22. Remove dye from hair by pouring Diet Coke over it
23. Remove marker stains from carpet

Fabric Softener Sheets

Most people use fabric sheets to make clothes soft and remove static cling. But did you know that these versatile sheets can also:

1. Repel mice and ants
2. Act as a mosquito, bee and yellow jacket repellent; tie one through a belt loop
3. Prevent dust from settling on computer monitors
4. Dissolve soap scum from shower doors
5. Eliminate wastebasket odors; just place them in the bottom
6. Prevent dust from settling on Venetian blinds; wipe them down and no more dust
7. Deodorize stinky shoes
8. Keep stored tents and sleeping bags smelling fresh
9. Prevent musty suitcases
10. Collect cat hair. (No word on whether it works on dog hair too.)
11. Act as a car or room air freshener
12. Prevent thread from tangling; run a threaded needle through a sheet before sewing
13. Collect sawdust resulting from drilling or sandpapering
14. Eliminate odors from dirty laundry; place a sheet at the bottom of a hamper
15. Remove splattered bugs from cars; scrub with a wet sheet
16. Clean baked-on food from pans; put a sheet in pan, fill with water and let sit overnight. Sponge clean.

Paper Towels

Those of you who have seen my great paper towel test know that some paper towels are better than others when it comes to sopping up spills — but paper towels can also:

1. Act as a quick-and-dirty lumbar pillow. (You’ll need to use the whole roll, of course.)
2. Remove silk from fresh corn; just run a damp paper towel across the ear
3. Act as a coffee filter. (I’ve done this before in a pinch and it works well.)
4. Keep lettuce fresh longer; wrap around lettuce head to soak up excess moisture. (I’ve done this for years.)
5. Prevent frozen bread from getting soggy as it thaws; simply place a paper towel in the bagbefore freezing
6. Provide temporary sunburn relief; lay a damp towel across affected skin
7. Clean your can opener; close the opener over a paper towel edge and turn the crank
8. Keep cast iron pots rust-free; placed in clean pots, they’ll absorb moisture
9. Remove crayon from chalk boards; place a paper towel over wax, then press a warm iron over towel
10. Remove candle wax from carpet and upholstery(Use the same method as above.)
11. Sprout seeds; place a few seeds between damp towels, then keep damp for two weeks
12. Act as a cheap place mat
13. Strain fat from broth; place a paper towel in colander and pour the broth through it
14. Protect Christmas tree ornaments during storage
15. Prevent bacon splatter in a microwave oven
16. Remove residual grease from sewing machines; run the first few stitches through the towel

Well, that’s it. Remember, these are only partial lists for each of these products.

If you have any favorite special applications for any of these items, don’t be shy! Share them with the rest of us!

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Len Penzo blogs at, "the off-beat personal finance blog for responsible people".