"Life hacks" is the term most often used by websites like Buzzfeed and Pinterest to refer to something that makes life easier. Use a soda tab to hang paintings! Separate egg yolks with a plastic bottle! Store cleaning supplies in a hanging shoe rack!
While these are all perfectly fine ideas, we're less interested in "hacks" and much more interested in creative ways to use items you probably already have, particularly food. Did you know that rubbing walnuts on wood can help camouflage scratches? Or that you can pick up broken glass with bread? How 'bout that Coke can clean your toilet?
Granted, most of the time I see food, I want to just eat it, but if you've got some extras and are looking for fun and easy ways to put your food to work, check out these tips and tricks.
Bread I don't often have pre-sliced Wonder Bread-type bread lying around the house, but if I do, it can be useful in more than just sandwiches. Soft sliced bread is great for keeping things fresh or re-softening items that have hardened. Place a slice of bread on the edge of a cake after you've cut it to keep it from drying out. You can also put a slice of bread in a bag of hardened marshmallows to soften them or in a bag of solidified brown sugar to make it nice and crumbly once again. And then there's the old bread-to-pick-up-shards-of-glass trick. Just place a slice over the broken glass and press down gently (or step on it with shoes to avoid cutting yourself). Pick up the bread, now with the glass embedded, and toss it.
Coconut Oil In college, I had a friend who always smelled great -- like a Caribbean vacation -- and one day I finally asked her about it. "Oh, I rub coconut oil in my hair," she said matter of factly. Apparently it's a great conditioner. She also used it to shave her legs because it's thick and moisturizes like nothing else. Coconut oil can also be used to lubricate small motors such as the ones in blenders, juicers and mixers. And then, it can be used to lubricate...um...other things. No joke. I don't generally trust Cosmopolitan for advice, but in this case, the magazine is right. Use the thick stuff or the...ahem...extra virgin stuff for a tasty, non-chemical lubricant.
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Coke Here are a few reasons I don't drink soda: 1. Coke can remove gum from hair. It's abrasive enough that it starts dissolving the chemicals that keep gum from dissolving in your mouth and makes it release from strands of hair after a brief soak. 2. Coke can clean your toilet. It doesn't disinfect per se, but it will remove stains from the porcelain bowl. Pour an entire can in, let it sit for an hour, then scrub with a toilet brush. Voila! 3. Coke can clean corrosion off car batteries. The carbonic acid, citric acid and phosphoric acid are strong enough to erode the battery acid that can leak out of your car's battery. Pour a can on, let it sit for a few, then rinse off. Any soda with carbonic acid (as well as baking soda) will do the trick, but it's just more fun to hate on a classic.
Eggs Egg shells contain a lot of calcium, which is great for plants. Once you've finished boiling eggs, save the water, let it cool and use it to hydrate your garden. You can also mix egg shells in with the dirt for added nutrients. Anyone who's ever tried to clean dried egg off a pan knows that it sticks like glue. Early painters used to mix colored pigment with egg whites to make the color adhere to a stone, wooden or canvas surface. You can use plain, raw egg whites as a glue replacement in many craft projects. Finally, egg whites can be used to shine leather. Simply dip a washcloth in a bowl of egg whites, rub on leather in a circular motion and let the proteins give your shoes, purse or sofa new life.
Kool-Aid Back in middle school I used to dye my hair with Kool-Aid because my parents thought it was a good alternative to hair dye with harsh chemicals. Mix the colored powder into a paste, apply to your hair (streaks are a better idea than the whole head), cover with plastic wrap and let set for 40 minutes. Wash out really well; otherwise you'll be sticky. Regardless, you'll smell like a child's birthday party. You can also use Kool-Aid to dye fabric using this handy color chart. And because it has such great staining qualities (remember the Kool-Aid mustaches you used to get as a kid?), you can use it as cheek or lip stain. It won't rub off like traditional blush or lipstick, and you can combine colors to make just the right shade.
Lemon While Kool-Aid can be used to stain, lemons are great for removing stains. Rub a lemon on a cutting board to make it look good as new and get rid of colors and smells embedded in the wood. You can also remove hard-water stains from your sink and shower fixtures by rubbing a lemon on them and then rinsing. The acid in the lemons cuts through the mineral buildup. Lemons smell wonderful, so you can use them to deodorize smelly places. Leave some cut lemons in the fridge or in a bowl in the bathroom to give the air a fresh scent. Finally, lemon juice can add highlights to your hair. Squeeze lemon juice on a few strands, then sit out in the sun for an hour and let the heat and UV rays work their magic.
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Mayonnaise I don't actually like to eat mayo, but it's great for conditioning hair (if you can handle the smell). Wet hair, rub in mayo, cover with a shower cap and let sit for 30 minutes to an hour, then rinse out and shampoo as usual. This isn't a great idea for fine hair, as the mayo might make it greasy, but it's wonderful for coarse or curly hair. Mayo can also help relieve sunburn pain, though there isn't a lot of scientific proof that it helps heal a sunburn. The cool paste can feel pretty darn good, though. My favorite use for mayonnaise is rubbing out water stains on wood. I have a bad habit of leaving glasses sitting on tables where they shouldn't be, so mayonnaise has saved me many a time. Use a wash cloth to spread some mayo on water stains, rub it in and let it sit until the stains are gone.
Olive Oil Like mayonnaise, olive oil can also help shine wooden furniture and mask stains or scratches. It also smells better than mayo. Polish any sort of wood with olive oil by rubbing it in circular motions with a wash cloth or paper towel. Olive oil is also a great natural alternative to harsh eye makeup removers. Dip a cotton ball or Q-tip in olive oil and rub off mascara or stubborn eye pencil. My cat also gets a weekly dose of olive oil to help prevent hairballs. I just pour a little over his food and his tummy stays hairball-free.
Potatoes If you must do something with potatoes other than turn them into french fries, here are some ideas. Cut a potato in half and use it to remove a broken light bulb from a socket. Make sure the switch is off, then press the potato into the metal base and unscrew. Potatoes also have chemical properties that make them great for shining silver. Boil several potatoes, then remove from the water, allow the water to cool and drop silverware or silver jewelry into the pot. Let it sit for half an hour, remove and polish slightly with a cloth. Finally, potatoes can be used to save over-salted food. If you accidentally had a heavy hand with the salt in your soup, peel a potato and drop it in the soup. Let it simmer for ten minutes, then remove the potato, and some of the salt will come with it.
Rice The alternative uses for rice are pretty simple, but also incredibly useful. Rice grains make great pie weights to keep your crust from bubbling up on the bottom. Plus, rice is much cheaper than those fancy pie weights you can buy at places like Williams-Sonoma. Rice can also be a filling for a heat pack. Take a large sock, fill it with rice and heat it in the microwave to soothe an aching neck. And the best use for rice? Drying out electronics that have accidentally made their way into a sink or toilet (don't lie; we've all been there). Take a Ziploc bag, fill it with enough rice to cover your phone, then let the phone sit in the rice for at least five hours. The rice will soak up the moisture in the phone, and it should be good as new.