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The microwave lemon trick

Nov 06, 2023Nov 06, 2023

Clean pans, blitz stains, make your own fertiliser … experts share their best domestic shortcuts

Keep pot plants alive while you’re on holiday with this ingenious set-up from Armen Adamjan, founder of Creative_Explained on TikTok and Instagram. Take a discarded plastic bottle, pierce the cap with the tip of a sharp knife and stick a cotton bud through the hole. Fill the bottle with water, replace the lid, tape a skewer or small bamboo cane to the side of the bottle so it extends about 20cm beyond the lid, and turn the whole thing upside down (a hole in the base of the bottle will help the water flow). Poke the skewer into the soil at the base of a potted plant and the water will slowly drip down the cotton bud, keeping your plant babies going until you get back.

“Bespoke curtains are very expensive but you can customise ready-made ones easily,” says Kate Watson-Smyth, homes writer, podcaster and founder of “Buy two sets – four curtains – and sew them together using two for each side of the window to give a sense of luxury and fullness. Alternatively, buy flat linen sheets and sew ruffle tape along the top for hooks. (This will also make them pull more easily than fabric tab tops, which tend to stick.)

If you want to make your curtains winter-proof, add a thermal lining, which you can buy online. The joy of curtains is that the sewing is all in straight lines so it’s easy enough for beginners, or a dry cleaners can do it for you.” (A personal favourite hack: if your curtains don’t pull smoothly, spritz the rail with furniture polish.)

In an attempt to avoid noxious chemicals in her home, Nancy Birtwhistle, Bake Off winner turned eco home and garden expert, created a homemade toilet cleaner. “But,” she says, “it proved to be much more than that. It will remove algae, dissolve rust and kill mould, clean shower screens, baths, sinks and shower heads, brass and copper, and will remove the toughest stains on laundry.”

Mix 200g citric acid with 150ml boiling water until clear. Stir through 20ml of eco-friendly washing-up liquid and 5-10 drops of organic essential oil (optional), cool, then pour into a 400ml spray bottle.” (The full recipe for Pure Magic is in her books Green Living Made Easy and Clean & Green.) Two tablespoons in 600ml cold water, plus a 10-minute soak before drip-drying outside in sunshine (or on a sunny windowsill) will, she says, not only whiten whites but remove curry, tomato, chilli sauce, mustard, fruit juice or baby stains.

Most home influencers seem to live in immaculately tidy show homes. KC Davis (Domestic Blisters on TikTok) and her messy kitchen are here to remind us what being a human actually looks like. Davis creates hacks for people who are neurodivergent or who, for whatever reason, find it hard to look after their homes or themselves. For example, if you find laundry overwhelming, do it once a week, she says: wash everything on cold and don’t bother sorting by colour. (You can also use a “colour-catcher” sheet in the wash.) When the clothes are dry, she doesn’t fold. And the world does not end.

Having seen a waiter do this successfully in a wasp-filled French restaurant garden, this is my own go-to every summer (and is recommended by many coffee companies, such as Death Wish Coffee in New York, keen on ways to recycle its wares): save used coffee grounds, then spread out on a tray to dry for a few days. Shape a couple of spoonfuls of the dry grounds into a mound on a heat-safe plate or bowl, light the top and leave to smoulder (outside). The smoke smells like roasting coffee, is nicer than scented chemical repellents and deters wasps, flies and mosquitoes.

According to the many, many cleaning mavens of #CleaningTikTok, for machine-washable fabrics stained with mud, blood, ink, tea or coffee, you need to go old school and get hold of a bag of old-fashioned washing soda (sodium carbonate), which will set you back about £2 a kilo. Mix up a strong solution (according to the pack instructions) in hot water, and soak for an hour or so before washing as normal. I can personally vouch for it removing red wine, too, and you can also use washing soda and hot water to remove tannin stains from inside mugs or teapots. For oil stains on fabric or leather, try using baby powder. Lay the fabric flat, if possible, dust the stain liberally with the powder, then very gently work it into the stain. Leave for half an hour and the powder will lift the oil and remove the stain.

Adamjan recommends using a damp teabag to clean a smudged or dusty computer screen. Dip the bag in a cup of cold water (or redip a used one from your morning brew), rub it all over the screen and then polish with a clean, dry cloth or paper towel. This trick also works well on mirrors.

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Food writer and winner of Netflix’s Crazy Delicious, Samira Kazan (Alpha Foodie on social media), says lemon is the best way to deal with a grimy, greasy or sticky microwave. Squeeze a lemon into a microwave-safe bowl and add the shell (the outer skin of the lemon), or, if you’ve used the lemon juice for cooking, just put the empty shell in the microwave with some water. Zap for five minutes, leave to stand, door closed, for 10 minutes, and then open and wipe down. The lemon water can go down the loo, where it can help reduce limescale.

Bicarbonate of soda is an excellent neutraliser: it can remove the smell of urine (a side-effect of both pets and toddlers) from a fabric armchair that would otherwise be very hard to wash. (Also known as baking soda, bicarb or sodium bicarbonate, it should not be confused with baking powder, which although also a leavening agent for baked goods, won’t do the same job on smells.) It also works on stinky shoes, rugs and carpets, says YouTuber Melissa Maker on her 2-million-subscriber Clean My Space channel; she uses a sieve to sift it evenly over her uncovered mattress to keep it smelling fresh. Dust generously all over whatever needs refreshing, leave for four hours or overnight, and then vacuum off larger items, wipe off or shake out.

If your fridge really, really pongs, bicarb won’t do the trick, but a good clean with vinegar will (I use it everywhere). Dilute distilled white vinegar 50:50 with water. Add a few drops of essential oil or vanilla extract if the smell of vinegar offends you (it fades quickly), and spritz then wipe everywhere inside the fridge. Use the same spray on glass and most kitchen surfaces (be careful with wood, marble or stone) and the inside of food-waste bins. Soaking mop heads, mouldy-smelling towels or damp clothes that you’ve accidentally left in the washing machine for two days in dilute vinegar will make them fresh again. Or, says cleaning guru and podcaster Caroline Solomon (Neat Caroline), add a cupful to the washing machine before running it with detergent to soften laundry and brighten whites.

Adamjan says you can also remove limescale from shower heads and taps with neat vinegar in a zip-lock bag secured with rubber bands and left to soak (you need to do this regularly – it is not going to work on two years of buildup).

Remove stuck or burnt food from metal pots and trays by placing on the hob over a medium heat and adding boiling water – Adamjan adds vinegar and sliced lemons, but water works just as well if that combo is too punchy on the nose. Bring to a simmer, soften the burnt bits, then scrape them off with a spatula. Cool, then wash as normal. (Adamjan uses a paste made from lemon juice, vinegar and bicarb to scrub oven racks.)

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