How many ways can you use salt? According to the Salt Institute, about fourteen thousand! I can’t think of another more-versatile mineral. The use of salt in preserving food was one of the early cornerstones of civilization (preservation lessened the dependence on seasonal food and provided sustenance for those traveling long distances). However, salt was very difficult to obtain. With today’s modern production methods, salt is the most common and readily available nonmetallic mineral in the world; in fact, the supply of salt is inexhaustible.
Since at least medieval times, salt (sodium chloride) has been used for cleaning—and ensuing generations have continued to rely on it for all kinds of nifty tricks around the house. (Ah, to go back to the days before toxic chemicals promised the convenience of an easy fix!) Considering salt’s nontoxic friendliness and top-dog status as an endlessly abundant resource, let’s jump on the granny bandwagon and swap out some toxic solutions for ample, innocuous, and inexpensive salt.
But first, let my inner science geek pipe in for just a second (although if I eat dinner with you, I promise not to ask you to please pass the sodium chloride). There is a whole class of chemical compounds called “salts,” but the salt we’re talking about is good old sodium chloride—an ionic compound with the formula NaCl. Sodium chloride is the salt most responsible for the salinity of the oceans and the extracellular fluid of many multicellular organisms (which is why it is vital for us); it is also the major ingredient in edible salt. There are a number of forms of salt produced for consumption (and by default, housekeeping!): unrefined salt (such as sea salt), refined salt (table salt), and iodized salt. Kosher salt is sodium chloride that has been processed to have flat crystals. And in case you’re wondering, Epsom salt is an entirely different animal: magnesium sulfate, to be exact (a salt that I consider to be, essentially, miraculous).
Okay, lab coat off, “Hints from Heloise” hat on. Here are just a few of the many ways you can put salt to good use in your home:
In the Kitchen
Aside from all of the alchemy that salt performs in terms of baking chemistry and food flavor, salt has a number of other great applications in the kitchen.
Add to boiling water. Many people think that adding salt to water on the stove will make the water boil quicker. It isn’t true! But salt does make water boil at a higher temperature, thus reducing cooking time.
Test egg freshness. Put two teaspoons of salt in a cup of water and place an egg in it—a fresh egg will sink, an older egg will float. Because the air cell in an egg increases as it ages, an older egg is more buoyant. This doesn’t mean a floating egg is rotten, just more mature. Crack the egg into a bowl and examine it for any funky odor or appearance—if it’s rotten, your nose will tell you. (Bonus fact: if you have hard-boiled eggs that are difficult to peel, that means they are fresh!)
Remove odors from hands. Oniony, garlic-y fingers? I like soap and water, then rubbing them on anything made of stainless steel (it really works), but you can also rub your fingers with a salt and vinegar combo.
Extend cheese life. Prevent mold on cheese by wrapping it in a cloth moistened with saltwater before refrigerating.
Salt works as an effective yet gentle scouring agent. Salt also serves as a catalyst for other ingredients, such as vinegar, to boost cleaning and deodorizing action. For a basic soft scrub, make a paste with lots of salt, baking soda, and dish soap and use on appliances, enamel, porcelain, etc.
Clean sink drains. Pour salt mixed with hot water down the kitchen sink regularly to deodorize and keep grease from building up.
Clean greasy pans. Cast-iron skillets can be cleaned with a good sprinkling of salt and paper towels.
Clean stained cups. Mix salt with a dab of dish soap to make a soft scrub for stubborn coffee and tea stains.
Clean rust. Mix salt and cream of tartar with just enough water to make a paste. Rub on rust, let dry, brush off, and buff with a dry, soft cloth. You can also use the same method with a mix of salt and lemon.
Attack wine spills. If your tipsy aunt tips her wine on the cotton or linen tablecloth, blot up as much as possible and immediately cover the wine with a pile of salt, which will help pull the remaining wine away from the fiber. After dinner, soak the tablecloth in cold water for thirty minutes before laundering (also works on clothing).
Quell oversudsing. Since, of course, we are all very careful in how much detergent we use in our laundry, we never have too many suds. But if you do … you can eliminate excess suds with a sprinkle of salt.
Brighten colors. Wash colored curtains or washable fiber rugs in a saltwater solution to brighten the colors. Brighten faded rugs and carpets by rubbing them briskly with a cloth that has been dipped in a strong saltwater solution and wrung out.
Remove perspiration stains. Add four tablespoons of salt to one quart of hot water and sponge the fabric with the solution until stains fade.
Around the House
Deter ants. Sprinkle salt at doorways, window sills, and anywhere else ants sneak into your house. Ants don’t like to walk on salt.
Extinguish grease fires. Keep a box of salt near your stove and oven, and if a grease fire flares up, douse the flames with salt. (Never use water on grease fires; it will splatter the burning grease.) When salt is applied to fire, it acts like a heat sink and dissipates the heat from the fire—it also forms an oxygen-excluding crust to smother the fire.
Drip-proof candles. If you soak new candles in a strong salt solution for a few hours, then dry them well, they will not drip as much when you burn them.
Make play-dough. Use 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, 1 cup water, 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons cream of tartar. Stir together flour, cream of tartar, salt, and oil and slowly add water. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until dough becomes stiff. Spread onto wax paper and let cool. Knead the dough with your hands until it reaches a good play-dough consistency.
De-ice sidewalks and driveways. One of the oldest tricks in the book! Lightly sprinkle rock salt on walks and driveways to keep snow and ice from bonding to the pavement and to allow for easier shoveling/scraping. But don’t overdo it; use the salt sensibly to avoid damage to plants and paws.
Extend toothbrush life. Soak toothbrushes in saltwater before your first use; they’ll last longer
Clean teeth. Use one part fine salt to two parts baking soda—dip your toothbrush in the mix and brush as usual. You can also use the same mix dissolved in water for orthodontic appliances.
Rinse your mouth. Mix equal parts salt and baking soda in water for a fresh and deodorizing mouth rinse.
Ease mouth problems. For cankers, abscesses, and other mouth sores, rinse your mouth with a weak solution of warm saltwater several times a day.
Originally published on Care2