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Dirt-Cheap Ways to Clean

Common household products can be just as good as costly cleansers

En español  |  It's not as though store-bought cleaning products will wipe you out financially, but you can save a pretty penny by ignoring the hype of specialty cleansers and using these lower-cost alternatives.

Handwashing: Although a 9-ounce bottle of "antibacterial" soap retails for three times as much as a regular bar, the fancy stuff is no better at killing germs, a recent University of Michigan study found. So just wash with regular bar soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds, rubbing your hands vigorously to loosen dirt and germs.

Laundry: Stretch your detergent dollars by using less than the recommended amount — and adding a half cup of baking soda per load to kill germs and odors and soften fabrics. A ball of alumnium foil in the dryer eliminates static, at a fraction of the cost of commercial sheets. (And if you use sheets, cut them in half.)

Metals: To remove tarnish and enhance the patina of silver, apply a thin layer of non-gel toothpaste and rub with a damp cloth. Or massage silver with a damp cloth dipped in baking soda. Buff dry.

Clean brass by rubbing it with a cloth dipped in a small amount of Worcestershire sauce or lemon juice. Then rinse with warm soapy water and dry thoroughly. And pewter can be cleaned with cabbage leaves. Rub, then buff dry.

Bathroom: Who needs "scrubbing bubbles" to clean the toilet? Pour 1/4 cup of baking soda and 1 cup vinegar into the bowl, let sit for a few minutes and then scrub and rinse. Equal parts of vinegar, club soda and water in a spray bottle make an effective all-purpose cleaner.

Oven: Avoid the smell — and cost — of brand-name products by sprinkling your oven with 1/2 cup or more of baking soda and spraying with water. By the next morning, the caked-on material should be easy to scrape off. Rinse with water and dry.

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer issues.

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