10 Brilliant Cleaning Tips You Should Steal from These French Grandmas

updated Oct 8, 2021
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We already look to the French for inspiration when it comes to all things cooking- and fashion-related. And they have a way of making even the most mundane tasks seem effortless and undeniably chic. So I’ve been wondering if they might have figured out the fine art of, say, sink scrubbing or floor sweeping. I went right to the source (brilliant grandmas!) to dig up some super-smart cleaning tips that everyone seems to know over in France. From their (perfectly sparkling, lovely-smelling) homes to ours: Here are 10 cleaning tips from French grannies!

Related: 10 Cleaning Tips from Midwestern Grandmas

1. Outsource the job (to an extent).

Is it very surprising or not at all surprising that many French grandmas outsource? Paris Pryor, the French-born wine director at Francie restaurant in New York City, admitted to me, “Most mamies have femme de menage (domestic help).” While hiring someone to do all of your household chores may be as far-reaching a dream as owning a pied-à-terre in Marseille, you can delegate one or two of the jobs you really loathe, like laundry, or an annual spring clean. Or, you know, get your family to help!

Credit: Kitchn Video

2. Clean tarnished metal with aluminum foil and salt.

Here’s another astuce, or tip, from Pryor’s grandmother: A mixture of boiling water, aluminum foil, and salt will refresh copper and silverware. Pryor says, “Pour boiling water into a washtub with aluminum foil and add a few teaspoons of salt. Stir, and place silverware or copperware in water for two to 10 minutes. Remove, run under water with dish soap, then dry with a cloth.” Magic!

Credit: Kitchn Video

3. Use a cut onion to clean windows.

This tip comes from Normandy-born French food blogger Helene Skantzikas and her network of French grandmothers (she surveyed her own mother, as well as a group of her friends). For really dirty windows — say, after a long winter — scrub your exterior windows with half of an onion before washing with your favorite cleaning solution or a diluted ammonia mixture. The onion scrubs away the toughest grime.

4. Rub salt on a wine-stained tablecloth.

If your dinner-party conversation got a little too enthusiastic — as they sometimes do — and you’re wondering how to remove a wine stain from a tablecloth, try a tip from Skantzikas’s mother: Gently rub coarse salt on the stain as soon as possible. This gently lifts the pigment, keeping it from permanently setting (of course, wash it ASAP).

5. Dilute black soap to clean floors.

Black soap is made with olive oil and is prized as a natural, biodegradable cleaning agent. While it’s useful for just about everything, many French grandmothers I heard from like to use it to wash floors. As with any commercial floor cleaner, it should be diluted — this stuff is thick and strong! (Other favorite uses for black soap include laundry detergent, leather refresher, paint brush cleaner, and as a spray for plants to deter aphids.)

6. Polish wood floors with beeswax and old sweaters.

Beeswax works to naturally condition, gloss, smooth, and protect your wood floors, as well as other wood furniture, including cabinets. A wool sweater you no longer wear is ideal for this task. The wool is gentle, but absorbent, so it lift stains and residue!

Credit: Sarah Crowley

7. Keep a bowl of vinegar in stinky kitchen spots.

A small bowl of vinegar will absorb bad odors in your kitchen. After learning this tip from Skantzikas’s mother, I tried this in the no-man’s-land under my kinda-sorta-definitely mildewed sink. After a couple of days, the smell was neutralized!

Read more: You Should Keep a Bowl of Vinegar Next to Your Stove — Here’s Why

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8. Brighten old white shirts with lemon juice.

Dilute the juice of three lemons with one liter of cold water, and submerge any graying or dull, once-white garment. Soak, rinse, and wash per usual for a sparkling, bright white.

9. Deepen dulled, dark garments with spinach water.

If your favorite black shirt has begun to look more like charcoal gray, soak it in leftover spinach cooking water before washing it. This will deepen and enhance the dark color. Just be sure that your spinach water doesn’t contain any residual butter, olive oil, or seasonings. Coffee and black tea will do the trick, too!

Credit: Sarah Crowley

10. Scrub smelly hands with coffee grounds.

Soaping up with a dollop of used coffee grounds will help rid your hands of stubborn food prep smells — Skantzikas finds this particularly effective after cooking salmon. While old coffee grounds might not smell gorgeous, they’re definitely better than a lingering fishy smell!

Which of these tips are you inspired to try? And, to all the French grandmas out there: Did we miss any?