13 Cleaning Tips You Should Steal from My German Grandmother

updated Jun 20, 2021
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Woman wearing glasses pouring oil and making food, mature man with beard talking to female friend, working as a team, three people cooking at home.
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When I was growing up, it seemed like my grandma had a trick for just about every household problem. Usually, there’s a heartiness and thriftiness to the cleaning tips she generously doles out — the premise of all of them being, “There’s no problem you can’t solve on your own with things you already have on hand.” (Plus, a few choice products.)

I used to think her resourcefulness was because of her age — my grandma is 84 now, and she grew up during World War II — but I wonder how much of it has to do with her family’s culture and values. See, Grandma picked up a lot of her creative cleaning tips from her own mom and grandmother, both of whom grew up in small, predominantly German towns in Wisconsin.

Want to try out some of her favorite cleaning tips? Here are some of my Grandma Joann’s best suggestions for a clean kitchen and home, all collected over the years from her family, friends, and decades-old newspaper clippings she held onto.

1. Use Bon Ami powder to clean a glass cooktop.

I’d heard of Bon Ami before, but admittedly had never used it or even looked into what it was for. My grandma says, for decades, she’s sworn by the scouring powder to shine up surfaces like her glass cooktop. Apparently, Bon Ami isn’t good for other types of glass (like windows and mirrors) because it’s so abrasive, but you can use it on a stovetop by wiping it down with a wet washcloth, sprinkling some Bon Ami, then rubbing the affected areas until they’re clean.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. And follow it up with Weiman’s Glass Cooktop Cleaner.

For years, my grandma had also used Weiman’s, which she describes as a “milky lotion,” to clean her stovetop — this one, apparently, is better for polishing rather than removing burnt-on stains like Bon Ami would. Just spread it on a clean cooktop and polish it off with a microfiber cloth or paper towel!

Credit: Andrew Bui

3. Shine stainless steel appliances with Weiman’s wipes.

Another Weiman’s favorite: For stainless steel appliances, like her dishwasher, fridge, and oven, my grandma keeps these stainless steel wipes on hand. They’re not the most environmentally friendly choice, but she says they work like magic (plus, they prevent future fingerprints and grime by leaving a protective coating on the surface).

Credit: Ashley Poskin

4. Clean red wine spills with salt.

You might know Germans for their beer, but the women in my family prefer wine. To remove red wine spills from furniture, clothes, carpet, or linen, my grandma says to sprinkle with table salt and rub the stain out with cold water before treating with another product or laundering.

Credit: Erika Tracy

5. Clean grease with club soda.

Grease splatter on your clothes or a greasy spill on your upholstery? Try a clean sponge dipped in club soda. My grandma says it works especially well on suede, but I’d try this one on any fabric! And I bet plain LaCroix would work just as well, if you don’t have club soda on hand.

6. Freshen up a garbage disposal with baking soda.

My grandma is thrifty, so she loves using everyday pantry ingredients to keep things fresh and clean in her kitchen. You probably already know you can keep your fridge and trash can fresh with baking soda, but her favorite use for Arm & Hammer is to freshen up a stinky garbage disposal. Just pour a bit down and run your faucet to absorb smells.

Credit: Photo: Tara Donne | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

7. Use lemon juice to remove yellow stains.

Yellow stains on your Pyrex or glassware? Grandma’s go-to trick is to fill it with lemon water and put it out in the sun for a few hours. She says this trick also works for yellow-stained clothes or linens — just dunk it in some lemon water and let it sit out for some rays, ideally for the whole afternoon on a hot day.

8. Clean water rings on wood with toothpaste.

She uses coasters because she knows better, but if you’re like me and leave glasses to accumulate moisture on wood, there’s an easy fix. Grandma suggests rubbing a bit of plain, white toothpaste on water rings afflicting your wood furniture, then rubbing it off with a slightly damp paper towel.

Credit: Cat Meschia

9. DIY your own woodwork cleaner.

Wood cabinets, tables, or trim in your kitchen or dining room? My grandma suggests a simple, DIY cleaner for any and all woodwork: Just combine 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon vinegar, and a quart of warm water, then wipe the surface with a sponge or rag dipped in the solution.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

10. And your own window solution.

Dirty windows are no match for my family recipe: Just mix up half a cup of clear ammonia, half a cup of white vinegar, 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, and a gallon of warm water. Then, mix together to wash away stubborn stains on interior or exterior windows, and spray with white vinegar and wipe to finish. Just be careful with ammonia (never mix it with bleach!). And never use cloudy ammonia for your windows, because my grandma says it leaves streaks.

Credit: Susanna Hopler/Dzm1try

11. Stave off ants with cornmeal.

When we had an ant problem in our kitchen last spring, my grandma told me to line affected areas (usually on the counter beneath the windowsill) with cornmeal. Works like a charm — especially if you add a few fresh mint leaves or a couple drops of peppermint essential oil!

12. Unclog the drain with pantry essentials.

A clogged kitchen sink will clear instantly with Grandma’s go-to solution. Pour a mixture of a cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar down into the drain. Once the fizzing stops, pour a cup or two of boiling water down to finish the job.

13. Use boiling water to banish grease from drains.

Same principle here. Grandma says she when there’s grease in her sink drain, she pours in a cup of salt and a cup of baking soda, followed by a few cups of boiling water.

Do you have a German grandmother? Would she have anything to add to this list?