10 Cleaning Tips from Southern Grandmas

updated Feb 9, 2021
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Grandmas are good for a lot of things. There’s one thing I especially love about mine: her wisdom, which she won by years of working harder and smarter than I ever will. Sure, you can scour the internet for life hacks, but there’s nothing better than calling up your grandma to get her favorite brownie recipe or, in this case, tips for dealing with frustrating messes around the house. 

We’ve already surveyed German and Italian grandmas for their go-to cleaning tips, and we learned a lot about their favorite, time-tested methods for keeping things tidy. Next on the list: Southern grandmas. Here are the most useful, game-changing cleaning tricks I learned from my friends’ and colleagues’ grandmas with roots in the American South.

Credit: Cat Meschia

1. Shine up surfaces with vinegar.

My friend Rachael, whose family lives in the Carolinas, says both sides of her family used vinegar cut with water for cleaning almost everything, including kitchen surfaces, glass, and mirrors. Before you grab your vinegar, consider this hilarious method: “My dad’s old tighty whities always made an appearance because they cleaned better than paper towels or rags,” she says. “I think it was the OG microfiber cloth — never left any residue or fibers behind!”

Read more: What is Vinegar and What Makes it a Good Cleaner?

Credit: Kitchn

2. Cut grime with lemons.

Jody from west Texas says her mom (who’s now a grandma) loved to use lemon juice to clean every corner and crevice of the kitchen. “Momma says lemon juice cuts grease, so you squeeze some in your dishwasher,” she says. “You can also cut a lemon slice and rub it on your butcher block or wood cutting boards to get rid of smells.”

Kara, an online mutual friend, says her Southern grandma used a bowl of lemon juice to clean the microwave — about two cups of lemon water for 90 seconds, then wipe it down. “She also used half a lemon in the garbage disposal to keep the smells away,” says Kara. “My nana loved her lemons!”

Read more: How To Clean Your Microwave Naturally with Just a Lemon

3. Use lemons to fix wood discoloration.

Another super-smart lemon trick from Jody’s mom: If you have discoloration on your wood-top buffet or dining table from hot serving plates or marks from water rings, grab a lemon and rub it on the affected area to even out the color. Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy!

Credit: Sarah Crowley

4. Absorb smells with coffee grounds. 

Jody says her mom also used coffee grounds to tackle common kitchen problems, like absorbing smells in the fridge. Just grab a small jar or bowl and hide spent coffee grounds in a corner or on the fridge door! This trick also works for the bottom of a trash can beneath the bag or the cabinet where you store your trash bin.

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

5. Have a cleaning schedule.

Jody’s mom says her cleaning strategy was simple: You have to clean the mess when you make it. In addition to washing dishes when you use them and wiping down counters after you bake, she also suggests daily “zone cleaning” to keep spaces orderly. “Designate one area of your home to clean each day, then do a whole house clean weekly, and finally, divide your home into quarters and do a deep clean each season,” Jody says.

Credit: Erika Tracy

6. Combine lemon with salt.

Lemon is a fine cleaner on its own (see above!), but sometimes, you need some scouring power! Jamie, a barista who founded Coffee Semantics, says his grandma Grace always used lemon to sanitize her wooden spoons and cutting boards — but she’d also cut a lemon in half, sprinkle salt in it, and use it to scrub down the ceramic sink.

Read more: How To Clean a Wood Cutting Board With Lemon and Salt

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani | Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

7. Remove food coloring with laundry detergent.

Lindsay, who runs the Southern lifestyle blog Stay Sweet, says her grandma passed down a super-smart trick for banishing pesky food coloring stains on hands from baking or decorating cookies: “All you have to do is use a little bit of Tide detergent when washing your hands with soap, and watch the stains vanish,” she says.

Credit: Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock

8. When in doubt, try Pine-Sol and elbow grease.

There are a lot of creative cleaning products and techniques out there, but some messes call for the old, reliable standby. Brayden, a publicist, says her Texan grandma Lola Mae passed down some timeless advice: There’s nothing some old-school Pine-Sol and elbow grease can’t fix. Around since the early 20th century, Pine-Sol is an all-purpose cleaner that, unlike harsher cleaners such as bleach, won’t damage surfaces. Use it diluted to spruce up hardwood, linoleum, countertops, tile, and whatever surfaces need some love!

Credit: Joe Lingeman

9. Put mint near the garbage.

Rick, a Floridian and founder of Filter King, says his Southern grandma always had a pleasant-smelling kitchen. Her secret? Garbage mint. “Cut off a spring of mint and hang it over the garbage can. Every time you throw something in it, you can even agitate the mint and spread its delicious scent about,” Brain says. The good news, mint is super easy to grow — even on a windowsill.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

10. Clean knives with baking soda paste.

Brian, a chef who runs a blog about knife care, says his Tennessee-born Gran taught him some useful knife-cleaning tips when he was a little kid — primarily, the idea to use baking soda paste to keep knives in tip-top shape. “If her giant butcher knife was looking a little dull or rusty, she would run a piece of steel wool under some water, then sprinkle the knife with baking soda and use the damp steel wool to scrub away any residue and rust,” Brian says. “I think the swig of Hennessy she happened to enjoy while cleaning the knife is optional!”

Do you have any smart tips to add to this list? Leave them in the comments below!