Good Housekeeping may sound like an odd choice of reading material for a 12-year-old. But, as an avid reader growing up, often upon finishing the latest Laura Ingalls Wilder or Judy Blume book and feeling desperate for something to read, I would turn to my mother’s copy of the popular women’s magazine.

One of the regular features in the magazine was a column called “Hints from Heloise,” in which a lovely white-maned woman named Heloise would respond to readers’ urgent questions, like “My cat peed on my antique oriental carpet, what do I do?” or “What is the best way to clean the inside of my refrigerator?”

apple cider vinegar cleaning diy

One thing stuck with me from those columns. Heloise’s helpful hints for almost every situation tended to involved one common ingredient: vinegar. Occasionally, she’d throw in another kitchen staple, like baking soda or lemon juice. But vinegar—that was clearly the magic elixir. Sometimes I wonder how she would answer if a reader ever sent in this question: “Dear Heloise, I’ve used your hints to clean up every stain in my house; now how do I remove the lingering aroma of vinegar?”

I’m no Heloise. My answer to almost any household problem would be to buy a cleaning product marketed for that specific problem. “Why make something when you can buy it?” has kind of been my philosophy regarding everything from birthday cakes to cleaning supplies. In short, I am the kind of consumer advertisers dream about.

But with age comes wisdom, and I have come to accept that Heloise was on to something. Vinegar is cheap and, in many instances, actually seems to do a better job than any store-bought cleaners. For example, I have a fancy insulated stainless steel water bottle that is not supposed to be washed in the dishwasher because that will eventually break down the insulation. Hand washing the bottle with soap is not a good alternative, because it starts to make the water taste soapy. Enter Heloise. I’ve learned to throw a spoonful of vinegar into the bottle, add some water, slosh it around, rinse it out, and, voila—a clean bottle that continues to keep cold liquids cold and hot liquids hot and tasting good.

In a previous post, I’ve talked about how I generally use a French Press to make coffee at home. However, we do have a normal drip coffee maker for when we need to make larger quantities of coffee. Occasionally, it starts acting wonky, like something is clogged. The solution, naturally, is vinegar. Run a mixture of equal parts vinegar and water through one brew cycle, then run it through another cycle using just water in order to rinse it out. Voila! Problem solved. (But take it from me—you don’t want forget to go through that rinse cycle before you brew your next pot of coffee!)

I’ve also started running vinegar through my washing machine when it starts smelling a little funky or when the suds don’t seem to all be rinsing out.

I assume you realize that in all of these cases, I’m talking about regular distilled white vinegar. But it turns out cider vinegar also can be useful in tackling one extremely annoying household problem—fruit flies. If you ever find yourself battling fruit flies after bringing home one bad banana, here’s how you can make a trap to rid your home of those little suckers for good. Pour a little cider vinegar into the bottom of a jar. Roll up a piece of paper into a cone shape, and stick the narrow end of the cone into the jar. Fruit flies will be attracted to the cider vinegar like a magnet, where their own gluttony will lead them to the bottom of the cone, where, unable to escape, they face a certain liquidy death.

So there you have it; I’m afraid that’s the extent of my handy DIY household hints. But if you want more, don’t worry—Heloise is still at it today!