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1 Oct 2021

9 popular TikTok homemade cleaning hacks explained

Cleaning expert Dr Primrose Freestone explains the science behind using dishwasher tablets in your washing machine, bi-carb on clothing stains and more

We scoured the internet (including the ever-popular TikTok) and asked Which? members to send in their favourite cleaning hacks - and the suggestions were fascinating.

To get under the surface of these popular tips - which include dishwasher tablets to clean washing machines and peanut butter to remove chewing gum - we got cleaning expert Dr Primrose Freestone, Associate Professor in Clinical Microbiology from the University of Leicester, to explain the science behind it all.

Read on for a full breakdown of how the cleaning magic happens and whether it's really a good idea to follow these tips.

Getting rid of visible dirt isn't the same as getting rid of bacteria and viruses. For tips on how to sterilise your home, see our story on how to clean your home effectively.

1. Using dishwasher tablets to clean your washing machine

  • Tip 1: 'This was actually recommended to me by a washing machine engineer over using more expensive tablets and machine cleaning products. When I get a notification to run a drum clean, I put a dishwasher capsule in the drum and run the cleaning cycle at 60°C.'

The chemical formulations of dishwasher tablets are different to washing machine cleaners, and are not designed to clean a washing machine. As such we recommend using proper washing machine cleaner to ensure yours lasts as long as possible.

However, dishwasher tablets and washing machine cleaners do share similarities. They both contain surfactants (which increase the 'wetting capacity' of water by reducing surface tension), detergents, and hard water softening chemicals which remove limescale build-up. Other cleaning agents include various bleaches.

Collectively these chemicals make water more effective at washing away any stains, which can be a mixture of fats, proteins and carbohydrates.

Dishwasher tablets also include enzymes which also wash help with protein build-up.

To get the best results out of your dishwasher, make sure to use Best Buy dishwasher tablets.

2. Denture cleaning tablets get rid of tea stains

  • Tip 2: 'When I want to de-stain cups, teapots, coffee pots or anything that has a food or drink stain (including wine glasses), I fill the item with water (cold or warm) and then drop one denture cleaning tablet in. Leave overnight or for a few hours and then empty out. Stain gone.'

Denture cleaning tablets contain cleaning agents which while designed to remove protein, plaque, tartar or other types of deposits on teeth, will work on stains on other hard surfaces.

The tablets can contain enzymes (such as the protease subtilisin), bleaches (such as sodium carbonate peroxide) and solubilising detergents (such as PEG-180 and sodium lauryl sulphate).

All of these can help remove stains.

3. Laundry detergent blasts through burnt-on marks

  • Tip 3: 'Some time ago I was given a tip about cleaning grimy grids from the grill and oven with laundry gel diluted in a little water. It really does shift the stubborn bits so they may only need a wipe with a washing up sponge to have them sparkling again.'

Laundry detergents contain hard-water softeners, surfactants, detergents, bleaches, enzymes and other additions specific to laundry cleaning.

Burnt-on food will likely be a mixture of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, which the enzymes will degrade, so a laundry detergent could help with this.

As you're cleaning items intended for food, we recommend washing the items as normal afterwards and rinsing thoroughly to get rid of any traces of detergent that could be left.

To get the brightest whites and vibrant colours, read our laundry detergent reviews to find the best.

4. Bicarbonate of soda gets rid of stains

  • Tip 4: 'Bicarbonate of soda will clean many stains, the fridge and also yellowing white fabrics so no bleach required. Tried and tested.'

Sodium bicarbonate forms a mild alkaline solution in water (around pH 8-8.5) and is a common ingredient in many cleaning products.

Because it is an alkali it can act as a buffer and increase the pH of water. Doing this can affect the charge (positive or negative) of stains, which can help them to dissolve more easily.

Sodium bicarbonate can also work as an abrasive, which could help to mechanically remove oil or food based stains from surfaces.

We tested a number of home stain removers, from bi-carb to lemon juice. Read our full story to find out if home remedy stain removers actually work.

5. Homemade wood cleaner using lemon juice and olive oil

  • Tip 5: 'Lemon juice and olive oil is perfect as a wood furniture spray/cleaner and cleans my piano much better and less harmfully than any horrible smelling and polluting furniture polish.'

Lemon juice contains citric acid which has many properties relevant to cleaning, such as softening hard water or solubilisation of fats. Similar to sodium bicarbonate, it can also affect the charge of stains to aid removal.

Olive oil in the wood cleaner helps improve the appearance of the wood, adding shine. The hydrophobic nature of the oil would also help to remove fat-based stains.

But we caution against using lemon juice or vinegar on everything in your home.

The corrosive nature of them will damage some things over time, including wood furniture and flooring. Read our full story to find out eight things you really shouldn't clean with vinegar.

Simple tips to get rid of nasty smells and flies from your kitchen.

6. Ammonia to clean tiles and carpet stains

  • Tip 6: 'For cleaning tiles, I put a little neat liquid ammonia on a damp cloth. It shines up wall tiles a treat, both in the bathroom and kitchen, removing grease and water marks. For cleaning rugs and carpets, I put one tablespoon of liquid ammonia in two pints of warm water as a cleaning solution.'

Firstly, we'd warn against cleaning with ammonia. Ammonia's toxicity means it's not recommended for household use, especially in a concentrated form.

It is a strongly basic and caustic chemical, which makes highly alkaline solutions (pH 11-12) in water. Concentrated ammonia is harmful if direct contact is made with the skin and eyes, and could cause respiratory damage.

As such, it should be used with caution and we recommend you wear gloves, an apron and a mask when handling it.

Ammonia and water mixed can be an effective cleaner. It chemically interacts with oil in stains in a process termed ammonolysis. Oils, which aren't soluble in water, are turned into amine compounds, which are soluble in water.

As a surfactant, ammonia also acts like soap and detergents, dispersing oil into smaller droplets in water which then can be rinsed away. Ammonia solutions are also antimicrobial.

7. Vinegar and citric acid to get rid of hard water marks

  • Tip 7: 'I soak a piece of kitchen towel in distilled vinegar, wrap around the tap and leave for an hour. I repeat if any residue remains, and it brings taps back to their shiny newness.'

Descaling agents are typically acidic compounds that react with the limescale of hard water stains.

Limescale is largely calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate. When coming into contact with an acid, these form carbon dioxide gas and water-soluble calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) salts, which can be more easily removed.

All acids will remove limescale and related stains, but the most frequently used are citric acid (found in lemon juice) and acetic acid (found in vinegar) as they are less likely to cause damage to the surface treated.

If hard water is a pain in your home, find out five simple ways to remove limescale from your kettle.

8. Bleach and cotton wool on black mould

  • Tip 8: 'The cotton wool needs to be rolled into sausage shapes and laid over the stained area. Then saturate with bleach and leave overnight. Next day remove and rinse with water. The black stains are completely removed. The mould will not recur in the treated area for quite a time.'

Bleach is the generic name for any chemical product that is used to remove colour from a stained fabric or surface.

Most household bleaches are derived from chlorine, which in water forms an acid that is also a powerful oxidizer.

Bleach is used to whiten stained laundry and to disinfect hard surfaces. Bleaches chemically oxidise or reducenatural coloured pigments (chromophores), turning them into colourless compounds.

Bleaches are also strongly antimicrobial, killing bacteria, viruses and fungi. So this is why it's effective in treating bathroom mildew.

If mould is a persistent problem in your home, read our full guide to dealing with damp.

9. Peanut butter to get chewing gum out of carpet

  • Tip 9: 'My daughter got chewing gum stuck in her carpet and had read in a story that peanut butter gets it out. We tried it and it works!'

We're well-aware of how crazy this cleaning hack sounds, but it can be explained with some science.

Most chewing gum will be made of three parts - a resin, a wax and an elastomer. Resin is the main chewable part of gum, while wax softens the gum and the elastomer adds flexibility.

As such, chewing gum is hydrophobic and largely non-soluble in water - so you need to use something with oil instead.

The main ingredient in peanut butter is ground peanuts, but natural oils are released by the nuts and oils such as palm oil can be added to give it a more smooth texture.

So, as crazy as it sounds, it's possible the oil in the peanut butter is softening the gum, allowing it be to be prised off the carpet.

We'd recommend using a neutral smelling and colourless oil, though, such as mineral oil.

To see how best to get rid of a range of common carpet stains, we tested lots of different home-made remedies, from washing-up liquid to white wine.

Read our story to find out which carpet stain remover home remedy is best.