When you spill some salt, do you toss a pinch over your left shoulder? If so, you are passing down to your family a legend that reflects the importance of this now common kitchen staple to our culture.
Salt was such an expensive and desired commodity in civilizations past that spilling some was thought to be bad luck. Leonardo D Vinci even depicts Judas Iscariot knocking over some table salt in his painting of The Last Supper. According to superstition, if you toss a pinch of spilled salt over your shoulder, you could ward off any ill effects.
Used as both a religious offering and as a valuable trade commodity, salt and the history of man have been intertwined for thousands of years. In fact, the Latin word for “salt” – “salarium” — is the basis for our word “salary.” Records show that the ancient Greeks exchanged salt for slaves, a practice that caused the expression “not worth his salt” to be coined.
Salt, which has the chemical name sodium chloride, occurs naturally in many parts of the world with seawater as its most plentiful source. It is the most widely used food preservative in the world and is an essential element to the diet of humans, animals and many plants. Readily available and inexpensive today, you probably have one or two familiar looking 26-ounce circular cardboard cartons on your pantry shelf.
As you look to simplify your lifestyle by finding multiple purposes for items in your home, you may be surprised to discover that salt can do much more than flavor your food. We’ve put together a list of some of the many ways you can put salt to work for your family.
1. Cleaning agent. Salt’s abrasive structure works well as a cleaning agent either by itself or in tandem with other natural products such as white vinegar or baking soda . Here are a few ideas:
- Sprinkle salt on spillovers inside the oven. The salt will help to lessen smoke and smell and, when the mess has cooled, it will be easier to clean away.
- To effectively scour pots and pans, make a paste of salt, baking soda and dish soap. This paste also works on appliances, enamel and porcelain.
- Help prevent grease buildup in your drain by regularly pouring salt mixed with hot water down your kitchen sink.
- Remove water rings left from beverage glasses or hot plates on your wood tables by gently rubbing a mixture of vegetable oil and salt on the white marks.
- Mixing salt with dish soap can boost its effectiveness in removing those stubborn coffee and tea stains from cups.
- Clean your cutting board by scrubbing it with a stiff brush and a solution of salt and white vinegar. Rinse with hot water.
- Clean and deodorize the inside of your refrigerator with a natural mixture of salt and soda water.
- Get the yucky smell out of kitchen sponges by soaking them overnight in a saltwater solution.
2. Personal care. Gargling with warm water mixed with salt can help to soothe a sore throat and mouth sores. Salt also is useful in other areas of health and hygiene.
Try making your own natural toothpaste by mixing together one part salt and two parts baking soda. While we are on the subject of teeth, you can extend the life of your toothbrush by soaking it in salt water before you use it the first time.
3. Bug problems. Ants will steer clear of salt. Sprinkle some salt on window sills or in doorways where you have seen ants. Salt also is useful in soothing the pain of a bee sting. Moisten the area and place a small pile of salt on it for quick relief. Try a poultice of salt and olive oil to help get rid of the discomfort and itch of mosquito bites.
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4. Cooking helper: Here are some other ways a little shaker of salt can be a big helper in the kitchen:
- The next time you are peeling potatoes or apples, try dropping them in a pot of lightly salted water to keep their color fresh until you are ready to cook or serve them.
- Take a tip from cheese makers. Prevent mold growth on cheese by wrapping it in a cloth moistened with saltwater before putting it in the refrigerator.
- Soak pecans and walnuts in a salt water solution for a few hours to make it easier to remove their shells.
- Baking a cake? Add a pinch of salt to the bowl when you are beating egg whites or whipping cream for quicker and firmer peaks.
- Similarly, adding a pinch of salt to your cake icing will help keep it smooth.
- Keep a box of salt handy near the stove or barbecue grill. Water will serve to splatter burning grease, but salt will help to smother the fumes in the event of a grease flare-up. Here’s another fire tip: By dousing a fireplace fire with salt, you not only can safely extinguish flames before retiring for the night, you also will have less soot and mess to clean up later.
5. Weed killer. Get rid of those annoying weeds  that spring up in the cracks of your sidewalk, driveway or patio by spreading salt between the cracks, then sprinkling the area with water. A mixture of three pounds of salt with a gallon of soapy water applied with a sprayer can even kill poison ivy. Just be sure to avoid your other plants and flowers.
6. Shoe freshener. Got stinky canvas shoes? Avoid the expense of commercial shoe deodorizers by sprinkling salt inside your canvas shoes and leaving it there to soak up moisture and to absorb odor overnight.
7. Laundry. Blot up spills of wine, grape juice or ketchup on your tablecloth and then immediately cover the stain with a pile of salt to help pull the liquid away from the fabric. Then soak the tablecloth in cold water for about 30 minutes before laundering as usual. This method also works on similar stains, including those caused by blood, on clothing.
Adding salt to your laundry detergent can help remove sweat stains from clothing as well as the odor of sweat from your family’s work or exercise clothes. If you have hard water, salt can help cut down on all the extra detergent suds you probably get as well.
Here’s a way salt can help when red wine or grape juice is spilled on your carpet. While the red wine is still wet, pour some club soda on it to dilute the color. Now blot with a clean cloth and cold water. Sprinkle the entire area with salt and wait about ten minutes before vacuuming.
You also can use salt to help prevent color fading in new sheets and towels. By adding a quarter cup of salt to the first two or three washes, you can help set the vibrant colors of the fabric so that they will not bleed or fade. Later on, you help revive colors by laundering sheets, towels or washable rugs in a saltwater solution.
At little more than 50 cents for a 26-ounce package and even less expensive in bulk quantities, salt can be a powerful helper around your home.
Know of other ways to use salt? Let us know in the comments below.