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Make It Yourself: Copper Cleaner, Aluminum Cleaner and Dishwasher Detergent, Too

There are so many good reasons to make your own household cleaners. It’s cheaper, healthier and greener, too. The homemade household cleaners I share with you from time to time do not contain chemicals. That means you can always count on them to be non-toxic.

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DEAR MARY:  The copper post tops on my deck are becoming tarnished. Do you know of a natural (cheap) way that I can clean them without causing any damage to the copper? I’m enclosing a picture of this problem. Patti


DEAR PATTI: I really like this beautiful treatment on your deck. Thanks for sending the photo (always a good idea, by the way). I do have a solution for you using ordinary items from your pantry. It is cheap to make, easy to use and works great. Best of all it contains no toxic chemicals.

Copper Cleaner

6 tablespoons table salt
6 tablespoons flour
white vinegar

Make a paste of equal parts salt and flour with a few tablespoons of white vinegar. Apply to copper item with a soft cloth and rub gently to remove tarnish. Rinse with water and dry.


DEAR MARY: I have inherited a set of vintage aluminum canisters. Somewhere along the line, this canisters were washed in the dishwasher and came out so discolored they are no longer pretty. I have tried a couple of cleaning methods that did nothing to restore their beauty. Do you have any suggestions? Ina

DEAR INA: Most aluminum is best washed by hand with dishwashing liquid to prevent a change in color and feel of the metal. When washed in a dishwasher, aluminum cookware and other items like these canisters can react and darken due to mineral content in the water, chemicals in the detergent, or high heat from the dryer. In most but not all cases, this change in appearance is not permanent.

I am confident that you can remove the discoloration using natural, ordinary items such as lemon juice, vinegar or cream of tartar (made into a paste by adding a bit of water), depending which you have handy. Apply with a soft cloth or sponge. Never steel wool or anything other type of abrasive applicator .that can scratch the aluminum. Rub gently, rinse with warm water and buff dry with a clean, soft cloth.

Any of these options should remove the discoloration and provide fast, effective results without damaging the metal.


DEAR MARY: I’m hoping you have a recipe for homemade automatic dishwasher detergent. Thanks in advance. Preston


DEAR PRESTON: Are you willing to experiment a bit? The following recipe has met with mixed reviews, due to (I believe) how hard the water is. Experimenting with it will not do harm, but your results may vary depending on this one variable. Provided you do not have a home water softener system in place, give this a try.

Mix together equal parts borax and baking soda. Store in a dry place in a container that has a tightly fitting life. To use: Add 2 tablespoons to the detergent holding area (measure it, don’t just dump some in). Also, instead of a commercial rinse aid, you can fill that reservoir with white distilled vinegar.

Caution: Do not use this homemade dishwasher detergent if your home has a water softener system in place. The reaction between that system and this homemade detergent could permanently etch glassware.

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3 replies
  1. Sherry Thurbide says:

    A few drops of dawn dish soap for your dishwasher detergent, PUT IN YOUR DISPENSER Vinegar for rinse aid ,Put in rinse aid dispenser

  2. loraherrin says:

    I use half a lemon and salt to clean the bottoms of Revere Ware pans. The lemon and salt are reactive and clean all the tarnish off, quickly.

  3. Maria says:

    Dear Mary,
    Over the years I’ve gained so much knowledge by reading your handy tips & just wanted to share a wonderful tip with you today. Recently we had a tenant leave one of our homes with several pretty big holes in the wall where she had put in screws to hang pictures. We didn’t want to go through the trouble of patching the hole and touching it up with paint so we took regular kid’s play chalk to fill in the holes. They are totally unnoticeable, Mary, and the holes were gone in no time flat. Thanks for all your wonderful information!


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