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14 Essentials to Help You Fix and Clean Almost Anything

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: November 30, 2021
14 Essentials to Help You Fix and Clean Almost Anything

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Back in 2011, I wrote a little piece about the importance of having a selection of items on hand to fix and clean almost everything.  Since that time, my views have changed and whereas many of the items on the original list still hold a prominent place in my fix-it kit, some have dropped off and others have been added.

Given that my focus this year is on simplicity as well as frugality, this is a great time to go back and credo this list because let’s face it.  Life is filled with little fix-it and clean-it tasks.

14 Essentials to Help You Fix and Clean Almost Anything | Backdoor Survival

Life is Filled with Things to Fix and Things to Clean

We live in a throwaway society where it is less costly to throw something out and buy new, than to have it repaired.  Along those same lines, messes happen and we have to clean up after ourselves.  It is a fact of life.

Most all of us have a traditional tool box and a conventional cleaning bucket. You know the kind:  hammer, saw, screwdrivers, drill, clamps all kinds of stuff.  Add some fancy, schmancy household cleaners, various types of cleaning wipes and the next thing you know, you will have as much fix-it and clean-it gear as you have items to fix and to clean.

Some of this is good, and some of it is not.  I say that because space is precious and those one-use products we just had to have while strolling the aisles at Home Depot are now taking up valuable real estate in our closets and cupboards.  I don’t know about you but for me, I could make better use of that space by storing bulky emergency supplies not the least of which is TP and biomass.

This morning I took a stroll around my house and took inventory of those essential items that take up my own handy dandy fix-it and clean-its.  These are xx useful doo-dads and other supplies that will hold it together and solve many if not most of those annoying little fix it and cleaning tasks in any household, large or small.

14 Useful Items to Fix or Clean Almost Anything

1.  Duct Tape:  No surprise here.  It is strong, flexible and waterproof.  Cut it to size and shape it anyway you want.  Hold stuff together, fix rips, mend broken glass, and even use it as a splint.  You can repair vacuum cleaner hoses and catch flies.  You can even make yourself up as the Tin Man for Halloween.  The possibilities are so endless that there are websites devoted to the stuff.  And the bonus?  Duct tape comes in all colors as well as small, portable “to go” packs.

Read more about the uses of duct tape in 50 Ways to Use Duct Tape for Survival.

2.  Elmer’s Glue:  It is amazing how useful this classic kiddie glue can be. Use it to glue wood moldings back on to the wall, fix the loose heel or flapping sole of you shoes or to repair tears in the upholstery.  Glue together ripped seams or hems in your clothing.  Put a coating of Elmer’s on a splinter, let it dry then peel it off.  Out comes the splinter.

My favorite?  Patch nail holes in the wall by squirting in a bit of glue, waiting for it to dry, then painting over of patched hole.  No messy, sticky spackle to deal with and clean up is with simple soap and water.  Elmer’s can be used for so many things that I include a small bottle in my suitcase when I travel.

3.  Swiss Army Knife/Pocket Tool:  When all else fails, use a compact Swiss army knife.  Many come with two types of screwdrivers, a Phillips and a flat head, plus a scissors that is really sharp, a nail file, can opener and yes, even a corkscrew.  Lest I forget, a knife blade or two a typically included as well.  Use your Swiss army knife to open the mail, open a package, or cut your toenails.  Very handy indeed.

4.  Zip Ties (also called tie wraps or cable ties):  I carry these everywhere, including my handbag, my backpack and my luggage when I travel.  What are they?  Strong nylon bands with a slotted head at one end.  When you wrap the plain end around something, you come full circle and slip it through the slotted head where it locks in to place.  Once locked in to place, the item is solidly bound together – only to become unbound when you cut the tie.  (This is where your Swiss army knife will come in handy.)

Use the zip ties to hold cables or cords together, bundle kindling or firewood, secure car parts that have come loose, and more.  One unconventional use is to wrap a zip tie around the hose bib preventing passers-by from stealing our water.  Zip ties come in all lengths and you can piece 4 or 5 together to make a super zip tie.  As with the duct tape, they come in a rainbow of colors, but I prefer clear, which is the least expensive.

5.  Dental Floss:  Remove dental floss from the bathroom and it becomes super-string. You can use it to sew on buttons, substitute for a broken shoelace, make a temporary clothesline, or hang your stuff from a tree while out in the woods. Use it to mend a hole in your backpack by making a floss patch by darning over the hole back and forth until it is covered – just be sure to also carry a large needle with you as well.  Dental floss even has a place in the kitchen or on picnics where it can be used to neatly slice a cake or a hunk of cheese.  Of course, you can and should use floss to clean your teeth and gums, too.

6.  WD-40 or other spray lubricant:  Have a stuck zipper?  Get out the WD-40.  Rusty garden tools?  Get out the WD-40.  Greasy marks on the floor?  Yes, get out the WD-40.  This stuff is also so popular (like the ubiquitous duck tape) that there are fan clubs and web sites devoted to the stuff.  Other uses include fixing sticky drawers, squeaky hinges and surprise! scuffed up leather that needs a quick conditioning.  Heck, forget about the scuffs.  If your shoes are too tight, spray them with a bit of WD-40 and they will stretch ever so slightly to fit the shape of your foot.

Another good use of WD-40 is to loosen rings that can not be removed from swollen fingers.  The same thing applies to with glassware or bowls that are is stuck together.  Spray it on and they will become unstuck.

7.  Compressed Air:  The first time I purchased compressed air was to clear out the dust bunnies inside my computer chassis,  Now I use it for a lot of other things:  fan blades, the vents on electronic equipment, dirty keyboards, the head of Survival Husbands electric shaver, all kinds of stuff.  Use it to clean the dust off of lamp shades and to get grime out of the nooks and crannies of collectables or even fancy woodwork.  By the way, compressed air is not air at all; it is actually a compressed gas.

8. Baking Soda:  Non-toxic baking soda can be used to clean, scour, polish, deodorize and remove odors. It will smother grease fires and remove musty smells from your carpets.  It can be used to remove food stains from your cookware and coffee stains from just about everything.  You can use baking soda to treat minor burns and to sooth poison ivy rashes.  Use it in the laundry to boost the power or your detergent and bleach so that you can save money by using less.  Use a paste of baking soda and water to remove corrosion from battery terminals.  Baking soda can even be used to clean your teeth.

I could list 101 uses for baking soda but if I did, I would be leaving another 999 uses off the list.  Dirt cheap and easily accessible with a forever shelf live, baking soda needs to be in your clean-it kit.

9.  White Vinegar:  White vinegar is another inexpensive and versatile item to have in your tool box.  Mix a quarter cup with water and you have a great spray cleaner.  Nothing beats this combo on hardwood floors. Vinegar kills germs and mold and it removes grease and stains and the buildup of mineral deposits on faucets and showerheads as well as in coffeemakers. It will remove mildew from shower curtains and “unglue” stickers and labels from your purchases.  Mix vinegar and baking soda to unclog drains in a hurry.  White vinegar even sweetens and softens your laundry.

You can buy white vinegar by the gallon for about $3.  Need convincing?  See 50 Reasons Why Preppers Need Vinegar in Their Stockpiles.

10.  Rubbing Alcohol:  As a disinfectant, rubbing alcohol can not be beat.  It has a number of medical uses including sanitizing cuts and abrasions before applying bandages and surprise surprise, as a rubdown to cool down feverish skin.  It does a great job cleaning windows and kitchen counters (along with or as an alternative to white vinegar).  Rubbing alcohol can remove ink and lipstick stains from fabrics and remove buildup from combs, brushes and gunky bathroom mirrors.  Use it to “defrost” icy windshields and get rid of fruit flies.

11.  Microfiber Cleaning Towels:  I call these magic rags. They are cheap, durable and lint free. They mop up spills like crazy and the tiny microfiber fingers work with plain old water to clean spots, grime and smudges. I became hooked on these over ten years ago and the old rags are still going strong, albeit a bit stained.  Use them on floors, counter tops, sinks, wood furniture, cars, glass tabletops and more,  Throw them in the wash – no bleach or fabric softener – and they are good as new again.  You can purchase a pack of a dozen for less than a buck a piece at  Costco.

About the only thing I use paper towels for these days is to wipe down my cast iron skillet and Dutch oven.  And recently, I have even replaced the stinky kitchen and bathroom sponges with microfiber rags   Sure, the sponges are cheap enough but by cutting them out of my cleaning routine, I have one less item to deal with under my sink and an extra $20 or $30 in my pocket at the end of the year.

12.  Cotton Hand Towels:  As much as I love my magic rags, I adore cotton hand towels.  In the old days, I believe they were called tea towels.  I use this in the kitchen as well as the bathroom.  They may not look as pretty as plush towels (which come out of hiding when guests are coming) but they sure do absorb water.

13. Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap:  Although I have made my own liquid castile soap, I like the convenience of Dr. Bronners.  I use it in my household cleaners as well as foaming hand soap dispensers.

14.  Paracord: No list of fix-it products would be complete without paracord.  This super strong cordage can be use for everything from tying up an intruder, to creating a makeshift clothesline, to holding a sprained arm in a sling.  My own list of uses for paracord can be found in 44 Fantastic Uses of Paracord for Prepping and Survival.

The Final Word

This list of fix-it, clean-it essentials was put together after a quick, walk-around inventory of my temporary home in Arizona.  These are the handful of items that have helped me keep things in good repair s well as clean and tidy during these past few months.

Needless to say, if I added my prep essentials, the list would be five times as long.  That is because to my way of thinking, having emergency food, water, and supplies, trumps having the odds and ends I need to get by  Home Depot.

All that being said, I would love to learn about your must have fix-it, clean-it essentials.  Care to share?   Do you have something simple and cheap that you simply can not do without?

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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Below you will find the items related to today’s article.

Victorinox Swiss Army Climber II Pocket Knife: This is the Swiss army knife that both Shelly and I carry.  It includes the following: large and small blades, two standard screwdrivers, bottle and can openers, a corkscrew, a wire stripper, scissors, key ring, reamer, and parcel hook. In addition, there is a tweezers and a toothpick that pull out of the end.

500 Assorted Zip Ties/Cable Ties:  This pack of zip ties will last a long time.  I used to purchase them in colors but now just purchase the clear ones; the extra cost of colored zip ties was not worth double the cost.

3M Heavy Duty All-Weather Duct Tape: This heavy duty duct tape happens to be a favorite in our household.  This tough duct tape adheres to surfaces quickly and strongly, and it won’t pull away. The best part is that it unwinds smoothly and tears by hand, so it’s easy to use.  You can’t say that about the cheap, Dollar Store stuff.

Gorilla Tape:  And then there is Gorilla Tape which is the really tough stuff for the really tough job.  For portability, Gorilla Tape To Go is extremely popular with Backdoor Survival readers.

Microfiber Cleaning Cloth, (Pack of 36): No list of essential supplies would be complete without these wonderful microfiber cloths. They will last you for years and will allow you to replace paper towels forever. Truly. I color code using blue for glass and windows and the other colors for everything else. I love these.

microfiber cloths

Cotton Craft Scandia Stripe 12 Pack Kitchen, Dish & Tea Towels: You are going to have to trust me when I say these are the best cotton towels out there.  I tried three different brands before I landed on these; they are heavier as well as larger and for lack of a better word, simply wonderful.

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps Pure-Castile Soap: Of all of the Dr. Bronner’s castile soaps, tea tree is my favorite.  I prefer to purchase the versions are already infused with essential oils since it does save me a step when concocting my own cleaners. A little goes a long way with a favorite use being DIY Foaming Hand Soap.

InterDesign Duo Foaming Soap Dispenser Pump:  I have had good luck with this type of foaming soap dispenser.  There are lots of styles to choose from and you can even try repurposing those that come prefilled from the Dollar store.

Paracord Planet Mil-Spec Commercial Grade 550lb Type III Nylon Paracord:  An ideal all-around utility cord in the field, paracord is tough and long lasting. It is made from 550-pound test nylon and features a seven-strand core for maximum strength. Also, it is manufactured in the United States.  Note that some colors may be more expensive than others.  Need ideas? See 44 Really Cool Uses of Paracord for Survival.


What are the best oils for your survival kit? Here are my top picks.

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27 Responses to “14 Essentials to Help You Fix and Clean Almost Anything”

  1. From having been left inside a camping trailer thru 3.5 seasons of heat and cold my hand-cranked rubber coated survival radio is now sticky to the touch. I have tried to restore and/or clean it but to no avail. Do you know of a solution for my problem?

  2. I’ve worn a Swiss Army Knife on my belt for over 40 years, but be aware: If you are caught with one in Philadelphia, you will go to jail.

    Any and ALL knives, no blade length exclusions, are illegal to carry in Philadelphia unless you are a tradesman whose job requires it AND you are actively on the job. A folding knife of any size whatsoever in your purse, pocket, on your belt, or apparently in your vehicle, is illegal in this part of the Land of the Free.

    Here’s the statute: “§10-820. Cutting Weapons in Public Places. [180]

    (1) Definition.

    Cutting Weapon. Any knife or other cutting instrument which can be used as a weapon that has a cutting edge similar to that of a knife. No tool or instrument commonly or ordinarily used in a trade, profession or calling shall be considered a cutting weapon while actually being used in the active exercise of that trade, profession or calling.

    (2) Prohibited Conduct. No person shall use or possess any cutting weapon upon the public streets or upon any public property at any time.

    (3) Penalty. The penalty for violation of this section shall be a fine of not less than three hundred (300) dollars and imprisonment of not less than ninety days.”

    Is this a violation of the Constitution? Of course it is. So what? Do you want to be the star in a test case?

    Once I found out about this law I decided that only in extraordinary circumstances would I again visit Philadelphia. They don’t deserve my money.

    Here’s a link to the law:


    • Glad I don’t live in Philly! BTW; What they don’t know – is – their problem. Carry whatever the HELL you want – just don’t flash it, show it, or talk about it. Self Survival 101 for Dummies! It’s that simple… Even a ROCK or a chunk of concrete can be a lethal weapon…in the rights hands.

  3. Most zip ties are junk. If used outside they will degrade and break in a short time. Look for ones made from Nylon if you want a long term fix on something. The difference between plastic and Nylon ties is like between string and paracord. Two other very useful items I use are Metal coat hangers(get them from someone who gets work uniforms commercially washed) and rebar wire (rebar wire is used to tie off rebar when pouring concrete) get it at Home Depot. Also I didn’t see super glue on the list. I’ve used it several times for emergency stitches. There’s a medical grade version called dermabond. Way more expensive of course.

  4. A little cheap vodka or similar alcohol works great as a spot cleaner for gluey label residue, Magic Marker marks and the like. We also keep a bottle of “Everclear” for medicinal purposes (making tinctures, etc.). It’s about the strongest alcohol you can easily obtain. Keep away from children, of course! Although rubbing alcohol has its place, you can’t consume it!

    HYDROGEN PEROXIDE is needed in every med kit. Considering it’s so inexpensive, have a a supply on hand at all times. We put some in a spray bottle for disinfecting surfaces. Again, keep safe from little explorers. There is a ‘food safe’ version that we prefer, but you may have to order it online.

    Don’t forget to keep a large supply of SALT! You can keep aside the specialty salt like Himalayan for culinary purposes. I’m talking about the cheap stuff. It can be used for cleaning, irrigating wounds (in solution), bathing, and endless other purposes. Required to sustain life!

    I also use white vinegar (the cheapest kind) to do a rinse for fine washables and handmade items that ‘bleed’ dye. End the final rinse with plain water.

    Microfiber towels are not just for utility cleaning. We found bath-sized towels for sale online and love them as they take only a few minutes to dry. Cotton terry takes forever, and takes lots more $ at the laundrymat. Think of a camping type situation where you don’t have all the modern appliances! Microfiber washcloths have more ‘scrubbing action’ than typical soft cotton versions. Hand towels, too.

    Cotton ‘tea’ towels have their place, however. They are thin, dry quickly, and can be used for food preparation (covering bread, straining liquids, etc.). If you can splurge, get LINEN tea towels. They cost a bit more, but will last much longer than cotton. If you sew, it’s easy enough to make your own. Just cut to size and hem them. We keep a few linen napkins in the medical kit. Linen withstands being boiled over and over. In the old days, linen garments were cleaned in boiling water (I suppose to kill any critters hiding within!).

    Compressed Air is nice, but you can also find soft dusting brushes that help when your can is finally empty. There are also ‘dry sponges’ you can get at hardware stores to clean things you can’t get wet, like lamp shades. On the other hand, we don’t personally keep things in our dwelling that are that delicate! 🙂

  5. One item that we use fairly frequently is Shoe Goo. We use it for many things and use it for sticking boots and shoes back together when they are worn. It works quite well.

    • I get Shoo Goo from Amazon. (Actually, I get everything from Amazon or so it seems.) It really does work on all sorts of things. I prefer the clear although it also comes in black. Link

    • Shoo Goo is also sold everywhere as Goop. Several varieties, not just for shoes. You can pick the Original Goop, which fixes just about anything, or one of the specialty formulas. Home Depot, Walmart, Ace Hardware, etc.
      Let it dry, preferably over night and it really works.
      [email protected]

  6. I’m considering buying a Haywire Klamper or a Clamptite tool. They look very useful in the videos I’ve seen.

  7. I have those old fashioned diaper pins in with my stuff They tend to be a bit stronger and bigger than safety pins and can go through quite a few layers of cloth if needed to hold things together (and I have the diapers to go with them 😉 )

    • I was going to add safety pins too. Not just for fastening but the sharp end is useful sometimes.
      Tweezers and possibly forceps also.
      A good water proof adhesive in addition to Elmers.

    • where can i get some good, sturdy diaper pins? the ones i’ve found lately are so flimsy they’re useless!

  8. I’m always looking for items to add to my “supplies” list, and here a found at least two
    that I will incorporate right away.
    Thanks again!!!

    • Europe is more different from USA than I thought. Every Swiss Army knife includes a corkscrew. I have never been in a situation where my life has depended upon the ability to open a bottle of wine.

    • I’m the opposite of you about the corkscrew. Though I don’t drink wine, I have stored some to turn into vinegar. Plus I used bottles which have corks and I store corks for when I don’t have rubber/plastic rings/lids for my vinegars and my herbal combinations. I did used to think like you.

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