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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.

9 Best Essential Oils for Your Survival Kit | Backdoor Survival

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

  1. Love your list, but please re-think your posting for compressed air. Here is an article everyone should read before using canned air:

  2. Regarding cleaning, compressed air is also an easy way to “dust” your silk flowers/plants if you have them.

  3. Dental floss: Another essential use for dental floss is as a suture when someone cuts themselves. Use it to sew up the wound just like sutures. It is sanitary when packaged. Of course, give it a good dousing of alcohol and use the best sanitary procedures that are available at the time.

  4. Besides the compressed air can you can also use the Rocket air blower from Giottos or similar products. This way you won’t need to replace the can in time.

  5. Amazon, E-bay, Craigslist and all the others. Sure is amazing how short sighted people really are.
    Seems they all want their local merchants to do is donate and help with their charities etc. but, when it comes to supporting those who can really give them sound advice… “well, we think we can get it cheaper or better on one of the above.”
    “We” Stink!
    A local hardware store probably has several of the Eclectic Products (company that makes Shoe Goo) that the average person would find useful.
    The same store can explain the differences between various types of duct tape and even show you some tapes that are far better for specific purposes. But online is soooo convenient… and so impersonal!
    And sure the Swiss Army Knife is useful (made by two different companies) However, there are also at least four major brands of plier tools that are superior to a pocket knife in many ways.
    One final thought: If an EMP or other power destroying event happens how well will Amazon work? Hmmm?
    Why should a local merchant stock deep or broad categories knowing the only time he will be visited is when all else fails?

  6. A spool of pliable (bailing) wire and wire pliers. ( comes in various gauges ) Otherwise, use a wire coat hangar. Used to fix and keep things together for over a Hundred Years. Black electrical tape too. Coffee or soup cans used to patch an exhaust system rust through, or stove pipe. Seems Gorilla Tape is now the new darling when it comes to holding something in place on just about any surface for a lengthy period…

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