And Other Clever Tricks from Japan

Japan is well-known for its urawaza — clever, do-it-yourself tricks for using household products to solve common problems. Here are strategies that have worked for others and may just work for you…


Cure the hiccups with a Q-tip. Briefly touch one end of a Q-tip to the small piece of flesh that dangles in the back of your throat (uvula).

Why it works: This triggers your gag reflex, which interrupts the spasms of your diaphragm. No hiccup cure works 100% of the time, but this one is more effective than many others.

Clear a stuffy nose with scallions. People with stuffy noses shouldn’t take over-the-counter nasal decongestants too often — overuse can cause increased congestion. Scallions can serve as a substitute. Cut the top fronds off two scallions, then very gently put the thick white root part into each nostril. (Warning: Do not shove it high up your nose.) Your nose should start to clear in as little as one minute.

Why it works: Like other members of the onion family, scallions contain chemical compounds that make the eyes water and the nose run.


Fix a scratched CD with toothpaste. Place a small dab of white toothpaste on a cotton ball, and gently apply it over the CD’s scratch, starting the cotton ball at the middle of the CD and moving it outward. Use a small amount of water and a second, clean cotton ball to remove any excess toothpaste. Let the CD air-dry.

Why it works: The mild abrasives in toothpaste gently smooth out the sharp edges of the scratch. It’s those sharp edges that diffract the CD player’s laser beam, causing it to skip. This works only on shallow scratches — deep scratches might be beyond repair.

Make old, formerly water-resistant cloth jackets water-resistant again with a hair dryer. Set a hair dryer to high, then slowly move it around the outer surface of the jacket.

Why it works: Many, though not all, waterproof cloth garments are treated with something called a “durable water-repellent coating.” Over time, the coating starts to deteriorate, decreasing its effectiveness. Heat can reactivate the water-repelling properties.


Clean pen marks off your hands with a tea bag. Brew a cup of green or black tea, then rub the used tea bag over the pen marks on your skin.

Why it works: Catechin, a chemical compound found in these teas, combines with the pigments and oils in the pen ink, lifting the ink from the skin. The fabric of the tea bag acts as a mild scrubber.

Remove stickers or tape from mirrors or windows with mayonnaise. Stickers and tape often leave adhesive residue behind when they are peeled from mirrors or windows. Scraping the residue away can take a lot of effort. Instead, place a dab of mayonnaise on a paper towel, and apply this to the adhesive. After a minute or two, the adhesive residue should give way without much scrubbing or scraping — sometimes it simply wipes away with a paper towel.

Why it works: The vegetable oil in mayonnaise dissolves most common adhesives. In fact, you can use vegetable oil to remove adhesive residue, but the oil’s more liquid consistency means it won’t stay in place over the adhesive while you’re rubbing.

Pick up broken glass with bread. Hundreds of tiny shards often are spread across the floor when glass breaks. Sweeping never removes them all. Next time glass breaks in your home, sweep away the larger pieces, then press a few slices of bread onto the broken-glass area.

Why it works: Even very small shards will lodge in the bread.

Warning: Dispose of these slices of bread immediately so that people and pets don’t mistake them for food.

Clean a toilet bowl with mouthwash. Pour about one cup of mouthwash in the toilet bowl. After 15 to 20 minutes, a quick swipe with a toilet brush should be all it takes to make the bowl’s surface sparkle.

Why it works: The disinfectants in mouthwash are designed to make teeth shine and kill germs, but they are equally effective at polishing toilet surfaces and killing toilet germs.

Remove burn marks from a pan with eggshells. Crush an eggshell, then rub the shell fragments against the burned areas with your fingers. Do not use on nonstick surfaces, because it could scratch.

Why it works: The calcium carbonate in eggshells is an abrasive that does a nice job of scrubbing away burns. The small amount of egg white still present on the shell fragments absorbs the loose particles for a clean, shiny finish.


Save a diseased plant with garlic. Grate a single clove of garlic into two cups of water, then pour this mixture around the base of the plant. This works particularly well for the fungus that often kills basil.

Why it works: Garlic contains a compound called phytoncide that kills many common plant root fungi and inhibits certain other plant diseases.

Extend the life of cut flowers with bleach. Add a few drops of bleach to the water in the vase.

Why it works: The disinfecting properties of bleach inhibit the bacterial and mildew growth that often robs cut flowers of their beauty.

Alternative: Drop a penny minted prior to 1982 into the vase water. The copper kills bacteria. (Pennies minted after mid-1982 are mostly zinc and won’t help your flowers.)