Old-Time Life Hacks That Are Almost Too Strange To Be True

If you’re not familiar, life hacks are stunts to make everyday work simpler, and who doesn’t like a trick, shortcut, skill or novelty that increases productivity, lessens the time involved, and boosts efficiency? Old-time life hacks run the gamut from relatively mild to disgusting or dangerous. From raw beef for wrinkle prevention to cleaning paintings with potatoes, there's no shortage of life hacks from days gone by. Here are some of the most memorable, though it's probably best not to try these at home.


An Easy Remedy for Chapped Hands — In her 1867 book The Family Save-All, Hanna Peterson supplied readers with a homegrown cure for chapped hands: ¼ pound of hog’s lard — rinsed first in water and then in rosewater — the yolks of 2 fresh-laid eggs, a spoonful of honey, and ground oatmeal. Spread the mixture over your hands, and that’s it. Carry on about your day with greasy — and possibly germy — hands.

Stuff Your Mattress With Leaves — Another Family Save-All suggestion for those who couldn’t afford feather beds was to gather a bunch of dried beech tree leaves and stuff them itno your mattress. Why beech tree leaves? The leaves are “very elastic and won’t harbor vermin.”

Save “Iffy” Meat By Putting It Outside — According to Hervey J. Seaman’s 1899 book The Expert Cleaner, to prolong the shelf life of meat that has already begun to go bad, simply put it outside “in the cool night air.” If a raccoon steals it, well……that’s probably for the best.

Save Nearly-Sour Dairy — Again, Seaman has an idea concerning food. If your cream or milk is starting to sour, add a generous pinch of borax (a powdery white substance, also known as sodium borate) per quart. One little side note: Borax was found to cause everything from gastrointestinal distress to vomiting, depending on the dose. In 1906 the FDA banned borax.

Determine the Authenticity of Butter With Fire — If you bought a pack of Gallaher’s cigarettes in the early 20th century, you might find a little card inside with a little hint on it. One such hint suggested that to find out if your butter is actually butter or margarine hiding in plain sight, simply smear some on a piece of paper and set it on fire. Pure butter emits a “dainty and agreeable” odor, while margarine gives off “an unpleasant tallowy smell.”