Americans spend millions of dollars each year on expensive elixirs and ointments to solve some common problems that we all experience at one time or another when you probably have some inexpensive products in your closets and cupboards that will perform the same thing without the synthetic chemicals that we have all become accustomed to using every day.

The tricks and tips I am describing in this column are not dangerous but I would still advise you to use your head and try them at your own risk. I will not be responsible for misuse of the tips in the following paragraphs.

My first experience with using a simple solution to an apparently difficult issue was when I was trying to learn to make fudge. The recipe I had called for me to melt in an iron skillet a few cups of sugar. Not having the heavy cast iron available, I attempted to use the heaviest pot I had in the cupboard. I poured the sugar on it and applied the heat and waited. I never saw sugar melt before without a liquid in which it would dissolve so I almost eagerly anticipated this miraculous kitchen moment. And waited. And waited. And waited. And then it happened. The sugar burned and blackened and did all sorts of ugly things but melt.

I called my girlfriend now my wife and asked her how to get burned sugar out of the pot. She wasn't sure, but I thought since sugar dissolves in water perhaps water would dissolve the solidified mess.

That was a bad assumption on my part. I left water in the pot for two days and if anything dissolved it was my patience. The sugar remained steadfast in the bottom of the pot. I tried scrubbing it and scouring it and almost anything I could think of including steel wool. Nothing seemed to work.

So I did the only other thing I could think of; I called my Dad. I figured maybe he would have some idea how to clean the pot. He told me to bring it over and he would see what he could do. Somehow I pictured him with a benzene torch just burning the sugar to cinders in the pot. I don't know if that would work, but I had complete faith in him.

And it worked. A day later he called me and said he cleaned the pot. I went to his house to retrieve it and sure enough all of the sugar was gone.

I was dumbfounded because I just assumed that it was melted to the pot.

"How did you clean this?" I asked. He laughed and said, "Vinegar." "Vinegar?"

As it turned out that was exactly what my father used. He filled the pot with a few inches of vinegar and reheated the pot on a high heat until the vinegar eroded the burnt sugar from the bottom of the pot. When the last of the sugar was eaten away by the hot vinegar, he was finished and simply poured the mess out into a waste jar and finally washed out the pot. I was amazed but then I looked into other things vinegar could do besides dress salad and I was pretty impressed.

There are literally thousands of uses for vinegar and just as many for baking soda. Since that incident I have found creative ways to use these two common compounds that I would not have believed would work. One of the most innovative uses I found for vinegar saved literally hundreds of dollars in medication for me. I have always had a problem with calluses and athlete's foot from time to time. I have used the salves and oils and other modern medicines to cure the problem but nothing really succeeded for me until one night I read on a site about vinegar.

The premise is that athlete's foot is caused by fungus in the skin that grows on the foot. Topical treatments kill the fungus as do internal medicines. The site that was discussing homeopathic treatments pointed out that this fungus needs to be treated daily for several months to kill it. This is because it takes about six months for the layers of your skin to completely cycle and shed the contaminated layers. If you do not treat it for the full cycle, the fungus will work its way back down into the healthy layers.

The author said by soaking your feet in a 30-50 percent vinegar solution with warm water nightly for a six month period, it would not only kill the fungal problems but soften the feet.

I had a hard time believing this, but after years of issues, I was willing to try it. My next trip to the supermarket resulted in a 5 gallon bottle of white vinegar coming home. That evening and nightly for the next several months I mixed a nightly foot bath and the result of that six month experiment was soft, healthy feet with clear nails. My disbelief that a $5 investment could perform such a miracle was dissolved and I was converted.

I continued soaking my feet and it seemed to keep them clear for several months. I did stop soaking them after that and they were clear for a year or two, but then the condition recurred and when I attempted to treat it again, I learned something important. It's not good to use this remedy if your feet have cracks as the vinegar being an acid burns the lower sensitive layers of your skin. That said, if you don't have such cracks, this solution saves a few hundred dollars in medicine and seems perfectly worthwhile.

Those are just a couple of the more original uses I have made of vinegar and now I always try to keep a full 5 gallon bottle on hand just in case I need it.

Til next timeā€¦