For something so small and simple, toothpicks are a remarkably handy thing to have around. Aside from their obvious use in keeping your teeth clean, they've been used by generations of cooks and bakers as a way to test cakes for doneness, or pin those pineapple rings and maraschino cherries to a baked ham. That just barely scratches the surface of the humble toothpick's versatility, because it has any number of surprising home uses as well.
1. Patch a Leaking Hose
Your garden hose can sometimes take a lot of abuse in the course of a summer, and — especially if it gets kinked — can spring a leak or two along its length. That reduces the pressure at your nozzle or sprinkler, and can also be a waste of water. For a quick fix, locate the leaky spot and push the narrow tip of a toothpick into the hole as firmly as you can. Snip off the excess, so the end of the toothpick is flush with the hose, then dry the area carefully and wrap it with duct tape. The patch won't last forever, but it will extend the life of your hose for a couple of months until you can conveniently replace it.
2. Reset Those Electronics
Anyone with a social media account knows that the single most-used piece of tech troubleshooting advice is to "turn it off and back on again," a simple and useful suggestion that has spawned countless memes. Perhaps the second-most common, if that first step doesn't work, is to locate and press the device's "reset" button. Those are often recessed into a small hole on the back or underside of the device, so they can't be pushed accidentally, and you need something small to reach in and press the button. A toothpick is just the right size, and unlike a straightened paper clip it's unlikely to tear or puncture the button's protective cover.
3. Moisture Test Your House Plants
House plants bring life and color and freshness to any room, and some can even clean pollutants from your indoor air. Those are all positives, but some people struggle to keep them alive and flourishing. Often the problem is one of over- or under-watering, which is hard to judge unless you're an experienced gardener. A good rule of thumb is to water whenever the soil is dry to a depth of an inch or so. To test, stick a toothpick into the soil as if you were testing a cake. If crumbs of soil or moisture are visible when you pull it out, the soil is still fine. If the toothpick is bone dry, it's time to reach for your watering can.
4. Mark the End of the Tape
If you want a testimonial to the versatility of tape, just walk to that aisle of your local hardware store and consider how many kinds there actually are. There's a tape for almost every purpose imaginable, and they all seem to have one thing in common: Finding the end of the roll, and getting it started, is more work than it really should be. To make life easier for yourself, make sure the toothpicks are handy when you're working with the tape. When you're done, place a toothpick across the end of the tape and roll the tape around it. The toothpick keeps the tape from sticking to itself, and provides an easy "handle" for you to grasp the end.
5. Fix a Stripped Screw
Nails work well for fastening pieces of wood together, but screws are even better. They're not perfect, of course. With time and use they can work loose, and if they're over-tightened they can strip the wood inside the screw hole. Fixing the problem by oving the screw to a new spot leaves an unsightly hole, and sometimes it's just plain not possible. To work around that kind of difficulty, reach for your toothpicks. Remove the screw and slide one or more toothpicks into the hole, breaking them off so they're flush with the surface. When you drive the screw back in, its threads will grip on the toothpicks and hold firmly.
6. Conceal Nail Holes
Large holes in a wall or a piece of wood require a bit of effort to repair, with some kind of filler or perhaps even a patch. Smaller holes are easier to deal with, and often a toothpick is all you need. Insert the thin end of the toothpick into the hole as far as it will go, then use a pair of scissors or a side cutter to clip it flush to the surface of the wall or board. Slightly larger holes might require two or three. For a more permanent fix, apply a drop or two of wood glue or construction adhesive to each toothpick first. To finish the repair, sand the head of the toothpick flush with the surface and then paint or stain if necessary.
7. Remove Scale From a Shower Head
Over time, the minerals in your local water supply can sometimes clog up the small holes in your shower head. This restricts water flow, and over time it can result in a rather unsatisfactory shower. To fix the problem, soak the shower head in a vinegar-water solution, or commercial descaling liquid. After it's soaked and rinsed, use the tip of a toothpick to physically remove the softened buildup (you may need to soak it more than once). A toothpick is sturdy enough to get the scale off, but unlike metal implements it won't damage the shower head. The same trick works on your garden hose nozzle and sprinkler, as well.
8. Save on Salad Dressings
Making your own salad dressing is a good way to maximize freshness and minimize additives, but bottled dressings from the supermarket are more convenient when you're pressed for time. They do have one major inconvenience of their own, though, which is a tendency to glop out more dressing than you really wanted. A simple toothpick is the solution to that problem. Instead of peeling off the foil freshness seal of your next bottle, use a toothpick to puncture the seal in several spots. Start with just a few, and give the bottle a squeeze to see how much comes out. As a rule, you'll need fewer holes for a thin dressing and more for a thick one. Once you're happy with how it flows, just cap the bottle and put it back in the fridge for next time.
9. Keep Those Dogs on the Grill
Steaks, chops and burgers are nice and flat, and perfectly suited for grilling. Hot dogs and some sausages are less obliging. Because they're round, they'll often try to roll right off of your grill while they cook. That's great for your dog, but not so much for the humans. To keep that from happening, push a toothpick or two crosswise through each dog or sausage. They'll keep the dogs from trying to escape, and you can simply pull them out when you're done. The same trick works for veggies like asparagus, as well, and will help keep the skinny spears from simply falling through the grill.
10. Vent a Pot Lid
Some of the most stubborn, irritating kitchen messes begin with a pot boiling over, and the resulting splash burning solidly onto the cooking surface. Many pot lids now come with a small vent hole built in, to help prevent that from happening, but it's not universal. If your pot lids are the solid variety, you can protect yourself from boil-overs with a few toothpicks. Any time you can't give a pot your undivided attention, just prop up the edge of the lid with a toothpick or two. This creates enough space for steam to escape. It also works great when reheating foods in a dish in the microwave. You can even use this trick in reverse, propping open the lid of a still-warm pot to speed cooling when you put it in the fridge.