21 Fun and Practical Uses for Old Straws

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iStock

It's said Americans use 500 million single-use plastic straws daily, and because they can't be recycled, they end up in landfills or in the world’s oceans—which is why some cities, restaurants, and QE2 herself are banning them. Rather than tossing the plastic straws you have around, give them a second life with these fun projects.

1. FLOWER HOLDERS

Bright, beautiful flowers in several clear vases.
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Slipping the stem of a droopy flower in a clear straw will help it stand up straight. You can also use a straw to lengthen too-short stems.

2. CORD LABELS

Electronics cords wrapped in labeled straws.

Get organized by cutting a straw lengthwise, snipping it into sections, and labeling them; then, slip each one over the appropriate cord. Now you'll never unplug the TV when you meant to unplug the soundbar.

3. NECKLACE HOLDERS

A jewelry box full of tangled necklaces.
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Keep necklaces from getting tangled by threading them through a straw. This works both when you're traveling and in your jewelry box alike.

4. AND 5. BUBBLE WAND AND BUBBLE BLOWER

A bubble coming out of a straw.
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Rather than buying bubble mix and a wand, put a bit of dish soap in a bowl, then dip one end of a straw in the solution. Blow into the other end and bam—bubbles. You can also insert a straw into a plastic cup to make a DIY bubble blower.

6. AND 7. PICTURE FRAME AND VASE

A close-up shot of colorful straws.
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Here's an excellent activity for the kids: Have them glue colorful straws to a $1 wooden craft frame. You can also glue straws around a can to create a cute vase.

8. VACUUM SEALER

A man using a straw to suck the air out of a bag full of pasta.

There's no need to buy a fancy vacuum sealer when you can use this simple, cheap trick instead. Put your food in a sandwich bag and seal it, then open a tiny portion and insert a straw. Suck all of the air out, then pull out the straw and quickly seal the opening.

9. TRAVEL TOILETRY HOLDER

A group of colorful straws.
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Trying to save space while traveling? Rather than spending money on travel-sized toiletries, use straws. Cut a straw into 4-inch sections, then squeeze toothpaste, shampoo, face wash, etc. into the straw. Pinch one end shut with pliers, then use a lighter to seal the plastic; repeat on the other end. Label with a marker, and enjoy traveling light.

10. PEN HOLDER

A planner on a wooden table with a pen next to it.
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Tape a straw onto the spine of a notebook to create a pen holder.

11. HULL A STRAWBERRY

A bowl of strawberries on a wooden table.
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Use this hack to hull strawberries quickly. Insert a plastic straw at the bottom of the strawberry and gently push it toward the leaves; both the leaves and the stalk will come out easily. Hulling strawberries this way rather than chopping off the top saves more of the fruit—and as a bonus, you can fill the center with something delicious, like whipped cream or Nutella.

12. CHORE CHART

Two kids folding the laundry.
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Print out a chore chart; slip straws over strings, pin them to the chart, and viola: You have an interactive chart that allows kids to slide the straw from "start" to "finish" when they've accomplished a chore.

13. DOORMAT

Follow these instructions to create an unusual doormat: Measure and cut straws into .4 inch sections. On a hard surface, arrange them on a piece of paper marked with a grid (or the pattern of your choice). Cover the straws with non-stick parchment paper and iron on one side, then the other. Voila! You have a doormat.

14. VACUUM STRAW BRUSH

In five simple steps, you can create an enhanced vacuum attachment that will allow you to clean delicate equipment like your computer keyboard. All you need is straws, duct tape, and a piece of gauze (or nylon stocking). Choose the attachment you want to add the straws to, then insert as many straws as possible (leaving them at an angle). Duct tape them together just under the attachment, then cut off the excess. Finally, duct tape a piece of gauze over the end that you’re inserting into the attachment, pop it in there, and get vacuuming.

15. AND 16. PAINT BLOWER AND BRUSH DRYING RACK

A bunch of dirty paint brushes on a white background.
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Use straws to create unique art. Simply place watercolor paint into cups, then cut your straws in half. Using a eye dropper or pipette, drop paint onto heavy paper, and blow it around using the straw. (Keep the paper in a tray to keep the mess contained.)

You can also use straws to construct a drying rack for paint brushes; the instructions can be found here.

17. JELL-O WORMS

A close-up of colorful bendy straws.
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Prepare Jell-O according to these directions. Stretch out your flexible straws and place them in a mason jar, then pour the lukewarm Jell-O into the straws; put the jar into the fridge overnight. The next day, pull out the straws and run them under warm water, then push out the worms into a bowl. Put out the bowl at your Halloween party.

18. HAIR CURLERS

Instead of using a curling iron—which can damage your hair—follow these instructions and use straws to create awesome curls.

19. BAG CLIP

An open bag of potato chips with the chips spilling out.
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Keep chips fresh using a straw: Simply cut a straw lengthwise, then snip the ends so it's the same width as the bag. Slide it over the open top of the bag; roll the top of the bag several times, then slide a second straw clip over it.

20. UNCLOG KETCHUP BOTTLES

A ketchup bottle being held in someone's hand.
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There are few things more annoying that ketchup stuck in a bottle—so keep a straw on hand. Push the straw all the way into the bottle until it hits the end. Leave it inserted and give the bottle a shake; the ketchup should come out easily.

21. JAZZ UP BIKE SPOKES

A series of colorful bike wheels.
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Cut colorful straws lengthwise and wrap them around bike spokes to make a colorful statement.

DIY

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

During this weekend's three-day sale on the Mental Floss Shop, you'll find deep discounts on products like AirPods, Martha Stewart’s bestselling pressure cooker, and more. Check out the best deals below.

1. Apple AirPods Pro; $219

Apple

You may not know it by looking at them, but these tiny earbuds by Apple offer HDR sound, 30 hours of noise cancellation, and powerful bass, all through Bluetooth connectivity. These trendy, sleek AirPods will even read your messages and allow you to share your audio with another set of AirPods nearby.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

2. Sony Zx220bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones (Open Box - Like New); $35

Sony

For the listener who likes a traditional over-the-ear headphone, this set by Sony will give you all the same hands-free calling, extended battery power, and Bluetooth connectivity as their tiny earbud counterparts. They have a swivel folding design to make stashing them easy, a built-in microphone for voice commands and calls, and quality 1.18-inch dome drivers for dynamic sound quality.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

3. Sony Xb650bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones; $46

Sony

This Sony headphone model stands out for its extra bass and the 30 hours of battery life you get with each charge. And in between your favorite tracks, you can take hands-free calls and go seamlessly back into the music.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

4. Martha Stewart 8-quart Stainless-Steel Pressure Cooker; $65

Martha Stewart

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and buying a new pressure cooker, this 8-quart model from Martha Stewart comes with 14 presets, a wire rack, a spoon, and a rice measuring cup to make delicious dinners using just one appliance.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

5. Jashen V18 350w Cordless Vacuum Cleaner; $180

Jashen

If you're obsessive about cleanliness, it's time to lose the vacuum cord and opt for this untethered model from JASHEN. Touting a 4.3-star rating from Amazon, the JASHEN cordless vacuum features a brushless motor with strong suction, noise optimization, and a convenient wall mount for charging and storage.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

6. Evachill Ev-500 Personal Air Conditioner; $65

Evachill

This EvaChill personal air conditioner is an eco-friendly way to cool yourself down in any room of the house. You can set it up at your work desk at home, and in just a few minutes, this portable cooling unit can drop the temperature by 59º. All you need to do is fill the water tank and plug in the USB cord.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

7. Gourmia Gcm7800 Brewdini 5-Cup Cold Brew Coffee Maker; $120

Gourmia

The perfect cup of cold brew can take up to 12 hours to prepare, but this Gourmia Cold Brew Coffee Maker can do the job in just a couple of minutes. It has a strong suction that speeds up brew time while preserving flavor in up to five cups of delicious cold brew at a time.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

8. Townew: The World's First Self-Sealing Trash Can; $90

Townew

Never deal with handling gross garbage again when you have this smart bin helping you in the kitchen. With one touch, the Townew will seal the full bag for easy removal. Once you grab the neatly sealed bag, the Townew will load in a new clean one on its own.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

9. Light Smart Solar Powered Parking Sensor (Two-Pack); $155

FenSens

Parking sensors are amazing, but a lot of cars require a high trim to access them. You can easily upgrade your car—and parking skills—with this solar-powered parking sensor. It will give you audio and visual alerts through your phone for the perfect parking job every time.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

10. Liz: The Smart Self-Cleaning Bottle With UV Sterilization; $46

Noerden

Reusable water bottles are convenient and eco-friendly, but they’re super inconvenient to get inside to clean. This smart water bottle will clean itself with UV sterilization to eliminate 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria. That’s what makes it clean, but the single-tap lid for temperature, hydration reminders, and an anti-leak functionality are what make it smart.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

14 Facts About International Talk Like A Pirate Day

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iStock

Ahoy, me hearties! As many of you know, September 19 is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, an annual phenomenon that’s taken the world by storm, having been observed by every continent, the International Space Station, and even the Oval Office since it first made headlines back in 2002. So let’s hoist the Jolly Roger, break out the rum, and take a look back at the holiday’s timber-shivering history.

1. Talk Like a Pirate Day was originally conceived of on D-Day.

Talk Like a Pirate Day creators John Baur and Mark Summer (who’ve since acquired the nicknames “Ol’ Chumbucket” and “Cap’n Slappy,” respectively) created the holiday while playing racquetball on June 6, 1995—the 51st anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. Out of respect to the battle’s veterans, a new observance date was quickly sought.

2. September 19th also happens to be the birthday of the ex-wife of the holiday's co-creator.

“[September 19th was] the only date we could readily recall that wasn’t already taken up with Christmas or the Super Bowl or something,” the pair later claimed. Summers claims to harbor no ill will toward his former spouse, who has since stated, “I’ve never been prouder to be his ex-wife!

3. Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry is largely responsible for popularizing the holiday.

Dave Barry was so smitten with the holiday after having been introduced to it via email in early 2002 that he dedicated an entire column to its publicity that September, turning an inside joke into a global sensation. He later went on to make a cameo appearance in one of Baur and Summers’s buccaneer-themed music videos in 2011 (look for him in the video above at the 3:25 mark).

4. Real pirates spoke in a wide variety of dialects.

Despite some extensive “English-to-Pirate” dictionaries that have cropped up all over the Internet the idea that all pirates shared a common accent regardless of national origin is historically absurd, as National Geographic pointed out in 2011.

5. Actor Robert Newton is hailed as the "patron saint" of Talk Like a Pirate Day.

So where did the modern “pirate dialect” come from? Summers and Baur credit actor Robert Newton's performance in Treasure Island (1950) and have accordingly dubbed him the “patron saint” of their holiday. Tasked with breathing life into the scheming buccaneer, Newton simply exaggerated his native West Country accent and the rest is history.

6. John Baur's family was featured on a pirate-themed episode of Wife Swap.

The reality show’s highly-anticipated 2006 season premiere pitted the Baurs (in full pillaging regalia) against a family which, according to John’s wife Tori (a.k.a. “Mad Sally”), “behaved as though ‘fun’ was something that had to be pre-packaged for their protection.”

7. John Baur was also on Jeopardy!

Baur was described to the audience as “a writer and pirate from Oregon” in his 2008 appearance. “I didn’t win,” Baur said, “but the introduction made Alex blink.”

8. International Talk Like a Pirate Day has become a cornerstone of the Pastafarian movement.

Bobby Henderson, founder of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, cited Earth’s dwindling pirate population as the clear source of global warming in his 2005 open letter to the Kansas school board which established the religion. Since then, Talk Like A Pirate Day has been observed by devout Pastafarians worldwide. 

9. A Florida mayor once ignited a local controversy for making an official Talk Like a Pirate Day proclamation.

In 2012, Lake Worth, Florida Mayor Pam Triolo lightheartedly urged her constituents to embrace the holiday last year, writing, “The City … is known to possess a spirit of independence, high spirits, and swashbuckling, all traits of a good pirate.” Her actions were criticized by the city’s former commissioner, Jo-Ann Golden, who took offense to the association with murderous seamen.

10. Day of the Ninja was created in response to Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Not to be outdone by their hated rivals, the pro-ninja community was quick to execute the first annual Day of the Ninja on December 5, 2002. For Summers and Baur’s take on the warring factions, see the clip above.

11. Astronauts once celebrated Talk Like a Pirate Day aboard the International Space Station.

In a 2012 interview, Summers recalled being “informed that the astronauts on the International Space Station were awakened to ‘A Pirate’s Life For Me' and joined in the pirate talk from space.”

12. President Obama once celebrated with a costumed buccaneer in the Oval Office.

In 2012, Barack Obama tweeted this image on Talk Like a Pirate Day with the caption “Arr you in?”

13. A congressman later used the holiday to slam President Obama's tax plan.

In 2011, Florida’s 12th congressional district representative Dennis Ross used the festivity as a political punchline after Obama made a speech detailing his tax plan, tweeting, “It is TALK like a pirate day … not ACT like one. Watch ye purses and bury yr loot, the taxman cometh.”

14. It's an official holiday in the state of Michigan.

On June 4, 2013, state senator Roger Kahn’s proposal to grant International Talk Like A Pirate Day official acknowledgement from the Michigan government was formally adopted, to the chagrin of some dissenting landlubbers. 

This story originally ran in 2013.