7 Surprising Uses for Vodka

iStock/igorr1
iStock/igorr1

As versatile a liquid as vodka is in a glass—pairing just as well with tomato juice as it does orange juice—it’s equally multipurpose in a non-drinking setting. In honor of National Vodka Day, here are some surprising uses for the popular spirit.

1. ALL-PURPOSE CLEANSER

No Windex? No problem. As a natural disinfectant, all it takes is a quick transfer from liquor bottle to spray bottle to turn vodka into an amazingly powerful all-purpose cleanser that tackles everything from windows and mirrors to countertops and cabinets.

2. DEODORIZER

Typically, spilling a cocktail on yourself would be a good indicator that it’s time to switch to water. But a spritz of vodka on your clothing, be it a musty old sweater or your favorite pair of gym shoes, can actually help freshen you up as it kills odor-causing bacteria on the spot (without leaving any chemical-like scent).

3. MOLD AND MILDEW REMOVER

Vodka’s antimicrobial properties make it a worthy opponent against mold and mildew. The best part? The cheaper the bottle, the less filtered it’s likely to be, which is good news when it comes to killing mold (but not so great when it comes to potential hangovers).

4. INSECT REPELLENT

While several studies have shown that drinking beer can make you more prone to mosquito bites, a quick way to help repel those pesky insects is by spraying yourself with vodka. Just make sure it’s not one a flavored (read: sugary) kind. Though straight-up is the most effective method, because it can leave a scent that lingers, there are a variety of recipes online to make this repellent more palatable to the nose.

5. WEED KILLER

Vodka can help to eliminate garden weeds, but it needs the assistance of the sun. Reader’s Digest suggests mixing one ounce of vodka with two cups of water and a few drops of dish soap, to be applied “at midday on a sunny day to weeds growing in direct sunlight, because the alcohol breaks down the waxy cuticle covering on leaves, leaving them susceptible to dehydration in sunlight. It won’t work in shade.”

6. FLOWER LIFE-EXTENDER

A shot of vodka can be a vase full of fresh flowers’ best friend. According to North Carolina State University horticulture professor John Dole, adding some vodka in with water can help flowers stay fresher longer, most likely as a result of inhibiting ethylene production. As with your own vodka consumption, just don’t overdo it: “Plants—like many people—can only tolerate small concentrations of alcohol,” according to Scientific American.

7. DANDRUFF REMOVER

From frizz to dandruff, vodka has become a go-to solution for a variety of hair care problems. “Vodka has a low pH level and is naturally acidic, which when added to conditioner can help maintain and lower a high pH level found in the hair,” hairstylist Marc Mena said. “[It] has the ability to seal the hair cuticle which will manage and reduce the appearance of frizz, resulting in softer and shinier strands.” Adding a shot of vodka to your bottle of shampoo can also help in relieving itchy scalps, thus reducing dandruff.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2015.

12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

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Get 70 Percent Off 15 Bottles of Wine From Around the World During This Black Friday Sale

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Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

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