Some people call them “life hacks” today, but in bygone years they were “handy tips” or just “advice.” Today they can rack up TikTok views, just like in the old days when they filled magazines that people bought, but the safety and efficacy can range from useful to downright dangerous. Sure, it might have once been a good idea to set your mattress outside in the sun to fight mold and vermin, and lard can heal chapped skin. You can distinguish butter from margarine by burning it, as illustrated above, but wouldn’t it be easier to just taste it? However, some of these tips worked on the same principle as hitting your toe with a hammer to get rid of a headache.
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For example, a mixture of menthol, cocaine, and boric acid could be snorted to fight congestion. Whether it worked or not, boric acid is poisonous. So is leaving mercury out to fight bedbugs. A pinch of borax might make your expired milk last a little longer, but it is also poisonous.
These old-timey tips sometimes came with a hilarious bit of honesty. One columnist suggested that you use roast peas, grains, or bread crusts if you run out of coffee beans. She added, “None of these are very good.” Read all 25 handy tips from way back when at Mental Floss.
(Image source: New York Public Library)