Laura de Barra's guide to cleaning with everyday household items (for less than €100)

Laura de Barra is an Irish property portfolio developer, illustrator and author working in the competitive London rental market. Here, she shares some advice on how to transform appliances, chrome, tiles and drains with everyday household items, and a small budget. 

Under €5

Dishwasher Salt

laura de barra illustration saltsThe reason for using dishwasher salt is that it softens water, which means no limescale build up, longer life for your machine, and no visible watermarks after wash cycles. Yet, most people don't bother.


Hard water has calcium and magnesium ions that are a headache for any domestic washing appliance. However, dishwasher salt is made of sodium chloride, and will dispel these, leaving behind glorious, soft water. The salts themselves are inexpensive and tend not to differ from brand to brand.

If it’s not your first wash, your softening unit will have water in it already (if not, run a cycle – you’re trying to create a salt-water brine in here so there needs to be water present).

Pour in your salts. As you fill, water will spill out into the machine, perfectly normal. As you’ve had no salt inside, you’re just making the salts take its territory back. Leave around 1cm breathing space before popping the cap back on. I would suggest checking once a month and keeping it up to that 1cm gap.

Although dishwasher salt is made from the same stuff that you sprinkle while you cook, don’t use table salt. It usually has magnesium, which is counter productive, and also has smaller granules that clog your machine.


laura de barra illustration lemons

Do watermarks on your bathroom fittings disappear when wiped down, but reappear once dry? I have tried a few different bathroom cleaners, even window cleaners, to try lift these stains in the past but now have a fail safe, affordable, chemical free cure: the humble lemon.


Simply cut the lemon in half, rub against the chrome surface and buff with a microfibre or dry cloth. Take a moment to admire yourself in reflection and use the other half for a hard earned gin.

Bicarbonate of Soda

laura de barra illustration soda

For me, bicarbonate of soda has three main uses.


I am always on high alert for any smells that may greet me entering a new property.

No amount of cleaning will eliminate these quickly, so the first thing I do is place a small cup of bicarbonate of soda in the offending cupboard/fridge/under sink/wardrobe.


Within 24 hours, it will start working its magic and by the time decorating is over, the odours are usually neutralised.


Vinegar and bicarbonate of soda create a wonderful fizzing gel when mixed together, and this is fantastic for lifting grease and dried on stains from your hob. I would always recommend a patch test first and also never use a metal scrubber as it scratches.

First, apply the bicarbonate of soda to the stained areas, then either spray vinegar over this or place vinegar soaked napkins strips on top. You’ll see them mingle together and start fizzing, creating bubbles like some kind of science project.

Leave for one hour, wipe off and with some elbow grease, and you’ll have a sparkling hob without the fumes or cost of harsh chemical cleaners.


Lastly, bicarbonate of soda is great for smelly drains or drains that have a grease or light blockage. Simply, pour a freshly boiled kettle of water down the drain to begin the loosening process.


Next, add ½ cup of bicarbonate soda, then pour down 1 cup of vinegar followed swiftly by a cup of water. You will start to see the bubbles come up so pop your plug in to contain the magic. If the plug is missing, use an upside down cup.

I leave for about 10 mins, then pour another kettle of freshly boiled water down. If it is still blocked, pop your plunger over it and the blockage should be loose enough to move.

Under €50

Tile primer

Laura de barra dB-Primer-RGBWeb

I swear by tile primer. It can transform a space completely. That said, I only use it on trims or tiles that don't get a lot of contact (with water or anything else) as I feel like it is not as durable. However, it is perfect for an update to tiles that are perfectly fine, but you just dislike the colour or pattern.

An employee at your local DIY stop is your greatest asset when choosing a primer. They are knowledgeable, experienced, and can tell you what primer has had good feedback – and more importantly what has not.


Primer essentially turns tiles into a surface that can be painted like a wall. Heed my warning on this or forever regret; follow all instructions on the tin, prep the area exactly advised. Spend longer on the prep than on applying the primer.

Mark the edges with tape designed for painting, as it is less likely to let (nightmare to remove) gloss drip. I find masking tape can leak, so it's best to buy the painter tape.

laura de barra bathroom before and after BEFORE: Marsh & Parsons AFTER: Hamptons International

I spent 3 solid hours (or 4.18 downloaded episodes of Real Housewives), scrubbing this bathroom from top to bottom. Patch cleaning tiles is pointless in my opinion. For cleaning tile grout, I usually pop baking soda/water paste on and add vinegar then scrub, but if the silicone has mould, it’s best to replace completely. I applied primer as directed, then the gloss once the primer had dried, then another coat of gloss.

Finally, I removed the tape and went over the parts I missed with a small artist's paint brush loaded with gloss. I like that it has a high shine like the larger tiles. To rid the bath panel of its yellow tone, I painted it with a matching small pot of emulsion. The end result is so impressive for such an easy revamp.

Under €100


Primer + Eggshell

laura de barra illustration primer eggshellKitchen cupboards are expensive to replace, but annoying to look at if you dislike them. This is why I love the alternative of painting the doors. For the kitchen of the same property, I used the same primer on the laminate cabinets, as the bathroom tiles and they came up a treat.

For the top coat, I chose an Eggshell as I love the matte look and I began by taking all the doors off. I only unscrewed the door and left the hinge in place, as hanging doors are an art in itself and you don’t want to mess with it.

Make sure someone is there to hold the door while you unscrew. Keep two paper bags near you, one for door screws and one for handles and their screws.

I covered all other surfaces with newspaper. I lined the doors up and wrote their hanging location on the newspaper under. This meant I would know when I hung them back up which one went where (and also what parts were the most visible when hung so I could take extra care).

kitchen before and after BEFORE: Marsh & Parsons AFTER: Hamptons International

In between priming and final coats, I painted the parts of the cupboard that are seen when the doors are closed – I don't like the idea of the fumes inside cupboards, plus they take a lot of wear and tear so paint chips easier.

After two coats of Eggshell,  I cleaned down the handles and screwed them back on. After that, call your friend back and have them hold the doors while you add the screws back in.

For this kitchen, I also added a floating shelf to draw the eye up, and used the same hues as the bathroom to give a good flow through the flat.


For more of Laura's London adventures, follow her on Instagram @lauradebarra or pick up her best-selling new book, Gaff Goddess


Read more: How Cork-born Laura de Barra is breaking gender stereotypes, one toolbox at a time

Read more: How to curate your artwork and expertly hang a gallery wall

Read more: Our top tips on styling a bookshelf that looks effortlessly cool

The image newsletter