Who knew that ketchup was good for cleaning tarnish? Joey Green, household trickster.

By Alexandra Jacobs
Updated October 04, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Late-night TV hosts are fond of silly tricks, so maybe it’s not such a wow that Joey Green once got Jay Leno to shave on the air with peanut butter. But according to Green, many average Joes reach for the Jif — or the Clairol Herbal Essences shampoo — when strapped for Barbasol. ”It’s all about, whaddya call it, improvisation,” he says. Maybe you’re that resourceful type — occasionally dashing off a line to companies with new uses for their mouthwash and cat litter. Ketchup cleans tarnish! Coppertone’s a good insect repellent! C’mon, someone’s doing it, because — as aspiring sitcom writer Green, 38, has discovered — corporations maintain thick files of consumer letters detailing ”alternate” uses for prized brand names.

These records sit dormant, claims Green, until ”someone like me” calls and demands to see them. Green has culled this info — as well as used household-hint books, newspaper articles, and his own growing stack of fan mail — to research Paint Your House With Powdered Milk. Part fact-fest, part tip sheet, it is a sequel to 1995’s Polish Your Furniture With Panty Hose (”the publisher skewed that one more toward women,” he says), which sold close to 85,000 copies.

Many of us stop runs in our nylons with nail polish, or occasionally substitute paper towels for coffee filters. But, hey, didja know you can use Scotch tape to kill ants (”Wrap a long strip of [tape] around your hand, adhesive side out, to pick up an advancing line of ants”)? Doubtful.

Though manufacturers themselves are aware — patently aware — of what’s being done with their products, they keep pretty quiet. Green cites a few (like Vaseline) that make a selling point of flexibility, but he notes that ”lots of them are afraid that it’s going to harm the reputation of the product. Or confuse people.”

”Think how much Coca-Cola would sell,” he adds dryly, ”if they’d market it as a toilet-bowl cleaner.”