It’s happened to all of us – you’re in the middle of a project, when you suddenly realize you don’t have that one thing you need. I really hate having to make unnecessary trips to the grocery store, so I’m always looking for ways to “make it work,” as Tim Gunn from Project Runway would say!
Luckily for me—and for all of us—there are many simple substitutions you can make in a pinch that can eliminate the need for that one-item trip to the store. Here are a few of my favorites, but I know there are a LOT more out there.
If you know of a simple substitution that wasn’t listed here, share it with us in a comment at the end of this post!
9 Simple Substitutions You Can Make In a Pinch
Note: For each item in this list, the thing you need is listed first and the thing you can use as a substitute is listed second. (For example, the header for #1 below signifies that if you need all-purpose cleaning spray and don’t have any, you can use shaving cream instead.)
1. All-Purpose Cleaning Spray ➜ Shaving Cream
Shaving foam contains a high concentration of soap (typically about 8 percent), which makes it perfect for removing stubborn greasy stains. The long-lasting foam also gives the soap a chance to really work on grease and grime.
Grab a can of foaming shaving cream and spray a dollop on your table or countertop. Spread the shaving cream around with your hand or a rag, let it sit for about 10 minutes, then wipe the cream away with a damp sponge or towel.
2. Dry Shampoo ➜ Cornstarch
You can use plain old cornstarch as a dry shampoo in a pinch. Sprinkle it on your scalp and use your fingertips to work it into your roots, then shake your hair to get rid of any excess. The cornstarch absorbs oils in your hair, leaving it clean and smelling fresh!
3. Dish Soap ➜ Shampoo
You can use a plain, unscented shampoo to hand wash dishes if you don’t have any dish soap or can’t make your own. Don’t put it in your dishwasher though… that’s a bubbly disaster waiting to happen!
4. Deodorant ➜ Lemon Juice
If you have some lemon juice on hand, pour a bit out onto a paper towel and wipe your underarm area with it. The lemon juice kills bacteria and will keep you smelling fresh—for a few hours, anyway. (Or you can always make your own all-natural deodorant!)
5. Bread Crumbs ➜ Crackers
You don’t always have to have a box of Panko on hand for bread crumbs! You can crush up a sleeve of crackers, or even grind up some oats to use as a crumb-y topping. Or if you have some sandwich bread at home, you can always toast up a few pieces to make your own bread crumbs.
6. Buttermilk ➜ Lemon Juice & Milk
How often have you found yourself in this situation? You want to make a recipe, but you don’t necessarily want to buy an entire carton of buttermilk when you only need a half-cup. Here is a simple solution: make a quick buttermilk substitute by adding 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to 1 cup of milk.
This mixture won’t get as thick and creamy as buttermilk, but it will perform its role in a recipe just as well. Incidentally, yogurt or sour cream thinned with milk (or plain water, in a pinch) also work well as buttermilk substitutes.
7. Vinegar ➜ Lemon Juice (And Vice Versa)
Vinegar and lemon juice can be used interchangeably in a lot of recipes since they have a similar acidic quality. Use 1/2 teaspoon vinegar per 1 teaspoon of lemon juice needed, and vice versa.
8. Baking Powder ➜ Baking Soda & Cream Of Tartar
Mix 1 part baking soda with 2 parts cream of tartar to make a baking powder substitute. For instance, if I needed 1 tablespoon of baking powder for a recipe, I would just add 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar instead. (Learn more about cream of tartar’s wide range of household uses here.)
9. Arrowroot Powder ➜ Cornstarch (And Vice Versa)
Arrowroot powder and cornstarch can be used interchangeably in most recipes. They are both starchy powders that help thicken whatever mixture they are added to.
While this post focused on simple substitutions you can make in a pinch, there are plenty of pantry staples that you can make in your own kitchen too. Read my post on 20 Pantry Staples You Can Easily Make Yourself to learn more!
Do you have a simple, in-a-pinch substitution that you would add to this list?