8 Hacks to Solve Tricky Winter Problems

A simple solution of water and vinegar will keep your car windows ice-free. Andrea Obzerova/Shutterstock

Winter weather can sometimes throw you for a loop. Things that normally work just fine, like the car doors, suddenly aren't such a sure bet. With that in mind, we've compiled some well-tested ways to solve a few cold-weather conundrums.

Keep ice from forming on your car windows with vinegar

Scraping ice from your car windows when you're feeling the chill of a cold morning — or worse, running late for work — is no fun. There's a quick trick that you can do each night that will help ensure you won't need to scrape your windows in the morning: spray down your windows with a vinegar-water mixture.

In a spray bottle, combine three parts vinegar with one part water. Each evening when you expect frost, spray your windows and squeegee off the excess. The coating of vinegar, which has a lower freezing point than water, will help prevent water from turning to ice on your windshield. It isn't fool-proof, especially in severe weather, but it can help on most frosty mornings.

Snopes notes that while the water-and-vinegar mixture will prevent frost from forming on your windshield in the first place, it won't provide much help when the ice has already formed. So if you come across a tip telling you to spritz your frosted windshield with this mix, there's a good chance you'll be disappointed with the results.

Use pickle juice as a deicer

pickle brine for walkways
Save the juice from your pickle jars because that brine will come in handy for your walkways. Vadarshop/Shutterstock

Pickle juice can be a useful assistant in the battle against icy sidewalks, driveways and other surfaces. Salt causes ice to melt at a lower temperature, which is why salt is poured on roads in winter to clear off the ice. But cities looking for a more environmentally friendly way to deice roads have turned to brines — including pickle juice — to treat roads 24 to 48 hours before a snow.

According to National Geographic:

Some states, like New Jersey, are experimenting with pickle brine. Yes, pickle brine, which works like regular saltwater. Similar to traditional rock salt, brine can melt ice at temperatures as low as -6°F (-21°C). And it beats salt in another respect: Prewetting with this substance prevents snow and ice from bonding with pavement, making the ice easier to chip off and remove. The use of brine also reduces the amount of chloride released into the environment by 14 to 29 percent.

So if New Jersey uses pickle juice, can you? Yes. Accuweather says, "Consumers can also experiment with the use of pickle brine by applying the pickling liquid included with commercial pickles. Spraying the liquid on walkways and driveways will have the same effect as municipal applications on roadways." You can also use beet brine and cheese brine to the same effect. (And if you want a deeper dive into road salt and alternatives, read: Do streets need salt?)

Make homemade hand warmers with sidewalk salt and water

Having some instant hand warmers stashed in your pocket can be a life-saver — or at least a finger-saver — on particularly cold days. However, keeping a stock of them can get expensive. You can make your own easily with just some water, calcium chloride and a couple of plastic bags.

Calcium chloride, an inorganic salt, generates heat as it dissolves in water. So when mixed with a bit of water in a bag, it creates a handy source of heat. On the flip-side, because it generates heat when dissolving, you want to be careful when handling it as it can burn your eyes and skin. You definitely don't want those bags to break in your pockets, so be gentle with them and ensure the bags are properly sealed.

If the idea of using calcium chloride ice melt pellets and plastic isn't your style, you can also make hand warmers that are a little more all-natural using scrap fabric and some rice. Here's a quick lesson on how to sew pocket-sized hand warmers in this video:

Waterproof your shoes with wax

A candle, a hair dryer and about five minutes of time is all you need to waterproof your canvas shoes so they don't turn into a soppy mess after a few minutes in the snow or sleet. Of course, you can buy a waterproofing spray like Nikwax that will also do the job, but this way is cheaper and gives you points for craftiness.

Unstick a frozen lock with hand sanitizer

A frozen car lock can be remedied with a little squirt of hand sanitizer.
A frozen car lock can be remedied with a little squirt of hand sanitizer. Marc Bruxelle/Shutterstock

The alcohol inside the hand sanitizer lowers the freezing point of water and thus melts the ice almost instantly upon contact. Squirt a few drops on your car key, insert the key in the lock, and gently wriggle the lock to distribute the hand sanitizer. The lock should pop open in a few moments.

Rubbing alcohol also obviously works well, though it's easier to keep a squeeze bottle of hand sanitizer in your purse or pocket than a bottle of rubbing alcohol since spilling the latter on yourself would be an unpleasant problem.

Keep your car doors from freezing shut with WD-40*

If the rubber lining the jams of your car doors is dirty or cracked, water can sneak in and prevent a good seal. The water then freezes and makes it difficult to open the doors. In a pinch, you can prevent this with a spritz of WD-40 or even cooking spray. Just spray some onto a rag and wipe down the rubber seals along the inside of the doors. The lubricant prevents water from sticking to the rubber and freezing.

*However, over time WD-40 can cause the seals to harden, which actually causes them to wear out sooner. In the long run, it's best to use a silicone spray or rubber conditioner that's intended for car parts. But if you don't have any on hand and you need something to ensure you can actually get into your car in the morning in a pinch, WD-40 is your friend.

What else can you do to prevent your car door from freezing shut or, more importantly, to make sure you can open it on an icy morning? Here are some great tips:

Boost the power of your radiator with tin foil

A radiator can be made more efficient with a little help reflecting heat away from the wall and back into the room.
A radiator can be made more efficient with a little help reflecting heat away from the wall and back into the room. brizmaker/Shutterstock

If you've ever felt the wall behind your radiator when it's turned on, you know a lot of heat is lost to warming the wall instead of the room. When your radiator is fitted to an exterior wall, that warmth is heading right outside. You can fix this by adding a reflector panel behind the radiator, which will direct heat away from the wall and into the house.

You can make your own using a cardboard box and foil. Cut the cardboard to size, wrap it with the foil carefully so that you have as few creases and wrinkles as possible, and stick the panel to the wall behind the radiator.

There are reflector panels available at hardware stores and these are likely to be more effective than this old cardboard-and-foil trick. But if you're really pinching pennies or just want a quick fix, this is an easy option.

Insulate windows with bubble wrap

Taking home insulation one cheap step further, you can insulate your windows in the winter with bubble wrap. This provides an extra layer of insulating air between the cold exterior and warm interior of your home.

According to Reference.com:

The amount of insulation realized by placing the bubble wrap is significant, raising the R value, a measure of thermal resistance, of the window from 0.8 to 2. This eliminates approximately 50 percent of heat loss through single-glazed windows and as much as 20 percent of heat transfer through double-glazed windows. Bubble wrap with larger bubbles is slightly more effective than bubble wrap with smaller bubbles.

So next time you receive a package with bubble wrap, hold yourself back from popping it and save it for the next winter storm.