Every year at least 1 billion used toothbrushes end up in landfills, adding to the more than 50 million tons of trash already piled there. Instead of ditching after their day is done, we can use toothbrushes over and over again in a variety of ways. Let's begin today's two-parter column with lots of imaginative ways to utilize this homely staple, thanks to, among others, as well as my own tried-and-true techniques. (It is, of course, a good idea to sanitize your toothbrush before using for non-dental uses, especially if it involves cleaning your kitchen tools. Soak it in a bleach solution or hydrogen peroxide for several minutes before rinsing the bristles with hot water.)

An old toothbrush can still be very useful, especially when it comes to cleaning hairbrushes and scrubbing off gunk and grime. In fact, the advantage of using the toothbrush is its amazing ability to get into those nooks and crannies easily.

If you live in a place where the water is hard and don't have a filtering system installed, then you might have noticed the build-up of mineral deposits on your shower head so it's important to clean it every now and then. Otherwise, the build-up can end up blocking the water flow. Fill a container with white vinegar. Next, drop the shower head into the container and leave for a couple of hours. Voila'!

I save all my old toothbrushes and utilize some to clean my jewelry. Several methods work amazingly, including adding some drops of gentle soap to a cup of lukewarm water, window cleaning solution, a dab of toothpaste, or vinegar, among others. Dip the toothbrush in whichever solution you choose and then start gently scrubbing. Rinse and towel dry for a beautiful gleam.

(Read more: Consumer Watch: Even more ways to reuse old toothbrushes)

If your sink is dull and needs a good cleaning or shining, don't stop there. Take one of those old toothbrushes and use it to cleanse and scrub the dirt that might be hiding around the drain in your kitchen sink. Scrub the area around the rubber guard that covers the garbage disposal and particularly under the rubber flaps of the disposal. (If you've never checked out that area, be ready to get grossed out. This splash guard breeds bad bacteria, gunk, drain flies, and the like. Yuk!) The toothbrush's long handle prevents harmful microbes from contacting with your skin, which could then transfer from your hands to your food but be sure to toss this toothbrush into the trash after cleaning.

As long as we're checking around the house, look at every person's hair dryer's backing and clean it at least once a week since the mesh covering/filter grabs every dust particle, hair products, and hair itself. Normally, this should be done every single week. This way, you can safely use your hair dryer, especially as the soft toothbrush will take care of the debris. Additionally, apply the same technique on portable heater and fan filters

In case your dishwasher comes with a removable screen or filters, it's crucial to keep them clean. Just use the brush to scrub away the grease and grime. I'm (I guess) lucky enough my 25-year-old dishwasher still operates. I find by cleaning the rubber door seal with a toothbrush, it helps maintain the machine's working order

Even if we can't get up the energy to clean all our windows occasionally, do attend to their tracks. As dust and grime accumulate, many of us use a cloth and think it's enough. Not so. Take our old lowly toothbrush and use in the tracks, especially inside their corners.

Bathroom and kitchen faucets are another challenge. I spray kitchen cleaner around them and shrub the areas with a toothbrush.

The old toothbrush also comes in handy when cleaning kitchen bugaboos, such as a garlic press, sieve, cheese grater, apple corer, or any other kitchen tool. Rinse with hot water and dry.

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Ellen Phillips

Contact Ellen Phillips at or at 423-757-6340.