She freezes her pantyhose, rubs jalepeno pepper sauce into wooden furniture, cleans pewter with cabbage leaves and zap wasps with hair spray.

"You've got to be crazy to try and become the world's foremost hint-il-lectual," admits Mary Ellen Pinkham, 33, a Minneapolis housewife-turned-businesswoman who collects common-sense solutions to "the oops" of everyday life.

"My mother always had a wild, crazy solution to every problem - like pouring a cup of Coca-Cola into the washing machine to take out oily stains - so I grew up with an eye for hints."

Three years ago Pinkham and her mother, Pearl Higginbotham, turned their hint obsession into a booming business.

They compiled more than 1,000 hints and spent $30,000 to publish "The Best of Helpful Hints" as a fundraiser for Minneapolis' Courage Center for handicapped children. The unpretentious, $3.95 spiral-bound book has now sold more than one-half million copies, netting $62,000 for the center and thousands more for the authors. Pinkham recently revised and expanded the volume for Warner Books.

"Hinting is just common sense," contends Pinkham, a plump, wise-crackign brunet. "Just look at product labels. The first ingredient listed in hair spray is alcohol which is a cleaning agent, and shaving cream has glycerin, so it's not magic that these things can remove stains.

"In every home all you need is a couple bottles of cider and white vinegar, bleach, baking soda, cream of tartar, lemon juice and mayonnaise. You don't need to buy a lot of expensive cleaning products."

Pinkham invents some of her hints, like her favorite one for drying large quantities of lettuce: "Place washed lettuce in a pillowcase, close the end and put it in the washer on spin dry."

Readers also send her roughly 400 hints a month in exchange for receiving a free cookbook for each hint used. All reasonable hints are testified in her office or her "hint lab" - a group of neighbors who try out the ideas.

Some tips she doesn't even test. Such as one suggesting Comet cleanser for removal of teeth stains. And another claiming vinegar will revive victims of carbon-monoxide poisoning. I've never found someone to test that one on."

Home-health and ebauty tips are the current rage in hints, Pinkham says. Her book includes ideas like conditioning hair with mayonnaise, setting it with Jello, using castor oil for eye cream and, for dry skin, lacing bath water with vinegar.

Among Pinkham's most creative cleaning tips: vodka for what she says are streak-free, sparkling eyeglasses, toothpaste for brightening guitars and cold tea for cleaning varnished floors. She also recommends dry cleaning your dog by rubbing baking soda into its fur and brushing it out.

The book is organized into quick-reference categories and most hints are written in one snappy sentence. A disclaimer in the front notes that "the authors and distributors cannot guarantee absolute success."

Although her goal is to become "the Dr. Spock of hints" with a copy of her book in every home, Pinkham shies away from being tagged as "a serious author."

"James Michener and Sydney Sheldon are authors," she shrugs. "This is a nothing book of fun little things every home should have.

"I take my hints seriously, but I like to keep it lighthearted. I'd just like to be known as a fun lady who comes up with new ways to solve problems around the house." CAPTION: Picture, Mary Ellen Pinkham, by John McDonnell