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Make It Yourself: Copper Cleaner, Aluminum Cleaner and Dishwasher Detergent, Too

There are so many good reasons to make your own household cleaners. It’s cheaper, healthier and greener, too. The homemade household cleaners I share with you from time to time do not contain chemicals. That means you can always count on them to be non-toxic.

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DEAR MARY:  The copper post tops on my deck are becoming tarnished. Do you know of a natural (cheap) way that I can clean them without causing any damage to the copper? I’m enclosing a picture of this problem. Patti

DEAR PATTI: I really like this beautiful treatment on your deck. Thanks for sending the photo (always a good idea, by the way). I do have a solution for you using ordinary items from your pantry. It is cheap to make, easy to use and works great. Best of all it contains no toxic chemicals.

Copper Cleaner

6 tablespoons table salt
6 tablespoons flour
white vinegar

Make a paste of equal parts salt and flour with a few tablespoons of white vinegar. Apply to copper item with a soft cloth and rub gently to remove tarnish. Rinse with water and dry.

DEAR MARY: I have inherited a set of vintage aluminum canisters. Somewhere along the line, this canisters were washed in the dishwasher and came out so discolored they are no longer pretty. I have tried a couple of cleaning methods that did nothing to restore their beauty. Do you have any suggestions? Ina

Credit Cards in the Hands of Financially Immature Students

Our kids are fortunate to be growing up in the most progressive and exciting time in history. Sadly, the very culture that offers them the world is also perpetrating this lie:

You are entitled to have everything you want even if you don’t have the money to pay for it. It’s not a problem. Buy it now and you can pay for it later!

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There’s a huge consumer-credit industry out there planning to give your kids their very own credit cards—personal passports into the abyss of consumer debt.  This is not going to require your permission or approval, something that today’s first writer is experiencing first hand.

DEAR MARY: My daughter who is in college got a credit card and now she is in over her head, unable to pay what she owes.

She works part time and makes a very small salary. With the high interest and late fees, the balance is now over $2,500. I will have to step in and handle the account.

How can I negotiate with the credit-card company to settle for less? I don’t know how she got this card on her salary but she kept quiet about not being able to make the payments until we started getting collection calls for her. I appreciate your thoughts and expertise. Millie

Readers in Search of Help with Ants and Sharks

The best part of my job as your humble columnist is the mail I get from my loyal readers. I had to laugh today when the first two letters I pulled from my inbox requested help with ants and … sharks!

 

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Dear Mary: Once again this summer, I am dealing with an invasion of ants in my kitchen. Please advise. Exterminators are terribly expensive. Lola

Dear Lola: You’re not the only one! I’ve been hearing from so many readers who are frantic to know how to get rid of  carpenter ants, sugar ants, fire ants, acrobat ants … big ants, tiny ants and every kind of ant imaginable—even crazy ants!

Fortunately, I have a solution for you that is inexpensive, natural and completely safe to use around  kids and pets—a very effective tactic I wrote about recently, and am happy to repeat.

Food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) will take care of this problem and continue to work as long as it stays dry. It is available in most garden centers and home improvement stores and also online at Amazon. I just checked and you can get Diatomaceous Earth Food Grade 10 Lbs from Amazon with Prime free shipping for about $22.

The Best Inexpensive Double Stroller

There are few joys in life that rival the joy that children bring. But nothing has surprised me more than how that joy is multiplied when we get to add the word “grand” to the children in our lives. Double joy!

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Dear Mary: Thank you for your column, I really enjoy it! Based on your recommendation, we purchased your “Best Inexpensive Stroller” hoping it would stand up against the cobblestones of Rome, Italy.

Well, after three months of living in Rome with our two-year-old little girl, I can tell you the stroller did fantastically! It held up great over miles and miles of walking, cobblestones, was simple for travel within airports, and perfect for tight squeezes onto buses, trams, and trains! It was an ideal investment, so thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom. You truly bless the lives of those you reach. With gratitude, Barbara.

Dear Barbara: I’m both excited and jealous: Excited that you love that stroller as much as I do and jealous because I would love to spend three months in Rome with my grandsons, over miles and miles of cobblestones.

Did you notice? I said grandsons! Eli age 7 is now big brother to Sam, age 1. The fun in my Fridays has doubled now that Sam is old enough to join us. Catch up for recent readers: Since Eli was six-weeks old, I’ve cared for him on Fridays. My original intent was to gift my Fridays to my kids to give them a day to breathe. But as it turns out, this has become the greatest gift they could have ever given me.

Get Pet Hair and Fragrance Build-Up Out of the Laundry

DEAR MARY: I am one of your millions of fans. Your insight, tips, products and recipes are terrific. Thank you for your time and efforts!

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I’m looking for something I can purchase or make myself to put into the dryer to extract dog hairs from fabric. Years ago I purchased a kind of fabric ball, which looked ordinary enough and worked great. Since then I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m desperate! Thanks, Anita

DEAR ANITA: I’m pretty sure you’re taking about a Dryer Maid Ball that removes pet hair in the dryer, while softening clothes and decreasing wrinkles. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not tested this product myself, because I do not have a pet. However, the customer reviews are positive from those who use this product to extract all that pet hair. What I have tested and love are Wool Dryer Balls. These dryer balls soften as well as reduce static without fragrance or chemicals—and I have noticed that they pick up stray hair that finds its way into the dryer. If you give either, or both, a try, be sure give us your review. I’m sure yours is a common problem within our big (and growing!) EC family.

Best Time to Buy a Computer, Where to Buy a TracFone and How to De-Smoke a Microwave

There was a time when grabbing the best prices was all about where and when you shopped. Savvy shoppers would wait all year to buy sheets, towels and other household linens during January White Sales. After Christmas Sales were notorious and reliable. But things have changed with the advent of online shopping and red-hot competition between retailers.

So, is there a best time to buy specific consumer goods? That’s the question posed in today’s first question from one of your fellow EC readers.

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Dear Mary: I’m looking at new computers. When is the best time to buy one? Stella

Dear Stella: There is something to be said for seasonal pricing of some consumer goods. For example, you will probably get the best deals on outdoor grills and lawn mowers in July and August as retailers are gearing up for Christmas and they need to clear space.

Our friends at Consumer Reports tell us that April is the month to get the best buys on computers, but I’m not completely on board with that theory because it is way too general.

The best time to buy a new computer is when you really need one. If your current machine is broken, or you need greater performance or it’s a gift, etc.,—there’s really no reason to delay the purchase. Research your options, make a decision and then shop around.

If you’re planning to buy an Apple product, by all means wait for the next big product announcement, if you can hold out. You might be able to get a deal on the model that will be going out of production.

If you’re looking at a PC, you might see some discounts in late summer and into fall, but I wouldn’t expect any major improvements in that technology that would warrant a big price drop anytime soon. Hope that helps!

Help! Rust Stains on My Fiberglass Bathtub

Dear Mary: Our water is very hard and as a result has created rust-colored stains in the fiberglass bathtub. I’ve tried to scrub it away with Comet, but that did nothing. How can I remove these terrible stains? MaryAnne

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Dear MaryAnne: I’m going to assume you have already tried applying a paste of baking soda and white vinegar to the stains, allowing that to sit for a few hours. If that or the Comet didn’t work, I have two options for you, starting with a product you may have already but never dreamed you’d use in a bathtub: Lysol Professional Toilet Bowl Cleaner. Cover the stains with it and allow to sit for an hour or so. You may need to scrub a bit with a Scotch-Brite or similar type scrubber. I am reasonably confident this may take those stains away, that’s how well it works to clean fiberglass, acrylic and porcelain tubs.

However, if your stains are really stubborn—or you would need to go out and purchase the Lysol toilet cleaner—I’d skip that and go straight for the big gun in rust-removers, Iron Out. I love this product because unlike other commercial rust removers, it contains no harsh or abrasive chemicals. And boy does it work well to remove rust stains from just about anything, including fabric.

Good luck and be sure to let us know how this works for you. 

The Cheap and Easy Way to Build a Great Credit Score

Dear Mary: You have written in the past that it’s important that we keep our credit cards “active” even when we keep them at zero balance. How often should we use them to keep them active? Does it matter how much we put on them? Can it be a small purchase that we pay off immediately? Thanks. Nancy

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Dear Nancy: Using a credit card twice a year is more than sufficient to keep the account active. The purchase amount is inconsequential. Use it to purchase a 99-cent app and you’ll accomplish the goal. Then pay it off right away—even on the very same day. That way you won’t forget or run the risk of allowing a silly small purchase to create a rolling debt.

The system isn’t looking at the size of the purchase or the amount of time between purchase and repayment—only that a transaction is recorded and payment is received according to the terms and conditions you agreed to when you opened the account.

These days it’s important for every adult to own one good, all-purpose credit card for the purpose of maintaining a high credit score. To do so does not require one to carry a smidgen of debt (it’s NOT a debt score), nor to use the thing habitually. You could use your card to purchase two apps a year ($1.98 total, paid off immediately) and build a killer credit score. I have a feeling that’s exactly what you plan to do. Good for you!