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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!

How Credit Inquiries and Cosigning Can Affect Credit Score

Dear Mary: My son is looking for an apartment near his new job in order to avoid a horrendous daily commute. He recently told me that each time a landlord/manager runs a credit check on him, his credit score drops 15 points. What recourse does he have?

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Dear Judy: Most potential landlords and their management companies do check a potential tenant’s credit history because it’s a good indicator of how a person lives his or her life.

Credit inquiries are classified as either “hard inquiries” or “soft inquiries”—only hard inquiries have an affect on one’s FICO score.

Soft inquiries are all credit inquiries where your credit is NOT being reviewed by a prospective lender. These include inquiries where you’re checking your own credit, and inquiries made by businesses with whom you already have a credit account.

Hard inquiries are inquiries where a potential lender is reviewing your credit because you’ve applied for credit with them. These include credit checks when you’ve applied for an auto loan, mortgage, credit card, insurance and a search for a rental property such as an apartment.

Cheap Ways to Fly, Stay Cool and Clean Up, Too!

Mostly, what I know about every way imaginable to save time and money I’ve learned  1) out of sheer desperation or 2) from kind and clever readers who’ve taught me so much over the years. Today I can officially add three more such ways:

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Dear Mary: I have discovered a website, Skiplagged.com (also a companion smartphone app) for finding super cheap airfares. I have comparison shopped but have found nothing cheaper, and I fly a LOT! The secret: one way flights. Often you are skipping the second leg and your destination is actually the stopover city. It’s the best thing since sliced bread!

When I first started using Skiplagged, I booked a last minute trip to a football playoff city for a game. The best roundtrip fare I could find was $1,000. I got roundtrip at Skiplagged for under $300 (biggest savings so far). It was a weekend of storms in the east and many flights were canceled. The airline kept changing my flight because the storm was hitting the connecting city (my actual destination, but to them it was a connecting city). All I had to do was call each time (twice) and tell them I had a meeting at that airport and had to keep my layover city the same. The storm passed in time and I got in okay.

Not all of the amazing deals at Skiplagged.com involve skipping a leg of the trip you purchase (getting off at the layover city and not continuing on to the destination city on your boarding pass), when it does there is a very important thing to keep in mind when using this tactic: DO NOT check luggage or it will continue on without you. This is a tactic that requires carry-on only. Kasey

Dear Kasey: Great find. I just spent a little time comparing prices trips I have taken recently and also future trips I have booked and I’m amazed. This site really delivers. Thanks so much for letting us know about Skiplagged. I can’t wait to hear how others use this resource to figure out super cheap ways to travel. 

How to Eliminate Odor of Gasoline Spilled Inside Family Vehicle Plus GIVEAWAY!

Recently a message showed up in my inbox that made my heart sink. I couldn’t help imagine what it would be like to lend my car to someone, only to have it come back to me with a little something I’d not counted on. And what if that condition was permanent?! Thankfully, I have good news for one desperate reader.

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DEAR MARY: I have a problem that I can’t solve and was wondering if you would be able to help.  Someone borrowed my car recently and transported a small generator in it.  Somehow, the gasoline spilled out inside my Explorer and left a very intense gasoline smell. I have tried everything I can think of and nothing has removed the smell.  I steamed cleaned it with carpet shampoo, sprinkled it with baking soda and vacuum it up, saturated it with Nok-Out at least three time to no avail. Any ideas? Lisa

DEAR LISA: My first response to your dilemma was to wonder if this “someone” was at one time on your list of friends (relatives?) but I won’t go there. Instead, I do have a solution for you and one that does not involve pushing that SUV off a cliff. It’s long, so bear with me.

This is definitely a job for Nok-Out—an odor-eliminating product that is non-toxic, fragrance-free and absolutely works wonders providing it is used specifically.

Super Inexpensive Chromebook Laptop Gets Another Rave Review Plus More Reader Feedback

Somedays I stare at my email inbox the way a meteorologist stares at a barometer. While the meteorologist counts on his barometer to forecast the weather, I look to my email inbox to measure and predict your reactions and feedback.

You might recall a recent post on how to use up every last bit of a rotisserie chicken. I have to admit that my thoughts were on how to use up all of the chicken meat. About 10 minutes after that post hit, my inbox started going crazy. I got hundreds of responses scolding me for failure to include making stock from the chicken carcass. Whoops!

A post on a type of very inexpensive laptop brought another tsunami-strength wave of mail—this time from happy, satisfied readers turned Chromebook fans.

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