Best Inexpensive Vacuum Sealer and Room Humidifier

Dear Mary: Just a few days ago I purchased a Ziploc Vacuum Sealer machine. It’s still in the box, unopened. I could have kicked myself when I opened the newspaper and read your column on the FoodSaver brand of vacuum sealers. Now I’m thinking of returning the Ziploc machine and getting the FoodSaver. Before I go to the trouble, I wanted to know if the Ziploc sealer is comparable, in your opinion. Patti


Dear Patti: Honestly, I have never tested or reviewed the Ziploc machine because it does not include one of the most important features and reasons to have a vacuum sealing system—a jar sealer. I use the jar sealer (both the regular and wide mouth sealer because I have both kinds of jars) option more than any other feature on my FoodSaver because I love to store everything from popping corn to fresh fruit in glass canning jars. Even perishables like strawberries and lettuce, when stored in a glass jar and kept in the refrigerator last  so much longer than they would in other kinds of containers.  I do love my FoodSaver for all of its features but would be lost if I couldn’t use it to vacuum seal jars and wine bottles too, using these vacuum sealing bottle stoppers.

A FoodSaver Vacuum Sealing System is going to cost more (currently about $138 at Amazon) but it will be 100 times more useful, which is why it is my choice for the best inexpensive sealing machine. You will use it continuously once you see what it can do. My advice is to return the Ziploc and get a Foodsaver.

Dear Mary: I just read your column on the simple science that makes Nok-Out work to eliminate really difficult odors. Can you give me some quick advice on how to apply that method to rid my apartment of the smell of smoke? The apartment is new. The problem is that the crew smoked in here during construction. It’s yuk! Thank you, Judy

Dear Judy: You do have a terrible problem, and I’m so sorry about that. My first thought was have you contacted the owner or manager? Assuming you have but that hasn’t work out very well—that you do not want to move—Nok-Out absolutely can oxidize (neutralize) the odor of tobacco smoke. The challenge for you is to make sure Nok-Out comes in contact with every place the smoke has penetrated.

When treating a large open area where the odor became airborne and most likely is now clinging to every bit of the ceiling, walls, flooring, cracks and crevices—Nok-Out must do the same in order to reach and then oxidize all of the stink. To do this, you need a room humidifier or vaporizer that produces cool mist (Nok-Out should not be heated to or near the boiling point), and has a capacity sufficient to allow it to hold enough Nok-Out to run for a number of hours between refills. When using Nok-Out in a vaporizer or humidifier, use it full strength. If it is a maintenance dose, then you can dilute by around 1/3 water.

Hint: Use coupon code DPL for 10% off your order.

Nok-Out has been thoroughly tested by the EPA and found to be completely safe for pets and humans while a room is being deodorized like this. However, keep in mind that as the stinky stuff is being oxidized, it will more than likely give off the smell of a swimming pool. That’s Nok-Out doing its job! Once allowed to dry fully, that will go away taking the cigarette odor with it. So it’s up to you if you want to sleep and live there during the hours of treatment. Just know that this would not pose a health issue.

As for the best inexpensive humidifier that meets this criteria, I recommend the Honeywell Germ Free Cool Mist Humidifier HCM-350. Its large capacity will allow it to run for 24 hours straight between fill ups. The regular price is $79.99, however you can find it for less if you are patient and super savvy. Right now, as I write, this humidifier is available online at Amazon for $65.54 with free shipping. I don’t think you can beat that price, but if you do be sure to let me know! As a bonus, this particular humidifier is enjoying many 5-star reviews, which for me, speaks volumes.

Hint: Use coupon code DPL for 10% off your order at If you prefer, you may order by phone at (866) 551-1927 toll free. Ted is always happy to answer any questions you may have.

From Student Debt Repayment to Dried Up Mascara

My cyber mailbag is like the proverbial box of chocolates. I never know what I’m about to get. And I love that. Take today’s offering for example—questions that run the gamut all the way from the dilemma of repaying huge student loans to the heartbreak of dried up mascara.

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Dear Mary: Fifteen years ago my husband finished medical school with $170,000 in school loans. While in forbearance, when we couldn’t afford the payments, it grew to $185,000.

We are back on track now and have paid the debt down to $160,000. That’s progress, but we have so far to go.

We have $90,000 equity in our home. Should we use that to pay down the student debt faster? We have no other debts. Denise

The Five Legal Documents Every Adult Needs

It’s been at least 30 years since my husband and I sat for hours with an attorney who specializes in estate planning. It wasn’t the most pleasant thing I’ve ever done. We were young and the idea of being old and planning for our respective deaths seemed ludicrous. That meeting together with nearly $2,500 made us the proud owners of a Family Trust and Estate Plan, which included the important legal documents that every adult needs.

Recently, a letter from Jenny reminded me that we need to update the documents in our Estate Plan because they may now be out of date. For sure they are “out of state,” due to our relocation to Colorado.

Thankfully, we now have an option to do this ourselves—legally and properly—for a whole lot less than it cost decades ago.

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Dear Mary: I’m 50, married and have two adult children. Our financial life is not complicated. I do not have a will and know that I should. Can I put faith in a simple Will done by one of the large online companies or is it in my family’s best interest that I hire a lawyer? I have read your work for many years and appreciate your advice. Thank you. Jenny

Dear Jenny: Thank you for the trust you put in me, something I value highly. My quick answer is that absolutely you need a Will plus four other documents as well, and I have an online source to recommend to you which will help you do this yourself—a reputable legal help organization you can trust and without reservation.

Will this preclude the need to hire an attorney? It could, but I cannot advise you on that because every situation is different. What I can tell you is that you can do this yourself and be well protected now with all of your information and desires written down in proper legal order—and have that to take to an attorney if or when you find that necessary.

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.


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!


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!



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!


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.