Forget the Dry Cleaner: How to Wash a Down Comforter

If you’ve ever wondered if it’s okay to wash your down comforter without taking it to the dry cleaners, the answer is yes. You can absolutely wash your down comforter without spending upwards of $60 (depending on the size, where you live and how dirty it is) to have it dry cleaned professionally. All you need is a mild detergent, wool dryer balls (or tennis balls), a few hours to spend at a laundromat and patience. And if yours is a king-size comforter, a lot of patience.

A row of industrial washing machines in a public laundromat.

A row of industrial washing machines in a public laundromat.

To do this, you’ll need mild detergent (our homemade detergent is ideal, or Woolite), wool dryer balls (or tennis balls work well), an extra-large front loading washing machine (most home models are too small for this task) and an extra-large dryer. Here are step-by-step instructions:

Step 1. Load your down comforter into the largest extra large front-loading washing machine at your local laundromat. The less crowded the comforter is in the washer and dryer, the better the results.

Step 2. Add a small amount of mild detergent. Be careful here as too much detergent will strip the down or feathers of their natural coating that makes down or feathers such a wonderful thermal insulator.

Step 3. Select the gentle or delicate setting on the washer and two rinse cycles. It is very important that the last bit of detergent to be rinsed out.

Make Your Kitchen Look Like New for $300 and Some Sweat

Recently I walked into Amy and Justin’s kitchen and my jaw dropped. It was like I’d stumbled into the wrong house. The gorgeous new cabinets and countertops made it look brand new. You could have knocked me over with a feather when these friends told us they weren’t new cabinets and counters at all. They’d refinished them themselves—all for about $300.

photo credit: Critter-Cozies

photo credit: Critter-Cozies

You may think that kitchen projects need to be left to the professionals, which of course is fine provided you’ve got thousands of dollars to work with. But if your budget is slightly under that—and you’re willing to contribute some sweat to the project—new products and methods now available can bring do-it-yourself options to any kitchen.

CABINETS. Our friends refinished their existing cabinets (the doors and face frames) with Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations Kit about $75 that covers 100 square feet.

The thing that gave Amy and Justin the courage and confidence to tackle this project themselves was the Rust-Oleum promise of no stripping, no sanding, no priming and no special skills required. While their cabinets are made of wood, this product will also transform melamine, melt and laminate cabinetry.

Have You Given Yourself That $1,400 After-Tax Raise Yet?

If there’s one thing that I love about my loyal readers, it’s how responsive you are. Sometimes you like what you read, other times not so much. Now and then you simply need more information. But no matter what, I can always count on hearing from you. Which brings me to a previous column I wrote on pulling the plug on subscription pay TV. It brought a huge response.

According to NPD Group, the average pay-TV bill is $123 per month—more than $1,400 a year. For many, that’s money that could be better used to build an emergency fund or pay off debt. No wonder that column struck a chord with so many readers.

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The most-asked question had to do with the need for an antenna to receive free, local HD broadcasting. Which kind? Which one works best?

As I was fielding your messages, my husband and I were in the process of relocating. We did it! In April, we moved from California to northern Colorado, about 20 miles north of Denver. What a change from big city life in Orange County to living in the country. Our little village boasts a population of just 18,000. And what a perfect opportunity to test antennas to find the best way to enjoy free TV and quality programming in our new location.

Hands Down the Best Way to Kill Weeds and It’s Not Roundup

In 1970, John Franz, a chemist for Monsanto, discovered that the chemical glyphosate is a potent herbicide that kills just about every kind of plant material imaginable. In no time, the company gave its miracle weed killer the brand name Roundup.

Farmers, especially, went wild for Roundup. Just one problem: It was nearly impossible to kill the weeds without also killing their crops. So Monsanto sent its chemists back to work to develop glyphosate-resistant, or “Roundup ready crops” that have had their DNA altered (genetically modified or GMO) to allow them to be immune to glyphosate. Now farmers could spray with abandon and not worry about their crops.

photo credit: CreativeGreenLiving.com

photo credit: CreativeGreenLiving.com

To say that glyphosate, Roundup and GMO foods have become a bit controversial would be to put it mildly. There are some who say that glyphosate causes cancer in animals, and most likely humans, too. They insist that the side effects of long-term GMO food consumption is producing serious health risks for all living things. Despite all of this controversy and outcry about issues surrounding Roundup and GMO crops, so far the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found no convincing evidence to force Roundup off the market. It’s a hot button issue, that’s for sure.

There is one provable and very compelling reason to not buy Roundup: It’s too expensive! Even if it were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Roundup is safe as water, I still wouldn’t shell out the high price for the stuff. I kill weeds like crazy with kitchen pantry items that are really cheap and non toxic: white vinegar, ordinary table salt and dishwashing liquid.

Using Regular Detergent in a High-Efficiency Washer is Risky Business

If you’ve ever wondered what’s the difference between regular laundry detergents and those designated as “High Efficiency” or HE, if they’re interchangeable and if you could possibly make your own to cut the cost, you are not the only one! Those are questions that frequently show up in my mailbox. 16788336_m

Dear Mary:  First, thank you for your column, I love it! I just inherited several bottles of regular laundry detergent. I have an HE front-loader washer. Is there a way to use or modify regular laundry detergent for HE use? Christin

Dear Christin: Standard washing machines that use traditional laundry detergent (the type of detergent you’ve inherited) use up to 23 gallons of water per load. Full-sized energy efficient top-loaders like my beloved LG High-Efficiency Top Load Washer (which I loved and gifted it to my son when we moved into a tiny apartment—another long and lovely story for another time), use about 13 gallons of water per load (a savings of more than 3,000 gallons of water per year!) operate much differently than a standard machine. This is one of the reasons that HE detergent is quite different than the standard type of detergent.

So, can you use standard detergent in your HE machine? I must advise you that your owner manual is not likely to support such an idea, potentially putting your warranty at risk. That being said, I will admit that I did use standard detergent from time to time in my LG top-loader that required HE detergent. But I used MUCH less per load because it uses so much less water.

Too much detergent will clog up the machine because the amount of water it uses is not sufficient to rinse it out. That build up can cause the machine to malfunction and to eventually create an offensive odor.

When I say “less” I mean a lot less. Like one-fourth the amount you might  normally use. I measured it in tablespoons, not capfuls. And I diluted it in a large container of water before pouring it into the machine.

Would I do that again? Yes, but not on a regular basis. I want you and all of my readers to know that to do so would be, according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, taking a potential risk should the machine require service under its warranty.

Given the potential harm you could do to your machine, you might want to consider re-gifting the detergent to friends, family or a shelter in your area that uses traditional washers. Then make a big batch of my new and improved liquid homemade HE detergent (read on to learn more about that). That way others win and you win, too. Hope that helps. And thanks for loving EC.

Dear Mary: I made up the laundry soap recipe that you published back in 2012. It seems like there is way too much Fels-Naptha soap for the recipe. I bought a similar jar of laundry soap mixture at the local Farmer’s Market and the vender did not have nearly as much soap in it. It did quite well in my HE washer. I just want to make sure there wasn’t a misprint in your article.

I look forward to your articles each time they are in my local newspaper. Thank you for your diligence and pithy advice. Cheryle

Dear Cheryle: The recipe for powdered laundry detergent you refer to (1 cup grated Fels-Naptha soap, 1/2 cup Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda and 1/2 cup 20 Mule Team Borax) is correct. It may seem like a lot of Fels-Naptha but keep in mind, you use only 2 tablespoons of the final product per washer load.

This recipe is suitable to be used in any clothes washer including those designated “high efficiency” or HE, as this detergent does not create suds. You would want to use a bit more in a standard washing machine, however.

Since that column ran more than three years ago, I’ve discovered what I believe is a much improved  recipe for homemade liquid laundry detergent; one that does not require Fels-Naptha soap (somewhat difficult to find these days plus all that grating!) and is also HE compliant. I find it performs better, too.

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Every Home’s Most Overlooked (Free!) Heating and Cooling Devices

Who doesn’t love learning about a money-saving tactic or investment that result in a net savings of thousands of dollars a year? I sure do! And I can count on maybe two fingers how many of those I’ve managed to deploy in my home in the past decade.

Room with curtains billowing at open window

It’s easy to think that the tiny things we can do to save money just aren’t worth the time and trouble. But they are because of the cumulative effect. Small things repeated often bring huge results. I call them little ways to save big.

OPEN OR CLOSE YOUR WINDOWS. Your house or apartment is full of free heating and cooling devices. They’re called windows. Using your windows for more than letting in light is a great way to save some serious scratch. If you live where it’s cool at night and warm during the day open your windows at night to let the cool air in and close them in the morning to keep the warm air out.

Use your curtains and blinds to block out the sun and keep daytime cooling costs down. Of course, if you live in a colder climate throwing your curtains and blinds open when the sun is shining can easily raise the interior temperature of your house a few degrees.

UNPLUG IT. Time it, sensor it, put it to sleep and smart power strip it. One way or another, drive a stake into the heart of phantom power drains. You could enjoy a decent dinner and movie for you and someone special once a year (including a generous tip) with money saved by unplugging unused devices.

Improve Your Life: Join a Group

Every night my friend Mary Ann does the unthinkable. She sets her alarm for 4:30 a.m. because every morning she gets up and walks three miles while the rest of the world sleeps.

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photo credit: Nebraska Medicine

How has Mary Ann managed to stick with this early morning fitness routine for so many years years? Simple. She knows that someone is waiting for her. Two people have made a commitment to one another to show up.

The secret of Mary Ann’s success is that she chooses to be accountable, not only to herself but to another person who shares her desire to become physically fit.

And how is this working out? Extremely well, she reports. The faster she and her buddy walk the louder they talk. And laugh. They even argue from time to time. They share their lives and brainstorm their dreams. They get so involved they don’t notice the miles clicking away. The deep friendship that has resulted from this daily event not only makes the task possible, it makes it enjoyable.

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, Calif., says the way to get involved in the behemoth-sized church is to get plugged-in to a small group made up of people whose life situations match their own.

Holiday Head Start

During these lazy days of summer I can imagine that Christmas is the farther thing from your mind! And why not? With thoughts of vacation, finding ways to keep cool and big family get-togethers filling these summer days, the sounds of jingle bells and carolers out in the snow are like ancient history.

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I want to break this to you gently, but Christmas decor will be appearing in a store near you in only a matter of weeks—if you haven’t seen hints of that already. Devoting only a few minutes each day to getting started early with your Christmas plans will come back to bless you in money saved. And you’ll have beaten a lot of stress, too, come December.

Here are some quick and easy ways to get started now!

CRASH SAVE. Once each week put $10—or an amount you find appropriate—into an envelope for a service person you will remember with a tip during the holidays. Label and seal. Then make a note in your calendar so you don’t forget where you put it.

GROUP CRAFTING. Spend an evening with three or four friends making holiday decorations. Each brings an idea plus all the materials and supplies. By the end of a very fun evening everyone goes home with three or four new items.