How to Clean Steam Irons and Granite Countertops—Cheap and Easy!

These days its nearly certain that there’s a pricey product available to clean just about anything. But why spend the money when you can make your own homemade products that perform just as well (maybe better!) from ingredients you may have already in your cupboards and pantry? I’m talking cheaper, faster and quite possibly better!

Dear Mary: What is the best and most effective way to clean a steam iron? Bev

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Dear Bev: You need to clean both the inside and the sole plate of a steam iron regularly to keep it in tip-top condition. Before you proceed with my cleaning suggestions, make sure you read the owner manual that came with our iron to make sure there are no instructions or cautions that might preclude the following.

INSIDE: To remove build-up from the inside of the iron, which over time can really clog things up, pour equal amount of white vinegar and water into the iron’s water chamber up to the maximum fill line. Turn the iron on to “steam” setting and iron a soft clean cloth to clean out the steam ports.

Readers Share Creative Solutions for Chains, Stains, Sprains and More

CREATIVE GIFTING. My teenage grandchildren don’t want “stuff” any more—they want cash! And I understand; being a teenager can be expensive. But I don’t want to just hand them money. For Christmas last year I got brand new $1.00 bills from the bank (they need to be crisp for this). I took them to a quick print shop where they turned them into glue top pads of money. When the kids needed cash, they could just tear off some dollar bills. (Here are instructions for how to do this yourself. -mh) This year I am going to turn dollar bills into chains, like we used to do with gum wrappers years ago. Things like this make giving money more fun and interesting. Dana

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FROZEN OWNER MANUAL. I keep all the instruction booklets that come with new appliances large and small  in a big envelope should I ever need to refer to them. I just bought a new freezer and thought perhaps I should keep this booklet handy. I put it in a zip-type freezer bag and  put it—you guessed right—in the freezer. Helen

SUEDE SPOT REMOVER. Recently I managed to some kind of ugly gunk on the suede portion of my leather shoe. I grabbed the Folex Carpet Spot Remover (my favorite for carpet spots) and an old tooth brush and went to work on it. It worked fabulously! I have no connection with the Folex company, but have found stains do not reappear later when using this product, which was recommended by a professional carpet cleaner years ago. Thought I’d share this. Melanie

Money-Savers That Will Pay for Themselves in a Year – Part 1

There’s a big difference between simply buying things and investing in things that will actually pay for themselves—provided that you are diligent in putting them to good use. Once you’ve recouped the purchase price in money saved, these items will continue to save you money—for free!

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BAR MOPS.  A bar mop is a white terrycloth squarish-sized towel—the perfect size to dry a dish, wipe down a counter or clean up a spill. A bar mop also makes a great oversized cloth napkin. In my kitchen, bar mops have replaced paper towels, paper napkins and traditional kitchen towels, too.

I have six dozen bar mops and rotate them frequently. Actually, I use them with abandon—in the same way I used to use up paper towels—tossing them into a second handy kitchen trash can that I use as a hamper. When it’s full into the laundry they go.

Bar mops are durable. I’ve had the same collection for many years. I add 1/4 cup of liquid chlorine bleach to the wash cycle and 1/2 cup white vinegar to the final rinse of every load of bar mops. That keeps them sparkling white, stain-free, soft and fluffy.

Cost comparison:


When Driving a Lemon is Easier Than Getting Rid of It

Dear Mary: We have an aging car that is a lemon. We are keeping it going with bailing wire until we can afford a different car. When that time comes, besides our temptation to shove it over a cliff, what should we do with our lemon? In good conscience I cannot even donate it to a charity. Sue Ellen

Dear Sue Ellen: If you feel it is not drivable when that time comes, about your only option would be to sell it for salvage. Check with a local auto dismantling yard. Depending on the make and model, they may decide to “part it out,” which might make the car slightly more valuable to them than it is to you. In that case, they will probably accept the complete car. If you sell it for only the scrap metal, you will likely have to remove the engine, tires, radiator and other vital parts ahead of time, delivering just the metal. Just don’t expect to get much money from the deal. You may discover that it’s easier to drive a lemon than to get rid of one!

In the meantime as you wait out this car’s useful life, you might enjoy knowing how another reader lives happily with an old car.

Outdoor Grilling That Won’t Bust the Budget

In that your humble columnist has recently become the proud owner of a new outdoor grill (it’s a honey!), you can pretty much count on more columns in the future devoted to this subject starting with today.

photo credit: combust

photo credit: combust

But first, I must admit to a momentary lapse of good judgment. Wanting to initiate this bad boy in a manner consistent with its awesome capabilities, I visited the website of Lobel’s of New York, “the best source for the finest and freshest USDA prime dry-aged steaks, roasts, specialty meats, and gourmet products that money can buy.” Unveiling the mother of all outdoor grills seemed like an event worthy of a few high-quality American Wagyu steaks delivered overnight on a bed of dry ice. I checked the price. Gulp! One 16-oz Porterhouse steak: $118.98—plus overnight shipping.

Just the thought of forking more tha hundred bucks on a single steak jerked me back to reality with enough force to cause whiplash. Surely there has to be frugal ground somewhere between Lobel’s and what’s left of the buy-one-get-one-free hotdogs sitting in the freezer.

How to Get Sparkle in a Vase, Cheap Into Pest Control and Piddle Out of Carpet

Dear Mary: I have a beautiful crystal vase that over the years has acquired a build-up of residue that I cannot remove. Do you have a suggestion on how to remove it? Pat

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Dear Pat: That build-up is likely calcium, lime and other minerals from years of standing water. You may need to experiment a bit, but I’m sure you can return that vase to its sparkling beauty. Here are two simple and completely harmless methods:

Method 1: Start by filling the vase with white vinegar to cover past the murky area. If the vase is large, you can use a mixture of vinegar and water. Allow the vinegar to sit for a couple of hours. Swish the liquid around to see how much of the film has been loosened. If the film layer is thick and not coming loose, add a 1/4 cup of uncooked rice. Cover and shake the container. The rice will “scrub” to loosen the tough layers. Use the bottle brush to remove any remaining film from the interior of the vase. Empty the vase and wash with mild soap. Dry completely.

Method 2: Fill the vase with water and drop in one or two denture tablets, depending on the vase size. Allow to sit and work overnight. In the morning agitate the container gently to ensure all of the deposits and mineral build up has come loose. Empty the vase and wash with mild soap and water. Rinse well and dry it completely.

More Ways to Slash Your Food Bill

Could you use an extra $25 or $50 next week? If you get motivated there’s a big chance you can slash your family’s food bill by that much—maybe more—each week, without sacrificing health and nutrition. And that will be tax-free cash you have in your hand, not money that requires more overtime or a garage sale before you can get your hands on it.

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There’s not one single way to reduce food costs significantly and consistently. It has to be a combination of strategies: buy right, eat out less and cook at home more.

COUPONS. You know that couponing can be very effective. But you have to do it right, or it will just be a big waste of time and money. Check sites like The Grocery Game (my favorite) and Coupon Mom. The secret is to combine a manufacturer’s coupon with a sale. That requires that you keep your eye on sales and also hold onto coupons, but not so long that they expire.

Do-It-Yourself Pest Control for Home and Garden

Recently, a friend sent me an S.O.S. asking if I knew of any natural way to rid an apartment of fleas—a method that would not be toxic to small children. Treating the pets animals would be the first step, but surprisingly these folks have no animals. The truth is that flea infestations often occur simply because neighborhood cats or dogs like to lounge near their home or they have purchased an infested piece of furniture from a yard sale.

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I headed right for my collection of pest control recipes and retrieved the perfect solution for fleas. I thought you might enjoy knowing that one, plus remedies for all kinds of  home and garden pests.

All-Purpose outdoor insect spray. Mix one chopped garlic clove, one chopped small onion and one tablespoon cayenne powder into one quart water. Allow to steep one hour, then add one tablespoon liquid dishwashing soap, like blue Dawn or Ivory liquid. This all-purpose insect spray remains potent for only one week, so use it up.

Ants. Repel an ant invasion by washing counter tops, cabinets and floors with equal parts water and vinegar.