Several times over the past years, I have wished with all my heart I could call Mr. Migaki, my favorite teacher of all time who sparked curiosity and the love of science in my fifth-grade self. I needed to ask him about minerals and crystals and why something called borax can be powdery soft one day and hard as a rock the next.
Dear Mary: Your Everyday Cheapskate column is one of the few emails I receive that I open and read every day, without fail. Both your product recommendations and your recipes are wonderful. Your Italian Sausage Soup and Bread Pudding recipes are five-star and often served at our house. Practically all of our dinner guests have raved and asked for both recipes!
I also use your homemade laundry detergent recipe, and it works well to clean our clothes, but I have a question about it. The last batch I made went into two clean gallon containers, and as I was pouring the last out of the first container, I got a lot of white crystalized lumps at the bottom. So I strained the contents of the second container into another jug and got a lot of the same white crystalized lumps from it. So:
1. Did I do something wrong? The previous several batches were fine and lump-free, and I followed the same recipe with the same ingredients. (I know you probably can’t answer this, but maybe other readers have reported the same phenomenon?)
2. Do you know what these lumps are?
3. Is the strained liquid going to be an effective cleaning agent? Where I live in Southern California we’re still under drought water-usage rules. I don’t want to waste a couple washer loads of water with useless detergent if I don’t have to. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated! Pat
Now and then I open my mailbox to find a letter than makes me want to jump up and run around yelling, “I know the answer! I know exactly how to fix this problem!” That’s exactly what happened the day I heard from Chris …
Dear Mary: As an older woman whose hands tremble a bit (I’ve been thoroughly checked and it’s not a serious matter) I am forever dropping food on my clothing while I eat. That results in grease spots that set in no matter what I do. I have tried pre-washes, baking soda, double washing, and stain removers. I have not found anything that will remove the grease stains and I am not willing to wear a bib, especially while eating in a nice restaurant with friends and family. I am on a limited budget, and this is becoming a real issue. Please help! Chris
Dear Chris: I can identify because I have the same problem, only mine is a result of cooking over a splattering stove while failing to wear an apron. I know what you mean about tough grease spots setting into my clothes and refusing to budge. But not to worry. I have the perfect solution—one I’ve used nearly every day of my life since I found it.
If there’s one thing I love, it’s discovering a quick and easy tip that saves me time and money and also makes my life easier. And when that tip is doubly clever because I can use something I have already to get it done, well that makes me so happy!
Enjoy some of my favorite tips readers have sent in over the years. And get ready to say what I say more often than you can even imagine: Wow! Why didn’t I think of that?!
AUTO TRASH CAN. Repurpose a cereal canister as a trash can for the car.
DIY WATERING CAN. Make your own watering can by puncturing holes in the lid of an empty plastic container like a milk or juice bottle.
REMOVE PET HAIR. Use a squeegee with a rubber blade to remove pet hair from furniture and carpet.
Sometimes it’s the most unusual thing that turns out to be the magical solution for a household problem. Things like a hairdryer, a bottle of essential oil or tube of toothpaste.
Dear Mary: We had a very bad dark pink 7-foot stain in our white fiberglass whirlpool bathtub from previous antifreeze winterizing. I’d tried many things to remove the awful stain, including baking soda, soft scrub, bleach, scrubbing bubbles and mildew stain remover, among other things. I was about to give up and live with the long ugly pink stain when I tried non-gel toothpaste. It came off 100%! The tub is beautiful and sparkles again. I don’t know if anyone else might have this issue or a similar one, but I wanted to share this one with you. Gail
Dear Gail: Wow, that’s amazing! Thanks for letting us know. For readers running for the toothpaste to treat their own similarly stubborn stains, let me caution to always test in an inconspicuous place to make sure you will not be making an already difficult situation even worse. That’s just a good idea. As always, I’d love to hear from anyone for whom this tip saves the day.
If you’ve ever had to deal with an invasion of ants, you may know the meaning of exasperation. While the kids think ants are so cute the way they march in formation, stop to help one another and work hard to prepare for their own particular set of life challenges ahead, it’s better to study these amazing creatures than to wake up to find a million or so feasting on that last piece of pie someone left out on the counter last night.
While there are dozens of homemade remedies for dealing with ants—from poisoning them with boric acid, borax, or ammonia—the ingredients can create toxic situations for crawling babies, pets and that salad you’re about to make on the counter where you just attempted to deal with an ant attack.
Other methods, like one that promises to blow up their digestive systems with cornmeal—while perhaps better to use than harsh chemicals—can create a new challenge when the solution turns out to be messier than the problem.
Today I want to tell you about an effective recipe for an ant spray you can make yourself from natural products that are toxic to ants but perfectly safe for pets and people. This recipe is safe, quick, natural (did I say that already?) and highly effective. And so handy. Just grab and go whenever you see a problem. You are going to love it.
What would it feel like to check your bank balance and find a pile of money you didn’t know you had? That could happen and it doesn’t have to involve getting a second job or convincing the family how much fun it would be to fast two days a week.
Stop wasting money on goods and services that don’t matter in the long run. You just might see the equivalent of working a second job in your wallet.
1. BUYING FROM A TV AD
Face it: Infomercial products are overpriced and hardly ever turn out to be as wonderful as depicted. And those risk-free trial periods? Don’t believe it. You’ll have to pay the return shipping costs plus a restocking fee, if you ever get around to it.
Plug the leak: Whenever tempted by an infomercial product, take a second to look up the item on eBay. You’ll be shocked to find dozens at a fraction of the price because that’s where they unload all the “as seen on TV” products that get returned. Ask yourself, why so many returns? By then the infomercial should be over and you can get on with your day.
How much you can save: How about two easy payments of $49.95? Plus shipping and handling. And the shipping charges to return it during the “free” trial period.
Is your freezer a money-guzzling storage facility for mystery meats? An oversized ice maker? It’s time to learn how to turn that box of wasted cold space into the money-stretching, time-saving household appliance it was meant to be.
Temperature. Set it to the coldest setting so you maintain a constant temperature of 0 degrees or lower to ensure food will be safe to eat.
Efficient. A full freezer uses less electricity. When food inventory is low, pack it full by adding containers of water to fit the empty spaces.
Right wrap. Wrap food tightly to prevent moisture loss that causes food to become dry and discolored. Then, wrap it again in a thicker layer of foil, plastic or freezer bags. The second wrap keeps out odors.
No burn. Trapped air causes freezer burn. To prevent it, select a container small enough so your contents fill it. And skip the fancy sealing machine. Using a freezer bag, seal all but enough space to slip in a drinking straw. Inhale on the straw to pull out all the air, quickly seal the bag, and pop it into the freezer.
Over the past several months, I’ve received more requests for the best inexpensive stick vacuum than all other such requests combined. And I get it. I’ve been looking for my ideal stick vacuum for so long, I’d just about come to the conclusion that my expectations are completely unreasonable—my perfect stick vacuum doesn’t exist.
For me, a stick vacuum is not a substitute for a good, powerful household vacuum that can pull dirt, dust and debris from deep within the pile of a carpet. Just so you know, I am not looking to get rid of my beloved Sharky. Never! A stick vacuum has a different purpose altogether.
It’s a simple tool designed for quick pick-ups; to clean up spills in the kitchen, tracked in sand, dirt, pet hair, cat litter, dust, and loose debris when you don’t have the time or inclination to haul out a full size vacuum cleaner for such a small task.
A good way to think of a stick vacuum is that it’s an electric broom and dustpan in one. It “sweeps” up and then vacuums away debris in a single pass without the need for the user to bend over or get down on the floor.
My dream stick vacuum would be cordless with a run time of at least 20 minutes and able to stand alone. In my dreams this stick vacuum is so lightweight I can easily carry it up and down stairs in one hand while carrying a load in the other. It must have an on/off switch so that I don’t have to continuously hold down a trigger during operation.