How to Treat Laundry Stains with Less Toil and Trouble

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. 

Magical Solutions for Challenging Situations

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.

Reader Responses to Recent Posts

Every time I hit the send button on a new post I get that momentary sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing.  And when your responses come pouring in, it’s like a welcomed pat on the back.

Not all responses are, shall we say, raving reviews but mostly you encourage me. And now and then you offer a different viewpoint or an anecdote from your own life that confirms or refutes what you’ve just read. Regardless, I value every message, every response and even the occasional ones that really let me have it.

Enjoy this handful of responses to recent posts:


When my kids moved back home we signed a contract. One clause was the Work Incentive clause. I charged them $100 rent if they had a job, any kind of job. If they were not working the rent was $200.

‘How can I pay MORE rent without a job?!!’ he howled. ‘I don’t know,’ I replied. ‘That’s your problem. But if you sign the contract, I will hold you to it. If you don’t want to sign the contract, go find somewhere else to live with a better deal.’

He had to do his own laundry, but he was welcome at the dinner table as long as I knew it ahead of time. He lived here about 6 months, then got an apartment. He learned real fast to manage money.

Ditto for my daughter when she finished grad  school and moved back briefly. I believe in helping kids for awhile so they can save their money, get on their feet and get back out there. But to hole up with mom and dad forever? Nope. There is no sense of personal pride and accomplishment in that. Jacqueline


My husband and I unexpectedly found ourselves in a boomerang position when our prodigal son returned home with his pregnant girlfriend. He thought we were so mean, at the time, but we charged them rent approximately equal to what a one bedroom apartment cost in our town. We covered food, as long as they were eating the meals we planned with us. They covered their own snacks, and if they ate out. They drove our extra car, but paid insurance on it. They had chores and household rules just like the children who haven’t moved out yet. Rather than make it a “one-time thing,” my husband and I tried to make it a thing that if it lasted forever we could live with it; and if it happens again, everyone would already know the ground rules.

They moved out about 10 months later. They did not know it at the time, but we had put their rent in a savings account, and when they were ready to move out with a budget in hand, they had $5000 in their Contingency Fund (that they had paid in rent), in addition to the first month’s rent and security deposit that they had saved up in preparation to move out. They’ve fallen on hard times a couple of times, but they’ve pulled through in part, I think, because it is worth the extra work (to them) to have the freedom to “adult” in their own place. They still come to do laundry at our house once in awhile, and when they come to family dinners on Sunday they arrive with our grandchildren and containers to bring home leftovers for the week. Stephanie


A Lightning Round of Solutions for Annoying Situations

Welcome back to Ask Mary, where I, your humble columnist, respond to your questions. Got a vexing issue? Send it over.

Today, in the Annoying Situations category we’re tackling white dryer lint on dark clothes, rust-stained marble, moss and mildew, and HSA fees—all in no particular order. Let’s go.

Q: I’ve given up laundry softening products by switching to wool dryer balls (thank you) but now I have a new problem. These white dryer balls are like little lint magnets. That’s a good thing when drying loads of whites, but not so good when it’s a load of dark items that come out with annoying white lint.

A: I know what you’re talking about and that’s the reason that I have a set of black wool dryer balls that I use only in dryer loads of dark-colored items. It’s easy to switch back and forth as long as the dryer balls are handy—black dryer balls in dark loads, white ones with white loads. Problem solved!

Q: Do you have any idea how to remove rust stains (possibly from hard water) from my marble shower stall? I tried lemon juice and baking soda and scrubbed for a long time but not much was removed. Any help you can give me will be appreciated.

A: Marble maintenance is a tricky topic because it is soft and porous as natural stone products go, making marble surfaces an easy target for all kinds of stains. You need a “poultice” which is a paste you apply to the stain that you allow it to sit for many hours to draw out the stain. And it needs to be made from ingredients specific to that particular stain or nothing will happen at all. That could explain why your lemon juice baking soda scrub did exactly that–nothing. 

My best advice is to invest twenty-bucks in a commercial product especially formulated to remove rust stains from marble and granite. I’m confident that TeRust Poultice Powder, (about $20) will do the job provided the stain has not been permanently set, which I doubt. Be sure to follow the instructions exactly and keep in mind that it may require multiple treatments to achieve full success.

Q: I know you have informed your readers about a thousand times on this, but please indulge me again. What is the name of the moss spray you’ve written about in past columns? As I recall you said you can just spray it on and it does all the work for you.

A: The product you’re referring to is Wet & Forget Moss Mold Mildew & Algae Stain Remover. It really is the most amazing outdoor product because it removes moss, mildew and algae stains  from just about any surface. 

Dilute with water per instructions, apply using a garden sprayer (or a high-quality, professional, hose end sprayer like this one that will spray up to 28 feet to reach areas liking siding, walls, awnings, etc) and forget it. The product goes right to work to removal stains on any exterior surface—no scrubbing or rinsing necessary. Then each time it rains, it continues to gently removes the moss, mildew and algae. Wet & Forget is non-caustic, non-acidic and contains no bleach. It can be used on ANY outdoor surface materials including roofs, siding, decks, walkways, driveways, brick, RVs and boats; awnings, fences, fountains, gazebos, greenhouses, hammocks, lanais, patio furniture (all types); outdoor rugs, pots, patio umbrellas, play equipment, pool liners, retaining walls, shades and storage units. The list goes on and on—and on. Great stuff.

Q: I recently retired from a job where I had and health insurance with an HSA (health savings account) plan. I opted to leave the HSA account undisturbed until needed sometime in the future. I no longer contribute to it, however. The new company holding this HSA is wanting to charge for statements and also a monthly fee to hold my account. Do you know of any companies that I could transfer my HSA money into that would not charge me a monthly or annual fee?

A: Many credit unions offer fee-free HSA accounts. Check with yours or if you are not a member of a credit union, look around in your area for one that you can join. Also, read “How to Join a Credit Union” by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). Provided it is simply an HSA savings account—not an investment account—chances are very good it will be free of fees and miscellaneous charges. Credit unions are like that.


How to Protect Your Medicare Card Plus What’s So Great About Home Chef?

What do a U.S. Social Security card and a Medicare card have in common? Both have the cardholder’s Social Security number emblazoned on the front in all its 9-digit glory!

The SSA warns, “Do not carry your Social Security card with you! Keep it in a safe place with your other important papers.” At the same time Medicare instructs seniors, “Be sure to carry your card with you when you’re away from home.” Say, what?

Dear Mary: You’ve encouraged me to write with my question, so here it is: On the back of my Medicare card it says, “Carry your card with you when you are away from home.” I am uneasy with that because it has my Social Security number printed right on it.

Doesn’t this expose me to identity theft if my wallet or purse is lost or stolen? But on the other hand, wouldn’t I need it in my possession in the event that I need emergency medical treatment or to check in for a doctor appointment? Boe

Dear Boe: You’re right! Medicare advises seniors to carry their cards at all times, but doing so makes them more vulnerable to identity theft if a wallet or purse is lost or stolen. A new Medicare card is coming, one that will no longer display a cardholder’s SSN. The agency has been working on this since 2015 (seriously) but as of this writing no date has been announced for when new cards will be issued. The wheels of government grind slowly.

In the meantime, AARP suggests that Medicare beneficiaries ignore the carry directive and instead carry a photocopy of the card with the first 5-digits of the SSN completely blocked out—leaving only the last 4 digits visible.

While emergency personnel can’t refuse to provide care until you show an insurance card, it is true that you’d need to come up with billing information before leaving a hospital or treatment facility. 

How Much is a Second Income Worth, Really?

Most families these days assume it takes two incomes to survive. And many would be shocked if they just took the time to figure out the real hourly wage in that second paycheck.

Dear Mary: With two little boys, my husband and I are paying through the roof for daycare. It seems like almost all the money I earn goes to childcare, so I’ve been thinking of quitting my job and staying home with the kids. I’m excited at the thought of spending more time with them, but I also want to be sure my family will be okay financially. Is there an easy way to make sure the decision is right for us? Bethany

Dear Bethany: I think you’re on to something. But before you make any rash decisions, do this: Write down a figure that represents your monthly take-home (net) pay. Now deduct from that all of your work-related costs including daycare, transportation, clothes, lunches, gifts and office pools and anything else you can come up with that would go away if you stay at home. Divide that result by the number of hours you’re away from home to see what your real hourly wage. But wait, there’s more.

Consider all of the hidden expenses you have because you work, like more fast food, take-out and restaurant meals because you’re too tired to cook. Do you hire help for the yard work or housecleaning? If you are home there’s a good chance you can do those jobs and reduce your expenses even further.

You may be shocked to discover it’s actually costing you to hold down a job because you’re paying out more than you earn, while this job is putting you into a higher tax bracket.

Unless you make a whopping big salary, you may be better off financially by being at home with your kids where you can also cook, clean and garden, too.

Dear Mary: My son Jake graduated from college about a year ago. He has a job, but with student loans and a bit of credit-card debt, he is struggling a bit financially. I know with smarter choices he could pull himself out of this; however, Jake just asked his father and me for help. We want to be good parents and provide for him. At the same time, we also think that since he’s an adult, he needs to start taking care of himself. Is there any compromise? Suzanne

Dear Suzanne:  Since he has asked for help, this might be the perfect time to teach as well. Don’t just give him a handout. Help him set up a budget. It’s possible he like so many people has never learned how to manage money.

Because he has come to you asking for help it’s possible he’s open to receiving your guidance as well. He needs to be accountable, but not in a child/parent way. Think of this as more of a client/counselor relationship.

In the same way he would have to create and submit a business plan to get a business loan, have him create a personal finance plan for how he intends to use the money you lend to him, how he intends to manage his income each month and how he plans to pay you back.

It’s time for Jake to get real about his money, and this could be the perfect opportunity you need to teach him valuable lessons. Not sure how or where to start? Pick up a copy of my book, Debt-Proof Living (most libraries have it). I’ll teach you everything Jake needs to know!

Refinance Credit-Card Debt? Short Sell an Auto? Yes and No!

These days, with so many resources available given the proliferation of the Internet, it’s not always easy to know who to trust.

After all, if you can refinance your home mortgage, it makes sense you should be able to do that with your credit-card debt and auto loan too, right? Well, yes and no.

Dear Mary: With your guidance, I have successfully refinanced my credit-card debt with a P2P (peer-to-peer) loan from Prosper. I’m still surprised by how easy that was.

I have three credit-card accounts that totaled $7,523. The minute the Prosper loan proceeds hit my bank account I went online and paid each of these accounts to $0.

Now I have these three credit-card accounts at $0 balance, plus a new Prosper installment loan. I have two questions: 1) How will this affect my FICO Score, which was 720 when I applied to Prosper and  2) Should I close the credit-card accounts? Jonathan

Dear Jonathan: This move could actually improve your credit score. Because you have $0 balances on your credit-card accounts, your current “revolving utilization rate” is at 0 percent which in credit-score talk is perfect. That means you are utilizing none of the credit limits on those open-ended credit accounts. That should boost your FICO score because 30 percent of your score is based on your revolving utilization rate. The lower your rate the more points you get in that category. 

Reader Feedback: Instant Pot, Home Chef, Etiquette, Tap Water

I have the most loyal and responsive readers on earth. Every day I can count on my inbox filling up with your opinions, reactions, gratitude, funny stories, arguments and even an occasional rebuke from a reader who lets me have it!

What really gets my attention is when I receive hundreds of responses to a single post. That’s when I know we’re on to something. Here’s a tiny sampling to show you what I’m talking about.


My new Instant Pot sat in the box for a few weeks. I wasn’t sure what to do with it and maybe I was a little scared. Thanks for pushing me to give it a try. I joined the Instant Pot Community online and now I’m so comfortable using it. That group is wonderful and I’ve learned so much. You’re right—Instant Pot is amazing. Now I use it every day to make at least one meal. It has paid for itself more than once by now. I’m hooked on Instant Pot! Sally

Please remind everyone to read 10 Common Mistakes You Can Avoid as New Instant Pot User before they even open the box. I made mistake #1, foolishly. IP Customer Service helped me rescue my IP. Colleen

I love my Instant Pot so much I gave one to my daughter-in-law for her birthday. Let’s just say that was the best money I could have spent. Molly

Thanks for this post about Instant Pot. I am getting acquainted with mine, and I just made yogurt! I loved that heating the milk to the right temp was preset and I didn’t have stand over the stove watching to see that the milk didn’t actually boil. And then I could just stick the thermometer in and do other things while the temp dropped to 110F. Then I mixed the starter (left over from store bought plain yogurt) and poured the milk into glass jars and set the pot again. It worked great! JM


For the first time in my life, I look forward to making dinner when we have a Home Chef meal kit in the fridge. My 15-year old son and I do it together (a miracle right there) just like we’re on TV. Even better, we love everything about the food. Myria

Haven’t been in a restaurant or take-out joint since meeting your Home Chef. Kudos and many thanks. William