DEAR MARY: How can I fix carpet that has bleach spots on it? I tried using fabric pens about the same color as the tan carpet but the spots turned orange! Carol

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DEAR CAROL: Bleach means done deal. There is no way you can “un-bleach” those spots. If you have a piece of spare carpet left over from when the carpet was installed, you can cut out the stained carpet and replace it with a patch from the new piece. If you don’t have that, cut the patch out of an inconspicuous area, like the back of a closet. Stick double-sided carpet tape onto the floor (or the pad if there is one) and press the patch into place. Because carpet has “nap,” done well the patch will be seamless and totally undetectable. If you are uncomfortable doing this yourself, call a local carpet repair expert. It should not be costly if you have the carpet piece ready to go. Good luck!

DEAR MARY: I can’t afford to replace my 50-year old light oak cupboards. They are still in good condition but look dull. Can you recommend a product that will clean and/or revitalize them? I ordered the Cosmas hardware you recommended and love them. (Cosmas makes a great oil rubbed bronze cabinet round knob for as little a $1.15 per knob in a pack of 25 -mh.) Thanks for all the products and tips you share with us. Judy

DEAR JUDY: I think you will be thrilled to pieces with your classic cabinets once  you deep clean them with Howards Feed-N-Wax Orange Oil Polish and Conditioner (about $8 for 16 oz.). Even if you need two or three bottles of this product, your cabinets are going to shine like a new penny! Howards contains beeswax and orange oil that replenish the oils in finished and oiled wood. I’m predicting that Howards plus Cosmas equals a big “Wow!” in your kitchen.   Read more

DEAR MARY: I was wondering if you had a quick and easy way to keep the dish scrubbers (like the ones that have a sponge on one side attached to a pad for scrubbing pans on the other side) from smelling like mildew.

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Ours do fine for a few days and then start smelling. I try to run them in the dishwasher, but don’t always remember. I sometimes spray them with bleach and let them sit for a minute or two before rinsing, and that seems to work, but I was wondering if there was a better way. I tried microwaving a wet sponge, and that just created a hot smelly sponge. Bronson

DEAR BRONSON: Putting kitchen sponges in the dishwasher daily, or as often as you run a load of dishes, is the best solution to this problem. The heat and detergent kill bacteria and mildew. I’m going to assume that you use one sponge at a time, and that may be the problem. Let me suggest you have at least two sponges going. This way, one will always be available to wipe the counter and so forth, while the other is getting sanitized in the dishwasher. Do this without fail for a couple of weeks and soon it’ll become a habit. Hope that helps! Read more

I just received an email message from one of my readers that stirred up some very poignant memories for me.

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For years I, like Carol, was on the fake acrylic nails bandwagon. From the first time I gave that manicure option a try, I loved it. Polish lasts longer on acrylic nails; my nails were always uniform—shaped perfectly and just the right length. All I had to do was go to the nail salon every three weeks to have them maintained.

The problem is it became addictive. I couldn’t do the maintenance myself. And if I didn’t go regularly to have them done, they looked horrible. I became a slave to my local nail salon and acrylic-applying nail technician. It was not cheap.

Anyone who’s ever had acrylic nails knows that they absolutely ravage your natural nails if removed incorrectly, or worn for years without taking a break. And no wonder. Part of the process is to sand down one’s natural nails to get the stuff to stick and not “lift” before the next appointment.

It was a difficult habit to break and I’m glad I did, not only for my nail health  (Google “acrylic dangers” if you dare) but even more so for my wealth. Here’s what Carol wrote:  Read more

DEAR MARY: Is there anything that will take Crystal Light fruit punch stain out of beige carpeting?  It has been on there a while and appears to have dyed the carpeting. Thanks.  Mary C.

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DEAR MARY C.: This is going to be tough because of the red color—and the reason I never serve red beverages in my home, especially at a party. It’s the red dye that stains so easily. Even red wine can be problematic on carpet unless it is dealt with immediately.

I do not in any way suggest you should not try to get this stain out! I think there’s a very good chance you can at least lighten that stain, if not remove it completely. My best suggestion is to get a can of Spot Shot. Shake that can well, saturate the stain and allow it to sit for a few minutes. Then using a clean white cloth (you do not want to transfer any other colors to this stained area by way of a colored cloth) work that stain out as best you can.

My favorite method using Spot Shot is to spray the spot, then lay the cloth on top of it. Now make sure you’re wearing shoes and use your foot to dig into that cloth and stain just as you would if you were  doing “The Twist!” You’ll be blotting and scrubbing that stain at the same time. You’re in luck if you see any of that red color transferring to the cloth. You may have to repeat several times. Spot Shot is the best carpet spotter I know of. Every household with carpeting needs a can of Spot Shot available at all times. Read more

I have the most prolific mailbox in the universe—I’m sure of it. Just today I was responding to messages I received nearly a year ago, not that I can possibly respond personally to every message. But I do read all of them. Never forget this: You are the best part of what I do here—you make it all worthwhile.

DEAR MARY: Is there a way that I can remove a blood stain from my black and white floral Hawaiian print car seat slipcover? I hope I can do this without removing the slipcover, which was a bear to put on. Thanks for your help and your wonderful tips and columns. Leslie

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DEAR LESLIE: The best thing I know to remove blood even if the stain is very old, is Soilove Laundry Soil-Stain Remover. It is enzymatic, which means it attacks proteins, of which blood is one. You can get Soilove at 99 Cents Only Stores in California and Arizona; you can also get it online or directly from the manufacturer by calling 1-800-482-6555 M-F, Pacific time.

I can help you with that problem of getting well-fitting slipcovers back on after laundering: Put them on wet. They will stretch more easily and that will take all the struggle out of the process. And they will dry beautifully. I have a large white sofa with slipcovers. When I bought it the saleslady gave me that tip and I am so grateful she did. I wash those slipcovers so often you would be amazed— in the washing machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Then I skip the dryer altogether and on they go and so easily, too. I smooth out the wrinkles with my hands and let them dry in place.

DEAR MARY: First off, let me tell you I’m a huge fan. I save almost every email, tip I need or think I will in a Cheapskate folder on my computer. My question: Can I straighten out a warped cast iron skillet? It’s eons old, belonged to my mother-in-law; she always cooked her holiday hams in it. I still do, but don’t like that it’s not flat. Any thoughts? Brenda Read more

A mid-west sewer authority did a study and came up with data suggesting that 19 percent of people admit to having dropped their phones in the toilet. I’m not sure why this fact would be of interest to a sewer agency, but it did come to mind when this letter washed up on my desk a week or two ago.

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DEAR MARY: A week ago, I dropped my smart phone in the toilet. I tried to rescue it but had to get a new phone. The salesman said every day, someone comes in with the same problem. Now I’m wondering if there is some kind of waterproof case I can get to protect it in case this happens again. And, by the way, how do you fix a wet phone? My method (I immediately cleaned it, took it apart and then stuck it in a bag of rice to dry out) didn’t work. Bev

DEAR BEV: There are steps you can take to try to rescue a waterlogged mobile phone, but there are no guarantees. Read more

DEAR MARY: I have been making and using your concentrated laundry detergent for several years now and love saving money with it. But sometimes I end up with white chunky solids at the bottom of the container. Am I doing something wrong? Jean

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DEAR JEAN: This “crystalization” that forms after awhile is perfectly normal and harmless. I usually go through a gallon of this concentrate so fast, that doesn’t have a chance to happen. But when it does, I use it up just as if it were still fully liquified. No harm, no foul. I find that if I shake it well each time I use it, the crystallization is less pronounced. If this is a huge problem for you, you could easily halve the recipe to make 1/2 gallon of liquid laundry detergent concentrate at a time.

And now, even though you did not ask but because others will, our homemade laundry detergent is HE compliant, meaning suitable for use in high-efficiency (HE) washing machines. It is completely sudsless which is required for use in low water volume machines, provided you are using a very small amount—2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup maximum. Remember it is highly concentrated.

DEAR MARY: I was totally shocked to read in your recent post, Cast Iron Skillets Making a Healthy Comeback, that the best oil to use to season a cast iron skillet is flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil has a smoke point of 225 F, after which the oil begins to produce harmful free radicals. What is author Ellen Brown’s reasoning for using flax seed oil? Debbie Read more

DEAR MARY: I’ve noticed that on the gallon jug of white vinegar it says “mixed with water to a 5% acidity.” Is it possible to buy pure vinegar and dilute it to whatever acidity i want for myself? The gallons are heavy and take up storage space. Just thinking there might be an easier way. By the way, I love all of the homemade cleaners you share! Cally

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DEAR CALLY: Yes, there is a way that you can mix your own vinegar and to the exact level of acidity you desire.

White vinegar consists of 5 to 20 percent acetic acid and water, which has a variety of industrial, medical and domestic uses.

An easy way to create 5-percent acidity is to mix 1/2 cup acetic acid with 1 gallon water. To make 30-percent acidity (ideal as a very potent weed killer), mix 3 cups of acetic acid to one gallon water.

The challenge is to find and then safely store acetic acid. You must be very careful to keep it safely out of reach of children and pets and clearly labeled. It has very strong fumes and should be handled cautiously.

You can get a quart of Food Grade Glacial Acetic Acid from Amazon for about $19 including shipping. One quart would make 8 gallons of vinegar with 5-percent acidity (1/2 cup acetic acid per 1 gallon water) at a cost of about $2.40 per gallon. This would produce supermarket-strength white vinegar you could us to make salad dressing, as substitute for fabric softener; your own scum and soap remover for the tub and shower, a batch of regular homemade weed killer and to be used in many other ways around the house.

Making your own white vinegar will achieve your goals to lighten your load and cut down on storage space. As a bonus, you could easily save you a few bucks over the course of time, depending how much vinegar you use.

I pay about $3 for one gallon white vinegar at Costco (it comes in a 1.32 gallon jug for about $4). I rip through a gallon in no time at all, which means I usually buy several jugs at a time. I know what you mean about a heavy load! The average price for a gallon of white vinegar at Walmart looks to be about $5.

Compare what you are paying to the $2.40 per gallon price mentioned above. I think we’ve got a winner! Thanks for the idea.

CAUTION: When using white vinegar in your washing machine as a substitute for liquid fabric softener, DO NOT use full strength acetic acid! Only use white vinegar with 5-percent acidity (1/2 cup acetic acid to 1 gallon of water if you are mixing your own).

DEAR MARY: I have bags and bags of hotel soaps—you know, stuffed away after trips (guess we traveled more than we realized). Anyway, do you know of anyone or an organization that would be interested in them? I have melted down way more than I need already. Elgie

DEAR ELGIE: Oh yes! Consider gifting these toiletries to a homeless shelter your area. Homeless shelters are one of the most direct ways to get your toiletries to someone who needs them. You can find a homeless shelter near you on the Homeless Shelter Directory.

Another option would be a local women’s shelter. Giving the women in these shelters access to toiletries of their own gives them a sense of ownership and the opportunity to start fresh. Visit WomensShelters.org—a great resource with shelters across the U.S.

Does your church send out ministry teams in the summer or fill shoeboxes for needy kids during the Christmas season? Small toiletry items are ideal for both. I’ve sent bags of small toiletries with young people to take with them as they spend weeks each summer in third world countries, building schools and helping out at orphanages. The children and workers are thrilled to receive any kind of toiletry item.

I know that my church will take all of the toiletry items I can bring in—that’s how how much they’re needed and appreciated. Makes me wonder if perhaps a church or synagogue in your area would also be as grateful.

Hope that helps!