What’s Up with the Clumps of Crystals in My Laundry Detergent?!

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 

Make Your Own Safe and Effective Ant Spray

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.

14 Ways to Waste Money Without Even Trying

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.


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.

Achieving Your Freezer’s Full Potential

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.

Best Inexpensive Stick Vacuum—Finally!

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.

How to Make Your Own Dirt

There is no doubt that this whole “cheapskate” thing can be taken too far. There are matters of time, if not personal dignity, that dictate for each of us to what extent we are willing to go to maximize our resources.

That can change from time to time given the personal challenges that we face. Take dumpster diving, for example. I draw the line at any activity that requires me to climb into and root around containers filled with trash that is destined for the landfill. I just don’t go there. However, if my children were starving, I have no doubt that I would experience a miraculous change of heart. All that to say that, generally, I am not one who could easily be convinced to make dirt. The earth seems to be well endowed.

Life in a Crowded Nest

It used to be that kids reaching adulthood could not wait to leave home and be on their own. That worked out well because their parents longed for an empty nest and quieter lives. But these days, young people are spoiling these plans.

Currently some 85 percent of U.S. college graduates move back home with their parents after graduation. One can only assume the other 15 percent never moved out.

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Many American homes have become very crowded nests. While parents are asking themselves what went wrong, the “boomerang” kids seem to be adjusting quite nicely. Any why not? For lots of boomerangs, they get a boarding house without the rent, a laundromat with no slots for coins and a mini-storage facility, otherwise known as your garage.

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.