If you’ve ever experienced the heartbreak of shrinking your favorite pair of jeans to a length that would make them perfect to wear to a flood, you’re going to be particularly fond of today’s first great reader tip. And like me, you’re probably going to wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that!”

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If you’ve ever sent perfectly functional household linens or clothing items to the rag bag simply because they turned a dingy shade of gray when you expected your white laundry to come out brilliantly white, you’re going to identify big time with today’s first reader question.

Help! My White Laundry is Coming Out Dingy Gray

Dear Mary: How can I whiten my whites? I have well water and I use the homemade laundry detergent. But my whites—especially my white uniforms—are graying. I use white vinegar in the rinse. I can’t soak my whites in bleach or use the Cascade formula every time I wash. Any ideas? Dotti

Dear Dotti: Dingy gray is usually a sign of too much detergent that is not getting rinsed away completely in the rinse cycle. If your well water is especially hard, that could also be contributing to this problem. White vinegar doesn’t necessarily help to whiten clothes. We use it in the rinse cycle to help release all of the detergent.

Here’s a frugal fix for your problem. Add a half cup of borax to each wash load. This will boost the cleaning power of your laundry detergent. (Your homemade version does contain Borax, but a very small amount, which for normal situations is sufficient.) Borax offers many laundry benefits:

  • Borax is a natural mineral, sodium tetraborate, which has been mined and used for thousands of years. 
  • Borax is safe to mix with chlorine bleach and detergents and has been proven to enhance their cleaning power. 
  • Borax whitens your whites because it converts some of the water molecules to hydrogen peroxide, which is a whitening agent. This enhances the action of bleach, whether you add it separately or it’s already present in your laundry detergent. If you don’t like to use bleach, borax is still a good whitener on its own.
  • Borax acts as a pH buffer which means cleaner clothes. It softens hard water and also helps to remove soap residue from clothing.
  • Borax neutralizes laundry odors because it inhibits fungi and mold; it has disinfecting properties. 
  • Borax increases the stain-removal ability of your detergent. The alkaline pH of borax helps to break down acidic stains like tomato or mustard.

For super-stained items or uniforms, like yours, that have become dingy gray, do a one-time pre-soak for 30 minutes in a solution of one tablespoon of borax per gallon of warm water or add 1/2 cup of borax to a pre-soak cycle. Then continue to launder as usual.

Borax is sold as Twenty Mule Team Borax in many stores or in bulk as just plain borax.

Hope that helps, Dotti!

Related: Simple Solutions for 3 Common Laundry Problems

Dear Mary: What size Instant Pot would you recommend for my husband and me? I want to use it primarily to make cheesecake, but now wonder if most IP recipes would work well in the 5-quart size. Carla.

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Favorite bed pillows get a lot of use every night. We keep clean pillowcases on them and don’t think much about the pillow inside until it’s time to change the bed linens. Lately, have you looked?

how to get yellow stains out of white bed pillows

Yikes! The pristine white pillows have turned blotchy with disgusting yellowish-to-brownish stains. What on earth…?

The most common response is to stuff an ugly, stained pillow into a clean pillowcase and hope never to have to look at that mess again!

What are Those Stains?

The culprit is sweat, the chemical composition of which varies from one person to the next, depending on what that person has been eating and drinking, or medications he or she is taking. Now add drool, body oils, makeup, hair products transferred to the pillow from lying down with wet hair—all of these things over time discolor pillows. But why not the pillowcase? Because we launder them frequently so stains are banished quickly before they have a chance to become a problem.

But the pillow itself? When did you last launder yours? Right.

You may not think you sweat while asleep, but if your pillow has become stained or just looking dingy gray and old-looking, that’s a sign you do. Congratulations are in order. This means you’re normal.

Some people sweat more than others, which can account for why your spouse’s pillow is far more stained than yours. Or your teenage son’s pillow is more disgusting than say his little brother’s. Your face or head resting against that pillow hour after hour releases sweat, which travels easily through the pillowcase into the pillow.

Get Rid of the Stains

Depending on how old these stains are, it’s a good bet you can get your bed pillows clean and beautifully white again. You can wash most types of pillows in the washing machine.

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Perhaps it’s happened to you: A many-candled birthday cake or lovely candle centerpiece go awry, leaving you with a mess of melted candle wax, now hardened and hopelessly stuck to your beautiful wood table.

Can that table be saved?

Young girl blowing out the lit candles on her birthday cake

Coax Candle Wax Off Wood Surface

Dear Mary: I was given a beautiful wood pub table. It has candle wax stuck to it from, I am assuming, someone blowing out candles. How do I fix this without scraping it with a knife? Kathy

Dear Kathy: Soften the dried wax with a hair dryer set to medium heat, pointing the dryer to the wax while keeping it 3 to 4 inches away from the table.

Once softened, blot the wax with a soft, white cloth. Keep working at it by softening then blotting until you have removed all of the wax.

Next, mix 1/2 cup white vinegar with 1 cup of water. Dip the cloth into the vinegar mix and wipe away any wax that may remain.

Last, clean your table with furniture polish to restore the shine. That should do it!

Sanitize Laundry

Dear Mary: Thank you for all you do to help us save time, money and our planet. I have been following your advice for years, and eagerly pass on what I find helpful and the products that have become second nature in our home.

My husband is a plumber, and to say that his work clothes get nasty is an understatement. Recently we bought Lysol Laundry Sanitizer—two large bottles for $16. I make our laundry detergent, add white vinegar to the final rinse, and have two sets of wool dryer balls. Was I already sanitizing his clothes with that vinegar?  Nancy

Dear Nancy: Lysol Laundry Sanitizer has been around for years. If you check the ingredients, you’ll see that it contains mostly water with  small amounts of ethanol and alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides (basically alcohol and “salt”). I’m not saying those two ingredents together don’t kill some bacteria but why pay $8 a bottle to do what you can, and are already, doing yourself?

Detergent and hot water kill most bacteria. Acetic acid (white vinegar from the supermarket is 5% acetic acid) is a great disinfectant. It also acts as a deodorizer and cuts grease.

You can tackle salmonella, E. coli and other “gram-negative” bacteria with vinegar. Gram-negative bacteria can cause pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream, wound or surgical site infections.

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If my inbox is any indicator of what’s going on in the world, and I believe it is, smelly towels are a growing problem for consumers—and for sure EC readers. And it’s a rather new problem, the result of modern things like front-loading high-efficiency washing machines, detergents, fabric softeners and damp conditions.

If you’ve noticed the gross smell of stinky, albeit appearing to be washed, dried and ready to go, perhaps you’ve also noticed that your towels have begun to repel rather than absorb water.

young-woman-stinky-towels-washing-machine

SMELL

That moldy, mildewy, gross smell? It’s the result of the build-up of detergents and fabric softeners that have not been rinsed out properly, together with damp, moist conditions. What you have there is a breeding ground for bacteria. No wonder you’ve got a big gross smelly laundry problem.

ABSORBENCY

If your towels have stopped doing what they’re supposed to do well—absorb water—that problem stems from the same source: Detergent and fabric softener build up. Seriously! With detergent and laundry, more is decidedly not better.

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Whenever I write about the benefits of using wool dryer balls in place of laundry softeners, I get a few responses gently raking me over the coals for suggesting we should spend money for commercially manufactured wool dryer balls when it’s so easy to make them ourselves.

Yes, I could do that and so could you. But unless you have a super cheap source of 100% wool yarn, it’s going to cost more to make them than to buy, which would be counterintuitive.

Wool dryer balls must be made from 100% wool that has not been treated with chemicals to make it “superwash” or “machine washable.” Natural wool yarn will allow the dryer balls to become “felted.” Otherwise, they would just unwind and fall apart in the dryer.

Felting is a process by which the tiny wool fibers are allowed to rub against one another vigorously so that they become hopelessly entangled so they become a type of stable “fabric.”

To make one dryer ball requires one skein of 100% wool yarn because to be effective each dryer ball needs to be weighty. It needs enough heft to bounce around in the dryer as it fluffs and separate the folds of the wet laundry. One skein per dryer ball is the absolute minimum.

What’s more, you need a set of six dryer balls to be effective in softening a dryer load of laundry. At anywhere from $7 to $15 per skein for wool yarn that can be felted, that pushes the cost just for materials to $42 to $90 for one set. That doesn’t make sense to me when an excellent set of solid 100% pure wool dryer balls costs less than $20!

All that to say, I’d never found the idea of making my own dryer balls from 100% wool yarn to be a reasonable activity given the reasons above, until just recently when I watched an online video, The Man Who Knits. He doesn’t get his wool yarn from his local yarn shop—he recycles wool sweaters from thrift shops.

By unraveling a quality wool garment, he ends up with enough beautiful yarn to knit new garments. And what a craftsman he is. As a knitter myself, I stand in awe of his work. But I digress.

Typically, a man’s sweater requires 6 to 8 skeins of yarn. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Bingo! Wool dryer balls, right? All right there in one sweater.

Now, there is a process and steps one must follow for do-it-yourself dryer balls. They must be wrapped very tightly. And they must go through a specific process which forces them to become properly felted and ready to go to work in the clothes dryer. You can follow the directions and steps clearly described HERE, which also includes a photo tutorial.

Should you find success with making your own dryer balls from recycled 100% untreated* wool yarn, you may want to make two sets—one light colored, the other black or dark colored to head off that problem of transferring white lint to your dark clothes and vice versa!

*You can quite easily test yarn to see if it will felt by cutting two small lengths, then rubbing them together, vigorously between your hands for a few minutes. Look closely to see if they are becoming connected as the tiny fibers become hopelessly intertwined; if not, you can assume the yarn is either not 100% wool or other suitable natural fiber, or it has been chemically treated.

It may not show up in The Top Tens Biggest Pet Peeves (yes, there is such a thing), but getting the corners right when putting on a fitted bed sheet ranks high in my mailbox.

Here’s the funny thing: Because it doesn’t bother me, I had no idea that quickly figuring out which corner goes where when putting on a fitted bed sheet was a major pet peeve for so many people! I guess I’ve lived my life just assuming that everyone knew the easy trick to get it right the first time, every time.

Q: Putting sheets on my bed is one of my biggest pet peeves. The frustration and total waste of time trying to figure out which way that fitted sheet goes drives me absolutely crazy. Help!!

Bed sheets, both fitted and flat, have a tag sewn into or near one of the four corners. The tag gives care instructions, the manufacturer’s name, sheet size and so forth.

Related: Best Inexpensive™ Bed Sheets

Find the tag then place it at the bottom right corner of the bed as you are standing at the foot of the bed looking toward the head. Right bottom corner. Visualize it. That’s all you need to remember for both the fitted and the flat sheet. I cannot confirm that this is universal tag placement protocol for all sheet manufacturers, but it’s true for the sheets I own now and have over the years. Read more

Faithful readers will recall a reader tip earlier this week, in which Julie shared her simple homemade carpet shampoo of hydrogen peroxide, hot water and a tiny bit of liquid laundry soap.

That tip set off a semi-avalanche of responses requesting specific details, and many of which cautioned, wisely, that hydrogen peroxide can have a bleaching effect on some types of fabrics and carpets that are not colorfast.

glass-red-wine-carpet-stain

Carpet cleaning details

Mix HOT water, and a few drops liquid soap, preferably a simple biodegradable soap, such as ERA, Blue Dawn or Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap. Add enough hydrogen peroxide to make the overall solution from about 1/2% to about 2% hydrogen peroxide*. Fill carpet cleaner reservoir.

(*Use 1 3/4 cup   3% hydrogen peroxide per 1 gallon water; or 3% hydrogen peroxide mixed 50/50 with water.)

In theory, hydrogen peroxide could alter the color in carpet, depending on the kind of dye. However, this is unlikely using 3% peroxide. I have poured 3% hydrogen peroxide directly onto carpet in my home and have not had any problems.

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