Soap Scum Remover So Effective It’s Magical

I could sit for hours reading the lovely letters, notes and questions you send to me. I could, but I can’t. What I can do is reach into the bag and pull out a few messages to answer and for us to read and enjoy together.

DEAR MARY: Sometime ago you gave your readers a cleaning formula you’d received years ago from a professional housecleaner. The formula sounded way too simple to do anything. I work really hard to keep our clear glass and tile shower spotless, so I gave it a shot. Wow! The results are amazing. The tile has no soap film and the clear glass is really clear. You really gave us a winner in that DIY cleaning solution. (See “How to Make Ugly Soap Scum, Mildew and Water Marks Disappear Like Magic” for the formula and simple instructions.)


Your column is so very practical and easy to follow. One tip that I have been using for a few years is to stash away any $5 bill that comes my way. By the end of the year I have a great Christmas fund. I have dipped into it during the year for emergencies, always replacing what I take out I has become my own personal Christmas Club! Thanks for being such a friend to all your readers. Barbara

DEAR BARBARA: I knew you’d love that tub and shower cleaner. I’ve never heard from anyone who didn’t! Good for you on that personal Christmas Club. Saving is its own reward for the personal joy and satisfaction it brings. I’m proud that you’ve made this a personal habit.

DEAR MARY: I read your column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press about cleaning windows. As dirty windows are my pet peeve, I would like to tell you my experience with stubborn water spots. After spending $30,000 on windows for my home a few years ago, I kept developing these fine water spots on a few windows in particular, which turned out to be a residual effect from sprinklers in my flower gardens. I tried every single window cleaner on the market including CLR. I employed every “old wive’s tale” cleaner but without success.

The stubborn spots remained. In desperation, I called Pella (the window manufacturer) and explained it to them. They told me to use Bar Keepers Friend Liquid Soft Cleaner from the local hardware store or online. It worked like a charm. I applied a small amount and used a circular motion to scrub the spots; wiped it off with a damp paper towel. Since then maintain my clean windows with regular window cleaner. Couldn’t have been happier. I enjoy your column! Mary Pat Read more

My Top Five Favorite Homemade Cleaning Solutions

If there’s one place in your household spending that you can really cut the cost, it’s household cleaners. The cost of most home cleaning products is getting outrageous. While I don’t advocate throwing out what you may have accumulated, I do recommend that in the future you consider making your own cleaning products from ingredients that are downright cheap.


While I have many recipes, tricks and strategies, today these are my top five favorites!

TUB AND SHOWER CLEANER. Pour one cup blue Dawn into a 32-ounce spray bottle (1/2 cup Dawn if you are using a 16-ounce bottle; 1/3 cup for a 12-ounce bottle). Fill the bottle the rest of the way with plain white vinegar. Apply sprayer top; shake gently to mix. Label bottle. To use: Spray liberally on the areas to be cleaned—tub or shower walls, doors, floor, fixtures. Allow to sit from 30 minutes up to overnight, depending on the amount of soap and scum build-up. All of the offensive gunk and grime will break down and become soft and gooey. Simply rinse it away. For especially challenging situations (or if this is the initial treatment) use a sponge or brush to gently scrub the surfaces before rinsing. To maintain: Spray down the walls and floor of the tub/shower once a week. Rinse. Admire.

TOILET CLEANER: 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup white vinegar. To use: First remove the water from the toilet bowl by reaching down behind the toilet and turning off the water input valve. This is easy. Just turn the handle clockwise until it will no longer turn. Now flush the toilet once or twice or until all of the water disappears. (Because you turned the input off, no water will fill the tank.) Sprinkle the baking soda all around the inside of the toilet bowl. Next pour or spray the plain white distilled vinegar into the bowl. You’ll get a little bubbling show and even a popping sound. Great! That’s the reaction you want. Using a good toilet brush, scrub it down including under the rim. Last, turn the inlet valve back on by turning it counterclockwise until it stops turning. The toilet tank will fill. Flush to rinse. Repeat as necessary. You’ve just cleaned, scoured, deodorized that toilet and also removed mildew and odors.  Read more

Readers Want to Know About Non-Cable DVRs, Stamp Pads, and Cabinet Cleaning

As you can imagine, every week I get a lot of mail from my readers containing hundreds of questions. While I can’t respond personally to every letter, I select questions I believe will have a broad appeal to the greatest number of readers to answer in a future column, like today’s.

DEAR MARY: We love your Everyday Cheapskate column! I still have the article on the table about cutting the cable, but I wonder if you have a recommendation about recording once the cable box is gone? We’re not always home to watch live TV and there are some things we would like to watch at a more convenient time. Any suggestions? And thanks so much for all of your help over the years! Pat and Richard


DEAR PAT AND RICHARD:  You definitely have options for recording  capability without having cable TV service. But it’s not free. The most popular is TiVO Roamio, which is an over-the-air DVR that comes with two purchase options:  Read more

Would You Clean Out Your Closets for $400?

Are your storage areas overflowing? Do your children outgrow their clothes at the speed of light? Have you “outgrown” (or just grown tired of) some of your clothes and household items? Wouldn’t it be nice to receive some cash for those unwanted but perfectly usable items that overwhelm your storage space?


It’s a typical scene. You’ve cleaned out a closet or your garage and have a box full of items you no longer want. Maybe they’re left over from a garage sale. You’d rather give it to charity than send it to a landfill or maybe you just don’t want to have a garage sale.

You know you can deduct the value of the items on your tax return. (By the way your return for 2015 is due April 18, 2016 with thanks to Wash., D.C. for the gift of a 3-day extension. Washington will celebrate Emancipation Day on April 15 and the IRS will be closed. The next business day is Monday, April 18, 2016.) But the question is how are you we supposed to know the values of items in good condition that we donate to qualified charities?

The problem: If we overstate the values we risk an IRS audit, penalties and interest. If we underestimate, we could end up paying more taxes than required.

For many years the hubs and I have relied on William Lewis, CPA, who compiles one of the most valuable resources I know of for ordinary folks like us. “Money for Your Used Clothing” is an amazing resource that lists  more than 1,300 values for commonly donated household and clothing items based on current prices of these items on the secondary market.  Read more

Help! My Aluminum Cookware is Pitted and Stained and Other Reader Dilemmas

A recent message from one of my dear readers reminded me of a similar dilemma I have encountered. Her problem is with her favorite cookware, mine with the attachments for my Kitchen Aid stand mixer.


DEAR MARY: Please tell me why my aluminum pans and cookware have turned dark and become rough to the touch. I believe it may be from the dishwasher. Other than these marks and stains, my 60-year old pans (I got them at my bridal shower!) look the same as new ones I see in the stores today. Only the price has changed. What can I do to restore my pots and pans? Love your column. Etta


DEAR ETTA: Let’s start with the “pitting”—corrosion that creates tiny holes in the metal. Undoubtedly, this is the result of having put these pans through the dishwasher. Aluminum should never be put into a dishwasher. Most dishwasher detergents are extremely alkaline and readily pit and discolor aluminum. Dishwasher detergents can also create a kind of grey film on the surface of aluminum, which can become difficult if not impossible to scrub off.

I am afraid there may be nothing you can do to remove the pits. However, there is a rather simple way to remove the dark, ugly discoloration that often appears in well-used aluminum cookware. Read more

Getting Debt-Free Plus the Best Machine to Clean Tile Floors

DEAR MARY: After reading your books and columns for several years, I am ecstatic to report that I am almost debt-free; my credit card debt is history! I can’t thank you enough for your encouraging words and sage counsel.


Now I need to know how to find a low-interest card—preferably a no annual fee type—to use mainly for online purchases, and which will be paid off monthly. I have absolutely no idea how to go about this and would appreciate any information you could provide. Thanks for everything! Sherry

DEAR SHERRY: Congratulations on your amazing progress toward becoming debt-free. I am so very proud of you. This is an almost amazing accomplishment, so keep going and don’t ever give up. You’ll be there soon and what a wonderful debt-free day that will be for you!

As for your question regarding a low-interest card, I would suggest that the interest rate not be your primary consideration. You will never carry a balance on it, so your primary consideration should be that is it has no annual fee. Second, it must have an excellent grace period of at least 21 days. Next it should be either a MasterCard or Visa and last you want to get the lowest interest rate you can. Read more

How to Remove Years of Kitchen Cabinet Grit and Grime

When did you last look at your kitchen cabinets? Not a passing glance, but an up-close visual study—paying particular attention to the areas around the knobs and handles that get touched thousands of times throughout the weeks and months? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about and what I’m pretty sure Reader Sandy is talking about, too.

Before and after photos of cleaning cabinets

Dear Mary: We’re moving into a new house and would like to know what kind of cleaner to use on the wood kitchen cabinets? Thank you. Sandy

Orange oil

Dear Sandy: If you are looking for a commercial product to clean those cabinets, you’ll never beat the effectiveness of real orange oil polish to melt away grease, grime, polish, and wax buildup, leaving a fresh scent and beauty in its place. It’s going to cost a bit to do your entire kitchen, should you decide to go the commercial route.

Or you can make your own cleaner that will be equally effective, for just pennies. That’s what I prefer and I’ll bet you will, too.

I have two recipes for your wood cabinets, regardless if they have a natural finish or they’re painted. The first is great if those cabinets just need some sprucing up to bring back the beauty and shine; the second is more powerful if you’re looking at years of built-up gunk and grime.
Read more

How to Rescue Fabric and Clothes from the Stench of Mothballs

I love fabric and fine textiles of all kinds, but mostly I love cotton goods—cotton sheets, cotton quilts. You might say I am a collector, but only in the best sense of the word. My friends know me as a recovering fabricholic. That’s why I was particularly drawn to a letter that hit my inbox recently. When I read the sender’s dilemma involved fabric, I was on it.

Dear Mary: I was recently given some fabric that had been stored in mothballs. Any advice on how to get the smell out? I tried washing and ended up with a whole load of laundry that smelled of mothballs. Thanks, Lucille


Dear Lucille: This a tough problem. So difficult, I called in the pros for advice on how to rescue your fabric and that load of laundry. Here’s what I learned:

Mothballs are small balls of chemical pesticide used to protect clothes from hungry moths and other insects while in storage. The active ingredient, depending on the age of the mothballs used, is either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, both of which are petroleum-based and toxic to both people and pets. Read more