These days its nearly certain that there’s a pricey product available to clean just about anything. But why spend the money when you can make your own homemade products that perform just as well (maybe better!) from ingredients you may have already in your cupboards and pantry? I’m talking cheaper, faster and quite possibly better!

Dear Mary: What is the best and most effective way to clean a steam iron? Bev


Dear Bev: You need to clean both the inside and the sole plate of a steam iron regularly to keep it in tip-top condition. Before you proceed with my cleaning suggestions, make sure you read the owner manual that came with our iron to make sure there are no instructions or cautions that might preclude the following.

INSIDE: To remove build-up from the inside of the iron, which over time can really clog things up, pour equal amount of white vinegar and water into the iron’s water chamber up to the maximum fill line. Turn the iron on to “steam” setting and iron a soft clean cloth to clean out the steam ports.

Leave the iron on in an upright position for 10 minutes or so. Unplug it and take it to the sink. Shake it to loosen the mineral build-up inside and then turn it upside down over the sink to the vinegar and water to pour out. You are likely to see flakes and chunks of gunk come out with the liquid. Repeat this process until only clear liquid comes out of the iron into the sink.

Rinse with clear water several times to remove all traces of vinegar.

SOLE PLATE: There are numerous ways to clean the scorched ugly brown build up of various stains from melted on fabric to spray starch from the sole plate of a steam iron, but most are pretty messy.

A paste made of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda followed by vigorous scrubbing with a rag will do the trick, but you’ll be left with a wet soggy mess and steam holes that are hopelessly clogged with the paste. I’ve been there, done that and found it to be very frustrating.

My favorite way to clean the bottom of the iron is with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (or the generic melamine version which is cheaper in bulk). Make sure the magic eraser is wet then rub the sole plate until it comes clean. No mess, no residue and no clogged steam holes. It really is like magic.

Dear Mary: What is the best way to clean hard water stains from my granite counter tops, especially around the sink? Sheila


Dear Sheila: Granite is tricky, that’s for sure. But once you understand a few things, you’ll have not trouble keeping your countertops beautifully shiny and free of streaks and water stains.

The enemy of granite is anything acidic. That eliminates anything with vinegar and or lemon juice. Acid can permanently “etch” granite over time.

Granite countertops, because they must be sealed (and resealed annually with a good sealant available at any home improvement store or online), should not be cleaned with cleaners, like Windex, that contains ammonia. Ammonia strips away the sealant.

You already know that water is not great for granite because it can leave water marks and a build up of minerals around the sink.

So what’s left? Alcohol. You can buy commercial granite cleaners that contain some type of alcohol and a lot of water, or you can make your own granite cleaner for just pennies.

GRANITE CLEANER: Pour 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol (vodka, or gin are good substitutes) into a 16-oz. spray bottle. Add 3 drops blue Dawn dishwashing liquid and 5 drops essential oil (optional, but makes it smell great). Add enough water to fill the bottle. Label and keep out of reach of children. Shake to mix. From now on, use this cleaner to keep your countertops beautifully clean and shiny without wrecking the sealant or causing any harm to the granite.