Faithful readers know how much I love to cook. That has not always been the case. It was coming face-to-face with how much money we were spending on restaurants, diners, take-out and drive-thrus that forced me (kicking and screaming) into the kitchen.

All those years ago, I looked to TV shows, cookbooks, and online videos to teach me how to cook. I became a marginally decent cook.

 

Several months ago, I ponied up about $20 (I had a coupon) to test a subscription to Home Chef meal kit delivery service (read about that HERE and HERE).

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From cars that reek of stale cigarette smoke to tile grout and robot floor mops, I get questions of every kind from my awesome readers. I love the challenge. So please, keep those cards and letters coming!

I love my Eufy Robovac II. I have an entire house of wood plank tile and it has changed my life! It has recently come to my attention that there are now robot mops. Do you have a Best Inexpensive recommendation for these? Janet

I’m so happy to hear how much you are loving your Eufy robot vacuum. I love mine, too! As for a robot floor mop/scrubber, the one or two that works pretty well most of the time is way too expensive. Affordable robot floor scrubbers seem to be more trouble and make a bigger mess than they’re worth! As soon as that changes—and it could anytime—you’ll be the first to know!

What can I put on a window to block the heat from the hot sun on that side of the house from coming in? Doris

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I don’t know how else to describe what happens to beautiful sheet pans once they take up residence in my kitchen. All I can say is that in no time they begin to get this nasty build up of what I call oven crud—a burned on incrustation of oven filth.

It’s not that I don’t wash and scrub those pans. I do. But apparently not well enough. I’m just not willing to spend hours of my life to keep sheet pans and ovens looking the way I want—clean and sparkly.

I’ve been on a rampage to conquer this problem once and for all. Call me idealistic but I’d like my sheet pans and oven to clean up as easily as my dishes and dishwasher. Is that too much to ask?

I’m pretty excited to share with you what I’ve learned through much trial and error. Now, I won’t boast perfection, but I’ve come up with a protocol that’s working really well for me based on the task at hand.

LIGHT CRUD. Soak the pan for a few minutes in hot water plus a little Blue Dawn. Next hit with a scrubby sponge like this Scotchbrite before putting it into the dishwasher*. If I am consistent to do this every time I use that pan, it works great. Done.

MEDIUM-LIGHT CRUD. If the light treatment (above) doesn’t easily remove the crud, I follow with a quick scrub with Bar Keepers Friend, then into the dishwasher* it goes.

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I’ve recently added two new gadgets to my kitchen that famed television chef Alton Brown would not be happy about if he knew. He’d call them unitaskers—single-use kitchen gadgets; objects whose only real purpose is to create clutter.

I’d argue that while his theory—that every tool in the kitchen should be able to perform multiple tasks—is certainly ideal, there are exceptions. Then I’d demonstrate for him my new gadgets, and let him know that I truly wonder how I ever got along without them.

THE THAW CLAW. We’ve all been there. You forget to take the chicken, roast or burgers out of the freezer in the morning to give them enough time to thaw in the refrigerator in time for dinner. Now you’re left scrambling. Do you try to thaw that chuck roast in the microwave? Search for something else altogether? Or just give up and go out—again.

My handy Thaw Claw has given me another option: thaw it super quick. Here’s the deal: The best way to defrost meat, fish, or poultry safely and quickly is by submerging it in a sink full of cool water. The only problem, those packages from the grocery store tend to float. For the thawing process to work really fast, your frozen item needs to be completely submerged.

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I have a friend who considers himself single, living alone. But nothing could be further from the truth. He has four cats, or as I call them, The Four Shedders.

Max solved his cat hair problem by replacing all of the carpet in his house with laminate flooring and getting a robot vac. Fortunately for today’s first questioner who has her own kind of pet hair problem, I have a much easier (and cheaper!) solution.

Q: How can I remove stubborn pet hair from the carpet in my car? Not one of my three vacuums can remove the hair left behind by my two big dogs. Ellen

A: Grab a pumice stone—the kind we use in foot care to exfoliate dead skin, or to remove a nasty toilet bowl ring—to “scrub” the carpet. Work on a small section at a time, scrubbing in one direction. Prepare to be amazed. That pet hair will surrender and allow you to gather all of it into one pile, the way you might sweep a floor. Then use one of your vacuums to pick it up. You may need to use some elbow grease but it will work because pet hair sticks to the pumice stone more stubbornly than to the carpet. And don’t worry. This will not harm the carpet.

Later from Ellen: I used a pumice stone on a rocker to see if the dog hair would come off it (the rocker needs to be recovered anyway, in case the fabric was damaged). It was AMAZING how quickly and easily the hair just fell onto the floor making it easy to vacuum away. Next: the car! Thank you so much. Read more

For anyone who has had to deal with a child in pain, it can be a painful experience for everyone regardless the age of the child. That’s why as a parent and now a grandparent, I appreciate hints and tips that will help me be even more resourceful.

BABY ORAJEL NOT JUST FOR BABIES. Our teenage daughter badly stubbed her toe and we needed to clip the nail. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t let us near it because of the pain. My wife found a tube of Baby Orajel and covered the area using a cotton swab. It was like magic. It numbed the area well enough that I was able to take care of things. I would never have thought to use Baby Orajel this way. Randall, Texas

DAWN FOR SPONTANEOUS CLEANING. I keep a bottle of Dawn, an automotive detailing brush and an old toothbrush in my shower. Dawn cuts the soap scum and does not leave a gritty residue. Just don’t overdo it since it can get pretty slippery! Laurel, email

SHOUT OUT THOSE STAINS. I found the best cleaner for my dirty golf shoes: Shout laundry stain remover. It works like a charm, getting down in the creases and crevices to get out the ground-in dirt. My golf shoes are leather, and it has not hurt them or the color. Brenda, Michigan

ERASE THE RED POLISH. Red fingernail polish accidentally spilled on my carpet, making a long red streak. A friend told me to use Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. The polish had already dried, but with a little elbow grease and several erasers, it all came out of my carpet. This is a wonderful product! Carolyn, Tennessee

LOOK OFFICIAL TO GET ATTENTION. Take a clipboard with you when you’re shopping. You’ll get waited on quickly, since sales associates will think you’re either a mystery shopper or you’re snooping for the competition. LaVonne, California

PEROXIDE CLEANS UP. I use a 50/50 mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water in a spray bottle to clean just about everything in my house. It works great on windows using newspaper, and it freshens my wooden cutting boards. On the lip of my sink, it foamed and cleaned up what I thought was rust. And the best part is it’s cheap. Carol, Illinois

FOAMING BUBBLES AROUND THE HOUSE. I took my foaming bath cleaner out of the bathroom and started using it on my walls, floors, patio furniture, kitchen basically, anything and everything. It cleans it all. When we removed the carpet in the hall, the old vinyl flooring underneath had seen better days. After using the foam on the floor, the dust and carpet fibers came up, and I didn’t have to replace the flooring right away. For most things, just spray, wait a few minutes and whip away the dirt. And it disinfects, too! Jennie, email

Share your own tips in the comments section below, or HERE. Include your first and last name and state.

It was a silly bedtime rhyme we said when we were kids—a line that meant nothing to me other than it was funny. Goodnight, sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite! 

Years later I would learn that bedbugs are real and they are no laughing matter.

Bedbugs are parasitic insects of the cimicid family that feed exclusively on blood. They’re tiny, nocturnal and able to hide in cracks and crevices. They’re also really good hitchhikers, jumping into luggage from an infested hotel room or hiding in the seams zippers of clothing manufactured in an infested factory.

A problem worldwide, bedbugs are resurging, causing property loss, expense, and inconvenience. The good news, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) is bedbugs do not transmit disease. But they can torment their blood hosts in ways I won’t go into here. The best way to prevent bedbugs is with a regular inspection for signs of an infestation—droppings, bite marks and mysterious blood stains on bedding. Read more

It was Christmas Eve. Company would be arriving in a matter of hours. I opened the refrigerator only to discover everything inside had reached a balmy 70 F. This could not have happened at a worse time.

Away to my computer I flew like a flash, straight to RepairClinic.com, where I entered the make and model of our refrigerator and read all the possibilities for why it was running but not cooling.

By following the suggestions and detailed instructions, we performed eight years’ worth of maintenance by looking under the darned thing for the coils that had become hopelessly covered in refrigerator gunk. We were back up and cooling in no time at all.

One thing I learned from my holiday refrigerator crash is that, like cars, major appliances require routine maintenance to keep them working at the peak of efficiency and to guarantee a long and useful life.

Here are five simple appliance maintenance jobs all home dwellers should do—each of which takes only minutes and can be tackled by anyone.

DISHWASHER RACKS

Inspect the dish rack tines for rusting. Rust particles can ruin the pump and seals, causing a hidden leak or pump failure.

A tine repair kit, available at manufacturer websites or Amazon, can save you the cost of a new dish rack. The kits come in various colors to match yours. If the dish rack is beyond salvation, it should be replaced. Read more