How to Eliminate Horrible Smoke Odor

I love the smell of a campfire mixed with the scent of pine trees on a warm summer night. But stale cigarette smoke odor in a car or the smell of a house fire that happened a long time ago? That’s different and not at all pleasant.


Last week this message showed up in my inbox:

Help! I have a chance to go back home—to the home I grew up in. The house has had a fire so there is smoke damage. Can you recommend something we could use to get the smoke smell out? We are tearing all the damaged wood from the home but still have the smoke odor. I’m curious to know if Nok-Out, the product that you talk about often, would work to eliminate that odor. I appreciate your column and enjoy reading it each day. Love, love the tips and use them often. Thanks again you have been a blessing to my life in so many ways. Lisa

Good news for Lisa (and many thanks for her kind words). Yes, without a doubt, Nok-Out will eliminate smoke odor and every other kind of odor she—or you—may be dealing with.

Unlike supermarket room fresheners that do little more than try to cover up odors with fragrance, Nok-Out is an “oxidizer.” When it comes into direct contact with the source of the odor, it oxidizes that smelly stuff, changing it into something that no longer has an odor. But it can only do this when it comes in direct contact with surfaces that have been touched by the stinky stuff, be that an entire room or a garbage can.


My 22-Year Auto Lease Nightmare

It wasn’t our fault that a drunk driver plowed into our parked car in the middle of the night while we were on vacation more than 500 miles from home. The car was a total loss but no one was hurt; it could have been worse.

Our loss was insured and we got just enough money from the insurance company to pay off the loan. We wanted to replace that car anyway.

To buy a new car would have required borrowing the down payment and taking on bigger monthly payments. We could have financed a used car with lower payments, but that was beneath what we thought we deserved. A better option—or so we thought— was to lease a new car with nothing down and lower payments than we’d been used to making.


Best Inexpensive™ Umbrellas

I could not even venture a guess for how many umbrellas I’ve purchased in my life. It’s not so much that I lose them, it’s that they turn out to be junk.

The frame collapses, the ribs get tweaked causing them to bend the wrong way or the ligaments snap apart—all of which encourages it to turn itself inside out leaving to wrestle it back into cooperation and end up soaking wet. Don’t you hate when that happens?


My experience, together with lots of research and testing have brought me to the conclusion that regardless the promises made by manufacturers, no umbrella is 100% windproof. That’s because “wind” can range from a slight breeze to hurricane strength, the latter of which would cause any umbrella to fail.

What we should expect in an umbrella is for it to be waterproof, sturdy, and above all, reliable under moderately windy situations. It must be of a decent size. And if something goes wrong—even those hurricane-strength winds—we want reliable customer service that will make things right.

My picks for Best Inexpensive™ umbrellas below meet all of my expectations—including being large enough to keep both my husband and me dry when, in a pinch, we’re forced to share an umbrella.


Help! Issues with Tub and Shower Soap Scum Cleaner

If I were keeping track of the number of responses from my readers that are filled with praise and gratitude, there would be thousands of hash marks next to Tub and Shower Soap Scum Cleaner. And the word used most-often to describe it? Magical!

But now and then a response will report problems having to do with allergies and, well … that smell!

Dear Mary: I love your homemade formulas for how to make our own cleaning products But a lot of them use the blue Dawn dish soap. I am allergic to Dawn soap, all fragrances, and citrus, among other things. Do you have a suggestion of what else I could use as a substitute? Peggy


5 Fabulous Ways to Hack a Boxed Cake Mix

If I didn’t know better I’d swear that cake mixes reproduce in the dark of night on the shelves of my pantry. One day not so long ago, I counted 18 boxes of cake mix.



Here’s how that happens: Cake mixes go on sale routinely. One week it will be Betty Crocker, then Pillsbury takes its turn and so on. This week in my supermarket Duncan Hines cake mixes are on sale for $1.57—that’s a good deal. Here’s how I make it an even better deal:

I still come across coupons for cake mix, so I hold onto them until that particular brand goes on sale and then time my purchase so it falls on double- or triple fuel points day. The sale price, minus my coupon’s value plus accounting for the $.20 or $.30 per-gallon discount I’ll get when I fill up at the store’s gas station equals free, or super cheap, cake mix.

While not all the cake mixes in my stockpile are freebies, rarely is my net cost more than $.50 for a cake mix.

Because no one my family is fond of plain, boring cake made from a box mix, my challenge has been to find better ways to use a cake mix than to simply follow the instructions on the box. Today, I’m sharing my favorite cake mix hacks:

Cake Mix Cookies

  • 1 (15.25 ounces) yellow cake mix
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Dump cake mix into a large bowl. Stir in the oil and eggs until well blended. Mix in the chips. It will be very thick. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls or roll into balls the size of walnuts and place 2-inches apart onto a greased cookie sheet. Flatten each cookie just a bit with your fingers. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Do not over bake. Remove from pan to cool on wire racks. Yield: About 2 dozen 2-inch cookies.

Note 1: Because there are so many different kinds of cake mixes (with pudding, with double pudding, extra moist and so on), you may need to make slight adjustments to this recipe. For example, I’ve found that with some varieties of mix the dough is so stiff and dry it’s not possible to form the cookies into balls. When this happens I simply add one or two tablespoons of water until the dough is workable.

Note 2: If you want to cut down on fat, try substituting half the oil with applesauce (still 1/3 total—half oil, half applesauce).

Note 3: If you need lots of cookies in a hurry, this recipe multiplies well. Just start with two cake mixes and double the additions.

Note 4: Depending on the type of cake mix you use, these cookies may dry out after two days. To prevent this, store them in an airtight container along with a piece of bread. I don’t know why, but for some reason, this keeps the cookies just as fresh and moist as can be.

Variations: You can use just about any combination of cake mix and chips. Example: Carrot cake mix with white chocolate chips; chocolate cake mix with peanut butter chips; devils food cake mix with toffee bits chips; German chocolate cake mix with pecans and coconut; white cake mix with crushed pineapple (drained) and coconut.

Don’t miss: Best Inexpensive™ Kitchen Appliances


Keep the House Cool This Summer Without Blowing the Budget

Even if winter is still hanging on, without a doubt things are going to heat up soon. And won’t that be wonderful—provided you’ve figured out ways to keep things cool indoors this summer without sending your utility bills through the stratosphere?


If you could use some help in that regard, here are some tips, tricks, and great ideas that will help you stay cool without blowing a hole in the budget.


A whole house fan (not to be confused with an attic fan) is installed in the attic and designed to ventilate the house whenever the outdoor air is cooler, which is typically after the sun sets—making it possible to turn the air conditioner off at night.

For a seasoned and experienced homeowner, installing a whole house fan is typically a do-it-yourself project. However, for a professional, it’s a quick and easy job. Learn more at the U.S. Department of Energy website.

Related: Best Inexpensive™ Window Air Conditioner


Readers Teach the Teacher with Invaluable Household Tips

Becoming a school teacher was never on my radar. Sure, I taught private piano lessons for a lot of years but in my mind, that was different. I was a musician, not a teacher.


During the early years of becoming a writer, author, and columnist I read a quote that changed all of that for me: Teaching teaches the teacher.

I guess I’d always assumed that to be considered a teacher you would have to know it all first, before being qualified to teach. But those four words changed my mind. That’s me! I am a teacher even though I am learning something new every single day. You, my loyal, faithful readers have taught me so much.

SPARE THE STOP VALVE. I really enjoy your column, I read it every day. In past post, you instructed folks to turn off the stop valve under the toilet as a way to remove all of the water in the bowl before tackling stains. As a plumber, I think that may be asking for trouble for some people. The valve may not move or the packing nut could leak. What my wife and I have done for years is simply fill a 2 or 2 1/2 gallon pail with water and them dump into the bowl as fast as it will take it. The do-not-overflow siphon action will leave little or no water in bowl This also can clear many nuisance toilet clogs. Just my two cents worth. Again, great column. Jim

This: These Bugs Detect Water Leaks You Cannot See


Heal the Heartbreak of Scratches on Stainless Steel

Get those brushed metal surfaces back in shape with the right tools and these tips

As sleek and sturdy as it is, stainless steel is not immune to picking up unsightly scratches in the course of everyday household activities. They show up on sinks, appliances, cabinet hardware and stainless counters, too.

There’s a good chance you can restore your scratched metal surfaces, provided you use the right tools and closely follow these tips.



Some stainless steel appliances and products these days are finished in the factory with a protective synthetic clear coat to reduce the occurrence of fingerprints showing up on the surface. While subtle, I can tell the difference between coated and uncoated stainless steel simply by looking at it. If you are not sure if your stainless is coated or not, check with the manufacturer or look in the owner manual.

Caution: DO NOT use any of the following techniques on coated stainless. You will end up with a much worse problem than you have already. Sadly, if your stainless is coated and scratched, you may have to learn to live with it. The following techniques are for uncoated stainless steel only.