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Ask Me Anything: Bed Sheets, Vanilla Extract, Washing Soda, Lestoil, and More!

I just pulled a load of questions from my mailbag, which is really my email inbox, and while I don’t always know the answers right off the top of my head, today was my lucky day! And hopefully yours, too. So let’s get right to them.


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1. Throw rug break-down

2. Washing soda?

3. Gross, grimy kitchen cabinets

4. Sheets with Deep Pockets

5. Where can I get Lestoil? 

6. Re-Use vanilla beans


Q1: I wish you’d address throw rugs. I bought some with a rubber backing that are now casting debris in the dryer. I want to be safe but also want to cover my beautiful wood floors in the kitchen.  Is there any way to rescue throw rugs that have lost their rubber backing? I would hate to throw them out.

I’ve got good news for you. You may be able to rescue these rugs using something you may have already that’s sitting on a shelf in the garage.

How to repair

To give a bath mat or other type of area rug some traction and a new lease on life, flip it over, and apply lines of acrylic-latex caulk every 6 inches or so. Once dry, you can safely use that rug again; the rubbery strips of caulk will hold it in place.

A close up of a chair

How to Restore

Another option is an excellent product, Fiber-Lok Non-Skid Rug Backing. You may be able to find this locally at your local Staples, Joann, and Walmart stores, and also online at Amazon. It comes in size options of pint, quart, and gallon. From my research, Amazon offers the best price with the added benefit of Prime shipping on the pint- and quart-size options.

Use a paintbrush to apply this rubbery liquid to the back of a bathmat, carpet runner or area rug, being careful to follow the label instructions.

Once applied and allowed to fully cure, both acrylic-latex caulk and Fiber-Lok Non-Skid Rug Backing treated rugs are washable.

In the future, I suggest you not machine dry mats and rugs that have anti-slip rubber backing, allowing them to air dry instead. The dryer heat has a way of breaking down most types of rubber (although Fiber-Lok does purport to be both machine washable and dryable once applied to a rug or mat), which more than likely is the reason you’re facing the task of repair and restoration. Hope that helps!


Q2: I read your column in my local newspaper the other day about how to do all kinds of things around the house using washing soda. What is washing soda? I’d never heard of this and it made me wonder if perhaps this is another name for baking soda?

It looks and feels for all the world like laundry detergent. White. Coarse. Powdery. Its real name is sodium carbonate, (which is not baking soda at all). Washing soda is stuff also goes by soda ash, Na2CO3, and good old Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda.

A mineral mined from the vegetation in dry lake bottoms in the Middle East, kelp from Scotland and seaweed from Spain, this all-natural miracle-in-a-box is used to make glass, bricks, paper, rayon, and toothpaste. It cleans silver and softens water.


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Washing soda and I go way back. For years, I have added washing soda to the washer for cleaner, whiter, brighter laundry. It’s one of the key ingredients in our homemade laundry detergent.

With a powerful pH of 11, washing soda acts as a solvent all around the house, garage. It removes dirt, grime, greasy build-up, and a range of stains. Best of all, depending on the source, sodium carbonate is cheap.

MORE: 10 Brilliant Ways to Use Washing Soda That Will Make Your Life Easier


Q3: It’s been awhile since you gave us a recipe for restoring old but still good furniture (or it may have been kitchen cabinets). Best I remember, olive oil and vinegar were involved, and I don’t know what else. I used it on an old chest of drawers I had and it looked like just what it was—an excellent piece of antique furniture, well preserved! Could you publish that recipe again?

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I’ll bet you are referring to this column, How to Remove Years of Kitchen Cabinet Grit and Grime, which has the recipe you’re referring to, plus another for really grimy kitchen wood cabinets. Here they are:

Recipe #1

In a spray bottle  (I use these 16-oz. bottles for homemade cleaners) mix 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 4 tablespoons white vinegar, and enough warm water to fill the bottle (about 2 cups). Shake to mix then spray on one door or drawer front at a time. Scrub with a soft cloth to remove any dirt, then buff to a beautiful shine. Before each spray, give the bottle a shake to keep the oil mixed in.

Recipe #2

In a small bowl, measure out 1 part vegetable oil and 2 parts baking soda (for example 2 tablespoons oil and 4 tablespoons baking soda—or 1 cup oil to 2 cups baking soda depending on the size of your job).

Using your fingers, mix this into a thick paste. Smoosh it a little bit at a time into the surface of that grimy cabinet, being particularly mindful of the areas close to the handles that receive so much handling and human contact.

Scrub with a soft cloth, sponge or your fingertips to get this paste into the grain. Use an old toothbrush to get it into all of the nooks and crannies. This paste is very thick, and as you begin to scrub and brush, it will fall off, along with a lot of grime. Save yourself a mess by placing an old towel beneath the areas you are cleaning to catch it as it falls off. It could get disgusting and that’s what you want because that signals that you are getting rid of it. Buff well with a soft cloth then step back to admire your beautiful work.

You can always add a few drops of essential oil to your homemade cleaners—orange or lemon would be a great choice—and that will leave a wonderful clean scent.


Q4: We bought a new mattress. The top mattress is 18 inches and now none of our sheets fit. So far I haven’t been able to find any that will. And I don’t have a lot of money to spend on new sheets! Any suggestions?

That’s a very tall mattress, and I’ll bet it is lovely. And I have good news for you. Liz Claiborne 400tc Sateen Sheet Set is my pick for the Best Inexpensive luxury, 100% cotton bed sheets (very comparable to our previous Royal Velvet option, which JCPenney has discontinued). These sheets have a velvety, soft hand, which helps to make them wrinkle-resistant provided you do not overdry.

These sheets are smooth, luxurious; not noisy, rough, or any other negative thing on my list of cannot-tolerates. They launder beautifully in hot water and come out of the dryer nearly wrinkle-free. I usually touch them up with the iron, but honestly, I may stop doing that.

The fitted sheet in this set has deep pockets—up to 18-inches—without being baggy. These are the kind of sheets I  remember from my childhood. Available in a variety of colors and sizes.

One set of these sheets in size Cal King is list priced at $140. But wait. The JCPenny site regularly offers discount coupons (I’ve been watching this like a hawk and there’s always a coupon), plus these specific sheets are frequently on sale. With my first online order, I didn’t have to search or inquire. At checkout, I simply clicked on “Coupons” which was right next to the checkout button. Immediately, the price dropped to $84. As I am writing today, I tested the price again. At check-out, the price dropped to $66.69.

Bonus: JCPenney participates in Rakuten rebate program. That means I would get 3% cashback on top of that already reduced price. Go here first to open your free Rakuten account.

MORE: Rakuten—an Awesome Way to Build a Cash Stash

I have checked many times since to see how that discount holds up and have yet to find a time that I would have had to pay full price. I can’t represent the exact discount you’ll get, but know that these sheets are frequently on sale and discount coupons and codes are readily available.


Q5: I checked the places you suggest might carry Lestoil, but nope. I couldn’t find it at Home Depot, Lowe’s, ACE, and Walmart! I’m determined to give it a try. Please help!

That sounds like a lot of running around and even more frustration! I have seen it at Home Depot, and readers have reported that it’s on the shelf in their local Walmart. The one place I guarantee you can get it is online at Amazon. That’s where I get Lestoil, maybe because I’m impatient?

For those who are not familiar,  Lestoil (pronounced less-toil … get it?) can be used full-strength on stains—especially really difficult stains; the kind of stains you just give up on like ink, toner, grease, oil, scuff marks, blood, lipstick, nail polish, paint, grass stains, coffee stains, crayon and marker stains on every surface you can imagine. Even the sticky stuff left behind by stickers and labels. It’s just plain awesome.

MORE: 10 Things You’ll Be Happy to Know About Lestoil


Q6: I want to try and make the vanilla extract using your recipe and instructions. Once it is finished and kept in a dark cupboard (shaking each day for one week), then do you just leave the beans in it indefinitely? I love your column, emails, and tips. Even have my husband following your advice and tips. Now he asks me, “see what Mary Hunt has to say about that?”.

Yes! And as I pour off vanilla extract into a small usable bottle for myself or a gift, I fill it back up with vodka to replace what I removed. Honestly, my beans are going on 7 years old. Of course, as I remove a bean or two to add to a gift bottle, it weakens the mix. Just this year I added new beans. In a way it reminds me of growing and tending sourdough starter, but much easier. Good luck! As for your husband, he’s one smart cookie! 😂

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10 replies
  1. Rebecca Sharp says:

    Hi, my spouse has an inherited bureau that is very old (but pretty), but there is a drawer that had ‘velvet’ lining and smells musty. It makes the whole room smell musty and ewww. I removed the drawer, but the bureau still emits a smell that everyone hates. How do I get rid of this? I have tried vinegar, putting it out in the fresh air, and a few other things (which I can’t even remember right now). Thanks.

  2. Connie says:

    Hi Mary: I have just completed my first batch of vanilla using my Instant Pot and have poured off the liquid into small bottles. Do I understand correctly that when refilling with vodka for additional batches, there is no need to go back into the Instant Pot? If a second hearing is not necessary, how long would be the approximate storage time for my second batch before it would be ready to use? Thanks so much for all you do! And Happy Thanksgiving!!

    • Mary Hunt says:

      That should not happen Did you apply lids to the jars so they were finger tight? That keeps any evaporation contained within the jar so there’s no loss of liquid.

  3. Robin BROWN says:

    This Washing Soda “recipe” for Cleaning Silver is different from the one you gave recently which included Salt and Vinegar …
    Just wondering which one works best … (safest for my grandmother’s silver) … ??

    I’ve learned so much from reading your columns over the past several years – THANK YOU – R

  4. Gina Stevens says:

    I love it when you have a hodgepodge of topics. I learn so much. Products are regional. I grew up in Michigan in the fifties with Lestoil. The smell brings me back to search lights in the sky and men working on greasy cars. Hence, the need for Lestoil!


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