Posts

A Robot Vacuum that Really Works—and It’s Inexpensive!

Vacuuming sucks. Literally. One year, my idea of giving our adult sons robovacs for Christmas was intended to help them with that odious chore.

What a disappointment. I learned much later that both guys used their robots for only a few months. They were ridiculously noisy, needed constant supervision, did a lousy job and just more trouble than they were worth. They were annoying and couldn’t do the job. But that was then and this is now:

 

eufy robovac 11S black vac on wood floor showing how it picks up debris

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How to Clean the Dirty Edges of Carpet

Dark, shadowy, dirty lines on the carpet along baseboards, under doors and draperies, along the edges, and in the crevices of carpeted stairs are all visible signs of an aggravating problem called filtration soil. With the right tools and information, you can clean the dirty edges of the carpet, but first, it’s important to know what that dirt is and how it got there.

Ugly, grimy, black lines on edges of carpet that are from filtration soil

Photo credit: CandLFlooring.com

Basically, filtration soil is visual evidence that the air in your home is killing your carpet. It takes more than a vacuum to clean these filtration lines. A vacuum may remove some of the discoloration, but the smallest particles are electrostatically bound to the carpet fibers.

The key to cleaning these dirty edges is to agitate the fibers by scrubbing or scraping to loosen the dirt particles. This makes it possible to clean them with water and an appropriate cleaning solution.

Your carpet is the biggest filter in your home. Just like your furnace and air conditioning filter that filters out airborne soils that pass through it, your carpet does the same thing. That is the reason for dirty edges on the carpet, otherwise known as filtration soil.

Filtration soil comes from airborne pollutants passing through the carpet as the air is drawn through the crack between the carpet and the baseboard, around the drapes, or under a closed door. It’s an accumulation of soot from dirty ducts, smoke from candles, and the fireplace; tobacco, kitchen grease from the oven and cooktop; smog, auto emissions, and pollutants from outdoors.

A home’s HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system is designed to filter out airborne soil, trapping it in the filter. But once the filter is full, the system will send the air pollutants back into the house through the ducts where all of that icky mess gets lodged into corners and crevices. And if that’s not enough, filtration soil makes your house smell bad.

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Best Ideas for Organizing a Refrigerator

Lately, have you cleaned out your fridge? Once the expired condiments and forgotten take-out containers hit the trash, and the shelves and walls get scrubbed clean, you might as well go ahead and organize the refrigerator. The way you do that matters.

woman with open refrigerator

How to organize a refrigerator

Here is a general strategy followed in professional kitchens based on the temperature the foods need to be for food safety:

Upper shelves

Leftovers, drinks, and ready-to-eat items like yogurt, cottage cheese, and so forth. This area of the refrigerator is slightly warmer than the lower areas, so keep that in mind as you decide what should go here.

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Household Substitutes: 11 More Ways You Can Use This for That

I was halfway out the door, car keys in hand, and on the way to the home improvement center when I remembered that I might already have what I needed. Cooking spray! That’s it. I’d heard that it is a terrific household substitute and that it just might work.

It did, and quite perfectly, too. No more squeaks and I saved a needless trip and a needless purchase, too.

household substitute cooking spray to fix a brass squeaky hinge

Squeaky door

Got a squeaky door or sticky drawer? Instead of replacing that squeaky hinge or just live with a sticky drawer, try this household substitute: Spritz a little cooking spray on the hinges or drawer slides then work it back and forth to distribute the “lubricant.” Wipe away any drips with a dry cloth or paper towel.

White water rings

Use mayonnaise to get rid of white water rings on wood furniture. Make sure the area is completely dry then spread enough full-fat mayonnaise on the spot. Let it sit for several hours, even overnight. Now wipe it clean, and buff with a soft clean cloth. Magical, right?

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When Carpet Stain Removers Fail, Carpet Surgery

Carpet stains are near the top of my personal list of pet peeves. I’m not talking about an accidental spill that when addressed quickly can be successfully removed with a good carpet stain remover. In fact, I get a lot of satisfaction from tackling a spill or stubborn spot on the carpet, forcing it to disappear never to be seen again.

What I’m talking about is an ugly stain that no matter what, absolutely will not budge.

Carpet surgery

Stephanie writes, “Is there anyway I can remove a rust stain from my carpet? We just moved into this house and the carpet is gorgeous—except for this fairly small spot that is so noticeable. It looks to me like rust. I’ve tried carpet stain removers, but they haven’t worked.”

It all depends on how long that rust stain has been there and other methods you have attempted to remove it. The problem is the harsher the treatment the more likely you’ll be to also remove color from the carpet, leaving you with an even more noticeable problem.

So let’s assume this rust stain is set for eternity and nothing is going to remove it. Here’s a last resort I’ve used with satisfactory results: carpet surgery.

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How to Make Your Regular Vacuum Reach Into Tight Spaces

It’s been several years now since one of my dear readers told me about an inexpensive, super effective tool I could attach to my vacuum cleaner’s hose that would let me vacuum places no vacuum had ever gone before. Every time I use it, I wonder how I had lived so long without VaccuFlex.

A man standing in front of a computer

Meet VaccuFlex

Look. That’s it! Just a multi-piece kit that attaches to any vacuum cleaner that has a hose—like my Shark—which then turns it into a vacuum cleaner that can get into even the tiniest crevice, corner or space.

Hose and Vacuum cleanerWhat’s so ingenious about a VaccuFlex kit is that within those seven pieces—which are food-grade, which means safe to use in the kitchen—is the perfect combination to fit any size vacuum cleaner hose to get into any size space. And this is not like some little battery-powered mini vac. I have all of the power of my Shark behind VaccuFlex.

Clothes dryer

My first clue that things were not quite right with my clothes dryer was when suddenly it was taking forever to get anything dry!

I’d checked and re-checked the lint trap, so that wasn’t the problem. Turns out it was all kinds of lint that had been trapped behind the trap farther inside the machine. And in the dryer vent line.

My laundry appliances are stacked so pulling the dryer down to get into those areas from the back was not at all practical. That’s when in desperation I ordered a VaccuFlex kit.

I removed the lint trap and stuck that hose all the way into that area. It was amazing. Shark nearly filled itself before I stopped pulling out lint balls. Then I went outdoors to vacuum through the outside of the dryer vent. And that fixed the problem.

A man standing in front of a computer

Kitchen

I use a clean VaccuFlex tube to vacuum all the crumbs and bits out of my kitchen drawers. It’s super easy and so fast because there is no need to remove flatware, utensils, and so forth.

And that area around my coffee grinder? That thing is messy and throws fine coffee grinds into cracks, crevices, and drawer guides. VaccuFlex to the rescue for that and for reaching under the refrigerator, too.

A person preparing food in a kitchen, with Vacuum and Hose

Automobile

To me, car vacs can be troublesome. They’re either too wimpy and powerless or the cord is too short; or if cordless, lacking in runtime. Using a full-power vacuum cleaner with VaccuFlex is the way to detail the inside of a car.

See that tiny hose? That can get into the tightest spots to super-suction out all of the stuff that accumulates in car seats, floors, door compartments, center console, and dashboard. This is the way to vacuum tight spaces!

Hose and Vacuum cleaner

Door and window tracks

What is it about door and window tracks that they simply refuse to get clean? It’s the corners and that area right next to the tracks that can be absolutely impossible to keep clean!

The solution is to make sure those areas are perfectly dry, then put VaccuFlex on the job. I’ve discovered it’s a lot easier if I loosen the dirt and debris with a good brush first.

A man standing next to a window

Clogged sink

Warning: You must attach VaccuFlex to a wet-dry vacuum to perform this household rescue. Shark vacuums are NOT wet-dry! This Vacmaster is an excellent wet-dry vacuum, which would work well for this.

If you have a hopelessly clogged sink, it’s possible that you can quickly clear that clog with VaccuFlex attached to a wet-dry vacuum. Video demonstration.

A dirty plate on a table next to a sink, with Vacuum and Cleaning

 Photos: VaccuFlex.com

There are so many other ways VaccuFlex has made my life easier—cleaning out air returns, condensate lines, p-traps, and HVAC systems to name a few.

Such a great invention!


Up Next:

Absolutely the Best Window Cleaning Tips Ever

In a Pinch, You Can Use This for That

How to Make Your Own Powerful Tub and Shower Cleaners


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Mold and Mildew No Match for Magic Tub and Shower Potion

The only thing better than figuring out for myself how to do things cheaper, better, and faster is when I get to teach these tips and tricks to my readers. Teaching a simple DIY potion to treat shower mold and mildew to Mike was the best ever. His response just made my day.

 

beautifully clean white shower 083016

Dear Mary: I can’t thank you enough for telling us about your magic shower and tub cleaner. I live in moldy ol’ Florida and I have a tile shower in my older home.

I used to bleach it every 10 to 14 days and by 14th day it would be pretty bad—I’m talking mold and mildew. Since using your magic formal, I’ve bleached only one time this whole summer.

I squirt the shower down two to three times a week and OMG! It’s so easy and well worth it. Love your articles. Please continue to keep us informed. Thanks again. You saved my life. Sincerely, Mike

 

Dear Mike: I am laughing because I’m tickled by your excitement. The stuff really is like magic, isn’t it! I know that so many readers are chafing at the bit to know more about this secret concoction that has saved your life (it saved mine too, so I know how you feel). I call it my Magic Tub and Tile Soap and Scum Remover but maybe we need to add Shower Mold and Mildew to that label as well. Whatever, it is truly magical.

I suggest readers read the original column to get the specific details. But for those who can’t wait, here’s a quick reminder of the recipe. Into a large spray bottle, pour 1 cup blue Dawn dishwashing liquid; add enough white vinegar to fill the bottle to within an inch of the top. Done.

To use: Shake to mix and spray away. Spray the walls, the floor; fixtures, glass doors, shampoo caddy, and every surface inside the tub and or shower.

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16 Surprising Ways Car Wax Can Make Your Life Easier

Chances are good that there’s an old can of car wax hanging out in your garage or basement. Now would be the time to find it, dust it off and hope it’s not all dried out.

Of course, car wax is good for waxing a car, but it’s handy in so many other ways around the house that really are quite amazing.A cup of coffee, with Wax and Car

Car wax, whether paste or liquid, is formulated to fill scratches and give a high shine to nonporous surfaces like glass or metal and leave them resistant to smudges and stains.

As for which car wax works best, I prefer Meguiar’s Cleaner Wax paired with a good microfiber cloth because it cleans, polishes and leaves a beautiful finish—all in one step.

Turtle Super Hard Shell Paste Wax is a fine choice too, just know that you’ll need to clean the surface first, then apply the car wax.

MORE: Best Inexpensive™ Microfiber Cloths

De-fog mirrors

There’s nothing like a nice hot shower to steam up bathroom mirrors. Car wax is the secret to make them fog-free. Apply a small amount to the entire mirror, allow it to dry then buff it away with a clean rag or microfiber cloth.

Granite and marble

Apply a coat of wax to granite and marble countertops to fill in fine scratches and restore the glossy finish and shine.

Shiny faucets

No matter how water spotted and dull your tub, shower, and sink faucets are, car wax will make them look like new—and help them stay that way. Rub a small bit of auto wax into all of that metal and allow it to dry for a few minutes. Now just polish it away with a soft dry cloth. The wax will prevent new water spots and keep those fixtures sparkling*.

Fight mildew

After using your regular cleanser, apply a layer of car wax to the inside and outside of a shower door and buff off with a dry cloth to discourage mildew growth and hard watermarks.

Fingerprint-free appliances

Tired of smudges and fingerprints all over your beautiful appliances? Apply a thin coat of car wax to your stainless steel refrigerator, dishwasher, stove. Wait a few minutes then buff clean. That surface will resist fingerprints and smudges.

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14 of the Very Best Homemade Cleaners that Really Work

Items in your pantry like baking soda, vinegar, cream of tartar, lemon juice, and even tea bags, can work as effective cleaners. Even better, compared to pricey commercial products, homemade cleaners cost next to nothing.

So the next time you’re staring down a big mess but you’re out of your favorite product, don’t run to the store—open up the pantry and try mixing up one of these DIY cleaning recipes instead. Step back and enjoy the results and the savings, too!

A bowl of fruit sitting on a table, with Cup and Vinegar

Vinyl Siding Cleaner

In a two-gallon bucket, carefully mix together:

  • 2/3 cup Spic and Span Liquid All-Purpose Floor Cleaner
  • 1/2 cup Liquid Tide Laundry Detergent (do not use the Tide liquid that has fabric softeners added)
  • 1 quart liquid chlorine bleach*
  • 3 quarts hot water

Next, using a funnel, carefully pour into an ordinary hose-end wash gun or (garden sprayer) set to the highest concentration and apply to vinyl siding. Then you will see the dirt, film, and mildew just slide off. After five minutes, rinse with the hose and clear water. In all cases, label clearly and keep out of the reach of children.

All-Purpose Liquid Cleaner

  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup household ammonia*
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1-gallon warm water

Mix all ingredients together, label clearly, and keep out of reach of children. Then, use as you would any commercial all-purpose multi-surface cleaner such as pricey Formula 409 or Lysol All-Purpose Cleaner.

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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 my dear reader Sandy is talking about, too.

before and after proper cleaning of filthy kitchen cabinet

Dear Mary: We’re moving into a new (to us) house and would like to know what kind of cleaner to use on the wood kitchen cabinets? They’re pretty skanky and feel sticky to the touch!

I hate to think how many years of dirt have built up on them. But I don’t want to remove any finish that is on them. How can we clean the years of dirt without damanging the finish?  Sandy

Natural Orange Oil

Dear Sandy: If sounds to me as if your challenge is greater than simple maintenance of kitchen cabinets to keep ahead of sticky build-up, the result of cooking. Anyone who has a kitchen and actually cooks in it knows this just happens!

Your situation may call for a good commercial product for the simple reason that you don’t know how old this dirt is, or what kind of finish is hiding beneath it. It’s quite possible the cabinets are in great shape and can be restored to their original beauty. You really can remove years of grit and grime from any wood surface. And you have options—use a commercial product or make your own wood cleaner.

Should you prefer a commercial product, you won’t find anything more effective than Howard Real Orange Oil products. You can depend on 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.

Your other option is to make your own highly effective cleaner, for just pennies.

I have two recipes for you and any readers with wood cabinets, regardless if those cabinets have a natural finish or they’re painted.

The first is for cabinets that 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.
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13 Reasons to Keep Borax in the House (and Why It’s Safe!)

Recently this desperate message with a subject line Dishwasher Disaster! washed up in my inbox.

Dishwasher and Machine

Dear Mary: My dishes have accumulated a coating of grit due to the fact that someone (who shall remain nameless) insisted on rinsing the dishes before loading them into the dishwasher.

After a $59 service call which enlightened the guilty party as to the folly of his ways, I am now faced with futile attempts to remove said grit.

I have had only marginal success with Blue Dawn, a Magic Eraser, and much elbow grease.  I can’t help thinking there must be an easier and more effective way to accomplish this.

Can you help? Katherine

I came this close to ignoring that message because I didn’t have much to go on. There are so many variables like:

Is the water especially hard where Katherine and nameless live? Is Katherine using a rinse aid along with her detergent? Did what’s-his-name unwittingly double up on the detergent? Was the the water coming into the dishwasher hot enough from the first moment?

But then I stopped short, knowing the first thing I’d try if this were a problem in my kitchen.

Dear Katherine: I can’t be sure but it’s possible the surfaces of the dishes and glassware have become permanently etched. Just one theory, hope it’s not true.

Here’s what I would do: Fill your sink with HOT water. Add about 1/2 cup of borax (20 Mule Team is one brand, most supermarkets). Put the dishes in to soak. That should loosen the grit if indeed it is “grit” that is clinging to the surface. I’d be OK with using a scrubber (ScotchBrite BLUE option) to speed things along.

Hope that helps. Let me know …

Within only a few hours, I heard back!

Dear Mary: The Borax did the trick! Thanks for your help.

That got me thinking about the all the ways I use Borax to clean and fix problems around the house.

What is borax?

Borax’s chemical name is sodium tetraborate. Sodium tetraborate is a salt compound from boric acid, but it is not an acid. It is a salt that is found naturally in evaporation lakes. It is mined mostly Turkey and the U.S., with the most commercially important deposits found in Boron, California.

There is a difference between boron, borate, boric acid and borax. Boron is an element that exists in nature. Borax is a combination of sodium, boron and oxygen and can be mined from the earth in its crude form.

Powdered borax is white, consisting of soft colorless crystals that dissolve in water. Borax is an ingredient in many detergents, cosmetics, and enamel glazes. 20 Mule Team Borax is a trademark, named for the method by which borax was originally hauled out of the California and Nevada deserts. Borax is readily in supermarkets  in the laundry or cleaning aisles and online under a number of different brands including generically.

Borax is used in many different commercial applications, including as an ingredient in household cleaning products, as a buffer in chemical laboratories, to help extract gold in mining operations, and as a component of glass and ceramics.

 

Borax and Cleaner

Is borax safe?

As I have researched borax, I’ve come acoss some very misleading information regarding about the white powdery stuff. I thought I would clear that up today together with unique ways to use borax around the house that can make our lives easier. But let’s answer the big question first. Yes, borax is safe.

Borax, or sodium tetraborate is a salt compound from boric acid, but it is NOT an acid. It is a salt that is found naturally in evaporation deposits of lakes. It is mined in the U.S., mostly in southern California.

Borax is alkaline and has a pH of about 9, which is the same as baking soda. Chemically speaking, borax has a crystalline structure that dissolves well in water. It’s the boron in borax that makes it an excellent pH buffer to aid in cleaning and soap dispersion.

All the studies on borax that refer to cancer or fertility are based on rats who consume or ingest an incredibly large amount of borax for an extended period of time. You should never EAT borax! And let me be clear that none of those studies impact in any way how borax is used to clean.

Precautions to take

Generally, and this is true of ANY salt (baking soda, table salt), be careful about dumping large amounts into a container and breathing in the dust. You should never do this with anything that is a fine powder and not just with borax. Always be cautious about dust from salts— even flour, too.

Keep borax in a sealed container away from children just as you do with ANY cleaning agent, even natural ones. Natural cleaning agents are safe to use around pets and children, but you don’t want them getting into the container.

Do not use borax for skincare or topical use. It is really for cleaning only. And remember this: More is not better. You only need a small amount of borax to get any number of jobs done.

1. Clean carpet

Borax is a natural odor neutralizer, which makes it a perfect option for boosting the cleaning power of your carpet machine. It will make those carpets smell even better. Whatever the solution you’re using—even if only hot water—add 1/2 cup borax per gallon before filling the machine’s reservoir.

2. Steam clean

Steam all by itself is a fairly powerful cleaner, but adding borax to the process does an amazing job of pulling up dirt and debris. Great for killing odors, too. Add 1/2 cup borax to 1 gallon hot water to help dissolve the borax. Use this to fill the steam cleaner reservoir.

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How to Get Your Windows Sparkling Clean—Cheaper, Better, Faster!

We moved into our home in April 2015, just in time to experience our first Rocky Mountain spring. There are no words to describe this adequately, but this picture does a great job.

A view of a snow covered field with a mountain in the background

 

The thing I noticed the first time I walked into this house—windows. Tons of windows framing our new view and every one of them dirty. It looked to me as if no one had ever washed them.

I did my due diligence in researching local professional window washers. For sure we would have to pay to have them cleaned properly. But it would be one and done. We would keep them clean and that would be an easy task. Of course.

The price was ridiculously high, but the job got done and the windows sparkled. That’s when I set out to discover the best (easiest, fastest, cheapest, sparkly-est) way to keep these windows clean—not only dust-free but also clean.

Surprise. It’s not with Windex, paper towels, newspaper or other methods I may or may not have recommended in the past, which produce a big mess—dripping, soggy, dirty paper towels, and windows with streaks that can be difficult to remove.


MORE: How I Dry Cleaned My Windows


The right tools

I have invested in the right window-washing tools. You need the right tools, too, or you are going to waste a lot of time and money trying to get your windows streak-free and sparkling like diamonds. Look for tools like these at your local big-box store, home improvement center, or online. For your convenience and also so you can see what I’m referring to below, I have provided Amazon links for each of these specific tools. Read more

How to Dry Clean Windows—No Water, Bucket, or Squeegee Required

 

I have this thing for clean windows. I love them, which means I have an opposite and equal dislike for dirty windows. And when I say clean windows, I mean the kind of clean that makes windows sparkle like diamonds in the morning sun.

A kitchen with a sink and a large window

If I could, I’d have a professional window-washing service come to my home every week to clean every single window—inside and out. But I have a two-story house with lots of windows so right there you can understand why I can’t and I don’t.

On a lark and only because I wanted my flower garden to look better through the window in my kitchen, I grabbed this car wash mitt, made of microfiber chenille that I’d purchased some time previously, in an attempt to control all the dust being generated by a home remodeling project going on at the time. (It worked great for that!)

A close up of a car wash mitt

 

It’s stringy, floppy, and fun to use. It is super soft and feels slightly “prickly.” Used dry, it acts like a giant dust magnet. I was in no mood to start washing windows, so the idea popped into my head to give the windows a quick dusting. I didn’t see how I could make them look any worse.

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16 Ways to Use Windex That Will Make You So Happy

Recently, while digging out, cleaning up, and reorganizing our storage room I discovered a half-full jug of Windex. I have to admit that for a few moments there, it was like Christmas and not because I was itching to clean windows. It’s because I know lots of situations and ways that Windex actually comes to the rescue to make life easier!

A bottle of water on a table

Laundry stains

Windex makes for a super effective stain remover on non-silk washable fabrics—especially on difficult red stains like red wine and tomato sauce and ketchup. Spray the stain liberally with Windex, allow to soak in and work for 20 minutes or so, then rinse it out with cold water. Launder as usual. Caution: Stick with the clear colorless version of Windex when using it to remove stains from white or light items.


Bug spray

Hit those ants and other creepy crawlies with a mist of Windex and watch them curl up and die. Many readers have reported this works really well but once cleaned up, it will not prevent the bugs from coming back. To do that, spray the cleaned up area with a light mist of white vinegar to create a more lasting barrier.

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16 Amazing Ways Hydrogen Peroxide Can Make Your Life Easier

Some time ago I got a message, which reminded me about the wonders of ordinary product hydrogen peroxide—a product most people have somewhere in the house. Georgia wrote …

An object in his hand

I had a cut on my hand that opened up while I was putting my expensive duvet cover on my comforter. Now I have blood stains where I touched it. Is there any hope of getting these stains out completely? I tried using a carpet cleaning solution and washing it but those stains remain. I’m worried they’ll be there permanently. Thanks so much for your help! 

I responded immediately, directing Georgia to soak the stains with fresh, full-strength hydrogen peroxide. I heard back quickly. The hydrogen peroxide lightened the stains almost immediately, and within hours they disappeared completely.

I’ll be honest that back then, removing blood stains was about all I ever used hydrogen peroxide for. And because it has such a short shelf life, I was forever throwing out old, useless hydrogen peroxide.

Since then, I’ve learned so much and done extensive research and wow. The stuff is downright wonderful from cleaning to mouthwash—so awesome in fact, I never throw hydrogen peroxide away anymore. It doesn’t have time in my home to age out. That’s how much I use it.

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How to Deep Clean a Garbage Disposal and Why You Need To

Germs—bacteria and viruses—are pretty much everywhere. Most of them are harmless, but one percent of all those germs can actually cause anything from a runny nose to a life-threatening infection.

Common sense dictates that when we clean our homes, we target places such as the toilet and counters to eliminate these germs—but we haven’t even scratched the surface of where germs lurk.

A close up of a metal pan

Photo credit: Wikimedia.org

According to Prevention magazine, there are more than half a million bacteria in the kitchen sink, about 1,000 times more than the average toilet.

The garbage disposal collects germs from raw food, like chicken, eggs, and spinach, and that food can be filled with harmful bacteria, like salmonella. It can make anyone, especially children, the elderly or anyone with a compromised immune system, very sick.

The metal part of the garbage disposal in a kitchen sink produces ions that can help kill germs, but they love to grow on the crevices in and around the slimy rubber splash guard. Your disposal can become a real breeding ground for bacteria, contaminating your hands, and everything you touch, like your dishes and utensils. All that rotting gunk and grime can cause quite a stink, too!

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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.

 

A person holding a sign

Contents

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.

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Yes! You Can Wash Silver in the Dishwasher

Contrary to popular belief, you can wash silver and silverplate flatware in the dishwasher without causing harm, provided you are careful to follow the rules.

I grew up being fearful of the oddest things. I wasn’t bold enough to question why, so I just did as I was told. Here’s one: Never, ever put good dishes or silver flatware in the dishwasher. Ever!

I didn’t know what would happen if I did, but you can be sure that my fear of the unknown made certain I didn’t come close to finding out. Until my rebellious years.

A plate with a fork and knife, with Silver and Dishwasher

Once I had my own china and my own silver, I was reckless enough to believe I wouldn’t go to jail if I violated this particular “Thou shalt not!” I was reminded of what I’ve learned about putting silver in the dishwasher when the following question showed up in my inbox:

I have a set of silver flatware that I use daily and wash in the dishwasher. I notice that after a few times through a normal cycle, the pieces become very tarnished. It is not a particularly good set, just a nice set of flatware for daily use. Do you think that the dishwashing detergent is tarnishing the silver? Anne

No, I believe the problem is the way you’re loading the machine and your choice of dishwasher detergent.

Case in point: The small pie server in the photo above is one of my favorite things. I love it for its size and just the way it feels in my hand. I use it daily and it goes in the dishwasher every evening—by itself in its own little compartment so that it is not touching any other type of metal. Since I inherited it many years ago I have done nothing to it but use it, clean it and enjoy it. Read more

This Homemade Silver Cleaner Removes Tarnish Like Magic

There’s no shortage of commercial silver cleaning products on the market these days. Those that I’ve tested generally do the job, but they’re messy, contain harsh chemicals and if that’s not bad enough—they’re expensive! Good news. I have a simple homemade silver cleaner recipe for your lovely silver pieces—chains, earrings, bracelets, flatware and heirlooms that’s cheaper, better and definitely faster.

A pair of glasses on a table

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22 Weird but Wonderful Ways to Use Coffee Filters

It was a dumb mistake. I grabbed the biggest package of coffee filters—a pack of 1,000—only to discover much later that I’d picked up the wrong size for my coffeemaker.

Coffee filter

Coffee filters are not expensive, which is probably the reason I didn’t bother returning them to the store. I suppose I should have tried, but I’m glad didn’t. I began finding all kinds of ways to use those filters for other things than making coffee.

What I discovered is that the basket-style filters are super useful around the house and the garage, too for so many things that have absolutely nothing to do with coffee!

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How to Clean a Jetted Bathtub

There are few things as luxurious as taking a bath in a jetted tub. The warm water and body massage make for one amazing way to relax.

But the last thing you want to see are chunks of mystery debris swirling about—all the gunk and grime that’s built-up inside the jets and connecting hoses since the last time you cleaned it, which would be uh, when?

Follow these steps to get both the tub and the air jets plus all of the interior plumbing system squeaky clean and sanitized so you can relax in crystal-clear water without fear of filth.

 

A fountain in the middle of the tub

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9 Surprising Things You Can Clean with a Clothes Steamer

A compact clothes steamer is handy for removing wrinkles and stale odors from fabric, but is that all? Just another single-purpose tool that sits on a shelf gathering dust? Don’t be so sure! I’ve been amazed to discover all the ways to use an ordinary clothes steamer to steam clean, sanitize, renew, and refresh all around the house.

 

A person wearing a blue dress standing in front of a curtain

Basics

Before we get started, let’s go over a few steam clean basics.

  • Always use distilled water in a steamer. The minerals in tap water can cause it to clog up and can also leave behind traces of minerals.
  • Never use steam on silk or other delicate fabrics. Always test first in an inconspicuous place for color-bleeding or spotting.
  • Do not use steam on freshly painted surfaces, vintage surfaces, waxed or polished wood or musical instruments.

Loosen carpet stains

A blast of steam can loosen a tough carpet stain that’s been difficult to remove. Hold the steamer a few inches away from the spot for at least 30 seconds, then blot it with a clean white cloth. Repeat until nothing more is transferred to the cloth. If you still see evidence of the spot, it should respond more effectively to a good stain remover like Spot Shot. Just make sure you follow the instructions on the label, which may require rinsing once the stain is gone.

Remove labels and stickers

A blast or two from your trusty clothes steamer can soften and melt the adhesive that keeps a stubborn label or sticker stuck so you can easily remove it. Be cautious if you’re dealing with an unpainted surface.

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Washing Dishes By Hand vs. Dishwasher—Which is More Effective?

It’s an interesting question and one that comes up every time I write about how to use and maintain a dishwasher. For many readers, handwashing dishes just feels better and something that’s hard to let go of, especially for those who don’t use enough dishes to fill the dishwasher more than a couple of times a week.

But isn’t low-tech handwashing just as effective as a high-tech dishwasher? All things considered, the answer might surprise you.

 

Dishwasher and Washing

Health and safety

To kill the germs and bacteria on dirty dishes, water must reach a scalding 140° F, according to Kelly Reynolds, Ph.D., an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Arizona. But if you set your home water heater to that temperature, you’ll put family members at risk of scalding when using hot water in tubs, showers, and sinks.

Most home water heaters are set to 120° F to avoid scalding, which means getting the water hot enough from the tap for hand washing dishes is all but impossible. And even if you could, 140° F is much hotter than your hands could stand for the minimum required 2-minutes those dishes would need to be exposed to that high temperature. But a dishwasher? No problem.

Since the early 1990s, most dishwashers in the U.S. have built-in heaters to boost water temperature to 140–145° F, the temperature recommended by manufacturers for optimum dishwashing performance and by food safety experts for killing bacteria.

The advantage of a dishwasher with a booster heater is that you can turn down your water heater thermostat, significantly reducing household water heating costs. Resetting your water heater to 120°F will provide adequate hot water for your household needs.

Economics

Hand washing dishes typically uses a lot more water than a dishwasher. Unless you could get that sink full of dirty dishes hand washed with soap and rinsed with the water running from the tap in fewer than 2 minutes, it’s likely you’re using a lot more water than a current dishwasher model requires. And in most cases, a lot more if you pre-rinse, wash, and then rinse again.

That’s because according to the U.S. Energy Department, a federal standard kicked in for dishwashers requiring a 20-percent reduction in the amount of water it uses. If yours is a highly efficient Energy Star-certified dishwasher, it uses less than 4.25 gallons of water per cycle.

Time

Not long ago, we remodeled our kitchen. I was without a dishwasher for what seemed like forever, but in reality, it was about a month. That doesn’t mean I stopped cooking or we stopped eating a home. I just had to find other ways to get the job done.

Health, safety, and economics aside, it took so much time—far more time than required to get the same job done with a fully operational dishwasher. To keep up, it seemed like I was handwashing all the time; the drying rack was forever full; even so, there were always dirty dishes in the make-shift sink and clean dishes always waiting to be moved from the drying rack to the cupboard.

Not only does my dishwasher save energy and water, it just makes my life so much easier.

If you don’t own a dishwasher

Not everyone has a dishwasher. If that’s you, don’t panic. You can hand wash dishes and make sure they are sanitized, too. The Oregon State University Extension Service says you need to add this one step to the process:

After scrubbing with soap and water and rinsing, soak everything for 5 to 10 minutes in a gallon of hot water—a typical sink full—and one tablespoon of chlorine bleach. Don’t re-rinse. Instead, allow the dishes to air dry in a rack or on a drying mat. The bleach will kill any microorganisms that your scouring failed to kill. As everything dries, the bleach will evaporate, leaving your dishes clean and sanitized.

Conclusion

The evidence is clear—a dishwasher is far more efficient than hand washing dishes. It’s faster, safer, and cheaper than even the most frugal method of hand washing dishes.


You may also want to check out:

6 Simple Ways to Develop a Saver’s Attitude

11 Of The Very Best Homemade Cleaners That Really Work

 

How to Clean a Shark Vacuum and Its Filters

You know by now just how much I love my Shark vacuum cleaner. And given my readers’ letters and comments, I know that many of you have Sharkies, too. Now you need to how to clean a Shark so it keeps performing at top efficiency.

I love your messages. They make me smile because I understand the range of emotions that come from using a Shark vacuum for the first time—from amazement to flat out embarrassment.

Where on earth did all of this dirt and debris come from? I can’t believe what’s been lurking in my carpet!

 

A pot on the stove

With all of the miles I’ve put on my numerous Shark vacs over the years, I’ve never had one fail. And while the manufacturer boasts that Sharks never lose suction, that is predicated on regularly cleaning Sharkie’s canister, filters, and rotating brush.

It’s right there in the owner manual, which most of us don’t think to read until we have a problem. You need to clean your Shark every three months to keep it working at top efficiency—more often with heavy use. It’s easy.

Signs Sharkie needs a bath

  • loss of suction
  • dirt being left behind
  • sounds weird like Sharkie is gasping for air
  • an unpleasant, dirty odor

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How to Make Even an Old Dishwasher Perform Like New

There are many things in my life that I enjoy, but would not be completely devastated if required to give them up. My dishwasher is not one of them.

 

Dishwasher and Image

 

During our recent kitchen remodel, we got rid of the appliances, all except for my stripped down 14-year-old Whirlpool dishwasher.

Even though it has been replaced, it has found a new home across town with our son and family. It continues to do a flawless job, not because it’s such a high-end machine (it’s not), but because I have learned the secrets of how to get any dishwasher to perform well.

It doesn’t matter how old your dishwasher is. If it will turn on, spray hot water and go through some kind of cycle, you can turn out sparkling clean dishes. You just need to know a few secrets about cleaning, maintaining, and operating it.

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10 Surprising Ways Lemons Can Make Your Life Easier

Several years ago, my son gave me the bounty from the two fruit trees that pretty much rule his backyard. My Mother’s Day gift of Meyer lemons weighed in at 124 pounds. I know, lucky me!

I had to figure out ways to use, share, and preserve lemons in a big hurry. I juiced, cooked, and baked all kinds of lemon things. And I learned so many ways to use lemons in around the house, too! Who knew lemons could be so useful?

 

 

Oranges hanging from a branch

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Zap strong odors

To remove odors from garbage disposals, you can drop in leftover lemon peels (cut them small so they don’t jam the blade). Or rub lemon juice onto cutting boards that have retained strong odors or stains. Follow with hot, soapy water. Clean the walls and shelves of the refrigerator with straight lemon juice. Rinse well, and then wipe to dry. Read more

14 Ways to Use Dryer Sheets That Have Nothing To Do with Laundry

Perhaps you’ve seen the list of uses for dryer sheets floating around the Internet. Who knows where that list came from. What we do know is not all of the alternative uses can be verified as true.

Box

 

 

For example, we have no confidence at all that Bounce or any other brand of dryer sheet will repel mosquitoes. We’ve tried and nope, those suckers seem to enjoy dry sheets! But spiders and flies? Or how about stinky shoes? Read on.

Pests

Many of our readers have confirmed that dryer sheets will repel both spiders and flies. Keep a few extra sheets in clothes hampers and around the laundry area and you can kiss all those spiders goodbye.

 

A close up of an animal

Luggage

Slip a dryer sheet into your suitcases while they are in storage and they won’t smell musty when you take them out to use.

Blinds

Wipe down your blinds with a dryer sheet to prevent static electricity and to keep dust from collecting. Grab that dryer sheet with a pair of kitchen tongs and use that to quickly run over each slat. It’s quick, easy and will even pick up the dust.

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Absolutely the Best Window Cleaning Tips Ever

I have this thing for clean windows. I love them, which means I have an equal but opposite disdain for dirty windows. And when I say clean, I mean the kind of clean that makes windows sparkle like diamonds in the morning sun. Some days I wish that by some miracle, a professional window-washing service would come to my home every week to clean windows—every single one both inside and out.

But I have a two-story house with a lot of windows—to say nothing of the time and money that would require to move everything away from every window to get ready every week!—so right there you know why I can’t and I don’t.

Instead, I depend on these great DIY window cleaning tips I’ve learned over the years—many of them from you, my awesome readers.

A person standing in front of a window

 

Dry, cloudy day

If you’ve ever tried to clean outdoor windows on a bright sunny day, you already know the problem. Your cleaning solution dries on the glass faster than you can turn around to grab your cleaning cloth. You’ll end up with a horrible streaky, muddy-like mess. Instead, wait for a dry, cloudy day.

Microfiber cloths

Paper towels and newspapers have long been touted as best for scrubbing and drying the glass (my mother-in-law Gwen swore by the New York Times as the only newspaper worthy of window-washing)—but what a dirty, icky mess they create! Paper options break down and leave lint behind. Besides, newspapers are not as available for recycling as they once were. If you’re interested in efficiency and clean, streak-free windows, forget the paper.

Instead, use microfiber cloths (like these from Amazon) to clean windows. Microfiber grabs dirt and dust. Microfiber cleaning cloths are soft and non-abrasive. They won’t scratch glass or painted surfaces and you will enjoy the lint- and streak-free results you get with microfiber. And the best part? These cloths can be washed, rinsed and reused hundreds of times.

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How to Get Rid of The Dreaded Toilet Bowl Ring

It’s not the most elegant question I get, but certainly one of the most common. “I’ve tried everything I can think of, but that stubborn, ugly toilet bowl ring won’t go away!” Or ” … It goes away, but just keeps coming back!”

 

 

Toilet bowls develop discolorations for many reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the housekeeping. Basically, the dreaded toilet bowel ring is the result of hard water conditions together with water standing in a toilet that sees a lot of use.

While there are lots of commercial products out there that promise to remove hard water stains in the toilet, ordinary household pantry items you have already can be just as effective to rid your toilet of the dreaded toilet bowl ring without harsh chemicals.

What are those stains, anyway?

Toilet bowl stains that look like rust are likely due to mineral deposits and hard water. Green, orange or black streaks or rings may be mold. A bacteria called Serratia marcescens shows up as pink. Knowing what is causing the ring makes it easier for you to choose the best method for getting rid of it.

Under most conditions, regular weekly cleaning prevents heavy stain buildup and reduces the appearance of any existing stains so the bowl can look pristine and white again.

And when none of that works? Don’t worry, I have the mother of all solutions for that too, in a bit. But let’s start with the easiest.

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How to Sell Your House for the Highest Price Possible

So you’re getting ready to sell your house. Just thinking about it can be an overwhelming experience.

Should you hire a real estate agent? Do a FSBO (for sale by owner) to keep from paying that big commission? Should you spend a lot of money to paint and re-carpet—at least the front rooms?

Where do you start and what can you do to make sure you attract a qualified buyer as quickly as possible?

 

A stop sign in front of a house

Hire a professional

A licensed real estate agent who is successfully moving properties in your neighborhood and comes with references will likely get you a better price for your home than you could get on your own. Most non-professionals (owner sellers) end up losing more in the transaction than the commission they would have paid a professional. You want the best and most experienced representative possible to sell your house—not your friends’ nephew who’s launching a new career.

No radical changes

Should you remodel the kitchen? Replace counters and fixtures in the bathrooms? Probably not, unless those appliances or fixtures are not working. Frequently, such updates and changes done to achieve a higher sales price don’t pay off.

Almost anyone buying your home will want to make their own changes, so you are not likely to recoup that investment of time and money. Unless your licensed agent recommends major changes like a new roof or exterior paint job, hold off and put your energy into other areas.

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17 Things You Need to Know About How to Use Your Garbage Disposal

I would like to personally thank the late John W. Hammes, an architect working in Racine, Wisc., who in 1927 invented the garbage disposal. What a brilliant idea. Is there anything more convenient in a kitchen than a garbage disposal? For me, it’s right up there with my dishwasher. I’ve learned the hard way that there’s a lot we need to know about how to use a garbage disposal.

A woman preparing food in a kitchen

 

It took me a ridiculously long time to recognize the obvious connection between holidays, dinner parties, and emergency calls to the plumber due to hopelessly clogged drains. Why was it always on a holiday, always embarrassing with a houseful of company, always after hours, and always super expensive?

I’ll tell you why: Because that’s when I would do stupid things like peel ten pounds of potatoes, cram all of the peels into the garbage disposal and expect it to all magically disappear. Dittos with prepping artichokes. Or I’d throw a couple of whole lemons in there, thinking that would freshen the thing up before company arrives.

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Best Inexpensive Cordless Stick Vacuum

According to more than a few messages from you, my dear readers—and in the words of Ricky Ricardo—I’ve got some ‘splaining’ to do! Faithful readers will recall that over the past years, I’d received more requests for the best inexpensive cordless stick vacuum than all other such requests combined. I heard you loud and clear because I’d been hearing the same request from myself.

 

A man wearing a suit and tie, with Ricky Ricardo

 

Twice now, I’ve pointed you to my Best Inexpensive Cordless Stick Vacuum, and twice things have not gone exactly as hoped.

Today I have good news, but first the background:

I’d been looking for my ideal stick vacuum for so long, I’d just about come to the conclusion that my expectations were completely unreasonable—my perfect stick vacuum did not exist.

My ideal stick vacuum

For me, a stick vacuum is NOT a substitute for a good, powerful household vacuum that can pull dirt, dust, and debris from deep within the pile of a carpet. Just so you know, I am not looking to get rid of my beloved Sharky. Never! A stick vacuum has a different purpose altogether.

It’s a simple tool designed for quick pick-ups; to clean up spills in the kitchen, tracked in sand, dirt, pet hair, cat litter, dust, and loose debris when you don’t have the time or inclination to haul out a full-size vacuum cleaner for such a small task.

A good way to think of a stick vacuum is that it’s an electric broom, dust mop, and dustpan in one. It “sweeps” up and then vacuums away debris in a single pass without the need for the user to bend over or get down on the floor.

In my dreams

I’d almost given up, concluding that my ideal stick vac didn’t exist—that my list of must-haves was beyond reality—nothing more than a pipe dream.

  • Cordless and rechargeable with a runtime of at least 25 minutes
  • Able to stand up alone—who wants to lay the thing down to answer the door or take a call?
  • Lightweight so I can easily carry it up and down stairs in one hand while carrying a load in the other
  • An On/Off switch so I don’t have to continuously hold down a trigger during operation
  • Generous size dirt and debris cup that is easy to empty
  • The dirt cup, filters, and brush roll need to be washable because I like my appliances to be nice and clean
  • Quiet while in operation

I’ll admit that’s a lot of must-haves, but if I could ask for just one more feature, I would want it to be nice looking in a subtle way so that if I were to ever leave it out, it would add a little beauty to the place, not stand out like a sore thumb.

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How to Clean Leather Furniture

When it comes to furnishing your home, it’s difficult to find anything more luxurious and elegant than fine leather. With that elegance comes the challenge of how to clean leather furniture, keeping it free of stains, and well-maintained so that it gets even better with age.

A brown leather couch sitting on top of a chair

Improper attempts to clean fine leather can result in the heartbreak of permanent damage. If your leather furniture is stained or looking a little on the tired side, follow these suggestions for perking it up.

Type of leather

To get started, determine the type of leather you’re working with. You want to know if it is aniline or top-coated. Typically, this information will be found on the tags that were attached or the brochure you were given when you acquired the leather item. This written information will generally provide tips on cleaning your specific furniture and should be your first line of defense.

What if you don’t have any instructions? Generally, when talking about leather upholstery, there are two types: aniline leather and top-coated leather.

Aniline leather

This is a type of leather dyed exclusively with soluble dyes. The dye colors the leather without producing a topcoat or sealant. Aniline leather is a natural leather that has a very soft finish, is very absorbent and stains easily.

If yours is aniline, just one instruction: Do everything you can to keep it free of stains and spills. In an emergency, a clear, mild dishwashing detergent may safely remove a grease stain from this type of leather.

Top-coated leather

This is the most commonly used finishing technique for leather used to upholster furnitured and automobile seats. The finish consists of an opaque base coat followed by a protective topcoat. Since the natural color of the leather is covered completely, the leather can be identified by its uniform color. This type of leather is most common on furniture or automobile seats due to its durability and protection from stains and spilling.

Most leather furniture these days uses top-coat protected leather, which is usually safe to clean by following these suggestions:

Vacuum

You need to remove all the loose dirt, dust and debris from the item to be cleaned. A vacuum with the soft brush attachment is the best option as it will get into the seams and crevices. Be gentle, though. Leather is delicate and you don’t want to scratch it as you are vacuuming.

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How to Clean and Care for Hardwood and Laminate Floors

Taking care of hardwood or laminate floors can be challenging given the everyday conditions of a family and pets. But keeping your home looking good is crucial to maintaining its value.

Generally, there are two types of residential wood flooring: real wood (solid or engineered) and laminates that are man-made to look like wood. 

 

A kitchen with a wood floor

 

Hardwood

Solid 

Solid hardwood floors are made of planks milled from a single piece of timber.

Engineered

Engineered hardwood is made from layers of material that have been glued together, with a layer of hardwood on the top. Typically engineered wood comes finished with a clear protective coating or finish. 

Laminate

Laminate flooring is manmade, a multi-layer synthetic flooring product fused together in a factory using a lamination process. The top layer of laminate flooring is photographic material that is made to look like wood including a clear protective finish. Read more

How to Clean Gunk and Grime from Kitchen Cabinets

Got grimy kitchen cabinets? Don’t think you’re the only one. Unfortunately, wood cabinets—painted or natural with a clear finish—are prone to all sorts of grease, grime, and gunk from simply being in the kitchen.

A person in a kitchen

 

Depending on just how much grease and grime you’re looking at and the supplies you have available, there are several options to clean kitchen cabinets. At least one should help to get the job done—plus one final suggestion for how to keep your clean cabinets looking gorgeous!

Blue Dawn

Apply a few drops of concentrated dish liquid like blue Dawn, into a bowl of warm water. Dip the soft side of a sponge in it. Squeeze the sponge until suds form. The cleaning agents in Dawn absorb grease just as well on kitchen surfaces as they do on dishes. Apply to the dirty kitchen cabinet, wiping the grease with the soft sponge until it is removed. Immediately dry the surfaces with a clean cloth to prevent streaking.

Kitchen gunk remover

Bust through hardened, dingy layers of old, sticky, dust-grabbing grease with vegetable oil and baking soda. Mix one-part any vegetable oil to two-parts baking soda. Apply this oily paste to dirty areas using a soft cloth or paper towel. That ugly, greasy, dirty build-up on cabinets will begin to soften and start to disappear. Wipe clean and buff with a soft cloth.

White vinegar

Vinegar is not just for making pickles or drizzling over French fries. It has grease-busting, cleaning ability. Dampen a clean, dry cloth with undiluted white vinegar, and wipe down greasy cabinets. Rinse your cloth with warm water, wring out most of the moisture, and use it to rinse the cabinetry. Dry the damp surfaces with a paper towel, but note any still-sticky spots that need a second attempt.

Caution: Vinegar should be used only occasionally, to remove greasy grime, not for maintenance. Its acidic nature may, over time, begin to dull the surface.

Soap and paint thinner

This is a heavy-duty, industrial-strength solution. Use it on the toughest, most stubborn grease and grime, knowing that it could remove a layer of the finish. Mix equal parts of paint thinner and mild soap, such as Murphy Oil Soap. Apply with a sponge or paintbrush. Wipe the solution away with a rag to clear the dirt; you’ll likely remove a thin layer of varnish or shellac, because the grime may have melded with it.

Wood polish and conditioner

After rigorous cleaning, wood cabinets are thirsty for moisture and protection. But you want to be careful that you don’t make matters worse by using something that will create a new kind of build-up that becomes a magnet to kitchen grease and grime.

You won’t find a better product to do that than Howard’s Feed-n-Wax Wood Polish and Conditioner. It contains beeswax, carnauba wax and orange oil to keep the wood from drying out, while at the same time repelling kitchen grease. Fantastic for all of the wood surfaces in your home—not only kitchen cabinets.

CAUTION: Before attempting to use any of these options on any wood surface—painted or natural—test first in an inconspicuous place so you know how the method of cleaning will react.

First published: 3-26-17; Updated with new info and photo credit 5-19-19

PREVIOUSLY: Put a Big Smile on Your Face with a Dental Savings Plan


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26 Ways to Use Vinegar that Will Surprise You!

It’s cheap. It’s available in every supermarket and home center in the universe and so useful around your home, you may have a difficult time believing it. That’s the power of white vinegar—the same vinegar you cook with and pour on your salad!

 

A bottle on the counter

 

1. Windows

Add 1/4 cup white vinegar to a quart of very warm water to make a good window cleaner. Wipe with a microfiber cloth and your windows will sparkle.


MORE: Best Inexpensive™ Microfiber, Electronics, Automobiles


2. Computer mouse

Clean your mouse that has a removable tracking ball with a 50/50 vinegar-water solution. First, remove the ball from underneath the mouse by twisting off the cover. Dip a clean cloth into the solution, wring it out and then wipe the ball clean. Next, remove fingerprints and dirt from the mouse itself. Then use a vinegar-moistened cotton swab to clean out the gunk and debris from inside the ball chamber. Allow all parts to dry a couple of hours before reinserting the ball.

3. Laundry

Instead of fabric softener or dry sheets, add 1/2 (one-half) to 1 cup vinegar to the last rinse in your washing machine (as you would liquid softener). Your clothes will come out soft because the vinegar helps to remove every trace of laundry detergent, which causes fabrics to stiffen.

4. Watermarks

Vinegar will dissolve hard-water marks like those on shower doors, faucets and in vases. If the vinegar is hot (heat in the microwave) it works even faster.

5. Ballpoint pen ink

Got ink marks from ballpoint pen adorning a wall, desktop, or other inappropriate space? No worries. Dab full-strength white vinegar on the ink using a cloth or a sponge. Repeat until the marks are gone. Then buy your child a nice big sketch pad.

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Help! My Apartment Stinks Like a Stale Ashtray

What do vacuum sealers and apartments that smell like a stale ashtray have in common? Absolutely nothing other than these two messages showing up in my mailbox at the same moment—both of them in response to earlier posts.

I just read your column on simple science that makes Nok-Out work to eliminate really difficult odors. Can you give me some quick advice on how to apply that method to rid my apartment of the smell of smoke? The apartment is new. The problem is that the crew smoked in here during construction. It’s yuk! Thank you, Judy

 Odor and stink

 

Dear Judy: You do have a terrible problem, and I’m so sorry about that. Have you contacted the owner or manager? Assuming you have but that hasn’t worked out very well—and you do not want to move—Nok-Out absolutely can oxidize (neutralize) the odor of tobacco smoke. The challenge is to make sure Nok-Out comes in contact with every square millimeter of a surface that the smoke has penetrated. And that’s a real challenge!

When treating a large open area where the odor became airborne and most likely is now clinging to every bit of the ceiling, walls, flooring, cracks, and crevices—Nok-Out must do the same in order to reach and then oxidize all of the stink.

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Three Generic Cleaners Same as Brand Names but Way Cheaper

Most people are well familiar with the term “generic” when it comes to medications, a term referring to any drug marketed under its chemical name without all the fancy packaging and advertising.

Today I want to offer you cheap generic alternatives for these three popular cleaning products—Bar Keepers Friend, Super Washing Soda, and OxiClean.

 

Cheaper then brand names

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Meet My Spring Clean A-Team

There’s an illness that has been documented by poets for centuries and I’ve got it. It’s Spring Fever, that wonderfully amorphous disease we all recognize come April and May. Spring fever remains a fuzzy medical category, but there has been a great deal of research on how seasonal changes affect our mood and behavior. I know how it affects me—it makes me want to spring clean!

A colorful flower on a table

While I don’t invite all my friends over to help, I have built quite a team that makes the job, if not fun, at least enjoyable. Today, I’d like to introduce you to each member of my awesome spring clean team.

Deep Cleaning Brushes

I got the initial set as a gift from a friend who knows me well. I love to clean nooks and crannies, which is crazy, but true nonetheless. OXO Good Grips Kitchen Appliance Cleaning Set specific cleaning tools are perfect but not only for the kitchen. I use them on grout, in corners; along baseboards. And into the dishwasher they go almost daily, to get sanitized. Watch out nooks and crannies. Your dirty days are fast coming to an end.

Squeegee

I suppose that windows would win if I could have only one item on my spring clean list of dirty things to clean. There’s just nothing like looking at spring through sparkling, crystal-clear windows. Want to know the secret to the sparkle? A good squeegee and the best scrubber to go with it.


MORE: Sparkling Clean Windows—Cheaper, Better, Faster!


Microfiber Cloths

Forget the paper towels. And the terry cloth. When it comes to serious cleaning of anything—especially glass and mirrors—there’s nothing more efficient than microfiber because it is lint-free and streak-free. A set will last for years. And years.

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Favorite Household Cleaners You Can Make Yourself for Just Pennies

It pretty much kills me to spend money on things I know I can make myself for less than their pricey commercial cousins.

Take cleaning products for example. Knowing how to make things for pennies that cost dollars at the store just makes me happy. It’s a no-brainer.

Here are three handy recipes to help you get started saving all that money you’ve been spending on household cleaners.

Granite Cleaner

Countertops made of granite, marble, and stone are tricky because these materials are porous and stain easily. You never want to clean them with anything acidic, which means vinegar and lemon juice are both out.

Here is a homemade granite cleaner that will not stain nor is it acidic. Used with a good microfiber cloth, it works like a champ to clean and shine these natural counters. 

RELATED: Best Inexpensive™ Microfiber, Electronics, Automobiles

Pour 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol into a 16-oz. spray bottle. Add a few drops Dawn liquid dishwashing detergent, 5 to 10 drops essential oil (this is optional, but will add a nice fragrance) plus enough distilled water to fill the bottle. Apply the spray top and shake to mix. You can use this cleaner to clean and shine your appliances as well.

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Easiest Way to Remove Burned-On Mess in a Pot, Pan or Casserole

I consider myself an expert on today’s topic. I have the unique talent of creating horrible burned-on messes in casserole dishes, skillets, pots—even a Le Creuset dutch oven. I can do this on the stovetop, in the oven, outdoor grill, and microwave, too! 

A person standing in front of a refrigerator

I did it again just the other night. I returned a stainless steel frying pan to the burner set to medium after I’d plated most of its contents and walked away.

We had a lovely meal of Shrimp Scampi Bowls (thank you Home Chef) while that pan sat there and created yet another opportunity for me to demonstrate my unique skill. It was bad.

Dumb me, I didn’t think to snap a photo to show you the “Before” until that mess was halfway through cleaning itself. Here is a semi-Before and After comparison.

cooking pans

There are multiple ways to deal with this kind of kitchen challenge—most of which will work to some degree, eventually. But as far as I am concerned, there is only one method that is totally amazing because it’s pretty much automatic and works in an hour—more or less—depending on the severity of the situation.

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Ask Me Anything: Dip-It for Percolators, Laminate Floors, Unscented Dawn

Growing up in Boise, Ida. (shout out to all my Gem State readers) my parents had a percolator. I can still hear that coffee pot perking away in the mornings. My mom used something called Dip-It powder to keep the thing clean.

That’s a memory that sent me into research mode, prompted by today’s first reader inquiry.

 

A pot that is sitting on a table

Q: I purchased an electric coffee percolator several years ago. It’s still working fine but now I’m having a problem purchasing Dip-It by Reckitt Benckiser to clean it. I understand they’ve stopped making it. I have tried using vinegar and it did not work very well. Do you have any ideas on how I can make a Dip-It like product myself? Vickie

A: Yes, but first a little history. Dip-It Coffee Food and Beverage Stain Remover for Percolators and Cookware by Rickitt Benckiser was acquired by the Lime-A-Way company, which continued manufacturing the powdery product for awhile until it changed it to Lime-A-Way Dip-It Coffeemaker Cleaner liquid (7-ounce bottle) with a completely different formulation designed for modern drip coffeemakers. But not to worry. I have a process that reasonably duplicates the venerable Dip-It results for keeping your coffee percolator beautifully clean, provided you do this in steps rather than combining cleaning ingredients:

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Who Else Doesn’t Want to Scrub Floors on Your Hands and Knees?

A woman sitting on a kitchen counter

 

DEAR MARY: I live in Florida and LOVE your blog. I look forward getting it in my email inbox every day. My question: What is the best tool, machine or method to clean tile? I have a lot of it. Thank you, Alice

 

DEAR ALICE: The best as well as the cheapest method for getting all of that tile clean and sparkly is to get down on your hands and knees and scrub it hot water and mild soap, then rinse it several times until the rinse water comes up completely clean. Then dry it with a clean, soft cloth until it gleams. Were you looking for a more realistic method, given that you have a lot of tile? Well, I’ve got you covered. I’m not suggesting the hands and knees method because if I won’t do it myself, I wouldn’t expect you to.

The problem with any type of flooring is that dust and dirt (sometimes so fine you can not see it until you remove it) get ground into every time you walk on it. You can’t feel it necessarily, or as I said, even see it. But over time that wears on the finish causing the floors to look dull and dingy.

Once a week you should vacuum the floors well to get up loose dirty and debris. Then every two weeks, clean and scrub the floors with an excellent cleaner and a good mop that cleans and wipes the floor nearly dry in a single effort. Here’s the recipe for the best floor cleaner ever: Mix one part rubbing alcohol to four parts distilled water plus a few drops blue Dawn dishwashing liquid. Mix this up in a spray bottle each time you clean the floors. Or if you make it up ahead, be sure to label it well and keep it out of the reach of children.  Read more

Try This Old Restaurant Cleaning Trick

Ever leave the coffee pot on overnight only to wake to a blackened, burnt on mess? Can’t get rid of the gunky build-up in your favorite carafe or thermos—stuff you can see, but not reach? Don’t toss them out before you try a cool trick to get them sparkling clean.

A glass vase on a table, with Coffee and Salt

Photo credit: milkallergymom.com

Dear Mary: I have a big stainless coffee thermos. The opening makes it impossible to get in and clean. I have tried baking soda and vinegar, but that hasn’t worked to dissolve and remove the build-up of coffee stains. I can look in and see stuff I’d rather not see. How can I clean inside my thermos? Karen

Dear Karen: I have the perfect solution: Ice and salt. Fill the thermos about 1/4 full of pieces of ice just small enough to fit through the opening. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of ordinary table salt depending on the size of the thermos. Apply the lid. Now shake it up, baby! Swirl it round and round, first clockwise then counter clockwise; upside down, up and down. The salt will begin to melt the ice allowing the pieces to move freely. You’ll get a good workout, too.

The salt acts like little non-abrasive sanding blocks. You may have to do this for a few minutes if you have a nasty build-up, repeating as necessary. Rinse well with cool water. This old restaurant trick works with glass coffee carafes and glass-line thermoses, too. It‘s so much fun I almost look forward to a burned on mess in the bottom of our office coffee pot so I can amuse and amaze the staff.

Dear Mary: My husband contributes 8 percent to his employer’s 401(k) plan. Would it be wise to temporarily stop that contribution in that we have about $50,000 unsecured debt? Debbie

Dear Debbie: Yes, but only until your unsecured debts are paid. Putting your hard-earned money at risk is while you are carrying high-interest consumer debt is not wise. No matter how you cut it, money in a 401(k) is at risk. But investing in your debt carries no risk and offers a guaranteed rate of return. Here’s how that works:

Let’s say you have a $10,000 revolving credit card balance at 18% interest. Each month you are paying $150 in interest ($10,000 x 18% / 12 = $150). Great Aunt Gertie dies and leaves you $10,000. You can either pay off the debt or invest the money. Let’s say you invest it.

Things don’t go well and you lose some or all of it in the stock market. You still owe that $10,000 on the credit card and you’re still paying $150 interest each month. Now let’s say you go the other way and use the money to repay the debt in full. Every month you get to keep the $150 you were sending to the credit card company. That is your guaranteed 18% return on the $10,000 “investment” you made in your debt. It’s a sure thing regardless what happens with the economy. Now that’s a good deal! Caution: Even though you stop making contributions for a season, do not cash in his 40l(k) account. The penalties and tax consequence are too severe.

Dear Mary: It takes about two weeks after I mail my mortgage payment for the check to clear my bank. My sister says my lender is making me pay more interest by delaying depositing my check. Is it true? Mary S.

Dear Mary S: No. Your sister may be confusing your mortgage, which is a “closed-end contract” with an open-end contract like a credit-card account. The law treats the two differently. A closed-end contract has a fixed payment schedule. The interest portion of your monthly mortgage payment is the same whether you pay it early or at the last minute. A credit-card or revolving open-end contract works differently. Making your payment early allows more of it to go to the principal because interest is figured on the average daily balance. Federal law stated in “The Fair Credit Billing Act” requires open-end lenders to credit all payments on the date they’re received, unless no extra charges would result if they failed to do so. But with your mortgage payment it doesn’t matter on which day during the month it is processed, provided of course it gets there by the due date.

Hope that helps!

Car Dealer Spills the Beans for Treating Leather

Dear Mary: I recently purchased a newer vehicle. The dealer tried to sell me a package where they treat the leather seats. Because of the cost, I opted not to purchase the package. 

Car seat

My question is, do you know the type of treatment that car dealers use to treat leather seats? Is it even necessary to do this? The car is an expensive purchase for me and I need to know how to take good care of the interior to make it last.

Thank you for your very enjoyable column. I read it from top to bottom and always learn or find something I can use daily. Jan G. Read more