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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.

repairman and female homeowever looking into dishwasher

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 in a box and in a white paill

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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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.

Silver pie server on black counter

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

14 Things That Should Never Go in the Dishwasher

Without a doubt, my least favorite household chore is hand washing dishes. That makes my dishwasher the one appliance I can’t live without. I love it. In fact, I have this motto that if it can’t go in the dishwasher I don’t need it.

Despite all my efforts, I still end up having to hand wash a few things since having learned the hard way there are certain items that should never go in a dishwasher. They can be ruined or they can ruin your dishwasher. You should hand wash them instead.

dishwasher open to reveal clea dishes and utensils

Wood

You’d be amazed how well I can fit wood cutting boards, bowls, and utensils into my dishwasher. But what was I thinking? I’m careful to not expose my wood floors to standing water because that’s just asking for trouble—but these small items made of wood were somehow impervious to the brutality of super hot water plus detergent followed by blistering high drying heat? So wrong!

Bottom line is that water causes wood to swell and distort. Detergent strips the natural oils, causing wood to crack. Wood needs to be hand-washed and dried quickly. When you need to disinfect, use a mild solution of one gallon of 70 F (cool) water plus one teaspoon of liquid bleach will do the trick.

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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 filled with sparkling clean dishes

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 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-filled-with-clean-dishes-and-bright-start

 

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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Questions on Auto Leasing, Homemade Laundry Detergent, Silver in Dishwasher, HE Washers, and 529 Plan Money

You should see my email inbox. Yikes! It’s overflowing with reader questions, tips, stories, feedback, rebuttals, and all kinds of love from you, my dear readers. In this post, I’m making a tiny dent in the pile with these responses to a handful of your questions on auto leasing, homemade laundry detergent, and more.

 

Colorful graphic depicting Everyday Cheapskate readers with their hands in the air with their questions for Mary

 

Here is a quick summary of the questions answered in today’s post. You can click on one to jump straight to it or just scroll down for all.

Contents

  1. Lease or buy a car?

  2. Which is better? Powder or liquid laundry detergent?

  3. Can you put silver in the dishwasher?

  4. Is my washer repairman right?

  5. Daughter not going to college—now what?

 

Q1: Help! Should we lease or buy a new car?

Dear Cheapskate: My wife and I are disagreeing. I want to lease a new car now because ours is old and paying for repairs is like flushing money down the drain. She wants to keep it until we can buy a better car. I hate car trouble and think peace of mind is something to be considered. I’m sure we can afford the payment, but she’s not. What should we do? James

 

Dear James: I’d rather shove toothpicks under my fingernails than ever lease a new car again, which is another story, but enough about me.

Here’s my best advice: Do whatever you must to keep the old car running for now.

Then, for the next 12 months, live as though you are making $400 monthly lease payments—but make those payments to yourselves. Don’t even think about being late, just as if you were under a stern leasing contract.

At the end of a year will have two things: A good idea of your comfort zone for big lease payments and $4,800 cash. Now you’ve got options.

1) You can sell the clunker and together with the money buy a used car or 2) You can make a down payment on a newer car.

To me buying a car is far better than jumping into a lease where you will spend a fortune and have nothing, not even a car, to show for it at the end of the lease period.

Thanks for writing and for calling me “Cheapskate.” I love that because, as you may know, I used to be a world-class spendthrift and that nearly ruined my life.

Learning to live frugally turned my life around so I wear that cheapskate moniker with pride and joy.

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Follow Up: Spring Clean Kitchen Challenge

Did you accept the challenge Spring Clean Kitchen Challenge? It’s been six weeks since I wrote about our big kitchen remodel and my determination to follow Cynthia Townley Ewer’s (Cut the Clutter) three rules for organizing an efficient, convenient kitchen. I invited my readers to accept the challenge and many did.

It’s time for a confession and an update.

Confession: My beautiful new kitchen is finished but it is not yet an organized and efficient kitchen.

Related: Spring Clean Kitchen Challenge

Do you recall Cynthia’s first step in creating an organized kitchen? She says we must harden our hearts and dare to dump everything that is not absolutely necessary and useful. I thought this would be easy. It’s not. There have been days I have felt like giving up and just throwing everything back in the way it was. I’ve been doing a lot of praying.

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Best Inexpensive™ Dishwasher

Just this past week I heard from my dear reader Penny who is frustrated in the face of needing to purchase a new dishwasher. She writes: 

“Our dishwasher is more than 20 years old and every time I think I have decided on a new one and read the reviews, I back out. I know that you recently purchased new appliances. What brand dishwasher did you go with? How does one filter all the reviews, good or bad?”

IKEA dishwasher

My husband and I have just completed our big kitchen remodel. It’s been nearly a year since we started planning so you can be sure I’ve been researching appliances ad nauseam. 

Here’s my conclusion based on credible evidence, product reviews and long conversations with appliance professionals: They just don’t make ‘em like they used to! 

These days you won’t find a dishwasher with an expected lifespan of 20 years. The best we should expect from new dishwashers is 8 to 10 years, which is by design. Industry insiders call this “planned obsolescence.” And we have to assume that those will not necessarily be trouble-free years. It’s sad but true. 

Nearly all appliances these days come with a one-year warranty. Most appliances pros will tell you that if an appliance is going to fail, it is most likely to do that during the first 90-days, so a one-year warranty is supposed to be sufficient. Anything beyond that is called an extended warranty, which brings up another matter, altogether. Let’s just say it gets complicated.

Related: Best Inexpensive Stick Vacuum—Finally!

There are two brands I suggest you stay away from—Samsung and LG. While their appliances are lovely when they’re in good working condition, these companies do not have a solid infrastructure for service and repair in the U.S. That means you’ll have a difficult time finding someone to repair them whether they’re under warranty or not. And when you do, you could wait weeks for parts to arrive from overseas. 

On the other hand, the Whirlpool family of appliances (Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Amana to name a few) are made in the U.S. Whirlpool has a reputation for making good appliances with repair, service, and parts readily available. 

With all that being said, I do have some really good news—and a solid recommendation, which may surprise you. Read more