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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.

MORE: My 22-Year Auto Lease Nightmare

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If you’ve ever wondered if it’s okay to wash your down comforter instead of taking it to the dry cleaner, the answer is yes. You can absolutely wash a down comforter without spending upwards of $60 (depending on the size, where you live, and how dirty it is) to have it dry cleaned professionally.

You need a mild detergent, wool dryer balls (or tennis balls); a few hours to spend at a laundromat, and patience. And if yours is a king-size comforter, a lot of patience.

A row of industrial washing machines in a public laundromat.

To do this, you’ll need mild detergent (our homemade detergent is ideal, or Woolite), wool dryer balls (or tennis balls work as well), an extra-large front loading washing machine (most home models are too small for this task) and an extra-large dryer. Here are step-by-step instructions:

Step 1

Big machine

Load your down comforter into the largest extra large front-loading washing machine at your local laundromat. The less crowded the comforter is in the washer and dryer, the better the results.

Step 2

Detergent

Add a small amount of mild detergent. Be careful here as too much detergent will strip the down or feathers of their natural coating that makes down or feathers such a superb  thermal insulator.

Step 3

Warm and gentle

You want to wash a down comforter using these settings on the washer: Warm wash, cold rinse; gentle (delicate) agitation and two rinse cycles.  It is very important that the last bit of detergent be rinsed out.

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If you’ve ever sent perfectly functional household linens or clothing items to the rag bag simply because they turned a dingy shade of gray when you expected your white laundry to come out brilliantly white, you’re going to identify big time with today’s first reader question.

Help! My White Laundry is Coming Out Dingy Gray

Dear Mary: How can I whiten my whites? I have well water and I use the homemade laundry detergent. But my whites—especially my white uniforms—are graying. I use white vinegar in the rinse. I can’t soak my whites in bleach or use the Cascade formula every time I wash. Any ideas? Dotti

Dear Dotti: Dingy gray is usually a sign of too much detergent that is not getting rinsed away completely in the rinse cycle. If your well water is especially hard, that could also be contributing to this problem. White vinegar doesn’t necessarily help to whiten clothes. We use it in the rinse cycle to help release all of the detergent.

Here’s a frugal fix for your problem. Add a half cup of borax to each wash load. This will boost the cleaning power of your laundry detergent. (Your homemade version does contain Borax, but a very small amount, which for normal situations is sufficient.) Borax offers many laundry benefits:

  • Borax is a natural mineral, sodium tetraborate, which has been mined and used for thousands of years. 
  • Borax is safe to mix with chlorine bleach and detergents and has been proven to enhance their cleaning power. 
  • Borax whitens your whites because it converts some of the water molecules to hydrogen peroxide, which is a whitening agent. This enhances the action of bleach, whether you add it separately or it’s already present in your laundry detergent. If you don’t like to use bleach, borax is still a good whitener on its own.
  • Borax acts as a pH buffer which means cleaner clothes. It softens hard water and also helps to remove soap residue from clothing.
  • Borax neutralizes laundry odors because it inhibits fungi and mold; it has disinfecting properties. 
  • Borax increases the stain-removal ability of your detergent. The alkaline pH of borax helps to break down acidic stains like tomato or mustard.

For super-stained items or uniforms, like yours, that have become dingy gray, do a one-time pre-soak for 30 minutes in a solution of one tablespoon of borax per gallon of warm water or add 1/2 cup of borax to a pre-soak cycle. Then continue to launder as usual.

Borax is sold as Twenty Mule Team Borax in many stores or in bulk as just plain borax.

Hope that helps, Dotti!

Related: Simple Solutions for 3 Common Laundry Problems

Dear Mary: What size Instant Pot would you recommend for my husband and me? I want to use it primarily to make cheesecake, but now wonder if most IP recipes would work well in the 5-quart size. Carla.

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