Showing posts with label Cleaning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cleaning. Show all posts

Mar 23, 2017

How to EASILY Remove Hard Water Stains from Sinks

clean hard water stains
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Now that the plum trees are blooming and we are getting occasional sunny days, I have the itch to spring clean. And boy, does this place need spring cleaning! As you might recall, it was a dirty mess when we took possession of it last July, and I was so utterly exhausted (mostly from my as-yet-undiagnosed diabetes) that I didn't do a deep clean. So now I want to tackle some of the cleaning jobs that have been bugging me all winter.

One of those was our bathroom sink.

The sink itself is newish, but because the old well had a high mineral content, it had brown stains around the drain and the faucet. I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed, but they wouldn't come off. Then I bumped into a post at The Thrift Home that suggested using vinegar to clean those hard water stains.

First, let me say that I'm not someone who lauds using vinegar for cleaning everything. I haven't found it very effective for most cleaning jobs, in fact. But for this cleaning job? Worked like a charm!

How to EASILY Clean Off Hard Water Stains from Sinks

You'll need:
Paper towels (thin, clean cotton rags would probably work, too)
White distilled vinegar
Old toothbrush

1. First, clean the sink and fixtures as you normally would.

The area around the drain and faucet of my sink always looked grungy.
2. Place some pieces of paper towel over the affected areas. I used half pieces, torn into strips and doubled over.

3. Pour a little white distilled vinegar onto the paper towels, until the towels are completely saturated.

4. Walk away.

That's the best part...walking away and doing something other than cleaning ;)

5. After an hour or longer (or when you finally walk into the bathroom and notice the vinegar smell and think "Oh, yeah. I was cleaning!"), remove the paper towels.

6. Use an old toothbrush to clean the affected areas. Without much scrubbing, brown gunk should come right off. In fact, if I need to do this cleaning job again, I'll try just wiping the affected areas with a damp sponge or cloth.

7. Rinse.

Much better!

You're done! So easy! And very effective.

Sep 22, 2016

How to EASILY Clean a Super Duper Dirty Cup

I have exactly two mugs in my cupboard: one for the Mr. and one for moi. The rest are - you guessed it! - still in our shipping container. And both these mugs (the Mr. uses his for coffee and I use mine for tea) are totally gross. They look super duper dirty, even though I've run them through the dishwasher multiple times and even, occasionally, hand washed them.

But that's okay, because I know a handy dandy little trick that makes cleaning those nasty looking cups a breeze.

Today, I finally got around to it.

How to EASILY Clean a Really Dirty Coffee or Tea Mug

1. Pour about a teaspoonful of baking soda in the cup.

2. Pour a drop of dish detergent into the cup, too. (I used Dawn.)

3. Fill the cup with warm water.

4. With a sponge or cleaning cloth, clean the mug. (HINT: You don't need to scrub like your life depends on it!)

5. Rinse.
My clean mug, all ready for a nice cup of orange spice tea.

See? So easy peasy I'm almost embarrassed to post it. But judging by my friends' dirty coffee mugs, I'm betting a lot of people don't know this trick! ;)

Apr 5, 2016

Daily Cleaning Checklist - and House Showing Checklists, Too

It is finished. The scrubbing, repairing, and painting is done and our house is officially on the market. We had seven glorious days of sunshine - just enough time for our painter to give the house a new, fresh look. And then, BAM! It started raining. Pretty sure that was God's way of saying, "Yes, that was Me holding back the waters in answer to your prayers."

But the challenge isn't over yet. Now I have to keep this house spotless. Maybe for a naturally tidy person that would be easy. But tidiness doesn't come naturally to me. And I have two messy kids, and a messy husband, too.

So I'm using to-do lists to tame the madness. I have an every day to-do list and a couple of to-do lists for when the house is about to be shown. My everyday list is something most of us should be using everyday, anyway. Something I'm learning (I'm a slow learner, it turns out) is that it's best to clean before it looks dirty. In other words, if you clean it every day (or close to it), the job will be quick and so much easier.

(P.S. Even if it's something I normally do every day - like keeping up with dishes - I added it to my list. It feels good to have all the chores listed in one place - and then check everything off!)

My everyday checklist looks like this:

(You can download this list in a format that can be edited by clicking here. Also check out my Mama Chore Charts.)

* Vacuum.
* Vacuum under the kitchen table after every use.
* Mop.
* Clean sinks as used.
* Wipe down tubs/showers as used.
* Clean toilets.
* Do dishes after every meal.
* Remove clean dishes from the dishwasher right away (so dirty dishes can go directly into it).
* At least one load of laundry every day.
* Pick up. (Don't let anything sit out overnight.)
* Make sure flowers or fruit designed to pretty things up look fresh and appealing.

When the house is about to be shown, I'm using these checklists. (Totally inspired by Suburble, whose lists are prettier, but not as practical for me personally.) The first is if I have less than an hour to prepare:

(Click here to download these lists in a format that can be edited.)

* Make beds.
* Close toilet lids.
* Empty all trash bins.
* Hide small trash bins in cupboards.
* Put out nice towels.
* Tuck small appliances into cupboards.
* Open curtains/blinds.
* Turn on all lights.
* Grab a box and put all clutter - anything sitting out - into it. Tuck box into a closet. (After the showing, it's important to retrieve the box and put it's contents away.)
* Put out "From the Owners" binder. (More on that in a coming post.)

If I have at least an hour before a showing:

* All of the above.
* Vacuum and touch up bare floors.
* Clean toilets.
* Sweep porch.

Mar 28, 2016

How to Brighten Dingy or Yellowed Whites

Last week, as I was preparing to put the linens back in our freshly painted main bathroom, I noticed the white valance for that room was looking...well, not so white. It was a bit yellowed and dingy. (Imagine that, after a decade of use!) Otherwise, the valance was in great condition and I really didn't want to replace it just to leave it with the house after we sell it, so I researched a few ways to easily brighten the white valance. These methods work equally as well for clothes or linens.

First, Why Do Whites Get Dingy or Yellow?

Turns out, there are lots of reason white fabrics turn dingy or yellow:

* Washing them with colors, which bleed in the wash.
* Storing them improperly, so they touch cardboard or wood.
* Stuff in the air, including smoke and grease.
* Overuse of chlorine bleach.
* Using too much laundry detergent or fabric softener.
* Drying the item too hot or too long in a clothes dryer.

How to Brighten Whites

Washing soda can help whiten whites.
When cleaning anything, it makes good sense to start with the most gentle cleaner, only trying more harsh cleaners if the more gentle ones don't work. Therefore, I've listed these cleaners approximately from most gentle to most harsh/least natural. On the other hand, if you don't have, say, lemons laying around, but you do have ammonia, you may as well try ammonia first!

Baking Soda - In a sink or bucket, stir together 1 cup of baking soda with 4 quarts of warm water. Once the soda is dissolved, add the fabric and soak for about 8 hours. Rinse and launder as usual.

Lemon Juice - This is really old school, but it works well. Fill a large pot (like a stock pot) with water and add two lemons, sliced (not just halved). Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Add the fabric and let soak for about an hour. Rinse and launder as usual.

Vinegar & Borax - Use 1/2 cup each of white distilled vinegar and borax (found in the laundry aisle or on Amazon) in the washing machine.

Washing Soda - Fill a sink or bucket with 1 gallon hot water and add 1/2 cup washing soda (found in the laundry aisle or on Amazon; it is not the same thing as baking soda). Add the whites and soak for 15 minutes before laundering as usual.

Bluing works as well today as it did way back when!
Bluing - Another old school method. Follow the manufacturer's directions. (You'll find bluing in the laundry aisle, or at Amazon.)

Ammonia - Fill a sink with hot water and add 2 tablespoons ammonia. Soak for 15 minutes. Rinse in cool water and launder as usual. (This is the method I used on my valance; it worked like a charm!)

Chlorine Bleach - Pour up to 1/4 cup of bleach into a gallon of cool water. Soak for 5 minutes, then rinse and launder as usual. Use bleach only occasionally, as it can lead to yellowed whites.

Oxygen-based Bleach - (like OxiClean or Clorox 2) Fill a sink or bucket with warm water and add oxygen-based bleach, according to the manufacturer's directions. Allow to soak overnight, then launder as usual.

Mar 14, 2016

What You May Not Know About Choosing The Best Vacuum

Have you ever wondered whether one vacuum is better than another for the condition of your carpet? Or even if your vacuum could be damaging your carpet? I hadn't - not at all - until recently.

You see, our house has wall to wall carpeting in the living areas. At first, I didn't think we could afford to replace it before selling the house, but it turned out we could, thanks in part to a good deal from a local (i.e., not big box) flooring store. (Thank you, Lord!)

I always knew there was hardwood under the carpeting, but I expected it to be in bad shape. Imagine our surprise when we ripped out the old carpeting and discovered THIS:

Gorgeous, right? I took lots of photos because, frankly, we don't have the time to repair the floor where the carpet tacks were, plus a few little other areas that need some TLC. But if someone else wants that lovely floor, I can show them it's there, nicely protected by a new carpet pad and carpeting:

Anyway, once that new carpet was installed, my husband asked me to look into it's warranty. He'd heard that using a Dyson vacuum, like the one I have, nullifies carpet warranties. I'd never heard this, but I dutifully called the flooring company and asked about it. The lady I talked to said she'd heard this rumor, too, but didn't know if it was true. She dug up the carpet's written warranty, though, and gave it to me. And I read: "Vacuum regularly with a Carpet and Rug Institute of Approval vacuum cleaner." Hmmm....

So I Googled said Institute and found their list of approved vacuums. There was not one single Dyson listed. And, frankly, there were a lot of vacuum manufacturer names missing. I was seriously surprised.

Reading a bit further, I found the criteria for vacuums that end up on the Carpet and Rug Institute of Approval list:

  • The vacuum has to remove a certain number of dust particles; 
  • and "the vacuum should not affect the texture appearance of the carpet more than a one-step change based on one year of normal vacuum use."
The second standard is the one our local flooring company warned me about. "If your vacuum doesn't allow you to adequately adjust the height of the brush roller, it won't be on the list," the flooring lady told me.

My Dyson allows me only to raise the brush roller up completely (for non-carpeted floors); it does not allow me to otherwise adjust the height of the brush roller. That means it could be really harsh on carpet fibers, ultimately voiding carpet warranties and leading to a quicker carpet death. While I've always said I loved my Dyson for being great at picking stuff up, it turns out at least some of it's ability to "suck" was probably damaging our carpets.

So if you have carpet you want to last (and remain under warranty), be sure to check out the Carpet and Rug Institute Seal of Approval vacuum list. You might need to buy a new vacuum!

Feb 9, 2016

Lazy Girl's Guide to Spring Cleaning (or getting a house ready to sell)

If you were to knock on my door these days, you'd find me covered in paint head to toe. Because when I paint, that's just what happens. Yes, friends, I am working my patootie off painting and cleaning these days. And I got to thinking, it is spring cleaning time(ish), and really all I'm doing is really intensive spring cleaning. So I think some of my little tricks for making the work easier and faster will translate to your house, too - whether or not you're putting your house up for sale.

Don't Use a Sponge or Cloth...Use a Mop!
Do you still wash walls and ceilings with a wet cloth or sponge? Then you're working too hard. Instead, use a mop. Better yet, use a Magic Eraser mop. Not only will you scrub less with one of these things, but you will almost never need to use chemicals - not even the natural kind. A little hot water and a Magic Eraser mop will clean almost anything - even a greasy kitchen ceiling.

And, oh yeah, they work great on floors, too. (Nothing gets my vinyl floor cleaner!)

Get Yourself Some Magic...Erasers, That Is

Got grubby baseboards? Dirty window trim? Icky crown molding? Or stubborn dirt on nearly any hard surface? Don't use elbow grease - use a Magic Eraser sponge. It does a better job - and it shortens cleaning time.

You can buy large boxes of generic "erasers" off eBay, or you can get Walmart's brand (they even sell a container of 12, which will probably last your entire spring cleaning and then some), or there are these, which are only 14 cents each. I always cut each eraser in half because I think they last longer that way. Also, remember that you don't have to press hard with these things - and not doing so will also make them last longer. (Of course, it's always smart to test a surface in an inconspicuous spot first, just to make sure the sponge doesn't remove the finish.)

Don't Sweep and Dust...Vacuum!
The next fantabulous tool you should use is a good vacuum. (I love my Dyson.) Years ago, I posted tips on how to use your vacuum to make housework easier; check it out, if you haven't already. (P.S., when I have a sticky, dusty mess, or just an area with a lot of debris that might clog up my vacuum, I borrow my hubby's shop vac.)

Have Some Popcorn
Speaking of vacuums, they are a real necessity if you have ceilings with bold texture, like acoustical (i.e. popcorn) ceilings. Sure, some people recommend scraping down those popcorn ceilings - but it's quite a project (and requires re-texturing the ceiling, unless you want every little flaw in said ceiling to show). From everything I've read, all but the newest (1990s - forward) popcorn ceilings contain asbestos, and therefore should only be removed by a pro, anyway. (Don't worry; the asbestos is only dangerous when it floats in the air and gets breathed in - i.e., during removal; if you leave the texturing in place, it's not a health hazard. Also bear in mind that popcorn ceilings were invented to help sound proof homes and prevent them from sounding echo-y, and as so don't remove them if you don't like an empty-sounding house.) 

To clean deeply textured ceilings, you can only use a vacuum; see full instructions here. (Be sure to wear safety goggles, since bits of the texturing may fall down.) But nothing spruces up any ceiling better than slapping on a couple coats of paint.  I've been doing that with ours, and I'm amazed by the difference! I really didn't realize how much our ceilings (which haven't been painted in 15 years) were making the rooms look drab. 

The photo doesn't do my ceilings justice. In real life, the freshly painted ceiling is bright and the bumpy texture much less noticeable.

Now, I've painted popcorn ceilings with a thick nap roller before, and it does work - but it's terribly messy - and it doesn't work nearly as well as a slitted foam roller designed for acoustical ceilings. So grab yourself one of those before you begin, then apply paint in both directions; for example, paint left to right, then run the roller front to back, too. I recommend two coats. You'll also want a small paintbrush to cut in the areas near the wall; you can also use it to touch up any little spots that still didn't quite get enough paint. Layers of paint minimize the texturing, too. (Admittedly, though, in order to really get the edges of the ceiling well covered with paint, you're probably going to end up with paint on the wall, too. So it may be a job best left for a time when you want a fresh coat of paint there, too.)

Don't Do It All At Once
Nothing wears down a busy, tired mama more than trying to do all the spring cleaning at once. The good news is - there's no reason for that! Instead, go through your house now and making a list of all the cleaning and repairs that need doing. (I have a free printable for this purpose, here.) This is often recommended before you sell your house, but it's a really handy tool even if you're not planning on moving. Once your list is written, you can just work your way down it as time allows.

Plus, there are few things more satisfying than checking off things on a to-do list. Right? Right!

Jan 28, 2016

How to Easily Remove Stains from Carpet - Without Chemicals!

Each stain on our carpet is a memory. There's the long, rectangular stain in the hallway from when  years old? No way.
my husband cooked a frozen Hungry Man dinner for me (immediately after my first C-section), only to drop it on the carpet. There's the little drops near the living room window where my son's sippy cup dripped apple juice. There's the large circular stain next to the couch where my husband spilled his coffee one Sunday morning. But these are memories I'd rather not have glaring at me from the floor each day, and over the years, I've tried many, many times to get rid of them. I've shampooed the rug, only to have the stains reappear, as if by magic. I've spot cleaned with a wide assortment of store bought cleaners that promised to do the trick, but didn't. So when I saw a Pinterest post claiming all I needed was water to remove our carpet stains, I was skeptical. Yeah sure, maybe that would work if the stain were fresh. But stains that are

Then we started prepping our house to sell. We don't have money to replace the carpet, so what could we do to make the carpet really clean? Hmmm...I remembered that Pinterest post (from Balancing Beauty and Bedlam). It was worth a try, right? Right! So far, it's worked on every carpet stain I've treated.

How to Remove Stains from Carpet Using Water

You will need:

Several white cloths (I use old flour sack towels, which are quite absorbent, but any white, non-print cloth should do)
Plastic shopping bag or a piece of plastic wrap
Heavy object (I use a few fat books)

For Older Stains:

A series of stains on my carpet. Who knows what caused this!
1. Pour water on the stain - enough to fully saturate the affected area.
Pour ordinary tap water onto the stains.
2. Blot the stain with the white cloth. Do not rub. Just lay the cloth over the stain and press down on it. As the cloth becomes saturated, use another part of the cloth, or a different cloth.
You can see the stains beginning to come off onto the cloth.
3. Keep blotting until you can no longer see the stain on the carpet. (With really stubborn stains, you may need to add more water and blot a little longer.)

4. Cover the wet area with a fresh white cloth, folded on itself several times. Cover the cloth with the plastic bag, and then place several heavy books on top. Leave in place until the next day.
I still have a few books I've haven't yet packed!
5. The next day, remove the books, bag, and cloth. The carpet should be dry and no trace of the stain should remain. AND...the stain will not return!
Ta-da! The stains are gone! (And they haven't come back.)
For Fresh Stains:

1. As soon as something gets spilled on the carpet, blot the stain with a white cloth until it no longer absorbs whatever's been spilled.

2. Follow steps 1 -5, above.

Why It Works

Why does water get rid of carpet stains when other cleaners do not? When you spill something on carpet, it will often soak through to the back of the carpet - and sometimes even into the pad underneath the carpet. Even though you clean the spilled substance until you can't see it on the surface of the carpet, some of it is still on or under the carpet. This substance gradually wicks up through the carpet fibers, reappearing on the surface.

So the only way to get rid of the stain is to remove the spilled substance from the underside of the carpet. By hydrating the carpet again and blotting it, the spilled substance rapidly wicks up to the surface. Blotting until you can't see a stain on the surface of the carpet brings up a lot of that substance, but forcing the wicking to continue overnight (by placing an absorbent cloth and some heavy books on top of it) gets out any remaining substance.

Jan 9, 2016

Why Every Housewife Needs Safety Goggles

Why Every Housewife Needs Safety Goggles
On Thursday, I injured one of my eyes. So today, in lieu of Weekend Links, I'm going to share my cautionary tale with you.

As you may remember, we are busy fixing up our suburban house we can sell it and move into our tiny house motor home in the woods. My husband has been fixing up our master bath, but he took a break from it (and his paying job) to run 2 tons of our stuff over to our shipping container, two hours away. (Remember, we are using the container for cheap storage of our things, until we can get into a full sized house.) So, being a loving wife, I decided I would work a bit on the bathroom while he was gone, saving him a little bit of work and stress. I was going to prime the walls, but I noticed there were a couple of small spots of mold on the ceiling near the shower. "I'll hit those with bleach before I do anything else," I thought.

So I put on old clothes and started applying bleach to the I've done without incident many, many times before. But this time, a drop of bleach dripped off the ceiling and into my right eye.

I let out a loud yowl - mostly because I was mad at myself, but also because it hurt like the dickens. I ran to the other bathroom and began putting handfuls of water over my eye, to flush it out.

My 10 year old was gone with her daddy, so I called to my 7 year old to grab me a timer. I figured I should flush my eye for 3 minutes or so. Then I decided to call my husband, since he often works in shops where they give safety training regarding chemicals in the eye. My youngest brought me the cell phone, and as I flushed my eye, I called my hubby. (So much for taking stress off him!) He said I should flush my eye for a minimum of 15 minutes. Plus he said some other stuff I couldn't understand because his location was bad for reception.

So, I flushed my eye for 15 minutes - actually a little longer - cupping tap water in one hand and then placing it over the affected eye. Toward the end, I called to my 7 year old, telling him to get ready to leave the house right away, because I thought I'd have to go to the doctor.

When I was done flushing, my vision was very foggy. In retrospect, this was probably caused by the water in my eye, but at the time, it was pretty freaky. I called my eye doctor. His receptionist said the doctor could see me in a little more than an hour, but to come down as soon as I could.

So my 7 year old and I hustled to the doctor's office, which is thankfully very close to our house. (A benefit to living in town!) The staff greeted me by asking what exactly I'd done. They said I did exactly the right thing, flushing my eye for 15 minutes. Then they offered something to numb my eye. Though my eye did hurt, I declined. 45 minutes later, the doctor gave my eye a quick look, but it took about an hour before he brought me into the exam room. After running some tests and carefully looking over my eye, he said the bleach had sort of "etched" my eye - but superficially. He felt my eye would recover - although he was nervous about infection and perscribed an antibiotic, just in case.

The rest of the day, I felt like I had pebbles in my eye, had periodic stinging, and periodic blurriness. Reading made it worse, so I mostly walked around with one eye closed. I knew I didn't want to take antibiotics if I didn't need to; not only does this make it more likely antibiotics won't help me if I really need them, antibiotics work against the natural medicines I get through my naturopath. So I called my naturopath to get her opinion on the matter, and she recommended a high dose vitamin A for serveral weeks. (Because I had a horrible time finding vitamin A anywhere, I didn't take any until the next day.)

That night, my eye hurt something awful and I couldn't use the sleep mask that's my nightly friend. The next morning, I had lots of dried goop around my eye, along with slight swelling, but otherwise, I felt much better. Reading (and writing) makes my eye ache, so I'm glad I have several weeks worth of articles already scheduled to post on this blog. Still, I thought it worth a few minutes of eye ache to tell you this story.

Interestingly, all the ladies at my eye doctor's office - the assistants, the receptionist - had ever thought twice about spraying bleach or other cleansers on their ceilings or anywhere else. None of them had ever considered wearing eye protection. So if people whose professional lives are all about eyes didn't think of it, I guess I shouldn't feel too stupid for not thinking of it. But you can bet that from now on, I will be wearing safety goggles when handling bleach - or even mild cleansers - when they might spray into my eye.

And, for the record, the stuff my husband was trying to tell me but I couldn't understand because of a rotten connection was this: Use the spray nozzle on your kitchen sink to flush your eye, if you can. (Set the water flow lower, of course, so it doesn't hurt your eye.) This simulates a workplace eye wash station and allows you to  peel back your eyelids for better cleansing. recommends a garden hose before the method I used. WebMD recommends a shower head. And many sources recommend 20 minutes, instead of 15. Err on the side of caution, because without proper rinsing, you could go blind.

Our vision is so precious. It's worth the mild hassle of safety goggles.

Dec 29, 2015

Most Popular Posts 2015 - and All Time!

I've been blogging at Proverbs 31 Woman for six years (and have written over 1,140 posts!), but honestly, I never have any clue which posts are going to be the most talked about or viewed. They say the Lord works in mysterious ways, and judging by what posts are most popular here, I have to agree! It's always a pretty eclectic list. I hope you enjoy it!

(P.S. Want to see more popular posts from Proverbs 31 Woman? Check out the Pinterest page "Most Popular Posts at Proverbs 31 Woman.")

Most Popular Posts from 2015:

1. Why I Don't Watch HGTV (And Maye You Shouldn't Either)

2. Free Art History Curriculum: Edgar Degas (this whole series is popular, but this is the most popular post from the series)

3. How to Kill E.Coli on Vegetables and Fruits

4. No Fail Healthy Pie Crust Recipe

5. Keeping the House Cool in Summer (With and Without AC)

6. 12 Old Fashioned Birthday Party Games for Kids

7. How to Make a SCOBY for Kombucha

8. "I Am..." A Self Worth Craft for Kids

Most Popular Posts of All Time:

1. How to Train Chickens (and Get Them to Do What You Want Them to Do)

2. Best Free Apron Patterns on the Net

3. 6 Ways to Teach Kids the Books of the Bible

4. Best Ideas for Upcycling Jeans

5. How to Clean a REALLY Dirty Stove

6. How to EASILY Clean Ceilings and Walls - Even in a Greasy Kitchen

7. Canning Pickled Green Beans (Dilly Beans)

8. Easy Refrigerator Pickled Beets

9. Freezing Apple Pie Filling

Dec 17, 2015

The Hands-On Home - a review

In recent years, a handful of home keeping books have been published, and most of them were well received. None, however, have done much for me. Generally, these books start by telling readers how homemaking can be for feminists, too (sigh), and then proceed to give homemaking 101 skills. So when I first saw The Hands-On Home by Erica Strauss, I admit I wasn't particularly interested. Then I had a chance to see the book in person.

First, I was struck by the beauty of this 388 page volume. Throughout, absolutely gorgeous photographs by Charity Burggraaf are featured. They are all printed on matte paper, but somehow the photos are still crisp and clean and vivid and feature all the beauty of food and cooking. The fat hardcover also includes a bookmarking ribbon - and the sections of the book are tabbed in different colors, making using the book easier. Clearly, the publisher put a lot of thought into this volume.

And that's good, because author Erica Strauss has, too.

In fact, I think she's produced the best home keeping book of my generation. 

Strauss' premise is simple, but uniquely modern. She understands that many of us are striving to get away from the rush-rush of being away from home and instead want invest in our homes and families. She knows many of us are trying to eat healthy whole foods and stay away from expensive and potentially unhealthy store bought cleaners. She knows some of us are even looking critically at the chemicals we lather on ourselves in the form of shampoo, soap, moisturizer, and other beauty products.

Best of all, Strauss understands that modern home keeping isn't about keeping things Martha Stewart perfect. She knows that giving us a cleaning schedule to strictly follow isn't useful, and that customizing our home keeping for our own families is really where it's at.

Strauss starts her book by covering some basics. To my delight, she begins with cooking. Strauss used to cook in professional kitchens, and she actually taught me (a decent home cook) some things I didn't know. She emphasizes avoiding food waste ("The average American family of four throws out more than two thousand dollars of food every year. Pretty expensive trash or compost - that's money not available for college savings, retirement accounts, charitable giving, or travel."). She teaches that recipes aren't really necessary, if you understand a few basic techniques: braising, pureeing soups, roasting, sauteing, searing, and yes, good seasoning. ("...Heavily salt cooking water for anything starchy like pasta or potatoes, or for green vegetables you want to blanch. When the food cooks, that salt will be pulled into the food along with moisture, helping to create an evenly seasoned product.") Because when you drop processed food from your diet, you really don't have to limit salt, after all.

Strauss also covers fermenting and canning, giving excellent instructions and advice on how to do each. (Although she does perpetuate the myth that canning jars should be sterilized before filling and processing in the canner, this isn't dangerous advice; it only adds an unnecessary step. You can learn more about this topic by clicking here.)

My favorite section of The Hands-On Home, however, is the section on home care. Here, I found information I've never seen anywhere else. For example, Strauss explains the types of dirt (properly called "soil") one might find in a house: organic, inorganic, petroleum-based, and combination soil. Then she explains which cleaners (alkaline, acid, solvents, or abrasives) work best for each. ("Many commercial cleaning products are 'all-in-one' combo cleaners. Because they are trying to be all things to all soils, they take a brute-force approach, using chemical cleaners that are often far stronger and more caustic than are necessary." And, she says, because these commercial cleaners are combining alkaline and acid cleaners together, they are actually less effective.) She also gives a useful list of each type of cleaner; for example, in the "common alkaline" cleaners section, she offers details about how to use (and, if necessary, what precautions to be aware of) baking soda, liquid Castile soap, borax, powdered oxygen bleach, washing soda, ammonia, household chlorine bleach, and lye. (Strauss wisely counsels to start with the least caustic cleaners.)

Then Strauss goes on to offer advice on how to come up with a cleaning routine that works for your family. Here she discusses the importance of routines, what chores we should consider doing daily, regularly (perhaps weekly or monthly), and seasonally. What I love most about this section is that the author makes no demanding claims about what YOU should be doing. Instead, she tells us a wee bit about her journey from messy to reasonably tidy home keeper and gives us the tools to follow her path. Namely, she suggests we envision what a comfortable home looks like to us, personally. ("What state would your home have to be in for you to be able to grab a cup of tea and a favorite book and relax on your couch, or play with your kids, or spend an entire evening with your partner, without the nagging feeling that you maybe should, should, SHOULD be doing something else?") Then she encourages readers to turn that into a list, from which they can create a truly workable cleaning schedule.

The remainder (and majority) of the book is divided up into seasons, covering cooking, preserving, home keeping, and personal care chores the author thinks you may want to tackle during Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. Here, you'll find lots of inspiration. There are from scratch recipes for bread and tortillas, ricotta cheese, mayo and salad dressing, yogurt, vinegar, and all manner of fresh vegetables, fruits, and some meats; there are instructions for making canned barbecue sauce, pickled asparagus and fermented dilly beans, mustard, salted preserved lemons, frozen caramelized onions, and jams made without pectin; there are lots of recipes for cleaning items like glass cleaner, bathroom cleaner, carpet freshener, grout cleaner, toilet cleaner, and oven cleaner; and you'll find recipes for tooth powder, soap, hair wash, deodorant, moisturizer, lip balm, bath bombs, and gardener's hand scrub. There's even advice on line drying laundry and giving mattresses and old fashioned airing.

In short, I am a big fan of this book.  

I'd even go so far as to say every home keeper should read it.

Oct 6, 2015

The Easy Way to Get Mold Off Grout

So...I have this embarrassing problem. The grout in one of our bathrooms is perpetually moldy. It's not for lack of trying to clean it, though! For years, I've struggled to get that grout mold-free, using all kinds of different cleaners...but the mold always won the war.

Then I (finally!) realized the problem wasn't a matter of finding the right cleaner. After all, the best killer of mold is ordinary bleach. The problem was keeping the cleaner on the mold long enough for the bleach to do its work. As I learned last weekend, the solution is so simple, I should have thought of it years ago! You see, all I needed to do was thicken the bleach so it could stick to the grout for a little while.

Here's how I accomplished that.

1. Pour a little household bleach into a glass bowl.
Mold on my grout. Gross!
2. Sprinkle in some baking soda (which won't react negatively with the bleach, making it unsafe).

3. Using an old brush (I used one of the bazillion water color brushes my kids have), mix together these ingredients until you have a paste. If the mixture is too watery and runny, add a little more baking soda. If it's so thick you can't mix it, add a bit more bleach.
Mix the bleach and water to create a paste.
4. Brush the paste onto the grout. Be sure to cover the grout thickly, so you can't see any mold. If there's a large area to cover, work one section at a time.

5. Cover the paste with plastic wrap. This helps keep the paste moist - and actively killing mold - longer.
Cover paste with plastic wrap.

6. Leave in place for a couple of hours, then, in one of the most moldy areas, remove a little of the plastic and wipe the paste away. If the grout looks mold-free, remove all the plastic and rinse everything down, removing the paste. If there's still some mold, cover the test area with plastic again and wait another couple of hours before removing all the plastic and bleach/baking soda paste.



Oct 1, 2015

The SAFE Way to Clean up After Mice and Rats

Finding mice or rats in or around your house is nothing less than disgusting. But what their urine and feces can do to your family's health may be downright deadly. In fact, my father-in-law's brush with death may have been leptospirosis - caused by a bacteria that's spread through the urine of infected animals, including mice and rats.We still don't have a definitive answer about the cause of his illness, but knowing he was working in an area that had mouse droppings sure made my stomach turn. And then my husband moved some heavy furniture in our home and discovered mouse droppings left over from an old infestation. Yuck and quadruple yuck!

So how do you safely remove rodent droppings, without opening yourself up to the many diseases humans can get from them?

First, Get Rid of the Source

The first step is to get rid of the rodents completely. Figure out where they are entering the building, and seal up those holes. They say mice can squeeze through a spot as small as a dime, but I've personally seen them slip through barely 1/4 inch slats in vents. So even tiny slits or holes must be repaired. (Not positive what type of pest is leaving behind droppings? This may help.)

You'll also need to set out traps. There are many ways to try to catch rodents, but in my experience, the best is a covered trap set with peanut butter and poison. Of the homemade traps, the type shown here is the best. You may also wish to invest in electronic mouse repellents; we successfully use these. They work well, but you must follow the manufacturer's directions about placing the correct number of them in your building.

Once your traps are free of rodents for seven days, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) says you can be sure you've caught all the rodents in the area - and that any infectious diseases in the droppings are no longer a danger.


Despite the fact that the CDC says droppings that are 7 days old are no longer likely infectious, they absolutely recommend proceeding as if you can still become ill from them. That means wearing gloves (rubber, latex, or vinyl) and old clothes that you don't mind throwing away - or at least washing in hot water when you're done. The CDC says nothing about wearing a respirator (though this site for professionals says the CDC offers guidelines about them), but many other sources suggest it. Professionals also wear goggles while cleaning up rodent droppings.

Once you have all your gear, open the windows and doors and allow the area to ventilate for 30 minutes before you begin work.

Cleaning Up

Because so many diseases that infect humans come from the dried up urine dust of rodents, the most important thing is to not stir up dust while you are cleaning. Instead of sweeping or vacuuming, the CDC recommends the following procedure:

1. Spray down areas with droppings or possible urine dust with bleach water (1 part bleach to 10 parts water) or other disinfectant. (This is not the time to use vinegar, folks. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions for dilution if using something other than bleach.) Wait 5 minutes.

2. Use paper towels to pick up the droppings. Place the used paper towels in a garbage bag and seal it. Place that bag in another bag and seal it, too.

3. Mop the floor, counters, and other affected surfaces using bleach water or disinfectant. Carpets and upholstered furniture should be steam cleaned, according to the CDC. Clothing, bedding, and the like should be washed with laundry detergent and hot water. If you have boxes of things that are contaminated, take the boxes outside and into direct sunlight; remove everything from the box, staying upwind, so nothing blows into your face. Cardboard boxes must be thrown away, but plastic or metal containers can be disinfected by spraying, waiting 5 minutes, then wiping with paper towels.

4. Remove your gloves and place in a garbage bag. Seal it and place in another garbage bag. Seal that bag, too. Wash hands with hot water and soap for at least 30 seconds before rinsing thoroughly.

If You Find Dead Rodents or Nests

1. Spray with disinfectant. Wait 5 minutes.

2. Wearing your gloves, carefully pick up the rodent or nest and dispose of it in a garbage bag. Seal and place in another garbage bag. Seal that bag, too.

* Title image courtesy of George Shuklin and Wikipedia Commons.

Sep 1, 2015

How Color Coding Makes Housework Easier

It's no secret that organization makes homemaking easier. However, when you're living in a tiny house, organization is the difference between absolute chaos and reasonably contented living. So I've been doing a lot of thinking (and some research) on how best to live with children in our tiny house motor home. One wonderful resource is a series of YouTube videos by the Norton family. If you think there's no way you could live full time in an RV with your family, you must watch these videos. The Nortons live with six children in their RV! (They even home school in this environment.) And while I don't have six little blessings, there's a lot I can learn from the Nortons. And even if you don't live in a tiny house, I'm betting you can glean some great ideas from them, too.
My favorite Norton idea is to use color coding to simplify housework. It is revolutionary - and I'm not exaggerating! Mrs. Norton specifically uses color coding in the kitchen, but I think this is a trick that works well for other parts of the house, too. Here's how:

In the Kitchen

Give every person in the family a plate and bowl in their own special color. For example, Mom might have a red bowl and plate; Dad uses blue; and child #1 uses green. If I recall correctly, in the Norton tiny house RV, each family member has only one plate and bowl. If you're not living in a tiny space, you might consider giving each family member two or three. The beauty is that now you know who's put their dishes away (or not!), and who's deposited their plates in the dishwasher. And there's no way children can claim they've put away or washed their dishes when they haven't. Brilliant! I think you could easily turn this into an easy way for children to learn to wash their own dishes, too.

You may wonder if you're going to have to buy a different set of dishes for each member of the family, and give the extras away (since most dish sets contain at least four plates and bowls in a single color). The answer is no. Instead of buying a box of dishes, you'll want to shop somewhere that sells dishes and bowls individually. This could be an import store, The Dollar Tree, or even a thrift store. (My favorite dishes came from St. Vincent DePaul's.) Or, you might consider a set of Feista Ware, which sometimes is designed to have every dish be a different color. (Similar to this.)

Now you want to do the same thing with glasses and cups, giving each family member one in his or her own color. This way, nobody looses track of which glass is theirs (leading them to grab a fresh one, which results in a pile of glasses in the sink). If you don't want to use plastic glasses, consider using stainless steel travel mugs with colored plastic on the outside. Or, you could use colored rubber bands to individualize each clear glass. I challenge you to limit each family member to a single glass; they are easy to hand wash! For those who drink coffee, tea, or another hot drink, you might consider also assigning each person one cup or mug.

If you wanted to, you can even take color coding one step further and get utensils in each family member's color.

So, following this plan, you've:

#1. Reduced the number of dishes that need washing (saving on water and energy).
#2. Ensured that everybody takes responsibility for their own dishes/cups.
#3. Limited the amount of space used in your kitchen cabinets.

In the Bathroom

Another way you can implement color coding in your home is with bath towels. One problem many families have is that people get confused about which towel is theirs - which leads them to grab a fresh towel from the linen closet, rather than use a towel that's hanging up. This causes a lot of extra laundry, which not only eats up Mom's time, but adds expense to the budget by devouring extra water and electricity.

A solution is to buy each family member two towels and two washcloths in their own color. Now everybody knows which towel is theirs and there is no more wasting time and money washing towels that don't really need cleaning.

What About Guests?

You may wonder how to deal with dishes and towels for guests. Here are some ideas:

* Keep one set of dishes just for times when you have guests. (Lots of us already have "nicer dishes" for guests, anyway. Just keep them.)

* Entertain casually, using paper plates and cups.

* Add to your existing color coded dishes by buying some extra dishes in yet more different colors. When you have guests, every single person will have a different color plate. It makes for a fun, cohesive dinner set.

* Keep a set of towels just for guests. I recommend using white (because they are so easy to distinguish from your family's colored towels, and because they are easy to clean with bleach.)

Easy peasy! What other ways can you think of to use color coding to make housework easier?

Jul 10, 2015

The Easy Way to Remove Grease From Fabric

Grease is attracted to me like moths are to porch lights. I don't know how it happens, but it seems every time I buy a new piece of clothing, within a wear or two, a grease stain appears on it. (The most likely culprit is food, but I do wear an apron when cooking and I don't think I'm that much of a slob when I eat!) Since I have a teeny tiny budget for my wardrobe, this is not a happy thing. In the past, I've had to relegate many new clothes to the "garden work" drawer of my dresser, because I just couldn't get the grease stains out. But no longer!

Last weekend I learned a neat trick. It is a

super easy, 
super cheap, 
super effective 

way to remove grease stains from fabric. All you need is an ordinary piece of white chalk.

How to Easily Remove Grease Stains with Chalk

1. Grab the piece of clothing or other fabric and lay it on a clean, hard surface - like a table.

2. Grab a piece of chalk. In my case, I used my children's sidewalk chalk. It must be white. Thoroughly color over the grease stain with the chalk.

3. Brush the chalk off of the fabric. An old toothbrush helps with this, but you can just use your hands, too.

4. If the grease stain isn't completely gone, repeat steps 2 and 3.

5. Viola! The grease is GONE!

To help remove any last bits of chalk, I ran the formerly grease-stained area under cool water and let the garment dry.

I love simple, easy ways to take care of stains. Don't you?