Savvy Tips and tricks learned along the way...
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House and Home
Ideas to make keeping house easier and more enjoyable.
Guardians of the Flower Pot
We have a problem with wildlife stealing our flowers. We live near a forested greenbelt, and we get all sorts of wild northwest animals coming into our yard. I can't plant tulips because squirrels eat the bulbs and the ones they miss get their blossoms eaten by the deer. Most annual flowers get ransacked by slugs. And even the mountain beavers eat our wisteria from the roots up.
So I got this idea to get a big planting barrel for our front porch several years ago. I figured wild life would be too scared to come up onto our porch. Boy, was I wrong. Squirrels have dug into the pot, uprooting my plants and burrying their nuts.
By chance, I came across these Rock Pets by Alex Toys. They are fake rocks shaped like various animals that kids can paint and then decorate outside. They even come with a set of weather-proof paints. A lightbulb came on over my head. I figured the kids could do a fun art project, and I might get some "scarecrows" for my flower barrel. So I purchased two pet rocks. A fox and an owl. They were both pretty cute, about 9 inches tall. My kids had lots of fun painting them (I kinda wanted to paint one, too!).
Today, I planted some colorful primroses in the barrel and the kids set their rock pets next to them. I am hoping they ward off the squirrels. I will let you know if they were successful guardians of the flower pot!
Strawberry Fields Forever
I love planting flowers. When I become a grandma, I plan on having tons of flowers growing all around my house. Unfortunately not much grows around our house now. Most flowers are quickly devoured by slugs, and slug bait only attracts them. Tried copper tape, but that didn't really stop them either. Determined to get some flowers, I tried geraniums, and luckily, they are repulsive to slugs and probably other insects as well. They flourished in our deck planters. Even the monarchs came to admire them. It was splendid. However, though our winters are relatively mild, the geraniums never survived into the next season. So we had to keep buying new ones every summer and replanting them.
I've always wanted to have a vegetable garden too, but that would require more time than I have. But I thought maybe I would try strawberries. It would be fun for the kids to go out onto the deck and pick them from the planters. I bought a few strawberry plants last summer, and they gave us a few cute little strawberries that were tart but still exciting for the kids to pick and eat.
This summer, I was surprised to see they all came back and then some! They were still sort of dinky little strawberries, but it was nice not to have to buy them all over again. Perennial fruits, how awesome. I've also been cultivating some salmon berry bushes out back as well. Not as tasty as strawberries, but fun to pick and eat every Spring.
I figured since the strawberries came back this year, and they didn't get any fresh soil, they deserved a little fertilizer. I found this fertilizer called Osmocote Flower and Vegetable Smart-Release Plant Food. They come in neat tiny little balls that you sprinkle and spread around the dirt. Then they slowly release their goodies to your plants each time you water them.
Kaboom! Our strawberry plants exploded! I guess they were just super hungry. Now we are getting lots nice decent-sized juicy strawberries. What a difference! I wish I would have gotten this plant food at the beginning of the season. But to have such a nice crop on round two of the season is still pretty wonderful. This time, there are strawberries for me to enjoy too, no longer having to save what little we get for the kids. Although, they still do eat the majority of them.
How to Get Rid of the Musty Smell in Washing Machines
I guess it is pretty widespread that the new fangled front-loader washing machines get musty. Once our first one broke down after about 10 years, we got a new one. And I was excited to not have that musty smell. But it wasn't long before that happened again. I guess it is inevitable as the water seems to pool in the washing machine for a long time after the wash is done. Here are 10 tricks I have found to decrease the musty smell in the washer as well as make clothes smell better, and not take on that musty smell.
1. Leave door open. Keep the washer door and soap caddies open when not in use. This allows the washer to air out as much as possible until the next load is washed. Allowing it to dry keeps the musty mildewy growth at bay.
2. Get air flow. Keep a box fan going in front of the washer at all times. This is going the extra step to air out the washer and prevent the growth of bacteria in the unit. Bacteria, mold, and mildew need moisture in order to grow. Blowing a fan onto it, dries out the moisture in the unit. Plus, the box fan not only airs out the washing machine. It also can keep the moisture down in a dingy, damp basement that your washer is kept in.
3. Clean the tub. Use Tide Washing Machine Cleaner once every week or two. It comes in a pack of 3 single-use packets. I just empty the contents of a packet directly into the washing machine tub. This helps a lot with the musty smell. The packet contains a strong cleaning powder that you want to keep off your skin and not breathe. But it works really well to keep the washer smelling fresh. I especially like to use this after I have washed the dog's towells. It cleans the fur out of the washing machine as well as the doggy smell.
4. Add Borax. 20 Mule Team Borax is a laundry booster and household cleaning powder. I usually just add it directly to the tub on top of the clothes. The box of Borax says to add half a cup. But that hardly does anything. I add a considerable amount, probably 2 cups for each load. You might want to play with the amounts to see how much it takes to get your laundry fresh smelling. Since I add the borax directly to the tub, I set the washer for a prewash. This gets the clothes rolling around in the borax really well before the real wash actually starts. It is amazing the difference in the smell of the clothes after using a good amount of borax in the prewash. I buy the borax by the 6-pack because I go through so much.
5. Use odor fighting detergent. Some laundry detergents have additives that are made to fight tough odors. I see them coming out more and more because of the epidemic of stinky washing machines. Odor eliminating laundry detergent isn't that much more expensive than normal detergent, but it makes a big difference. I noticed that I need to use less borax when I use a laundry detergent that is made to help remove tough odors. Part of those tough odors comes from repeated use of clothes (old clothes that you've used a lot) and from the mustiness of the washing machine.
6. Snuggle. And I don't mean give your washer a hug ;-) Snuggle liquid fabric softener seems make clothes smell much fresher than Downey. I tried both brands in their own lavender scented fabric softener. I found that I needed to use way more of the Downey liquid to get the same freshness effect that I got with less Snuggle liquid. The cost isn't too different between the two, but if one seems to work more effectively than the other, I know which one I'm buying.
7. Dry immediately. Seems simple and obvious, but the sooner you remove the clothes once the wash is complete, the fresher they will smell. Leaving them in the washing machine damp and without air flow, is a good incubator for growing germs that cause bad breath, or just bad smells in general :-) Someone told me that if something smells bad, it is probably full of bacteria or mold/mildew. That goes for dish sponges, mop heads, as well as wet clothes left to fester in a stinky, damp washing machine.
8. Dryer Sheets. Why would you need dryer sheets when you already use liquid fabric softener? The reason is because the dryer gets musty, too. You would think that a machine that blows hot air would not be damp. But where does the dampness from your clothes go while they are in the dryer? Some of it might remain in the workings of the dryer, trapped in linty crevices in the machine or in the linty outtake tube? No matter how much I clean the lint catcher, even vacuuming it out, I still get a musty wiff in the dryer. So using the dryer sheets, sometimes 1 or 2 or 3 per load, is to keep the dryer sweet smelling, too. The quality of dryer sheets varies from brand to brand as well. So you'll have to test it out. I'm still in the process of doing that.
9. Leave dryer door open. I found much less dryer stink by leaving it open after drying loads. You know how when you dry a heavy load with thick jeans, and parts of the jeans still seem a little damp after the maximum amount of dry time? That's how I think of the lint crevices in the dryer. They may have that dampness, like the seams in the jeans. Leaving the dryer door open with the box fan going helps air it out as well as the washer. I also leave a fresh dryer sheet in the dryer to keep it sweet-smelling. Dryer sheets are also great to stick in clothes drawers, linen closets, etc. to keep them smelling fresh. Of course, they need to be changed out as the fragrance wears off.
10. Remove dry clothes ASAP. Its not only to prevent wrinkles, but to prevent what might be still slightly damp clothes in a dryer with slightly damp linty crevices to start to spoil. I used to leave my dried clothes in the dryer overnight. Not only were they terribly wrinkled, but they didn't smell very fresh. It has helped a lot to get them out as soon as I can and leave the dryer door open with a new dryer sheet inside.
Maybe you don't want to do all 10 of the above steps. But maybe at least one of them might be helpful to you :-)
Bissell Pet Bolt
We just got a Bissell Pet Bolt Lightweight Cordless Vacuum because our other stick vac broke down. We keep it in our kitchen because that is the room that needs to be vacuumed the most. Our Springer Spaniel is very furry and sheds a lot. I use the Bissel Pet Bolt everyday to vacuum up her fur, small pieces of leaves and other debris that she brings in, plus the kids crumbs, arts and crafts bits, etc.
It has a swiveling head that makes it easy to angle and turn the head in many directions. It gets around chairs, table legs, into corners, and other hard to reach areas. The swiveling head is wide enough to cover the floor area well, but narrow enough to get in between chair legs and other tight spots. It also has a rotating brush in the head that you can turn off or on. I usually have it on as it seems to catch and sweep up most things.
It also works fine on carpet. I sometimes vacuum the hallway carpet with this lightweight vacuum as well. The Bissel Pet Bolt really helps with vacuuming the stairs. It has been my bain to vacuum the stairs. But with this Bissell it is so quick and easy because it is very light-weight compared to a regular vacuum cleaner. It is light enough for our 7 year old daughter to help vacuum the kitchen as one of her household duties.
The Bissel Pet Bolt also has an easily detachable hand held unit, which is great for all kinds of things, like getting crumbs off of furniture, car seats, cobwebs, or other higher places that a vacuum can't go. The hand held unit is where the dust container is. It is very easy to remove the dust canister from the unit and empty it. There is even a filter to prevent the dust from clogging up the vacuum. I make sure to empty it every time I do a whole-room vacuum just to make sure it doesn't get too packed in there.
I always plug the vacuum back in when I'm done using it. It is so convenient and easy to use since it is cordless. But that means that you have to make sure it is always charged and ready to go. There is a power adapter that comes with it. It plugs into the vacuum on the back bottom of the unit.
Since we got this, I have been vacuuming a lot more often. I think it is just fun to use. It is just too easy to clean now. The power is just right for our needs: kitchen, dining, living rooms, hallway, and stairs. If vacuuming is a major chore for you, and especially of you have a dog, I would try one of these. It will just become a few minutes of your daily routine. And you'll be surprised at how easy it is to keep the floors fur and dirt free.
It broke on me!
I am sad to report that after less than 1 month of use, the Bissel Pet Bolt broke down on me. Maybe I used it way too much. I would use it a few times a day. The brush in the head stopped spinning. I thought maybe it was because it had too much hair caught in it. So I removed the hair. But then eventually the unit would not even turn on. I tried charging it overnight, but in the morning, it still wouldn't turn on. Luckily, I was able to return it without any hassle.
Today, I bought a Black+Decker SmartTech cordless stick vacuum with a detachable hand vacuum. It was a bit more expensive than the Bissell Pet Bolt, but it has a wider head, and hopefully it will last longer!
A Great Household Cleaner
I used to use all kinds of different cleaning products whenever I cleaned the bathroom, and I also used a lot of bleach. For the sake of simplicity and convenience, I switched to using only 1 cleaner for the bathroom, and that is Lysol Brand All-Purpose Cleaner 4 In 1. Its a gentler cleaner that cleans, disinfects, deodorizes, and cuts grease.
How harsh is it?
The active ingredient in Lysol is benzylalkonium chloride (you can read more about it on Wikipedia). And not to be weird or anything, but whenever I've given urine samples at the hospital, they tell me to wipe with this wet cloth, which also has benzylalkonium chloride as the active ingredient. So it seems that chemical is not too bad. Lysol used to contain harsher chemicals but changed their formula a long time ago. That said, the Lysol cleaner is meant to clean surfaces, not to be used on the body.
Tackling the tougher stuff
Every once in a while, when scale builds up, I use a little CLR to remove it. If mildew builds up, which it usually doesn't if you keep up with things, I use Clorox Cleanup, which contains bleach. See Spray Cleaners below.
There are arguments against over-sterilizing your house. Many medical professionals believe that doing so, unless there is some kind of epidemic going around, can decrease your body's natural ability to fight off bacteria and viruses.
What about vinegar?
I know some people use vinegar for cleaning the bathroom. I tried that and found that the fumes vinegar gives off are way to strong for me. It stings my eyes and nose like nothing I have ever used. However, I do use vinegar as a room deodorizer. I'll tell you about that in another article.
An Even Gentler Alternative
I am now preparing for a family, with a child on the way, and once my supply of Lysol is gone, I'm going to switch to using antibacterial dish soap in a bucket of hot water to clean, instead of Lysol. This is a mild, and safe cleanser, it must be if it is to be used on our plates and forks! You don't want to use too much of this though, because it will leave a soapy film. Just about 1-2 squirts in a bucket should be good.
I heard that dish soap is the leading cause of poisoning in small children. So be sure to keep this like all other cleaners out of reach of small children! Store them high, or use cabinet locks.
If neither Lysol nor dish soap appeal to you, there are plenty of natural cleaners out there, like Seventh Generation. or Dr. Bronner's liquid castille soap. Just be sure that what you use is good at cutting grease. This will help immensely when cleaning the shower or bath tub.
Protect your hands
I also always use gloves when cleaning. This way your hands stay beautiful and you don't get detergents seeping into your skin the whole time you are cleaning.
Miracle Cleaning Cloths
There is another key part to my simplified cleaning procedure. That is using microfiber cloths. It is amazing how well they work! They are incredible at removing grease, sugar, dirt, food, you name it. That is why I only need to use a small amount of cleanser in my bucket of water. And they do not shed fibers like cotton rags do, so they're great for mirrors, too.
You can pick these microfiber cloths up anywhere, like Target, Wal-Mart, drug stores, and even grocery stores. I bought a humongous pack of them, pretty cheap, from the automotive section at Target. They work great for cleaning the bathroom.
I learned from a friend who has a house cleaning business. She said that you wet the cloth in the bucket of water plus cleanser, wipe an area, and put the dirty cloth into a different bucket or bag. Then get a new cloth to wipe the next area. That way, your wiping cloth is always fresh. And buying that humongous pack of microfiber cloths really comes in handy for this chore.
This same cleaning solution is also great for mopping the floor. Just use a microfiber mop instead of the cloths! This time, you can double-dip your mop. Just change the bucket solution for each room.
Same thing goes for washing your car. The bulk pack of microfiber cloths I bought from the automotive section are made to clean your car. And they do an awesome job with or without cleaning solution. I usually just use the same bucket solution I described above, and it works great for cleaning cars. Again, the microfiber grabs and removes grease so well.
What about Spray Cleaners?
I don't like to use spray cleaners to clean an entire bathroom. When you use spray cleaners, the detergent and chemicals become airborne and can irritate your eyes and nose. I happen to be ultrasensitive to that. The method of using a bucket of cleaning solution instead of a spray cleaner made cleaning the bathroom a much more pleasant task for me. No more airborne chemicals getting in my eyes and nose.
Quick Spot Cleaning
I do use Lysol Disinfectant Cleaner in a spray bottle sometimes for quick clean-ups. This is usually just a couple of sprays to clean up a small mess. I use this on occasion to spray the toilet bowl and plunger right after using it. And also to do a quick impromptu cleaning of the bathroom sink. Using this spray on small carpet spots also works well when you use it with a microfiber cloth.
CLR spray cleaner is good for attacking small cracks or crevices, where stubborn mineral deposits can't be removed with Lysol. If you have a large area that needs this type of cleaning, don't spray CLR all over the place. Instead, pour the CLR cleaner into a bucket and dilute with water, depending on the strength of cleaning you need. Then use this solution to clean. I usually let the CLR sit on the area for a few minutes to allow it to penetrate the stubborn mineral deposits. Always rinse CLR with water because it contains harsher chemicals that you don't want sitting around too long.
Clorox Cleanup spray is good for cleaning up small areas with mold or mildew. Every now and then, usually seasonally, we'll get a little. It only takes a few sprays of Clorox Cleanup to get rid of it. If you have an area that needs to be essentially white-washed, you might want to buy a jug of Clorox Clean-Up, pour it into a bucket (I usually need to dilute it a little with water because it smells so strong), and wipe down your surfaces with a microfiber cloth drenched in the solution.
I also like to use Lysol Sanitizing Wipes for quick surface cleaning when you don't have a cleaning cloth around. I use these on occasion to wipe off the toilet seat and rim of the bowl. My husband likes to use these to wipe down the kitchen counters, as well as any other surface that needs quick cleaning.
Aerosol Disinfectant & Deodorizer
For keeping waste baskets clean and deodorized, I like to use Lysol Disinfectant Spray. I use this as sparingly as possible because aerosol sprays are very harsh irritants for my nose and eyes. If a waste basket is kept under a cabinet, I also spray inside the cabinet to deodorize it. This spray is also very effective for deodorizing tennis shoes right after you use them.
I know, it might seem old fashion or frumpy, but I found out that aprons make a huge difference in my cooking and dish-washing life. Okay, so if you know me, I like to wear cute clothes, even around the house. I like to look pretty for my husband, even though I know he would love me no matter what I looked like. And I like to make my pretty clothes last. That's where the apron comes in handy. When cooking, you are inevitably splashing onto your clothes. Some people say, "just wear your rags while you're cooking, and then change afterwards". Who has time for that, though (plus the extra laundry)? It's faster just to throw on an apron. Washing dishes, water is always spraying around and gets my clothes wet. Its both uncomfortable and unsightly. So the apron comes in handy.
But you don't have to look frumpy in an apron. There are some cute patterns for aprons, and they are very easy to make. It's a quick and easy way to let out some of your creativity. I put ruffles, ribbon, cute buttons, binding, and rick rack on my aprons. And I use cute color combinations like pink and black or red and white. I bought a pretty butterfly print in bottom weight fabric that I'll make my next apron out of. I also bought this Emmeline Apron Sewing Pattern because it is soooo cute. I plan to make this one some time, too. I can't live without these aprons! They make the chores of cooking and dishes so much easier!
Aprons I have made
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