Author Archives: Sarah Littleton


How To: Clean Kitchen Cabinets

Having cooked countless meals in your kitchen, the cabinets are now covered with stubborn gunk and grime. Learn how to use common pantry items to prepare a cleaner that can leave your cabinetry looking spotless again.

How to Clean Kitchen Cabinets

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Kitchen cabinets are opened and closed more often than the front door is. Such frequent use—along with leakage, spills, and the cabinets’ proximity to food prep—inevitably leads to grime. In fact, kitchen cabinets are notorious for hosting the sort of stains that remain stubborn against conventional cleaners. If you’ve been battling buildup to no avail, read on to learn how to clean kitchen cabinets using simple, non-toxic items that most homeowners keep on hand.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- A bucket or large bowl
- Warm water
- Baking soda or vinegar
- Large spoon
- Microfiber cloths

STEP 1
Fill your bucket or bowl with several cups of warm water. Next, mix in your preferred cleaning agent, be it baking soda or vinegar. How much should you add? That depends on which of the two you’ve opted to use. If baking soda, dump in a couple of cups. If vinegar, a couple of splashes should do the trick.

How to Clean Kitchen Cabinets - Interior Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 2
Dip a clean microfiber cloth into the mixture. (Don’t use paper towels; they’re too delicate.) Squeeze the cloth to wring out any excess. The cloth should be moist but not dripping wet. Next, test the cleaner on an inconspicuous part of your cabinetry to make sure that it neither dulls nor discolors the finish.

STEP 3
Wipe down your cabinets, paying extra attention to the hardware (knobs, pulls, and handles) and to the areas immediately adjacent those often-touched components. Re-moisten the cloth if and when necessary. Start over with new cloths as others become soiled in the process of cleaning. Keep at it until you’ve wiped all of the cabinets and they look as clean as you want them to.

STEP 4
Rinse away any baking soda or vinegar residue with a microfiber cloth that you’ve moistened with clean water. Go over the entire area that you previously wiped down with the cleaning agent. Finally, go over the cabinetry once more with a dry cloth. The goal here is to leave the kitchen not only clean, but dry.


How To: Clean a Dryer

By adding only 30 seconds onto your laundry routine—and performing a deeper clean four times a year—you can keep your dryer in tip-top condition.

How to Clean a Dryer

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Sorting, loading, folding—doing laundry is a tiring chore not only for you, but also for your appliances. What drags down the dryer, in particular, are the bits of fluff and fuzz that sometimes interfere with component parts. Allowing too much lint to accumulate can result in malfunctions or less-than-ideal energy efficiency. To avoid problems—and to pay no than is strictly necessary to run the machine—clean the dryer regularly. Hey, it only takes about 30 seconds! Here’s what to know.

After Every Load
After each use of the dryer, remember to unclog its lint screen. This detachable piece is usually located along the rim of the door (consult the manual for its location on your specific model). Once you’ve removed the screen, gently scrape away the material that’s collected there. On occasion, especially if you’re in the habit of using dryer sheets, it may be wise to actually wash the screen with soap, water, and a scrub brush. Replace the screen once it’s good to go. Why is this so important? Maintaining a clean trap dramatically reduces the risk of lint finding its way into parts of the machine where it’s not supposed to be.

How To Clean a Dryer - Open Appliance

Photo: shutterstock.com

Once Every Three Months
Your dryer needs a deep cleaning about four times a year. All it takes is a vacuum, all-purpose cleaner, and a microfiber cloth. So as the seasons change, make a point to spend 30 minutes providing a little TLC to a machine that you count on and hope will last for years and years:

1. Unplug the dryer, then remove the exhaust hose from the back of the machine. You can expect the tube to full of lint and debris. Use your hands to clear out as much as possible. For the rest, rely on a bent metal clothes hanger. Finally, follow up with a vacuum to suck out the leftover dust.

2. Before you reattach the exhaust hose, unscrew and remove the back panel of the dryer. Vacuum up any lint you discover within the machine, particularly in the part that connects to the exhaust vent. Your best bet here is the small nozzle vacuum attachment, as it can reach into the crevices.

3. Clean the lint catcher more thoroughly than usual. First, remove the screen, then vacuum its housing. If possible, proceed to unscrew the housing, lift it out, and vacuum the space beneath it.

4. Vacuum inside the dryer drum to remove any lingering dust bunnies. Next, wipe down the drum, along with the door rim, using an all-purpose cleaner along with a clean microfiber cloth.

5. Replace the lint trap, the back panel, and the exhaust hose. Having completely reassembled the dryer, feel free to plug it back in and give it a test run. Your clean dryer should now run more efficiently, dry your clothes more quickly, and leave them fresher!


How To: Paint Pressure-Treated Wood

The process of painting pressure-treated wood involves steps you would not take—and considerations you would not make—with regular lumber. Here's what you need to know.

Photo: shutterstock.com

It’s a two-sided coin: What enables pressure-treated wood to last outdoors is precisely what complicates the process of painting it. To produce pressure-treated wood, the milled lumber (typically pine or cedar) is saturated with chemical preservatives. These chemicals minimize the wood’s natural vulnerability to insects and rot, but they also leave the wood rather wet. To paint pressure-treated wood successfully, therefore, you must be prepared to exercise a bit of patience. To paint pressure-treated wood before it’s ready is to waste a day’s effort. For lasting results, follow the instructions below.

First, clean the pressure-treated wood you plan to paint. Use a stiff-bristled brush and soapy water. Once you’ve given due attention to the entire surface, rinse off the wood and allow it to dry thoroughly. Between the chemicals used to treat the lumber and the water used to clean it, the drying time may be as protracted as a few weeks—or even a few months. How do you know when it’s ready? Once the wood feels dry to the touch, sprinkle a bit of water on it. If the water soaks in, then the wood can be painted. If the water beads up, go back to playing the waiting game. Note that for a time-sensitive project, it may be wise to choose pressure-treated wood marked as having been kiln-dried after treatment (KDAT). The timeline for painting KDAT wood is considerably more condensed.

Once you’ve confirmed that the wood has dried out completely, you can begin painting. Start with primer formulated for exteriors, and make sure that the manufacturer lists the coating as suitable for use on pressure-treated wood. Having primed the wood—and having allowed sufficient time for the primer to dry (it should take no more than a day)—move on to applying your top coats. You should expect to do two. Avoid using oil-based paint here; on pressure-treated wood, latex performs much better. Use a paint sprayer if you have one, but if the job entails detail work, opt for a brush (or use both in combination).

It’s worth mentioning that in outdoor applications where the finish will be subject to the elements, paint lasts longer on vertical surfaces like fences than it does on horizontal ones like decks. If you don’t like the idea of repainting every two or three years, consider staining the pressure-treated wood instead. Yet another option is to allow the wood to weather and become gray, and then to coat it with a protective sealant. Of course, sealant must also be reapplied, but many consider the job to be less demanding than repainting, which often entails scraping away parts of the old finish.


How To: DIY Your Own Dish Soap in 5 Steps

The next time you reach into the sink to wash off dirty plates and silverware, why not grab a bottle of your own homemade dish soap? With this recipe, you'll spare yourself the chemicals found in store-bought cleaners and save a pretty penny.

Homemade Dish Soap

Photo: shutterstock.com

Homemade dish soap. OK, sure. But why? For one thing, why not? But more seriously, homemade dish soap, which requires little time and effort to make, actually results in something that’s easier on the skin and easier on the wallet—we call that a win-win. So on your next run to the grocery store, add three extra ingredients to your cart, and you’ll be well on your way to concocting a homemade dish shop that really cuts through grease and does most of the dirty dish work for you.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS:
- Unscented, undyed bar soap
- Cheese grater
- Borax
- Essential oil
- Saucepan and spoon
- Washing soda (optional)

Homemade Dish Soap - Sudsy

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 1
Start by using a cheese grater—whatever you have, be it a box grater or a cheese plane—to shave down the bar soap into flecks. While many recipes call for castile soap, any unscented variety does the trick.

STEP 2
Next, combine about 1 tablespoon of grated soap with 1 tablespoon of borax in a bowl. Note that borax, also known as sodium borate, is a powerful antimicrobial cleaning agent (you can find it in the cleaning aisle of your grocery store). Be sure to purchase borax and not boric acid; they’re not the same thing.

STEP 3
Commercial dish soaps contain sodium laurel sulfate, an ingredient that besides producing lots of bubbles, doesn’t do much. (For some people’s skin, sodium laurel sulfate is an irritant.) If you think you’re going to miss the sudsy-ness of the dish soap you’re accustomed to, add 1 tablespoon of washing soda (also known as soda ash or sodium carbonate) to the grated soap-and-borax mixture at this point.

STEP 4
In a saucepan, heat 1 3/4 cups of water until it boils. Stir in the ingredients mixed in previous steps, and continue stirring until the soap has melted and the powders have dissolved. Turn off the heat and leave the mixture to cool for a few hours, stirring the liquid occasionally in order to keep it from solidifying.

STEP 5
Transfer your homemade dish soap into a squirt bottle. In the process, add 15 to 20 drops of essential oil in whatever scent you prefer (e.g., lavender, citrus, or peppermint). The addition of oil makes doing the dishes a sensory experience you might even enjoy. Citrus oils, in particular, can even improve the effectiveness of your homemade dish soap, making it better able to cut through accumulations of grease.

Additional Tips
Use homemade dish soap just as you would commercial dish soap. However, it’s best to shake homemade dish soap before using it, as the ingredients have the tendency to settle and in time, solidify. Even with the addition of washing soda, you are likely to notice that there are fewer suds in homemade dish soap. That’s to be expected, but don’t worry: It’s by no means evidence of an inferior cleaning agent. If anything, it’s a sign that there’s nothing in your soap that shouldn’t be!


How To: Clean Pillows

When was the last time you washed your pillows? If you don't remember, then it's probably well past time to do so.

How to Clean Pillows

Photo: shutterstock.com

Whether tucked under our heads while sleeping or behind our backs while lounging in the living room, pillows are an often used, seldom truly appreciated hallmark of the civilized world. Perhaps it’s because we take them for granted that we tend not to clean pillows as often as we should. Or perhaps people don’t clean pillows for a simpler reason: They didn’t know they could. In any case, consider the mystery solved. You can indeed clean pillows, and here’s how it’s done.

Bed Pillows
Check their care labels, of course, but most pillows today can be machine-washed and dried, no matter what they’re stuffed with. Try to clean two pillows simultaneously, because a lone pillow gets thrown around so much in the process that its filling can come out distorted. Once you’ve loaded the washer with a pair, set the machine to run on a hot-water cycle. Add the normal amount of detergent, opting for liquid rather than powder, because the latter can leave a residue. Run two complete rinse cycles to fully rid the pillows of soap, then immediately move them to the dryer. Synthetic-filled pillows should ry on the machine’s lowest setting, while down- or feather-filled pillows are best dried on the air or fluff cycle. Before closing the dryer door, throw in two new tennis balls, each tied off within a white sock (a precaution meant to keep the balls’ neon dye from transferring to the pillows). The balls bounce around in the drum and help restore full pillow fluff.

How to Clean Sofa Pillows

Photo: Shutterstock.com

Pillows yellowed from sweat need a little more TLC. In the washing stage, start by filling the machine a third of the way with hot (even boiling water), then add in one cup of powdered laundry detergent, one cup of powdered dishwasher detergent, and a half-cup of borax. Finally, add a full cup of bleach into its designated compartment, before starting the machine and letting it run for a few minutes to agitate and dissolve the detergents. Now put in the your pillows—again, clean two simultaneously for best results—and run the washer on its hottest water setting. Go through two complete rinse cycles before moving the pillows to the dryer (and again, for maximum fluff, include two tennis balls knotted inside white socks).

Decorative Pillows
Many decorative pillows have zippers that allow for the case to be separated from the cushion. In these instances, simply remove the case and wash according to the care directions on the label. If you’d like to clean a throw pillow whose cover doesn’t come off, first consider the fabric it’s made of. Don’t know? Check the label; it should say whether it’s velvet, silk, linen, cotton or a synthetic. Generally speaking, velvet, silk, and upholstery materials—or any pillow with heavy braiding or trim—must be professionally dry-cleaned.

If your throw pillow cover is made of thinner cotton, linen, or a synthetic fabric, you can use a mild upholstery shampoo. But first, lightly rub a damp sponge over an inconspicuous spot on the pillow to test how colorfast the fabric is. If the color leaks, have the pillow dry-cleaned. If not, proceed to whip the upholstery shampoo into a froth, then use the same damp sponge to rub suds over the entire pillow. With a white towel, pat away excess foam, before giving the pillow plenty of time to completely air dry.


How To: Make Your Own Laundry Detergent

When you use homemade laundry detergent, you have complete control over the ingredients and save money with every single load.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Photo: shutterstock.com

Two primary advantages recommend homemade laundry detergent. First, mixing your own costs very little in comparison to purchasing a container at the pharmacy or grocery store. Second, homemade laundry detergent gives you complete control over the ingredients doing the dirty work. For some, particularly those with allergies or sensitive skin, the chemicals in commercial products make them a non-starter. But no matter why you want to create your own, the process is actually easier than you might have expected. In fact, only three ingredients are necessary (four, if you wish to make a scented batch). Read on to learn how it’s done.

What you’ll need:
- Pure borax
- Washing soda (otherwise known as sodium carbonate or soda ash)
- Unscented bar soap
- Essential oils like lavender or tea tree oil (optional)

How you combine these ingredients determines what form the detergent takes—powdered or liquid.

Homemade Laundry Detergent - Grating

Photo: shutterstock.com

Powdered
First, grate the unscented bar soap into flakes. (If you have sensitive skin, test the soap on your wrist first to see if it causes any irritation.) Next, mix one part grated soap with two parts sodium carbonate and two parts pure borax, the latter of which kills mold and mildew. For a fresh scent, add a few drops of essential oil to the powder. Any oil should be fine; choose the one whose scent you like the best. Finally, put the detergent into an airtight container, keeping it there until you need it next. When it comes time to do laundry, use about 1/8 cup of detergent (or 1/4 cup, if the clothes are very dirty) for each load.

Liquid
Grate a full bar of unscented soap, then dump the shavings into a large saucepan along with two quarts of water. Heat on low and stir until the soap has dissolved into a smooth, thick liquid (do not bring to a boil). Meanwhile, add a box of borax and a box of washing soda into a bucket filled with four and a half gallons of warm water. Once the soap has dissolved in the saucepan, pour the solution into the bucket. Mix well. If you want, put in several drops of your favorite essential oil, then leave the detergent to settle overnight. When it’s time to do laundry, shake up the detergent before adding 1/2 or one cup to the washing machine.

Congratulations, you’ve done it! Now to extend the shelf life of the generous batch you’ve just made, remember to store the homemade laundry detergent in an airtight container. Keep it safely out of reach of children and pets, because although the ingredients are natural, they still may be harmful if swallowed.


How To: Tie Dye

Brighten any basic white T-shirt with one of three tie-dye techniques using our step-by-step guide.

How to Tie Dye

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A staple of summer camp (and of America in the late ’60s), tie dye entertains and engages the young and young-at-heart. Whether you’re leading an activity for kids at a slumber party or making a batch of matching shirts for the family reunion, you’ll enjoy not only the kaleidoscopic colors of the final result, but also the process itself—this is fun stuff! And perhaps the best part is that in tie dyeing, you can’t really make a mistake. Anything goes (just about). Now how ’60s is that?

Step 1: Gather the materials.
White T-shirts are best for beginners. For better dyeing quality, work with 100 percent cotton. You will also need a fabric dye kit, soda ash (if not included in the kit), rubber gloves, tubs, spoon, plastic table cloth, rubber bands and glass marbles. You’ll also need squeeze bottles with nozzles, if you plan to jump head first into multicolor dye projects—and we wholeheartedly recommend that you do!

Step 2: Set up your station.
Minimize mess by covering your work station in plastic—a disposable plastic tablecloth would work nicely. Meanwhile, gear up in clothes you wouldn’t mind getting splashed. Wearing rubber gloves, mix one cup of soda ash and one gallon of warm water in a bucket. (This should be enough to pre-treat up to 12 adult shirts.) In separate buckets, mix up each of the colors, according to the instructions on the dye packaging. Bear in mind that the dye can stain a plastic bucket, so you may wish to use an enamel or glass container. For a lighter, somewhat faded end result, add more water than the amount stipulated in the instructions.

Step 3: Pick your pattern.
Using rubber bands, you can experiment and achieve several designs on your shirt. Of course, there’s a degree of randomness and chance to these designs. For many, that’s the appeal of tie dyeing. But if you’d like more control over the look of your shirt, skip to Step 4. Otherwise, keep the following techniques in mind:

How to Tie Dye - Spiral

Photo: shutterstock.com

Circles
Lay your wet shirt on a smooth, flat surface. Pinch the cloth where you’d want the center of the circle to be, then slip a marble behind the shirt to that point. Tie a rubber band to secure the cloth around it. Add another marble behind the first, wrap a rubber band around it, and continue to do so until you have a string of marbles separated by rubber bands. When dyed, the bands will leave large white circles on the newly colored background. For smaller circles scattered on your T-shirt, tie marbles in clusters side-by-side rather than one beside the other.

Stripes
Roll a wet shirt tightly into a tube. If you want horizontal stripes, roll the shirt side to side; for vertical stripes, roll from bottom to top. Place rubber bands around the wrap, spacing the bands at equal intervals. Once the shirt has been dyed, these bands will produce white stripes.

Spirals
Place your finger in the center of the flat, wet T-shirt. Rotate the shirt clockwise, keeping your finger still so that the shirt twists around it like a pinwheel. When the whole shirt is tightly spiraled into a disc shape, remove your finger and carefully wrap three to four rubber bands over the shirt so that they cross like a starburst in the center.

Step 4: Soak your shirt.
Wearing gloves, stick your shirt into the solution of soda ash and warm water and let it soak for ten to 15 minutes. Doing so helps the dye cling to the fibers. After you remove the shirt, wring out any excess water, so it’s damp but not dripping.

Step 5: Get colorful.
If you are dyeing a shirt with a single color, the easiest method is to dip dye it. Fill a bucket with the dye you’ve mixed, then dunk the shirt in, making sure the fabric is completely submerged. Leave the shirt in the bucket for as long as the instructions specify, anywhere from ten to 30 minutes. The longer the shirt soaks, the deeper the color is going to be.

If you are creating a multicolored pattern, take the colors you’ve mixed and pour them into squeeze bottles. Place your white shirt on the plastic-covered work station, then squirt colors from the different bottles onto different parts of the shirt (flip the shirt over and add color to the back, too). When you’re finished, cover the garment in plastic wrap to keep it moist for as long as the instructions recommend.

Step 6: Rinse and roll out.
When soak time is up, rinse the cloth of excess dye, first in warm water, then gradually in cool water. Repeat until the water runs clear. Finally, unveil your masterpiece (if you used rubber bands, now is the time to take them off). The first time you wash the shirt, remember to put it in the machine on its own. That way, you can avoid any accidents. Dry the shirt on the dryer’s coolest setting. Or opt to air dry—somehow that seems most appropriate, no?


How To: Transform a Cabinet with Spray Paint

You can revitalize almost any piece of furniture with a few coats of spray paint. And once you've got the technique down, you'll be surprised at how easy—and addictive—spray-painting can be!

How to Spray Paint Furniture - Detail Before

Photo: Jennifer Noonan

Is there a dated, shabby, worn-out cabinet hogging space somewhere in your home? If so, you may feel tempted to get rid of the old eyesore. But if the only thing you don’t like about the furniture is the way that it looks—if it’s unlovely but perfectly functional—bear in mind that you can completely transform the cabinet quickly, easily, and inexpensively. Yes! The key: spray paint. Invest in one or two cans of spray paint; spend an hour or two on the makeover, depending on the size of your cabinet; and you’ll be amazed (I certainly was) by the difference. Best of all, the project costs a mere fraction of what it would to purchase a brand-new cabinet.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Rust-Oleum Universal spray paint
- Drop cloth
- Wood filler (optional)
- Sandpaper
- Tack cloth or cotton rag
- Protective gear
- Screwdriver or drill (optional)

STEP 1
Whenever you’re spray-painting furniture, it’s recommended that you work in a well-ventilated area. On a nice day, you might even choose to work outside, provided there’s little to no wind. (You don’t want gusts to blow yard debris onto your project during the drying stage.) Another benefit of painting in the driveway or backyard is that you don’t need to worry about overspray. Working indoors? Open the windows and use drop cloths to cover anything you wish to protect from the spray paint.

How to Spray Paint Furniture - Detail Spraying

Photo: JNoonan

STEP 2
Now that you’ve readied your work area, the next step is to prepare the piece of furniture you’re going to spray-paint. First things first, remove all hardware (for example, hinges or handles) and set it safely aside. Next—this is optional—fill any scratches or holes with wood filler, closely following the directions from the product manufacturer. Finally, sand down the furniture, not only to even out nicked edges, but also to give the spray paint an accommodating surface to which it can adhere easily. Once you’ve finished sanding, wipe the furniture with either a tack cloth or a damp cotton rag. Wait for the piece to dry completely before proceeding to paint.

STEP 3
Don the appropriate protective gear—in this case, a dust mask (spray-paint particulates are very fine and can be accidentally inhaled) and safety gloves (well, these kinds of projects are known to get a little messy on occasion).

I used Rust-Oleum’s Universal spray paint. Because it works on any surface, I was able to use it on both the wood and the metal cabinet hinges. Another plus: It can be sprayed from any angle—handy if you need to reach into corners.

Whenever I spray-paint furniture, I apply several thin coats instead of a single heavy coat. That strategy has seemed to yield the best results. Holding the can 8 to 12 inches from the surface, pull the trigger on the spray-paint can, applying the paint with a sweeping motion. As you go along, let the spray fall a few inches past the left and right edges of the furniture. Remember that spray paint dries quickly; subsequent coats can be added within two hours. For further details about application, be sure to read the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

STEP 4
Give the paint at least 24 hours to cure fully before reinstalling hardware or placing any objects on or inside of the furniture. That may seem like a long time to wait, but personally I’d wait five times as long if it meant revitalizing a cabinet that I would have otherwise hauled to the Dumpster. Spray paint really is an amazing thing. With a little practice, you’ll be able to spray-paint like a pro. And then if you’re anything like me, you’ll look at the world in a new way, always finding things around the house to revamp and totally renew.

How to Spray Paint Furniture - Cabinet Makeover After

Photo: Jennifer Noonan

This post has been brought to you by Rust-Oleum. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.