Kitchen - 2/24 - Bob Vila

Category: Kitchen


15 Tips for Growing Kitchen Herb Gardens

Create better-tasting meals with an always available array of fresh herbs right at your fingertips!

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15 Ideas for Better Kitchen Herb Gardens

Photo: istockphoto.com

The use of fresh herbs can mean the difference between decent food and truly vibrant, delicious cuisine. But purchasing such greenery at the market can get pricey, especially if you only need a sprig or two. Plus, it’s a lot more convenient to have the likes of fresh basil, parsley, sage, and so much more immediately at your disposal, whenever you get the urge to whip something up.

If you appreciate having an abundance of flavor on hand at all times—and saving money in the long run—keep reading. This guide will help you grow successful kitchen herb gardens that brim with strong, healthy plants. Take your culinary accomplishments to the next level, and your family and friends will thank you!

1. Select a sunny spot.

Herbs love the sun; they tend to grow tall and straggly without it, producing limp stems instead of healthy compact buds. To successfully grow herbs indoors, choose a windowsill that receives a minimum of four hours of direct sunlight per day. For even growth, turn your herb pots around every day or two to ensure that all sides receive an equal amount of direct sunlight.

2. Supplement light if natural light isn’t available.

Supplemental lighting can let you nurture a kitchen herb garden even if you don’t have an adequately sunny spot. Grow light kits are available from garden centers or online retailers for between $100 to $200, depending on size. And if you’re DIY-handy, you can fashion supplemental lighting using dimensional lumber to construct a frame and standard fluorescent bulbs and fixtures. Whatever you rig up, remember: You’ll need to position your plants within a few inches of the fluorescent bulbs for the best results.

 

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3. Provide good drainage.

While cute containers add a touch of style to a kitchen’s décor, herbs—like all potted plants—need good drainage. The pots you choose should have drain holes in the bottoms. You may see photos of herbs tucked into pretty little cups and glasses, but without drain holes, the plants are at risk of developing fungal diseases that could kill them.

4. Grow herbs you love!

The best herbs for you are the ones you’ll actually use—especially considering how you’ll need to harvest the herbs frequently anyway for the health of the plants (see Tip #10). If you enjoy Italian or Mediterranean fare, start with basil, oregano, parsley, and mint in your kitchen herb garden. Other easy-to-grow herbs that home chefs frequently reach for include chives, thyme, cilantro, and rosemary.

RELATED: 12 Easy Herbs to Grow on Your Windowsill

 

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5. Downsize with dwarf varieties.

Think small when choosing herbs for kitchen gardens, where space is often limited. Dwarf varieties allow you to have all the herbs you want without taking up much room. Spicy Globe Dwarf Basil, for instance, reaches a mature height of about eight inches, making it a better choice for a small kitchen than Purple Ruffles Basil, which can grow up to three times that size and top out at two feet high.

These petite plants also make it easier to invoke another space-saving principle: the use of vertical space. Consider stacking your short potted plants vertically—on shelves, tiers, or wall hooks—up along a well-lit backsplash or wall in the kitchen.

6. Use the right growing medium.

Indoor herbs have a better shot at healthy growth if you plant them in a sterile growing medium. Choose a “potting mix” or “growing mix” that has the word “sterile” on the label. Rather than soil, this type of growing medium contains a germ-free mixture of lightweight ingredients, such as peat moss, vermiculite, and shredded pine bark, which resist compaction so roots can develop easily. Avoid using soil from your garden that can become dense and compact, and also contains bacteria and/or tiny insects that could kill your kitchen herbs.

RELATED: 8 Ways to Combat Garden Pests

 

7. Start seeds for added value.

If you purchase young plants from a garden center, you’ll be harvesting in no time—but once those plants “go to seed” they’ll quit producing herbs. So for kitchen herb gardens that last, buy seed packets, from which you can grow multiple plants—and save money in the process. A single young plant runs $3 to $6 while a packet of seeds can provide you with 20 plants, or more, over time, for less than $5 per packet. Most herbs will be ready to harvest in two to three months from the time the seeds sprout.

8. Keep medium moist until sprouts appear.

Most herb seeds are quick to germinate but they require a consistent level of moisture until they sprout. Fill your pot with damp, not sopping, growing medium and level the top. Place two to five seeds on top of the medium, and then lightly sprinkle dry medium on top—just a dusting will do. Cover the entire pot with plastic wrap and put it in a dark location until the seeds sprout. Then, remove the plastic and set the pot on the windowsill.

The exception to this rule is for seeds that require light to germinate, such as oregano. If sowing such seeds (read the packet for germination information), forego the dusting of growing medium on top—just cover the pot with plastic and place where the seeds will receive light, but not direct sun.

9. Start new seeds every couple of months.

The average herb plant will reach maturity and go to seed in about four months, after which it will no longer produce fresh herbs. By starting new seeds every two months, the new plants will be producing vigorous growth by the time the existing ones are declining, and you’ll always have a fresh supply of herbs at hand.

 

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10. Harvest often but judiciously.

Harvesting leaves from the tops of herb stems will encourage the plant to grow more quickly. Just be sure to snip carefully. Remove no more than 1/3 of a stem when you’re ready to add the herb to your food. Snipping off more can shock the plant and cause it to stop growing.

11. Go easy on the fertilizer.

You can feed your kitchen herbs with an all-purpose vegetable fertilizer every two or three months, but dilute the solution to one-third the recommended strength. Indoor herbs do well with a small amount of fertilizer, while too much can cause rapid growth that reduces the flavor of the herbs.

12. Water weekly.

Watering kitchen herbs once a week is usually sufficient. Most herbs prefer slightly damp, but not soggy, conditions. Give plants enough water so that a little excess runs into the drainage saucer below. An hour after watering, dump out the saucer to ensure that the roots aren’t sitting in water. If the growing medium dries out very quickly, which can happen if the herb is growing rapidly and its roots are absorbing more moisture than normal, water every three to five days. A good way to check if herbs need water is to poke the tip of a finger about ½-inch below the surface of the growing medium. If your finger comes out bone dry, water away!

 

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13. Save a favorite outdoor herb.

If you grew a much-loved herb outside over the summer, propagate a new plant for your kitchen garden from a cutting. Snip off four to five inches of stem from a healthy outdoor plant. Remove all leaves but the top two or three, and then dip the cut end of the stem in root stimulator (available at garden centers). Push two-thirds of the stem into a moist growing medium and place the entire pot in a clear plastic bag to retain moisture. When you see new growth (in about six weeks), take the pot out of the bag and place your new herb plant on the windowsill.

14. Avoid frostbit foliage.

Since most kitchen herb gardens are located on windowsills to get the best light, there’s a good chance the leaves will press against the window glass. In good weather, or if the window has insulated glass, this isn’t a problem. But, if winter temps dip below freezing, single-pane window glass can become frosty and damage the leaves that are touching it. In extreme cases, frostbit leaves can cause the entire plant to die. If your windowsill is too narrow to prevent the leaves from touching the glass, place a small table in front of the window for the kitchen herb garden.

RELATED: How To Help Your Houseplants Survive the Winter

15. Mist herbs when indoor air is dry.

Outdoors, herbs receive the rain and natural humidity they can’t get in a dry, temperature-controlled home. Heated winter air is often especially arid, so mist or spray foliage lightly with water once every two or three days and they’ll reward you with healthy growth.


Bob Vila Radio: Freezer on the Fritz?

Do you suspect that your freezer is slacking on its one job? Then act fast before the day comes that you open the door to find melted ice cream, spoiled meats, and puddles of water. These tricks will help you quickly identify and fix the problem before any food goes to waste.

The average freezer lasts 10 to 15 years before you need to replace it. If yours is only a few years old and still not keeping food and drinks frozen solid, though, there may be a less expensive route.

 

Freezer Troubleshooting

Photo: istockphoto.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON TROUBLESHOOTING A BROKEN FREEZER or read below:

Start with some troubleshooting tips before buying a whole new appliance.

First, clear shelves and make sure the evaporator fan isn’t covered up by tomorrow’s hamburgers. Overpacked freezers block chilled air from circulating as it should.

Make a point of defrosting your freezer every year. If you have a manual-defrost model, check for ice buildup on interior walls. That can drastically cut efficiency.

For that matter, so can dirty or faulty door seals. For starters, keep seals clean by wiping them down every few weeks so that no crumbs are hindering their suction. Then, to see if the seals are doing their job, perform the “dollar bill test”: Open the freezer and place one end of a dollar bill against the inner seal, then close the door. If you can easily pull the dollar out, the seals need some attention. If you have to tug to retrieve your dough, the seals are probably fine. Test several sections of each door.

Finally, pull your freezer out and check the condenser coils to ensure they’re free of dirt. If not, put your vacuum’s crevice or brush attachment to work! (We’ve got the details on that cleanup job here.)

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


How To: Clean a Dishwasher

It's tempting to think that your dishwasher gets a good cleaning every time you run it through a cycle, but that's unfortunately not the case. Here's how to keep it sparkling clean, sweet smelling, and effective.

How to Clean a Dishwasher

Photo: shutterstock.com

At first, the idea of cleaning a dishwasher—an appliance that fills with suds and water on an almost daily basis—may seem a bit strange. But think of it this way: You regularly maintain your vacuum, right? Well, the dishwasher isn’t dissimilar. Whereas there, the sucked-up dust and debris are what threaten to clog and hinder the performance of your vacuum, food scraps, soap scum, and stubborn grease are what can compromise your dishwasher. Even if you installed the unit pretty recently, you should know how to clean a dishwasher in order to maximize its efficiency.

MATERIALS
Rubber gloves
Dishwashersafe container
White vinegar
Unsweetened lemonade mix (optional)
Baking soda
Bleach (optional)

How to Clean a Dishwasher Interior

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 1: Detach the dishwasher’s bottom rack.

Access the dishwasher drain by pulling out the detachable bottom rack. Thoroughly examine this crucial area, and remove any gunk or chunks you find by glove-covered hand. (These not only impede drainage but can also damage the appliance.)

STEP 2: Run a cycle with nothing but one cup of vinegar.

Fill a dishwasher-safe container with one cup of white vinegar, and place it on the upper rack of the otherwise empty machine. A natural cleaner with many talents, white vinegar takes care of two big problems that often plague dishwashers: clogs and smells. Count on it to cut grease that may line walls from previous loads of dirty dishes, clear away old detergent build-up, and even dissolve mineral deposits—all of which could one day clog the plumbing and cause your appliance to underperform. The fact it neutralizes food odors so that your dishwasher won’t smell is practically a bonus!

Close the door and run the dishwasher through a hot-water cycle. Once the vinegar has worked its magic, you should open the door to a clean dishwasher—all grease and grime washed away, and any musty odors that may have been present now removed.

Note: You can use a package of unsweetened lemonade mix rather than vinegar to achieve similar results when you clean a dishwasher. Its citric acid works similar to vinegar in cutting through lingering food particles. Look for this in the list of ingredients, and remember to stick with regular lemonade, though; flavored options can leave stains.

STEP 3: Complete a short rinse cycle with baking soda.

Now sprinkle a cupful of baking soda across the bottom of the appliance, then run it on a short hot-water cycle. Whatever food smells weren’t wiped out with vinegar will be absorbed by the baking soda, the same way they are when you place a box of Arm & Hammer in the fridge. The slightly abrasive nature of baking soda will act like a scrub, to boot! When the cycle’s done, you should notice that your fresh-smelling dishwasher now boasts a brightened, stain-free interior.

STEP 4 (optional): If there’s mold or mildew leftover, consider a cycle with bleach.

Has your dishwasher suffered a vicious attack from nasty mold? While vinegar will kill mildew, some dire cases may need the harsher cleansing power of bleach. Add a bowl filled with one cup of bleach to the bottom of the basin, then run the machine on a full cycle—that is, unless the interior of your dishwasher contains stainless steel, in which case you should completely avoid the use of bleach. Bleach and stainless steel are not friends. If your dishwasher with stainless steel parts still has a mildew problem after following this how-to, repeat a vinegar cycle as instructed in Step 2.

STEP 5: Add this routine clean to your calendar.

Repeat the above steps every one to two months, and you’re likely to add years of service to the machine that tackles your least favorite chore.

Keeping Your Dishwasher Clean

Now that you know how to clean your dishwasher, perhaps the best way to keep it this way is to treat it with basic respect and consideration day in and day out—after all, the machine isn’t invincible. Observing a set of simple usage guidelines can help you wring the best possible performance from this workhorse appliance, even as you prolong its lifespan.

• The dishwasher shares a drain with the kitchen sink, so if you have a garbage disposal, run it before washing the dishes to ensure that the drain is clear.

• It’s smart to conserve electricity and water by running the dishwasher only when it’s full, but resist the temptation to pile dishes too high or too tightly. This prevents the sudsy water from traveling around all sides of each dish and getting your load completely clean.

Don’t prewash dishes too thoroughly before adding them to the dishwasher. For detergent to do its job effectively, there needs to be a certain amount of grease and food residue present. Otherwise, the detergent simply creates foam during the wash cycle, and that excess can be detrimental to the appliance.


Buyer’s Guide: Kitchen Trash Cans

Ready to upgrade your garbage receptacle? We’ve got you covered with the style, closing mechanism, and odor control feature that’s just right for you!

Found! The Best Kitchen Trash Can for Every Budget, Style, and Size of Space

Photo: homedepot.com

The best kitchen trash cans not only hold garbage, they do so in a sanitary, unobtrusive manner. If you have a too-small can that regularly overflows, or if the liners keep slipping down and causing slimy spills at the bottom, it’s time to step up your garbage game. You may also be looking for a can to control odors, as well as one that enhances—or at least won’t detract from—kitchen décor. Read on to learn which features are worth paying for, and find the models that made satisfied customers out of consumers just like you.

RELATED: 9 Little Tricks to Make Trash Day Less of a Chore

1. Select Your Size

The average family generates two to five bags of kitchen trash per week, and the most common kitchen-size trash cans hold 13 gallons (50 liters). If you live alone or aren’t home enough to generate that much trash, consider a smaller can that holds eight gallons (30 liters). The standard 13-gallon size, however, is best for most folks because it easily accommodates such large items as gallon milk jugs. Many people find the 13-gallon size large enough to keep from having to take the trash out more than once a day, but not so large that it looks out-of-place in the kitchen.

2. Make Sense of Materials

Kitchen trash cans are typically made of heavy plastic, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or some type of metal, often stainless steel. Plastic and PVC are the most affordable, starting around $15 for a budget model and running as much as $60 for one with hands-free operation. Metal trash cans cost a bit more, starting around $30 and topping out over $300 for designer models in custom colors. No need to go into sticker shock just yet, though: The best kitchen trash can—one that’s a durable, good-looking metal—can be had for around $100, or less.

3. Look into the Lid

Even if you have ample under-sink space for an uncovered trash can, one with a secure lid is still your best bet. A lid will help hold trash bags in place, keep smells at bay, and deter curious pets that want the remains of that tuna fish sandwich you had for lunch.

Inexpensive models often have domed lids with a swinging door attached by hinges. Users simply push the door to deposit trash. There’s no need to remove the lid unless you’re tossing a large item that won’t fit through the door.

However, if you cook a lot, the last thing you want to do is contact any part of the kitchen trash can with your hands while preparing meals. You’ll be best off with a touch-free lid, that opens either by stepping on a pedal at the base of the can or by activating a sensor that responds to a hand motion. Both options are good; how good depends on the quality of the opening mechanism. A cheap sensor or an inferior step-pedal that only lasts a month before breaking isn’t worth the money you saved on the initial purchase of the can.

4. Consider Odor Control

Some kitchen trash cans include activated charcoal filters, located in the lid, to help absorb odors—a wise option if trash regularly sits for more than two or three days. Odor-controlling filters, which should be replaced every two to four months, get mixed reviews, however: Some consumers think they’re great while others feel they don’t make much of a difference (and none of the top picks contending for the best kitchen trash can, below, include this feature). If you don’t wish to spring for a filter option, you can always buy deodorizing trash bags, sprinkle a little baking soda over garbage, or simply empty your trash more often to keep smells at bay. You can also deodorize a trash can with one of these hacks.

OUR TOP PICKS

Check out this trio of trash cans. Not only do they tick off all of the boxes of what we look for in the best kitchen trash can, but each one has been highly ranked by consumers and rated by independent reviewers as the best buys for your money. Start your shopping here.

 

Found! The Best Kitchen Trash Can - simplehuman 45L Rectangular Step Trash Can

Photo: amazon.com

Simplehuman Rectangular Step Can ($104)
For sleek, stainless steel good looks and hands-free operation, the men’s style authority GQ made the Simplehuman Rectangular Step Can its number one pick while Amazon customers agreed, awarding this model a 4.6 out of 5 stars. The step-pedal is designed for heavy use, advertised as lasting for up to 150,000 steps without breaking. While the 11.9-gallon (30-liter) capacity holds about one gallon less than the average kitchen trash can, you can purchase the manufacturer’s own (Code M) liners that fit the interior perfectly; that said, most customers claim standard 13-gallon trash bags work just fine. Buyers also appreciate the shallow profile that tucks unobtrusively against the wall. The exterior surface is easy to wipe clean, and if traditional stainless silver isn’t your style, choose from Rose Gold, Black Stainless, Dark Bronze, or White Steel to better suit your kitchen décor. The best part? This can boasts a 10-year limited warranty, should it not pull its weight. Available from Amazon.

 

Found! The Best Kitchen Trash Can - NINESTARS 21-gallon Motion Sensor Trash Can

Photo: amazon.com

NINE STARS Touchless Motion Sensor Can ($50)
If you’ve got family-size trash, check out the larger bin on NINE STARS’ Touchless Motion Sensor Trash Can. With a 21-gallon (80-liter) capacity, this brushed stainless steel can not only looks good, it holds quite a bit more than the standard 13-gallon bin. The Spruce gives it their best, “high-end” trash can award, citing its quick-open motion sensor that responds to a mere wave of the hand. The sensor requires three D-cell batteries that last an average of six months. The attractive stainless steel surface resists fingerprints and the can’s non-skid base keeps it from scooting across the floor if it gets bumped. A removable ring liner holds trash bags securely in place and also conceals the top of bag for a clean look. You can purchase the manufacturer’s 21-gallon plastic liners or go with generic 20-gallon bags from your local grocery. The NINE STARS trash can comes with a limited two-year warranty. Available from Amazon.

 

Found! The Best Kitchen Trash Can - Rubbermaid 13-gallon Step-On Trash Can

Photo: homedepot.com

Rubbermaid Premium Step-on Wastebasket ($20)
For a budget-friendly model that holds up to daily use, the Rubbermaid Step-On Wastebasket took Business Insider’s “best affordable trash can” honors for good reason. It’s durable, and it comes with a stainless steel step-on pedal so you won’t get your hands—or the lid—dirty when disposing of garbage. The heavy plastic bin accommodates standard 13-gallon bags and is easy to wipe clean. The lid features an attached ring that secures the top of the bag to prevent slippage and, according to Home Depot customers, who give the Rubbermaid Step-on Wastebasket 3.9 stars, it fits snugly enough to prevent odors from escaping. No manufacturer’s warranty here, though. Available from Home Depot.


Solved! What to Do About a Leaking Garbage Disposal

Suspect a leak in one of your kitchen's hardest working appliances? Troubleshoot the problem and repair a leaking garbage disposal with these tips and techniques.

How to Fix a Leaking Garbage Disposal Yourself

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: Lately, the cabinet under my kitchen sink has been getting mysteriously soggy. Could this be a symptom of a leaking garbage disposal? If so, how can I repair it myself?

A: A leaking garbage disposal often goes unnoticed until you confront a sopping cabinet, a foul-smelling puddle, or an audible drip-drip-drip from the unit. The fix can be frustrating, too, because the leak can stem from a number of components in the system. Fortunately, with a little sleuthing, you can zero in on the leak and—depending on the exact location—stop the icky oozing and repair the component that caused it. Worst case scenario, if it turns out that the garbage disposal must be replaced, installing a new one is a reasonable do-it-yourself task for those with basic plumbing skills. Read on to keep the cash you’d otherwise hand over to a pro.

 

How to Fix a Leaking Garbage Disposal Yourself

Photo: istockphoto.com

Prepare to find the leak. Prior to testing the garbage disposal for leaks, unplug it at the wall outlet and turn off the power from the breaker box to prevent electrical shock. Then insert a watertight sink stopper into your sink drain and wipe the unit dry with a clean cloth. In any handy container, mix a few drops of food coloring into a few cups of water, and pour the dyed water onto the sink stopper to help you locate the leak.

Investigate the source. Using a flashlight, examine the unit for escaping colored water, which is likely to come from one of three places:

• the top, where the disposal meets the sink drain;
• the side, where the dishwasher hose or main drain pipe connects to the disposal;
• or the bottom of the unit.

Inspect each of these locations while gliding a light-colored rag over the unit; the dyed water will readily show on the rag and reveal the location of the leak. If a leak isn’t immediately apparent, remove the sink stopper and pour a few more cups of dyed water down the sink drain, then check for leaks again. Leaks near the top of the unit are more likely to show themselves while the sink is plugged, while side and bottom leaks are more noticeable while the sink is unplugged.

How to Fix a Leaking Garbage Disposal Yourself

Photo: istockphoto.com

If the top of the unit is leaking, re-seal and tighten the flange. The metal sink flange that sits directly inside the sink drain is typically sealed around the top with plumber’s putty (a clay-like sealant) and then secured from under the sink with bolts. If the plumber’s putty deteriorates, or the bolts loosen, the flange can no longer form a watertight seal between the sink drain and the disposal—which could cause a leak at the top of the unit.

To reseal the leaky flange, you must first detach the garbage disposal. Start by loosening the screws securing the main drain pipe to the disposal, then loosen the screws in the metal clamp securing the dishwasher hose to the disposal and detach the drain pipe and dishwasher hose from the disposal. Loosen the screws in the mounting ring that connects the disposal to the metal mounting assembly beneath the sink, then pull down the disposal and carefully set it on a clean, dry surface. Loosen the bolts in the mounting assembly with a wrench, then pull down the mounting assembly and set it near the disposal.

Lift the sink flange from the top of the sink. Use a plastic putty knife to scrape off the old plumber’s putty around the top of the flange, then wipe off any putty residue with a damp rag. Grab a palmful of plumber’s putty from the container and roll it into an eighth-inch to quarter-inch-wide “rope” with a length roughly equal to the circumference of the flange. Wrap the rope of putty around the top of the flange like a collar, then insert the flange into the sink drain opening until snug. Re-install the mounting assembly and mounting ring (taking care to securely tighten the mounting bolts on the mounting assembly), then re-attach the garbage disposal, drain pipe, and dishwasher hose in the reverse order you detached them.

If the side of the unit is leaking, tighten drain line connections and replace worn gaskets. Two drain lines extend from the sides of a garbage disposal: a narrower dishwasher hose that connects the dishwasher drain pipe to your disposal’s dishwasher inlet, and the main drain pipe that connects your disposal to the sewer through an outlet in the wall.

If you spy a leak on the side of the disposal where the dishwasher hose meets the disposal’s dishwasher inlet, the problem could be that the metal clamp connecting them is loose. In that case, tighten the screws in the metal clamp with a screwdriver.

If the leak is on the side where the disposal meets the waste drain pipe, loosen the screws that secure the drain pipe to the disposal and inspect the rubber gasket inside the pipe—it may well be worn out. Replace the gasket and re-tighten the drain pipe screws.

If the bottom of the unit is leaking, replace the disposal. Leaks from the bottom of the garbage disposal (often from the reset button) commonly indicate that at least one seal on the interior shell of the unit that protects the motor has deteriorated, or that the shell itself has cracked. These vulnerabilities can cause water from the sink to seep into the shell of the disposal and leak out of the base of the unit. In an old garbage disposal, one compromised internal seal is often accompanied by others, so your best bet is to install a new one.

Hiring a pro to replace the unit will run you $400 on average, including labor and parts, or you can install a garbage disposal yourself and save anywhere from $90 to $200 in labor costs. You should be able to get eight to 15 years of use out of your new garbage disposal.

Check your work. Whether you repaired or replaced the leaking garbage disposal, test for any missed problem spots. Wipe the unit dry with a clean cloth, then unplug the sink drain (if plugged) and pour a few cups of dyed water into the drain once more. Use a flashlight to inspect the entire unit. If you don’t observe a leak, turn on the power to the disposal from your breaker box and plug in the disposal at the wall outlet.

Prevent future leaks. Proper use of a garbage disposal can stave off future leaks. So remember to grind only soft foods; hard items such as bones, apple cores, or raw potatoes can dislodge or damage the internal seals. Run cold water through the sink drain before and after food disposal to keep solid fats from congealing into gunk (which can deteriorate the sink flange and cause leaks). Finally, inspect your disposal for leaks—at least twice a year using the dyed-water test—to catch and repair minor leaks before they lead to water-damaged sink cabinets or kitchen floors.


Bob Vila Radio: The Quick Way to Clean a Cast Iron Pan

Cast-iron pans last a lifetime or longer—but only with proper maintenance!

It’s no wonder cast-iron cookware is popular: They are non-toxic, evenly heated, and durable enough to last for generations! Here’s how to properly maintain these skillets for you—and your [email protected]

How To Clean A Cast Iron Pan

Photo: istockphoto.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON CLEANING A CAST IRON PAN or read below:

Even if the label says “pre-seasoned” or “nonstick,” take time to season your pan before you use it.

First, wrap aluminum foil over your oven’s bottom rack to catch drips, then preheat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. To the inside and outside of the cast iron pan, apply a thin coating of vegetable oil. Finally, place the pan upside down on your oven’s middle rack. Bake for an hour, then turn off and let the pan cool completely. Once it’s seasoned, you’re ready to cook.

When cleaning a cast-iron pan, be sure to do so as soon as you’ve finished cooking, while the pan is still warm. Scrape away any food with plastic, not metal. That prevents scratches. If you have to, you can add vegetable oil or sea salt to dislodge stuck-on food, but don’t use dish soap. Lastly, wipe the pan dry to prevent rust and preserve the nonstick coating.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


10 DIY Countertops That You (and Your Wallet) Will Love

Subject to wear and tear day in and day out, kitchen countertops must be updated eventually. With DIY countertops, homeowners enjoy not only savings, but one-of-a-kind results.

No matter where you live, a Chicago apartment or a rural Montana ranch, kitchen counters see a great deal of wear and tear. It’s only a matter of time before they must be refurbished or replaced. While even experienced remodelers have been known to shy away from countertop installation, we can think of at least two reasons to try turning this into a do-it-yourself project: money savings and one-of-a-kind results. Scroll down to see five affordable and creative ways in which homeowners like you have handled DIY countertops successfully, and with flair.

 

DIY Countertops Made with Paint

Photo: loveandrenovations.com

1. GO FAUX GRANITE
Prefer the look of natural stone to your dour and dingy laminate countertops? You certainly don’t need to tear them down to fulfill your design dream. As seen in this project from Love and Renovations, the key to a convincing fake granite is in choosing three shades of paint (from black to gray, here) and dabbing with a sea sponge. Even after sealing the deal with a clear protective top coat, the luxurious look costs less than $50 to recreate! And even a year later, this DIYer says she’d do it all again.

 

DIY Countertops Made with Concrete

Photo: imperfectlypolished.com

2. CHOOSE CONCRETE
For good reason—it’s affordable, durable, and pretty darn cool-looking—concrete is becoming ever more popular in DIY countertops. Thank goodness that Imperfectly Polished makes it oh-so-simple with a trio of step-by-step tutorials: prep and planningpouring and curing, and sand, seal, wax and enjoy.

 

DIY Countertops Made with Pennies

Photo: domesticimperfection.com

3. PINCH PENNIES
In the past, we’ve seen pennies used to surface backsplashes and flooring. Now Domestic Imperfection demonstrates how they can look like a million bucks in DIY countertops. The cost? Literally pennies! Other unlikely countertop materials include pebbles, vase gems, coasters and license plates.

 

DIY Countertops Made with Subway Tile

Photo: abeautifulmess.com

4. RIDE THE SUBWAY TREND
A perfect complement to a subway tile backsplash, this sub-one-hundred-dollar subway tile countertop concept from A Beautiful Mess makes once dark and confined kitchens look bright and spacious. Recreate it by mounting a cement backer board to a wooden board the size of your countertop, adhering subway tiles and tile grout to the backer board, then mounting the entire tiled board on your existing countertop with screws. While that may sound intense, their detailed instructions promise no saws required to make these DIY countertops!

 

DIY Countertops Made with Chalkboard Paint

Photo: katedecorates.co

5. CHALK IT UP TO CREATIVITY
While you may typically associate chalkboard with scrawled notes and kids’ doodles, the resourceful DIYer behind Kate Decorates looked at the medium and saw how its matte appearance closely resembled that of a high-end stone countertop material: slate. With just $50 and two coats—chalkboard paint and a clear protective finish—she boosts style in the laundry room.

 

DIY Countertops with Marble Contact Paper

Photo: makedoanddiy.com

6. MAKE CONTACT
Genuine marble slab countertops can put a dent in your wallet—or even in your pricey work surface, if the installation goes awry. Not so with this rock-bottom-priced replica from Make Do and DIY. The mastermind behind the blog recreated the elegant, striated look of marble in her kitchen for $30 simply by adhering marble-patterned contact paper to her countertops with the help of a credit card to smooth out imperfections.

 

DIY Countertops with Paint

Photo: designingdawn.com via remodelaholic.com

7. DO YOUR KITCHEN A SOLID
For counters so slick you can see your mug in them, ditch your cleaning rag and grab a paintbrush instead! Refacing a hum-drum cooking prep station with a glamorous and glossy monochromatic paint finish runs only about $120. Just follow the lead of Designing Dawn, whose instructions outlined on Remodelaholic will guide you safely from sanding for the paint to stick all the way to sealing for that extra high-gloss look.

 

DIY Countertops - Distressed Wood

Photo: buckhouseblog.wordpress.com

8. REHAB RIGHT
No time? No energy? No money? Rather than replace them, make the very best of your existing countertops. If yours are laminate, a low-cost yet high-impact option is resurfacing. For wood, either apply a new stain or experiment with a distressed finish, following in the footsteps of the Buckhouse blog.

 

DIY Countertops - Stainless Steel

Photo: christonium.com

9. GO STAINLESS
Opinions are divided over stainless steel. Some say it’s chic and easy to clean; others insist that it scratches too easily and is appropriate only for utility spaces like the laundry room. One thing is for certain: it’s not cheap. That said, The Home Project managed to install their DIY countertops for under $500!

 

DIY Countertops - Door Counter

Photo: themustardceilingblog.com

10. OPT FOR AN OLD DOOR
Have you heard the one about The Mustard Ceiling turning three oak doors into a gorgeous countertop for $100? There’s no punchline—they actually did it. Using the preexisting laminate as a template, the couple cut the doors to shape, before sanding and staining them for a rough-hewn yet refined look. While the original blog is no longer in operation, you can still follow along with the tutorial at Remodelaholic.


Solved! What to Do When the Dishwasher Stops Draining

If you've opened your dishwasher to find a sudsy puddle on along the bottom of the appliance, follow these troubleshooting tips to take care of the underlying problem yourself.

Dishwasher Not Draining? 8 Potential DIY Fixes

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: I opened the dishwasher door to find the bottom of the unit filled with dingy water! My first thought was that the cycle didn’t complete so I ran the dishwasher again—but that didn’t do the trick. Why is my dishwasher not draining? Any ideas for a do-it-yourself fix, or must I call a plumber?

A: You did the right thing running your unit a second time. If a dishwasher gets inadvertently shut off during a cycle, there’ll be standing water in the bottom when you open it. When that smart move doesn’t solve the issue, the problem lies elsewhere. Dishwasher service calls are common in the plumbing industry, but fortunately, the fix to a dishwasher not draining is often something simple you can do yourself. So before you call a pro, troubleshoot your dishwasher using the following steps.

Run your garbage disposal. The drain hose from your dishwasher empties into the garbage disposal drain. If the disposal unit contains unground food, or if food sludge settles in the drainpipe below the disposal, it can prevent the dishwasher from draining properly. Sometimes, just running the disposal is all it takes to get the dishwasher draining again.

In fact, get in the habit of leaving the water on and letting your garbage disposal run an additional 15 seconds after the food is gone. This clears all remaining food that might otherwise remain in the P-trap drain beneath the disposal.

Clean your sink’s air gap. When a dishwasher hose connects to a sink without a garbage disposal, an air gap—a small, slotted cylinder (often made of stainless steel)—is installed on the top of the sink, right by the faucet. A small hose from the air gap connects to the dishwasher’s drain hose. This acts as a vent to prevent an air lock from forming in the drain hose, but occasionally, the air gap can become clogged with debris. To investigate, twist the air gap counterclockwise to remove it, and check it for gunk. Clean the air gap with water and a stiff brush, replace it, and run the dishwasher cycle again.

Remove standing water. If running the disposal doesn’t help (or if you don’t have one), it’s time to drain the water to allow a closer look at possible culprits. Place absorbent towels around the base of the dishwasher and then remove the bottom dish tray by simply sliding it out. With the tray out of the way, use a plastic cup to scoop the dirty water into a bucket for disposal. When the water level is too low to scoop, use towels to sop up the last bit in the bottom of the machine.

Dishwasher Not Draining? 8 Potential DIY Fixes

Photo: istockphoto.com

Clear up detergent mishaps. Dishwashers are designed for use with automatic dishwasher detergents that clean without producing suds. In the course of a hectic day, it’s easy to accidentally squirt regular dishwashing liquid into the unit, which can easily create enough suds to prevent proper draining. The same problem can occur if you run out of automatic dishwasher detergent and substitute laundry detergent in a pinch. Guilty as charged? Simply bail out the tub as described above, and run the cycle again, this time using the correct detergent.

De-gunk the drain basket. The drain basket is found at the bottom of your dishwasher’s interior. Its cover often resembles an upside-down basket, which either snaps off or is held in place by one or two screws. (If the bottom of your machine doesn’t look like this, consult your owner’s manual—which you can often download from the manufacturer’s website). Remove the cover, and check for food buildup in the basket beneath. Use your hand or a spoon to remove any debris, replace the cover, and run the dishwashing cycle again.

Note: If you find a lot of food debris in the drain basket, prevent future clogs by pre-rinsing your dishes. Most dishwashers manufactured today feature macerators that grind bits of soft wet food, but they don’t have nearly the power of a garbage disposal. So even if your machine says you needn’t pre-rinse the dishes, do so anyway to avoid repeatedly cleaning the drain basket.

Check the drain hose for kinks. A kinked drain hose—the lightweight, ribbed plastic hose that connects from the dishwasher’s drain pump to the garbage disposal (or to an air cap)—can prevent water from draining. If something large or heavy was shoved under the sink it might have hampered the hose, so explore the area to locate the hose. If it’s kinked, try straightening it out manually. Unfortunately, once a drain hose kinks, it tends to happen again in the same spot. If this continues to happen, replace the drain hose. (It’s a simple enough DIY chore—keep reading for details.)

Examine the drain hose for clogs. If the hose isn’t kinked, it could still be clogged with food sludge or debris. To check for a clog, you’ll need to remove the lower front panel and locate the spot where the ribbed hose attaches to the drain pump.

First, unplug the dishwasher: While you shouldn’t come in contact with any wiring, the general safety rule when working on appliances is to unplug them first. Then place old towels under the unit and remove the lower front panel. Many panels snap off but, depending on your model, you may have to remove a screw or two. Disconnect the hose from the pump (if you’re unsure where it is or how to disconnect it, consult your owner’s manual).

To check the hose for clogs, simply blow through it. If air won’t pass through, you’ve got a clog. If the clog is located at either end of the hose, you can try to carefully remove it with a screwdriver or other thin implement, like a straightened out wire coat hanger. If the clog is not located near the end connected to the pump, remove the hose where it connects to the garbage disposal or air cap to check for a clog on that end. If the clog is lodged deeper, you’ll probably have to replace the entire hose. Don’t try to clear the clog with a plumber’s snake—dishwasher hoses aren’t designed to withstand that tool’s cutting motion and can be easily punctured.

Replace the drain hose. For recurring kinks or a clog that you can’t remove, replace the entire hose. Call a plumber if you’re not comfortable trying this yourself. A pro could easily charge a minimum of $150 for a house call, so you’d save a bundle handling the job yourself. This involves unplugging the unit and sliding it out from under the countertop. Then, disconnect the old hose from both the pump and the garbage disposal (or the air gap), and attach the new one in the same manner. Consult your owner’s manual first to ensure that you purchase the correct replacement hose, and for any specific instructions on how it attaches to your model.

Call the plumber. Most of the time, when faced with a dishwasher not draining, one of the above techniques will help. But if you tried to no avail, the problem could lie in a faulty pump or in the dishwasher’s timer or motherboard. Replacing these specialty parts should only be done by a licensed plumber, so if you’re in that situation, call a pro.


Video: Purge Your Pantry of These Problem Items

Start fresh in the kitchen by pitching (or donating) old and unusable foods.

SHARES

As the holidays draw ever nearer, many homeowners are preparing to entertain dozens of friends and family members over delicious dinners and tempting desserts. Those home-cooked treats call for scratch ingredients, which are easy on the wallet but give your pantry a real workout. If your cupboards are already crammed full of old spices, canned goods, and other shelf-stable eats, it may be time to initiate a purge. Take stock of what you need and remove everything you can’t use. It may sound like a drastic measure but consider this: If you haven’t eaten those 5-year old pickled asparagus spears or dusty soba noodles before now, you probably never will.

For more kitchen advice, consider:

14 Pantry Goods That Basically Never Expire

11 Totally Unexpected Uses for a Crockpot

10 Gadgets for Every Lazy Cook’s Kitchen


Buyer’s Guide: Chest Freezers

Need to keep large amounts of food in cold storage? Get the 411 on chest freezers before you start shopping.

The 3 Best Chest Freezer Options (and How to Choose)

Photo: istockphoto.com

Whether you have a large family to feed, do a lot of hunting or fishing, or simply tend to grocery-shop in bulk, a chest freezer—which offers additional cold storage to the freezer in your overstuffed kitchen fridge—can be a wise purchase. While you can spend as much as $1,000 on an upright version slightly smaller than a fridge, most consumers opt for a horizontal model with a hinged door on top (like a treasure chest), which will cost less than $600 and be more energy-efficient to boot.

Considering that the United States Department of Agriculture estimates Americans waste $161 billion in food each year, why not find out if a chest freezer is the secret to saving more money on your monthly groceries? Read on for an overview of points to consider, and once you have your priorities you can check out our top three picks for the best chest freezer.

Understand the Savings
As hinted at earlier on, chest freezers tend to be more energy-efficient than their upright counterparts for two reasons. For starters, gravity helps keep a horizontal door sealed tighter, leaving less room for air leakage and ensuring greater efficiency. But mainly you save because chest freezers generally don’t have automatic defrost. That function, which periodically turns off the appliance and melts any accumulated frost, uses extra electricity every time it runs through a cycle. Chest freezers require manual defrosting—meaning you’ll occasionally turn yours off, leave the door open, and let warm air circulate through its interior for an hour or two, then wipe up any melted frost and be back in business.

When shopping, be sure to check each model’s energy rating. Adjusting for differences in capacity, the one that costs the least to run per year is the best buy.

The 3 Best Chest Freezer Options (and How to Choose)

Photo: istockphoto.com

Consider Capacity
The capacity of most chest freezers ranges between 5 and 20 cubic feet. One cubic foot can hold about 35 pounds of cut and wrapped meat; bone-in takes up more space because of its irregular shape. It’s not worth running a freezer that won’t hold everything you need, and you don’t want to waste space with something too big, either. So figure out how much you’ll keep in your freezer. Don’t forget to factor in times of the year when you tend to have the most food—around the holidays or after hunting season, perhaps. Take inventory of what you’ll be storing and then do the math to determine what capacity suits best.

Make Sense of Size
Most chest freezers run between 2 and 4 feet wide, and between 3 and 6 feet long. Since you clearly can’t wedge a 5-foot-by-3-foot appliance into a 4-foot-by-3-foot clearing in your basement, you’ll need to measure your available space and make sure your chest of choice will fit. Measure the space where you intend to put the appliance, as well as such spaces as doorway width to ensure you can get the freezer into the spot.

Feature Focus
Chest freezers tend to be no-frills appliances, but some models offer worthwhile features. Storage bins, for instance, allow you to sort items while an interior light helps you see what you’ve got in there. And a lock will keep nosy parkers out of your frozen fodder. These extras are generally worth a slightly higher price if you’ll be accessing the chest on a regular basis, it’s kept in a dark area, and/or theft is a concern.

FAN FAVORITES: 3 Picks for the Best Chest Freezer

Hoping to stock and store a surplus of groceries so that less of your food goes to waste? Start your search for the best chest freezer, based on consumer reviews, expert opinions, and the shopping criteria outlined above.

 

Best Chest Freezer - Whirlpool 21.7 cu ft Chest Freezer

Photo: homedepot.com

Whirlpool WZC3122DW Chest Freezer ($599)
The expert reviewers at The Spruce chose this Whirlpool model as the best overall chest freezer of 2017 for capacity, energy efficiency, and extra features. Offering 21.7 cubic feet of space, this chest has beastly measurements spanning more than 5 feet in length and almost 3 feet in width. Bells and whistles include a trio of storage bins, an interior light, and an exterior lock and temperature control knob. This extra large capacity, manual defrost freezer costs around $42 to run a year. Available at Home Depot.

 

Best Chest Freezer - GE 10.6 cu ft Chest Freezer

Photo: lowes.com

GE 10.6 cu-ft Chest Freezer ($359)
This midsized chest freezer from GE is a hit with Lowe’s shoppers, around 500 of whom give it a cool 5 stars. The 10.6 cubic foot manual defrost model is Energy Star certified for its phenomenally low yearly cost to run: $29 on average. With three sliding storage baskets, adjustable temperature control, interior light, exterior power light, and external lock, it’s got all the extras and it spans just over 4 feet by 2 feet. Available at Lowe’s.

 

Best Chest Freezer - midea 3.5 cu ft Single Door Chest Freezer

Photo: amazon.com

Midea WHS-129C1 3.5 cu-ft Chest Freezer ($359)
On the smaller end of the scale, Amazon shoppers love the Midea 3.5 cubic foot chest freezer for its tiny footprint and its reliability. Clocking in at just under 2-foot-by-3-foot, this diminutive model gets high marks from short-statured owners who appreciate the easy reach to the bottom. The manual defrost freezer comes with a hanging wire basket and adjustable thermostat, and costs $32 per year to run. Available on Amazon.