Best Home Ideas: Neat Tips for Fixing, Nixing, and Cleaning Messes Around Your Home and Garden

A quick poke around Stone Ridge Library’s annual book fair uncovers the best household tips



Last Saturday was the 65th annual Library Fair at the Stone Ridge Library, a popular event where, this year, we ignored a light drizzle to politely elbow each other out of the way for the best books. Kindle, yeah, yeah, I know. But I still like the heft of a printed volume, and Kindle is no use to anyone addicted to coffee table books about other people’s houses. One treasure I scored is a book called Perfect English, which features “lived-in” English homes (like the one I grew up in) that would probably not pass muster with editors of shelter magazines here, where we aspire to having everything more pristine. Just the cover picture on Perfect English — a tattered armchair with patched upholstery and saggy cushions beside a paint-chipped door — made me feel so much happier with my own very lived-in house that I’m going to keep the book lying around to remind me that a little comfortable, warm shabbiness shows character.

perfect english bookComfy cozy: Perfect English shows that home décor with a little charm goes a long way

Another find was a paperback titled Best-Ever Home Secrets by Joan and Lydia Wilen — a folksy compendium of handy household tips, many of them involving my favorite cleaning agent: white vinegar. Some of the tips weren’t really to do with the home (shoelaces will stay tied if you dampen them before tying); some were questionable (paint your walls the same color as your carpet so that paint spills won’t show); some I can’t imagine anyone bothering to do (wipe your stainless steel sink dry and rub it with a few drops of baby oil to keep it shiny); and some are just wacky (use a worn-out bra to support big, ripening tomatoes).

But here are a few that were new to me. (I’ll certainly be trying this first one; my energy-efficient Whirlpool washer has a water-level sensor thing that doesn’t seem to work very well.)

  • Add a cup of white vinegar to your laundry to help eliminate soap residue and prevent lint from attaching to your clothes.
  • To get fading black clothes blacker, add two cups of strong, brewed coffee or tea to the rinse cycle.
  • To clean soap scum off a plastic shower curtain liner, put it in the washing machine with a couple of towels to buff it. A cup of white vinegar in the final rinse helps kill mildew.
  • To loosen the fibers of a wool sweater that has shrunk, soak it in warm water with a little shampoo for about 10 minutes to relax the fibers. Rinse it, then lay it flat on a towel, pull and reshape.
  • If you wash a baseball cap in the dishwasher rather than the washing machine, it will keep its shape.
  • If there’s a nasty smell in your car, put a couple of shallow bowls of white vinegar on the floor and leave them overnight with the windows closed. A few minutes with the windows open next morning will eliminate the vinegar smell and take the offensive odor with it.
  • Put socks on the legs of heavy furniture when you have to move it to prevent damage to your floors, or cardboard under furniture you’re moving across carpet to help it slide.
  • Dry clean your carpet by sprinkling it with baking soda, using a flour sifter to distribute it evenly. Sprinkle on a sweet-smelling dried herb like lavender, or a potpourri. Leave it for at least an hour, or preferably overnight. When you vacuum it all up, the unpleasant odors should disappear and the smell of the herb or potpourri will linger.
  • Fix a small leak in a garden hose by heating a Philips screwdriver and touching it to the hole. The rubber will melt and seal the hole.
  • Table salt or baking soda sprinkled into the cracks in your patio or pathways helps keep weeds from sprouting.

Finally, here are two that seemed particularly aimed at me:

  • If you spill something on your keyboard, quickly turn it over to keep liquid from saturating the circuits. Turn off the computer. Keeping the keyboard upside down, dry it with paper towels, then leave it upside down to dry for several hours.
  • If you seal an envelope and then realize you’ve forgotten to enclose something, put it in the freezer for about three hours. You should be able to neatly lift the flap with a knife and reseal it.

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