Removal Salt, Avoid Rust

In much of North America the last snow of the winter usually occurs sometime in February or March, which is also the time of the last road salting.  Once the salt is gone — and it’s good to wait until there’s been a heavy rain that gives the roads a good rinsing — you will want to get the road salt off your car.  You could go to the local car wash and spend money … or you could avoid convenience and save money by doing it yourself.  I’ve always gotten good results with a bucket of warm water mixed with a little dish-washing detergent.  Apply with a large sponge, scrub, dump the remaining detergent-water mix over the car, and rinse well.

auto_rustHowever, removing the road salt from your car’s unpainted undercarriage is even more critical than washing the car’s body.  It’s the metal parts under the car that can be damaged by salt’s corrosive powers.  The painted body can usually withstand contact with road salt pretty well.  Also, the top of the car gets rinsed by the rain.  The underside of the car isn’t exposed to rain.  Most people know this, which is why commercial car washes offer an “undercarriage wash” and why they do such a good business after the end of the snowy season.

But you don’t need to pay $$$ (not to mention, wait in a long line) to give your car’s undercarriage a good washing.  You can just use a garden hose and a sprinkler.  When I wash the car for the first time after the last of the winter snow, I attach a lawn sprinkler to the garden hose, turn on the water, and use the hose to slowly push the sprinkler back and forth under the car.  It’s a good idea to avoid spraying too much water into the engine compartment.  You might need to get down on your hands and knees to make sure the water is directed at the wheels and suspension.  There are actually special tools that attach to a hose to perform the undercarriage washing.  Some clever people have made their own.  In my honest opinion, it seems that a lawn sprinkler works just as well. The whole point is to get the salt off your car, and because salt is water-soluble, all you really need to do is get water into contact with the underside of the car.

It takes a little time, but … as usual, avoiding convenience means you’re paying yourself instead of paying someone else.

(However, if you search the internet you can find lots of people saying that you need to use some kind of special salt-removing product to really do a good job.  All I can say is that the sprinkler method has worked for me, but as the saying goes, your mileage may vary.  What’s happened to me is anecdotal.  I haven’t owned enough cars to do a scientific study.  It might be that my car is less susceptible to rust or maybe I reduce my driving when roads are icy and salty.  (The second part is true.  I really do try to avoid driving when there’s ice and snow on the roads.)

Buttons and Bolts

Eventually, you’re going to need a button.  Or a bolt.  It’s a pain to have to make a special trip to a store to buy the one button you need to fix the shirt you need today.  Likewise, when you find you need a bolt or a screw for some minor repair.  It’s especially frustrating to have return to the same hardware store that you had been to just 2 hours earlier because you need one more bolt to finish your project.

buttons_jarIf you have a jar full of buttons, there’s a good chance you can find one that’s close enough to do the job.  A jar full of bolts and nuts, screws, and similar hardware is also very useful.

This is more a matter of saving time than money, but your time is worth a lot of money (isn’t it?).  When you’re throwing away old clothes or old furniture or anything that has buttons, bolts, screws or any other kind of fasteners (and when you see these things that other people have thrown away), take a look and see if you can salvage some of those useful fasteners and add them to your home store.

Whenever I throw away an old shirt, I remove all the buttons and put them in the button jar.  If I have several matching buttons I sometimes keep them together on bit of string or thread.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve added to my nut and bolt collection by just taking a few that are easy to remove from furniture that my neighbors have thrown away.  I’ve also taken knobs from drawers and cabinets that I’ve found on the curb.  And some hinges.  And many of those cool IKEA fasteners and the little dowel rods.  (It’s good to have carry a Swiss Army knife or multi-tool for this sort of thing.)

Keep stocking your home store with buttons and bolts that would otherwise end up in a landfill and it will serve you well.

Washing Shower Curtains

shower_curtainAccording to the internet, when confronted with a shower curtain that has become icky with accumulated dirt, limescale and hard water deposits, mildew and mold, soap scum, and serratia marcescens bacteria (!) … many people will just throw it away and buy a new one.  Even members of my own family would do this!

However, a spin in the washing machine will make a shower curtain as good as new and repeated washings can add months or even years to their useful lives.  Just put them into the washing machine with a few heavy towels (especially for top-loading machines, which can tear up shower curtains without the towels to act as padding and buffers) and add the usual amount of detergent.  As a booster, add about a half cup of ammonia (my favorite), or some baking soda, borax, vinegar,  or bleach.  [Of course, never use ammonia and bleach together.]  Run the machine on the longest cycle with hot water.  You might pause the machine for some additional soak time.  There’s no need for a high-speed spin.  Don’t put the shower curtain in the dryer.  Just re-hang it in the bathroom and admire it as it dries.

You can also admire the money that stays in your bank account each time you do this.  A new shower curtain might cost at least $8.  Washing it in your home washing machine costs about 50¢.

If you have a mildew, mold, and serratia marcescens problem in your bath and shower area, a fan in the bathroom might help.

Hand-Powered Washing Machine

wonderwashFor a long time, I’ve wondered if maybe some day I might take an old washing machine and hook it up to a stationary bicycle such that peddling the bike powers the washing machine.  Maybe some day.  While thinking those thoughts I searched the internet for inspiration and I discovered a hand-powered washing machine called the Wonderwash.

Basically, it’s a bucket with a watertight top that is attached to a base that allows the bucket to spin on an axis when a crank is turned.  Put dirty laundry in the bucket, add water and detergent, close and spin, … you get the idea.

Recently, the goddess of good luck smiled on me and I found a Wonderwash machine at the local Goodwill.  As it was only about 1/5 of the normal price, I couldn’t resist buying it.  After using it a few times, here are my thoughts.

First, most people will probably find that it won’t replace a full-size washing machine.  You will still need your regular washing machine to do large loads, especially for things like blankets or towels.  But for small loads, the Wonderwash is a good alternative to using a regular washing machine — especially if that would require transporting clothes to a laundry room or laundromat (as apartment dwellers often need to do).  I can easily see how someone could save time and money by using the Wonderwash for washing loads of small things like underwear, tee-shirts, and socks.  It might also be useful for camping trips or in a cabin or vacation house that doesn’t have a regular washing machine.

Most videos of people using the Wonderwash show them using it in a kitchen.  I thought it made more sense to use it in the bathtub.  I did a load of 3 tee-shirts, 3 shorts (underwear), and a fitted sheet, which seemed like a good-sized load for the Wonderwash.  I filled it about half way with hot water, using the bathtub’s handheld shower.  I added just a small spoonful of liquid laundry detergent.  After screwing on the top, I turned the crank a few times to spin the bucket, then let the laundry soak for a minute or so.  I should mention that the bucket is well-balanced on its axis and spins quite easily.  I continued to crank few times each minute or so for about ten minutes.  (During this time I took a shower, with the Wonderwash right there in the tub with me.)

The machine has a drainpipe at the bottom (which you need to attach to use, but need to remove to spin the bucket), but as I had the machine sitting in the bathtub I thought it was easier to just dump the water out the same way it went in, by removing the top and tilting the bucket.  Then I added fresh water for the rinse cycle, closed the top and spun it a few times.  I like my clothes well rinsed, so I repeated the rinse cycle.  After dumping the rinse water out, I removed the clothes, wrung them by hand to get out most of the water, and hung them up to dry.  The next day, the clothes were dry and seemed just as clean as if they had been washed in a regular washing machine.

Overall, I’m glad I have the machine.  Even though we do most of our laundry in a regular washing machine in the basement, this is a good alternative for small loads or when the regular washing machine is unavailable because someone else is using it.  And, as already mentioned, if I lived in an apartment and didn’t have my own washing machine, I’d certainly consider getting one of these so as to minimize trips to the laundry room or laundromat.  Using the Wonderwash in a apartment would save all the time (and perhaps money) it takes to transport clothes to a laundry room or laundromat.

Making Pots and Pans Last Longer

creusetIf you want your pots and pans to last longer, avoid taking pots and pans that are cold (i.e., room temperature) and putting them directly over a stove that is cranked up to full heat.  It’s best to put a pan over very low heat for a while before turning up the heat to medium or high.  I usually let a pan get warm on low heat for about a minute before turning up the heat.  If possible, put water or oil in the pan before putting it on the heat.  Of course, you generally want the pan to be at cooking temperature before you put the food in, though it depends what you’re cooking.

The key is to avoid sudden and extreme temperature changes.  When a pan is heated too quickly, the part of it that is directly over the heat source will get hot and expand while the rest of the pan is still cold.  This uneven expansion causes coatings (such as enamel or non-stick surfaces) to begin to detach.  Sudden temperature changes can cause stress fractures in any metal object, including pots and pans.  Even cast iron pans can be damaged by sudden temperature changes.  Be gentle with your pots and pans.  Give them time to get warm before you turn up the heat.

Saving Money With a Bow Saw

Over the past weekend I avoided the convenience of paying someone to cut some low-bow_sawhanging branches on the trees in my yard.  I avoided the convenience of cutting them down with a noise- and pollution-making chainsaw.  Instead, I cut them down myself, and then cut them into sections so the county trash collectors would take them away, all with a bow saw that cost less than $20.  I also avoided needing to pay to go to a gym.  And I got lots of fresh air, sunshine, and a good upper-body workout.

Saving Money (Again) With Youtube Instructions

 I was in Phoenix a few weeks ago visiting my parents.  I noticed that it was difficult to get the shower in the guest bathroom completely turned off.  My parents were resigned to paying a plumber to fix it.  I thought it might be a DIY job and undertook the needed investigation.  I looked closely at the faucet and saw the brand name “Mixet”.  Never heard of it, but surely there must be something about it on the internet.  Sure enough, I found exactly what I needed.  At the local big box store, it was about $19 for a new cartridge and another $12 for a new handle (the old one was a bit cracked, so it was hard to tell which part was the problem, and it made sense to replace both of them as they were probably original to the house, which was built in the 1970s).

A little additional bonus:  At the big box store, the cashier at the check-out offered my Dad a special deal if he signed up for the store credit card.  Sign up and get $25 off the purchase he was making.  He took a minute and completed their credit card application.  Bingo!  What would have cost more than $30 now cost only about $8.  It was as if the DIY gods were pleased that we were doing the repair ourselves and were sending a special blessing our way.

As shown in the video, all it took was a screwdriver, a crescent wrench, a little grease, and 15 minutes.  The repair was a complete success.  We did it in a little over an hour, including watching the video, going to the store and getting the parts, and actually doing the repair.  All we really lacked, before we saw the video, was a little knowledge.  My father, who isn’t easily impressed (at least, that’s the way it seems) said that he was impressed.  I hope I’ve shown him that practically any DIY project is easier with Youtube.


One of life’s general principles is that you can save a lot of money by avoiding convenience. Make your own juice or iced tea at home and take them with you in the car and to work.  Make your own oatmeal for breakfast.  Use a cast-iron waffle maker.

And so it is with mopping the floor.

Years ago we bought a floor-cleaning machine.  It squirted water onto the floor, its brushes spun and scrubbed, and it vacuumed up the dirty water and collected it in a tank.  It worked great.  It got our floors really clean.  The only problem was that it didn’t last.  After a couple years, it stopped working.  I bought another one.  And it soon stopped working.  Seemed like a pattern was developing.  mopnado(It also needed a new part occasionally; a rubber gasket that helped it maintain a vacuum against the floor needed replacing about once a year.)  I didn’t want to continue spending a couple hundred dollars every couple years for a machine to clean the floor.

So I bought a mop.  A modern mop that comes with a microfiber mop head and a bucket that spins it dry.  Much less expensive.  Will probably last much longer.  The only maintenance cost is the microfiber mop heads, which are re-usable and can be cleaned in the washing machine.  All in all, a human-powered mop is much more economical than the mopping machine powered by an electric motor.

Why That Front-Loading Washing Machine Was on the Curb

At first, when we got that washer and dryer off the curb, we wondered: why would someone throw out such a nice washer and dryer?  They were only a few years old, very clean (well, mostly, as we later discovered), and in good working order.  We initially thought that whoever got rid of them must be such fancy-pants people that they couldn’t stand having a three-year old washer and dryer and had to get rid of them so they could get the latest models.  Keeping up with the Joneses!

washing_machine_moldAfter I looked more closely at the washer, I soon developed another hypotheses.  There was a bad case of mold and mildew* on the rubber gasket that seals the washer door.  This is a known problem with front-loading washers. The problem:  Dirt, detergent, fabric softener, lint, socks, water and who-knows-what-else gets into the various folds and tight-spots in the gasket, and stays there, creating the perfect environment for mold and mildew and other nasty stuff odor-causing bacteria.  Clothes come out of the machine, freshly washed — but smelling worse than when they went in.  Mold and mildew in front-loading washers is so common, it’s called the “stinky washer” or “smelly washer” problem.

Some people never have any mold or mildew problem with their front-loading washers.  Other people’s machines quickly develop mold and mildew.  And once it starts, it only gets worse.  I wonder if the washers that never develop a mold problem are used only a few times a week (maybe in a one- or two-person household), thus giving the machines time to dry out between uses.  And maybe washers that get moldy get that way because they’re used more often (like in a household with lots of kids) and they never get a chance to dry out.

There are many things you can do to kill the mold and prevent it from coming back.  Which of these methods you need to use and the extent to which it is needed depends on the severity of your stinky washer problem.  The basic idea is to keep the machine as clean and dry as possible.  Mold lives and thrives in high humidity.  I’ve listed them in order or ease of implementation.

  • Ventilate.  Keep the washer door and the detergent dispenser drawer open when the machine is not in use.  You might want to completely remove the dispenser drawer and set it aside to dry.  When I remove mine and place it standing vertically in the laundry sink, and when I do that there are always some water that drips out, which would otherwise be in the machine keeping it humid.  If you can’t leave the door open between uses (because you’re afraid a child or pet might climb into the machine, for example), then maybe a front-loader isn’t right for you.  Getting completely dry between uses is the easiest and most effective way to prevent mold.
  • Remove clean laundry from the machine as soon as it’s done.  Don’t leave damp clothes in the machine overnight — or even for an hour.  Always strive to allow the machine time to dry completely between uses.  Check the drum and gasket area for small items (e.g., socks).
  • Use less detergent.  If your clothes aren’t really dirty, you can probably get good results using only a fraction of the amount of detergent people typically use.  Experiment to determine the smallest amount of detergent needed.  You might be surprised how little detergent is required to get your clothes clean — especially if they aren’t terribly stained or covered in dirt.  It might be as little as 1/10 of the amount you’re used to using, or even less.  Various blogs report good results using just water, plain water, and no detergent at all.  (However, chances are good that the first time you don’t add any detergent to a load of laundry, you will still see lots of suds and there will be plenty of detergent in the water.  This is detergent in your machine and in your clothes from all the previous washings. You may have to do many loads of laundry to get all of the old detergent out of your clothes and your machine.)  A good rule of thumb is that if you see suds, you’re using too much detergent.  The more suds you see, the more detergent you’re wasting.  Especially if you see suds in your final rinse water.  When you use too much detergent, it doesn’t all get rinsed away and the innards of your machine and your clothes are coated with detergent.  Pay attention to what you’re doing:  Don’t just pour and pour and pour the detergent into the dispenser drawer.  Use a plastic measuring cup and carefully measure how much detergent you use.  Reduce the amount to the minimum needed.  Detergent is biodegradable, which means that it’s actually good for mold.  If you don’t want to grow mold, use less detergent.
  • Use hot water, at least for some loads.  Washing in cold or lukewarm water saves money and is good for your clothes, but hot water kills mold.  If you never use hot water, you’re not using one of your best defenses against mold.  So wash your bring colors in cold water, but use use hot water for your whites.
  • Use bleach.  Like hot water, bleach kills mold.  So make that, “use hot water and bleach for your whites”.  You whites should be the last load of the day so your machine will be less hospitable to mold as it awaits its next use.
  • Don’t put detergent in the dispenser drawer.  Yes, I know that’s what it’s for, but … Whenever there is detergent in the drawer some of it will get splashed out of the drawer and onto the slot that the drawer slides into.  And you know what means: a good environment for mold.  Instead, once you’ve used your plastic cup to measure the minimum amount of detergent you need (see above), place the cup in the drum along with the clothes.  If you’re worried about straight detergent coming into direct contact with your fancy duds, then add some water to the cup before you put it into the machine.  With some experience you can position the cup so that it fills with water as your machine starts.
  • Use the dispenser drawer for bleach, vinegar, or ammonia.  (Use them one at a time; combining bleach or ammonia with each other or with other cleaning products can be dangerous!)  Bleach, vinegar, and ammonia are mold killers, so a bit of splashing in the drawer slot is okay.  Bleach and detergent should not be used at the same time.  Clothes get cleaner if washed first with detergent and water and then bleach and water.  The dispenser drawer will add the bleach at the proper time in the cycle.  I often use vinegar in the final rinse, instead of fabric softener (place it in the dispenser drawer’s fabric softener compartment).
  • Don’t use fabric softener in your washer.  Like detergent, fabric softener residue in the washer helps create a good environment for mold.
  • Clean the machine.  Use a clean paper towel to wipe the folds and creases of the rubber door-gasket to remove the dirt and lint that accumulates there.  You may have to do this weekly, depending how many loads of laundry you do.
  • Clean the machine.  An occasional (say, monthly) empty cycle with bleach or ammonia (not together!), or vinegar and baking soda, or borax will help kill mold and remove the built-up detergent residue and other gunk that creates a good environment for mold.  Check your manual for instructions.  There are also packaged machine cleaners that may be of use.
  • Dehumidify your laundry room.  Get a dehumidifier.  The best way to install it is to place it over a drain and run a hose from the dehumidifier to the drain.  That way, you don’t have to constantly remember to empty the bucket (and when the bucket is full, the machine automatically turns off and isn’t dehumidifying).  If you leave your washer door and drawer open and it still doesn’t get dry, then your laundry room is too humid.  This is especially likely in a basement laundry area.  A dehumidifier will not only help dry your washer, it will be good for your dryer (the machine has to work harder to dry your clothes when it’s pulling in humid air), in fact, it will also be beneficial to your entire basement.
  • Circulate air with a fan.  With the washer door and drawer open, any kind of fan — a table fan or box fan — aimed at the washer and running on low will help dry the washer’s interior much more quickly than just leaving the door and drawer open.  A small rack fan that attaches to the vent at the back of the washer is also an option, but it’s much more expensive.
  • Clean the pump filter (check you manual or search the internet).  A clogged filter prevent the pump from removing the maximum amount of water from the machine.  This needs to be done periodically, perhaps every couple years or so, depending on use.

I’ve done all of these things and am happy to say there’s no more mold in my machine.

* I am not expert enough to know if it was actually mold or mildew.  I’ve used the terms interchangeably and eventually settled on “mold” to avoid having to repeatedly type “or mildew” throughout.

Free Washer and Dryer (and How to Disassemble a Front-Loading Washer and Dryer)

washer_dryerSome months ago our washer and dryer both stopped working.  The washer, a front-loading model, had a catastrophic break-down — the drum came loose and rubbed against some interior part, making lots of noise.  Then it just stopped.  The dryer, which was stacked on top of the washer, stopped producing heat.  It would turn and blow lots of air out the vent, but no heat.  That was probably a minor repair, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy the same brand of washer (Kenmore) in order to be able to keep using its matching dryer.  So we’d been going to the laundromat, marveling at people who need to use a laundromat but able to afford expensive cellphones, and getting sick of going to the laundromat while we considered buying a new washer and dryer.

Given the problems we’d had with the old washer and dryer (there had been other repairs, and there’s the mold and mildew issue that’s associated with front-loading washers), I was thinking of going back to the old kind of top-loading machines that I my parents had when I was a child.  But, in a small house, a stacking washer-dryer is an efficient use of space.  Also, I had made a new hole through the wall for the stacked dryer’s vent (and I had plugged up the older hole that was for a top-load dryer that was in the house many years ago.)

Luckily we have a friend who watches and other things-free-for-the-taking websites.  She knew of our washer-dryer woes and took pity on us.  Even more lucky: her husband has a pickup truck!  One evening she called us and said there was a stacking washer-dryer available and she and her husband would get them for us.  The next evening, he delivered them.  Fantastic!  This keeps at least $1000 in my bank account.  We placed our “new” washer and dryer on the back patio while I tackled the next problem: how to get the old washer and dryer out of the basement.

When you buy a new washer and dryer from a store, a couple guys in a truck deliver them to your house.  They remove the old washer and dryer — no problem; they know what they’re doing and they’ve got the muscles to do it.  I had a good hand-truck and wasn’t worried about getting our “new” washer and dryer into the basement, because I would have gravity on my side.  But getting the old ones up out of the basement was a different proposition.  Here’s what I’ve learned (remember, in this case, I was disassembling front-loading machines):

The best way, probably the only way, to singlehandedly get a washer and dryer out of a basement is to disassemble them.  All you need is some screwdrivers and a socket set.  Before you do anything: make sure everything is unplugged and water is turned off and disconnected.

The dryer is the easier one to disassemble: you can remove the door, the back panel, the top panel, the motor, and the power cord and these can be taken away piece by piece.  At this point, what remained was light enough for me to take up the stairs and out the door with the hand-truck.  If I had continued, I could have taken the drum out of the frame.

The washer is much heavier and takes more work.  I removed the door, the back panel, the top panel, the power cord, and the hoses.  Then I took out the motor or at least part of it.  It was still too heavy.  Guess what?  Front-loading washers have concrete weights attached to the drum to prevent it from vibrating too much.  Who knew?  I was surprised to find them and soon had them unbolted and outside.  Even with the weights removed, I could see that the drum and the interior frame was still too heavy for me to get up the stairs.

The drum was suspended from the top by two large springs and attached to the bottom by four shock-absorbers.  The shocks were easy to twist and pull off.  The springs … not easy.  The drum was too heavy to lift and thus allow me to unhook the springs.  Cutting through them with a hacksaw seemed a possibility, but there were lots of things in the way, making it awkward.  I decided to turn the whole thing upside down to take the weigh off the springs.  That worked, they were easy to unhook, but turning the washer upside-down created a new problem.  As soon as it was upside-down, a thick red fluid oozed out of the machine and pooled on the floor.  For a second I thought it was blood!  Had I hurt myself?  No.  Transmission fluid?  It sure looked like it.  I guess a washing machine has a transmission, so it has transmission fluid.  Is it supposed come out if the machine is turned upside-down (or did I crack something as I disassembled the machine)?  Beats me.  Luckily, my basement floor is part ugly broken tile and part ugly exposed concrete, so nothing was ruined and clean-up was easy.  If your machine is on carpet, I recommend caution.

Disassembled, everything was relatively easy to get out of the basement.  It sat on the curb for a couple of days before someone took it away for scrap, before the garbage truck could get it.  Looking at Youtube, I discovered that out-of-service front-loading washing machines can be converted to electrical generators, which might be good to have if there’s something handy to turn the drum (like a stream of water flowing down a steep hill on your property).

Getting our “new from craigslist” washer and dryer into the basement wasn’t hard.  Set-up was as easy as connecting the hoses and plugging them in.  Manuals are online at the manufacturer’s website, if needed.

Bottom line: lots of money saved, well worth the few hours of work.