Taken for Granted

Dear Home-Ec 101,

I just found your site and love it! So I thought I would ask about something I need advice on. I have 12 year old twins,  a 14 year old son, and a 16 year old daughter. My house is in a constant mess and I’m the only one who cleans at all, how would you handle this? I have laundry piled up, they act like the washer and dryer aren’t there. Nobody knows what the dishwasher is for and there’s always nasty dishes in the sink, I went on strike but all that happened were bigger piles of laundry, dirtier bathrooms, and a disgusting kitchen and then I gave in and cleaned that up. My husband works and I stay home with the kids but I want a life, too. I’m not the maid, my husband is the worst of them all and he comes from a more “traditional” family and thinks that I should be the one to do it all!

Unappreciated in Union City

Heather says:

Oh boy, situations like this are difficult because it’s actually a multi-faceted problem. It’s not just about the workload, it’s about feelings of resentment and a lack of respect, there’s frustration, and that feeling of not being appreciated. It’s not a fun place to be and in all honesty you’ve got a bit of a struggle ahead of you. You’re in charge of turning four children into responsible adults and that’s not an easy task. Heck just take a look around at what’s going on in society and there are plenty of examples where we (this is the general, America as a whole) have not done this.

The issues between you and your husband need a third party that he respects, whether that’s a counselor or perhaps a priest or a pastor, if you attend church. Your job as a parent is extra hard if he’s undermining your efforts.

I have friends who will tell stories of their mothers throwing their clothes out on the lawn after they weren’t taken care of appropriately. While I laugh at the image and I totally get the temptation, I’m not sure I have that in me and I’m not saying it’s something you should do. I’m only saying you aren’t alone in that feeling of complete frustration.

It’s time to get all of the kids in the same room at the same time with no distractions. But before you do this, be prepared. Know what you expect from each child so it can be spelled out plainly have a list something like:

  • bedrooms clean
  • dishes done
  • trash taken out
  • laundry
  • etc

Each kid has something he or she values over which you still have some control: whether it’s their cell-phone, access to the Internet, driving privileges, access to friends etc. Remind them of this. Heck, some counselors suggest writing up a contract of responsibilities and privileges.

If you click the yellow sticky note in the upper-right of Home-Ec101.com, you’ll land on a page with a printable weekly chore chart. By all means feel free to rearrange the days to fit your schedule and needs, just know that these chores, if done on a weekly / daily basis as outlined will keep your house reasonably clean.

Assign the chores to the children and give each child a thorough, hands-on demonstration of how the chore is performed so expectations are clear. Keep repeating said hands-on demonstration / chore inspection until the child -and I don’t care if they are teens, they are still children- can do the chore to meet your expectations. Yes, I know this is so much easier for me to say than for you to do. It is likely that it will take a lot of effort and close monitoring on your part until the new normal is well-established. As of right now, they know that if they stall and ignore you long enough you’ll do it for them. That part has to change and it’s going to take time.

Hang in there and seek help from a qualified professional if you aren’t making headway. Because you are right, it’s not just your job. Everyone who lives in a household should be making some contribution toward maintaining reasonable living conditions.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.


Is Vinegar an Acceptably Safe Alternative for Chlorine Bleach when Disinfecting

Dear Home Ec 101,

Can one substitute vinegar -lots of it- for the bleach when cleaning and disinfecting?
I can’t be around bleach, it triggers SEVERE migraines.

Pickled in Pickens

home ec logoHeather says:

There are certain times where I am reluctant to give a hard answer. In our litigious climate, I’m sure you can understand my concern. The CDC says the use of vinegar is inconclusive and needs to be studied further and I only found this after using a multitude of search terms to try and weed out the 934462 sites on the web that basically say, “Vinegar is the Greatest Cleaning Agent Ever!!! I don’t have any evidence, so you’ll just have to trust me because I say so”.

Bleach v Vinegar

Do you know how vinegar is made?

Vinegar is the byproduct of ethanol fermentation. Basically, a specific kind of bacteria -genus Acetobacter metabolize (think of it as their equivalent of eating) alcohol and produce acetic acid as their waste. You’re just craving some french fries with malt vinegar, now aren’t you?

Distilled vinegar is the only type of vinegar that should be used for disinfecting. Why? You need to know the acidity of your cleaning agent. Aside from that, you certainly aren’t going to save money by cleaning your toilet with aged balsamic vinegar, even if it does smell nicer.

So here is my advice, given with the understanding that if you have any type of condition that may compromise your immune system, you follow your health care provider’s advice and not mine. Got it?

In most cases, distilled vinegar is acceptable as a disinfectant for hard surfaces in a home.

It is not safe to use as a disinfectant for any medical equipment. If you are looking for information on cleaning home healthcare items, you must follow your physician’s advice.

There’s a whole genus of bacteria Pseudomonas out there that really don’t give a hoot about vinegar. Is Pseudomonas an issue? Well, for some people, it certainly is. If you have anyone in your home with Cystic Fibrosis, it can cause pneumonia, in patients on chemotherapy it can cause skin infections, etc. Ever heard of hot tub rash? Pseudomonas is the likely culprit. So there are cases where vinegar really isn’t the smart choice. In hospitals, Pseudomonas can be particularly devastating, it’s the cause of Necrotising Entercolitis in NICU patients and devastating skin infections in burn patients.

Dilute solutions of chlorine bleach applied properly is the only agent I feel comfortable recommending when disinfection truly matters. If you use chlorine bleach properly, there should not be a significant source of fumes.

Your home is not a hospital.

As humans we actually need some exposure to pathogens (disease causing agents). Encounters with small amounts of some bacteria may actually be good for our body’s ability to recognize and fend off disease. Think of it this way, influenza is especially problematic because of the way it changes. It’s still the flu, but each season new strains of it show up. Because they are just different enough that our immune systems may not have defenses, they cause people to get sick. If the virus did not change, most healthy individuals would pick up a natural immunity to the virus through exposure and it wouldn’t tear through populations each year. It would be more like the chicken pox or other one-time diseases that can be miserable -or worse in cases like polio, but it wouldn’t really have the potential for a pandemic.

Those of us who have healthy immune systems should be exposed to some bacteria. On a related note, there are some really interesting studies that suggest allergies are the result of our lack of exposure to parasites. -I know when I’m sneezing, itchy-eyed, and snot-nosed for days on end, that a low-grade case of hookworms sounds like a fabulous alternative. I am not an advocate of keeping a hyper-sterile home. Despite all this there are times where disinfection matters, in those cases vinegar is a good choice for most of us, but dilute chlorine bleach is the better alternative for those at risk.

Please use your best judgement when making these decisions.

Also? Wash your hands.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

ref: http://www.cdc.gov/hicpac/Disinfection_Sterilization/3_3inactivBioAgents.html

The Home-Ec 101 Guide to Household Chemicals

guide to chemical cleaners

Chemical based cleaners can be a big help with cleaning and disinfecting your house. If used improperly they can cause trouble. Here are tips about common household chemicals. Click on the title to read the entire article.

How to Use Chlorine Bleach Safely

Chlorine bleach aka sodium hypochlorite is a powerful disinfectant and is one of only a few widely available, inexpensive sanitizing agents.

How to Use Rubbing Alcohol Safely

Rubbing alcohol is frequently recommended by frugal and green bloggers for use as household cleaner.

Hydrogen Peroxide and Oxygen Bleach

As a regular consumer you most likely will find oxygen bleach in the following forms: ultra, concentrated, and as an added ingredient to things like laundry detergent, and liquid.

Is Synthetic or Distilled Vinegar the Same as Cider Vinegar for Cleaning?

Please remember that creating your own cleaning solutions is a great way to save money, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

Is Vinegar a Safe Alternative for Chlorine Bleach?

Vinegar is the byproduct of ethanol fermentation. Basically, a specific kind of bacteria -genus Acetobacter metabolize (think of it as their equivalent of eating) alcohol and produce acetic acid as their waste. You’re just craving some french fries with malt vinegar, now aren’t you?

Is Vinegar a Good Dishwasher Rinse Aid

White vinegar seems as though it would be more environmentally friendly and less expensive than the commercial dishwasher rinse aid products. Is this true?

Use Caution with Homemade Cleaning Solutions and NEVER Mix Bleach and Vinegar

While double checking my research I was stunned by how many frugal websites recommend a homemade cleaning agent with both bleach and vinegar in the recipe.

How to Use Bar Keepers Friend

Here’s a list of seven places to try out Bar Keepers Friend. One would think the fine folks behind Bar Keeper’s Friend would be banging down our door to sponsor us.

How to Dispose of Cooking Grease

In which Heather answers the question: “I am perplexed.  I have never had a good answer to the question: how should I dispose of cooking grease (that is, grease from hamburger, bacon, etc.)?”

What is Sodium Percarbonate

Sodium percarbonate is replacing sodium perborate in many laundry products due to its more environmentally friendly characteristics.

Where to Find Borax and Washing Soda

Borax can be difficult to find because it’s not as marketing heavy as your other cleaning products. Washing soda can be even harder to find.

Have a question about a household chemical? Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

Oxygen Bleach an Introduction

Heather says:

Welcome to the another installment of the series on Common Household Chemicals.

I think I was a kid when Billy Mays first showed up on my radar. He pitched Oxyclean late into the night and I’d sit there fascinated watching the red swirl away and magically disappear. Oxyclean is just a brand name for oxygen bleach or sodium percarbonate.

When Na2CO3·1.5H2O2 is added to water the H2O2 is released. H2O2 should look familiar to you if you didn’t sleep through your entire high school chem class. It’s the same stuff you buy in the little brown bottle and store in the medicine cabinet. H2O2 is hydrogen peroxide. It’s essentially a water molecule with an extra oxygen atom. This isn’t a very stable molecule, things like: light, heat, and agitation, can all break that weak bond leaving behind plain old water.

Home-Ec101's Guide to Oxygen BleachSodium percarbonate is made from natural soda ash or borax that has been treated with hydrogen peroxide. Since hydrogen peroxide is so unstable, this powdered form is much better for shipping and storage.

As a regular consumer you most likely will find oxygen bleach in the following forms: ultra, concentrated, and as an added ingredient to things like laundry detergent, and liquid.

When you purchase oxygen bleach, you are going to get the sodium percarbonate you’re after and other filler ingredients. Sometimes it’s a detergent or surfactant, other times it’s just filler. Experiment with different brands and find the one you find most effective with your water.

Always use in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions and do not use with silk or wool.

Typical applications for oxygen bleach:

  • mold and mildew stain remover
  • bleach & clean decks and siding
  • color safe stain remover
  • laundry disinfectant

When it comes to laundry oxygen bleach isn’t particularly good at brightening whites, but if used consistently it can help prevent the dulling that occurs over time.

In general oxygen bleach products break down into borax and water, which makes it an environmentally friendly choice.

Oxygen bleach is safe for septic systems, when used properly. Don’t go flushing pounds of sodium percarbonate down the toilet.

Since when we talk about sodium percarbonate we are essentially talking about hydrogen peroxide, it’s time to ask:

hydrogen peroxide

What makes hydrogen peroxide an effective cleaning agent?

The extra oxygen molecule in the hydrogen peroxide molecule is essentially a scavenger just looking for weak bonds to break. These weaker single bonds are often found in organic molecules.

When material is dyed the pigments are typically set, rendering the item colorfast. This simply means the colors don’t bleed. Hydrogen peroxide, in low concentrations, can be a color safe bleach and works by breaking some of the single bonds in the pigments of a stain. Once these weak bonds are broken, you don’t see the color. In higher concentrations, hydrogen peroxide will bleach more than stains. Follow the label directions for proper dilution.

As a disinfectant, hydrogen peroxide acts as an oxidizer. Those rogue -totally not a technical term, but you get what I’m saying- oxygen molecules can oxidize the molecules that make up the structure of bacterial cell walls. When this happens the cell walls break, killing the bacteria.

It is important to note that there is a big difference between the 3% hydrogen peroxide most people keep in their medicine cabinets and the 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide.  35% food grade peroxide is typically diluted to 6% strength to sanitize food preparation areas. You cannot get 6% hydrogen peroxide from 3% dilution, that busy little H2O2 molecule is just too unstable.

Yes, at the proper dilution hydrogen peroxide is a fantastic disinfectant. However it is not shelf stable, you’re paying for the shipment of water, and in higher concentrations hydrogen peroxide is a strong irritant. 3% is the only strength approved for contact with skin. Use gloves if you use a 6% solution to sanitize your kitchen and follow the instructions carefully. Just because H2O2 breaks down into water and oxygen doesn’t mean it can’t do damage on the way.

guide to chemical cleaners

Click this picture to learn more!

There are a lot of snake oil websites out there touting hydrogen peroxide as a magic cure all. Some even want to dupe people into believing that hydrogen peroxide is an effective cancer treatment. Please read what the Cancer Institute has to say about oxygen therapy. On a personal note, I think it’s cruel to try to sell a sham to people in pain, who are in need of hope.

Use your common sense. If you find yourself short on that, default to the instructions on the label.

Have more questions about hydrogen peroxide? Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

Cutting Board Care

Dear Home-Ec 101,

I’m interested in learning proper care of a wooden cutting board. I use one for veggies, and meats (I use bleach on it after it has been used for meats) and a separate board for fruits. The reason is that if I cut fruits on the cleaned veggie board, the flavors of onion, garlic, and other stinky stuff gets picked up by the fruit, and well, it tastes yucky. I’ve tried scrubbing with lots of hot soap & water & scrub brush, to no avail. How do I get it clean, and should I treat the wood with anything?

Vampire-Free Since ’08

Heather says:

I could have written this the other night.

At home I have multiple, large cutting boards, but I was at someone else’s house preparing dinner -mango salsa and grilled halibut with watermelon for dessert. I had been procrastinating cutting up the watermelon as they are a giant pain in the rear and I hate the chore. Without thinking I used the same cutting board that I had used for the mango salsa.


Fast forward to the next day when I received a phone call about the leftover watermelon smelling of garlic. /shrug It happens. It can be prevented, I was just lazy and or forgetful, you can choose which.

Garlic odor can be neutralized with white vinegar. Keep some vinegar in a spray bottle, rinse the cutting board, spray it with white vinegar, give the acid a moment to work and then wash the board as you normally would. Yes, you will have to smell white vinegar for a few minutes, but you won’t experience the joy of unintentional flavor transfer.

As a general rule, stick with the multiple cutting boards for marathon cooking and to avoid cross-contamination.

Wooden cutting boards do require special care, check out this post on cutting board basics for the full rundown.

For the TL:DR crowd -never soak, wash quickly with hot soap and water, rinse, sanitize with dilute bleach and dry fully. Treat once a month with food grade mineral oil and remove gouges with a scraper not sandpaper.

While we’re at it, you may want to sharpen your knife skills and learn about how to use bleach safely. Nothing ruins date night -or the entertainment budget- quite like a trip to the ER.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com