Can This Smelly Freezer Be Saved

Dear Home-Ec 101,
Due to a series of unfortunate events, my small chest freezer (that sits under the house) was left unplugged for 3 WEEKS! Of course the entire inventory was a total loss, but the real problem is the SMELL. It really smelled like something died down there, and it permeated the house for a couple of days.

I have cleaned, bleached, Lysol-ed and baking soda-ed, all to no avail. It sat open and unplugged for a couple of weeks to air out It’s not as bad as it once was, but now that I have plugged the freezer in and closed the lid, the once (finally) faint smell seems stronger. I’m afraid the odor will attach itself to any new food I put in. I am almost ready to throw in the sponge and just get a new freezer, but my inner tightwad is having a hard time with that!
Heather, can this freezer be saved?

Kind regards,
Fetid Freezer

Heather says:

I have good news, there is a very good chance your freezer can be saved. There is a product called activated charcoal, which is charcoal that has been treated with oxygen to make it very porous. This means that it has a ridiculous amount of smell grabbing surface area.

There is a term called adsorb, don’t mix it up with absorb. To absorb means to take in and adsorbing means clinging by chemical attraction. See? SCIENCE! (Do you have any idea how hard it is not to do a Jesse Pinkman reference right now?)
Oh what the heck, I can’t resist, but I’ll stick to the clean version.



Those funky odors are the result of organic chemical compounds, which thankfully activated charcoal is super good at attracting and trapping. It’s thankfully much better at grabbing bad odors than the plastic in your freezer.

You can find activated charcoal in the aquarium supply sections of some large box stores and it is also on Amazon under the name activated carbon. Some people complain about the cost of activated charcoal, but compared to the cost of a new freezer, it’s pretty reasonable. It’s really going to come down to how much time and disposable income do you have to invest. If you’ve got enough money to replace the freezer and your time is at a premium, that may the route to take as I also suggest completely dismantling the freezer to clean it.

Think of the freezer as a plastic box wrapped in a Styrofoam or other insulating material and wrapped in another box with a motor and freezer coils attached.

You’ll want to dismantle your chest freezer as much as possible, without disturbing the coils or messing with the motor. You’ll want to be really sure none of the liquid from the thawing meat filtered is still inside the freezer insulating materials of the unit. Look for screws, unscrew them, and gently pull the plastic liner out. In most cases, the insulating material is nonporous.

Once the freezer has been disassembled and any missed leakage cleaned up -use an enzymatic cleaner or dilute vinegar OR dilute bleach.  Let the material dry fully, reassemble, and plug it back in. Now place the activated charcoal in the interior of the freezer and turn it on to its lowest setting. You’re not going to want it to run a lot, but you do want the fan circulating the air.

Close the door, cross your fingers, and give it 24 – 48 hours and I bet you’ll be surprised by the difference.

I have heard some people have had success with regular charcoal  briquettes, but please just NOT the kind with lighter fluid as those have their own smell and you’ll just be trading one funky odor for another. You could also crush the briquettes to increase the adsorbing surface area, too.

For those of you out there who have noticed their ice cubes taste like onions or other strong cooking odors, you may find that keeping a mesh bag of activated charcoal in the freezer really improves the taste and smell of your ice.

Best of luck, what an aggravating experience that had to be.

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Why Should I Run the Hot Water Before Starting the Dishwasher

Dear Home Ec 101,

I have always followed my Mom’s advice about running hot water in the kitchen sink before (and while) turning my dishwasher on. She also says that if you run the cold water at any point while your dishwasher is running, the water in your dishwasher will be cold. My husband recently replaced our sink and garbage disposal and noticed that our dishwasher is only hooked up to hot water.

So, do I really need to abide by my Mom’s rules?

Wondering About Water Temps

Heather says

Your mom is partially right. Running the hot water before starting the dishwasher ensures the water that fills the machine is hot instead of lukewarm. You don’t jump in the shower the second you turn on the hot tap, right? It takes a moment for the water that has been cooling in the hot water pipe from the water heater to the tap to be flushed out. Typically your dishwasher is hooked into the hot water line

Remember cleaning is accomplished through several forms of energy:

Thermal – the higher the temperature, the more dirt can go into solution. It should be noted that the heating element / timer combo in your dishwasher was designed to boost hot water near 140°F. If you check your appliance manual or the website of your manufacturer, you’ll see most recommend water at least 120°F but not more than 150°F. (140°F is the recommended setting for most home water heaters.)

Physical – in your dishwasher this is the accomplished with spray

Chemical – this would be your detergent (Oh and as an unasked for aside and plug, I’ve been trying out the Smarty Dish by Method, which was phosphate free before there was the voluntary ban on phosphates and it’s friggin’ awesome. I bought it myself, Method didn’t supply it).

Running the cold water while the machine is running shouldn’t be an issue, but running the hot water before the basin of the dishwasher fills ensures your dishwasher starts with every advantage. Having to rewash dishes is far less efficient than running the hot water before starting your machine. You can always catch the water in a bucket and use it (when cool, naturally) for other tasks like plant watering, if water conservation is a big concern.

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The Hard Water Headache

Dear Home-Ec 101,

I was visiting my MIL recently and she told me that they have hard water, so she had to put a lot of extra soap in the washer because otherwise she didn’t get any bubbles and it wouldn’t clean the laundry. This confuses me because I always thought you weren’t supposed to have a lot of foam in the washer. I’ve read articles recently saying that most people use way too much laundry detergent. Also, the man who installed our new septic system told me that I should use liquid soaps because they didn’t foam and foam would not build up in the septic system (which is apparently a bad thing).

I suspect that my MIL simply doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but I would never say so to her. If I’m wrong, please correct me- or at least just clear this up so I can think about something else!

Biting My Tongue

Heather says:

You are both partly right.

Laundry detergent isn’t just one thing, it is a blend of ingredients in either a solution or powdered form. Some of it is soap, some detergent, some surfactants, water conditioners, and then we get to the perfumes and dyes.

Hard water is water that has calcium and magnesium in solution and these dissolved minerals cause a lot of headaches in laundry. If they are not suspended in water when the wash water or rinse water is drained, the magnesium and calcium can cling to clothing causing fabrics to feel stiff and dulling the color. Think of it a bit like looking through a slightly dirty window, usually you can’t focus on the dirt, but your view of the outside world isn’t as bright and clear due to the slight film obscuring the view.

It is often necessary to use more laundry detergent in hard water.

When laundry detergent is added to hard water, a number of the detergent molecules -which I’ve been describing ad nauseum of late- get used up binding the calcium and magnesium. This simply means that all conditions being equal, there will be fewer detergent molecules able to trap dirt in hard water than in soft water. Soap molecules that come in contact with minerals form our nemesis soap scum which is difficult to remove from wherever it decides to cling.

In chemistry we often talk about something called the saturation point. When something is saturated, it can’t hold any more. In your laundry, this is the point at which no more detergent can be in the wash water. Whatever cannot be in the water falls out as precipitate. (Remember it like this, when it rains, it’s precipitating, the cloud cannot hold any more moisture so it falls out of the sky.)

Water can only hold so much soap, even if that detergent is busy holding minerals like calcium and magnesium in solution -the clusters of soap around oil or dirt are called micelles. So there is a point at which too much of anything is going to precipitate out of solution. Where that precipitate (dirt, oil, gunk micelles) goes depends on its density, it may sink or float on top of the water in a scummy layer.

As consumers we tend to associate soap suds with laundry detergent doing its job.

Foaming and bubbles occur when when air your washer agitates, splashing the water around and trapping air. Bubbles and foam are actually two layers of soap sandwiching a tiny film of water. Air gets trapped in this film creating bubbles, as more air is introduced through splashing, you create the foam and suds we are all familiar with.

For the most part, suds aren’t coming in contact with the clothing and when the water drains, the suds leave a sticky film of soap behind. If there isn’t enough rinse water to bring everything into solution, those deposits will stay on the fabric which pretty much defeats the entire purpose of doing laundry.

People who live in areas with hard water do have a few tools at their disposal.

Heat improves solubility.


Approximate Temperatures of Wash Water
Cold Water Warm Water Hot Water
65°F – 75°F 80°F – 105°F 120°F – 140°F
18°C – 24°C 27°C – 40°C 49°C – 60°C

In general, higher temperatures allow more soap or detergent to be in the water at a given time.

Additionally, please note that most laundry detergents aren’t going to be very effective at temperatures below 60°F or 16°C. If this is the only option, try dissolving powdered detergent in a small amount of hot water before adding it to the washing machine. This will help prevent those white powdery streaks caused by undissolved detergents.

Water conditioning

Those looking to improve the effectiveness of their laundry detergent in hard water can give conditioning their water a try. Water conditioning is the process of getting the calcium and magnesium out of the water where it won’t use up the detergent. This is typically done by exchanging the calcium and magnesium ions with those in salt (sodium and chloride).  Now kep in mind that some laundry detergents already contain ingredients, known as zeolites that condition the water.

Point of Use Water Conditioning

If you are looking to soften your hard water only in the clothes washer, be absolutely sure to purchase a non-precipitating water softener. Non-precipitating water softeners work best when added to the water before the detergent, this prevents the detergent from beating the water softener to those pesky ions. Yes, this means you will have to be more attentive to your washing machine when doing laundry.

Precipitating water softeners will cause the minerals to fall out of solution where they will likely cling to clothing and the inside of your washing machine, completely defeating the purpose.

Whole House Water Softening

Water softeners are a fairly common solution that also works by switching out the calcium and magnesium with the ions in salt by passing the water through a chamber of resin beads. These beads have to be recharged with salt on a regular basis. There are some environmental concerns with choosing to use a water softening unit and you should do your research thoroughly before making the investment.

Do not waste your time with a magnetic water softener.

You are not going to get the results you desire slapping a couple of magnets around a pipe. It’s a scam.

So for the TL/DR crowd to answer your initial questions:

1. Yes, you need more laundry detergent in places with hard water.

2. Soap suds are not an indication of how well laundry detergent is working and they can leave dirt behind.

Regarding Septic Systems:

Everything you allow to go down the drain affects the chemistry and bacterial balance of your septic system. Your septic system is designed to handle some variations, but if you go too far, you’ll upset the natural balance and end up with big problems.

Use the least amount of low foaming soap possible. The low foaming is critical for septic systems with an aeration chamber. As stated above, suds form when air is introduced to that soap film. Suds will leave behind soap and eventually clog the system.

And those of you who have septic tanks should remember that it is better to spread laundry out over the course of a week than overloading your system and upsetting the chemical / biological balance with a marathon laundry day. If you’re that far behind and the mountain of laundry is threatening to avalanche, consider saving yourself expensive septic repairs with the relatively cheaper laundry mat option.

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Image is linked with an affiliate code to That image is used as an illustration of the system mentioned in the post, rather than a recommendation of a specific brand. . .

Bubbles on a Smooth Top Range

Dear Home Ec 101,

My husband finally broke down and bought us a new stove and fridge last week. They deliver the stove and I’m so freaked out because he got a ceramic stove top. I told him I only wanted the coil burner type because the ceramic tops are such hard work to keep clean and easy to damage.

Well, he didn’t hear me I suppose*sarcasm implied*. But who is going to complain about being given a new stove? So I read the instructions on how to handle spills and whatnot. Then, the first night I use it (tonight), the worst happens, NOT when I’m making chocolate syrup for my daughter, but when I’m frying sausage of all things. No high sugar content. And the grease was just sprinkling on the burner. I turned it off, panicked, and once its cooled enough I used some Cerama Bryte and cleaned the stove top. However, when I wiped it clean, it made no difference.

At this point, I think I’m officially going to pass out.

I get down nose to the burner and realize they are elevated AND depressed bubbles, NOT grease anymore.

I grab the use and care bible and frantically search for a fix to the bubbles I’ve created, but I see nothing. And then my husband sees it. Needless to say, he was really upset and doesn’t believe I followed the instructions to clean it. I keep reading the “razor trick” online, but that’s only for food residue. This appears to be an actual imperfection I’ve made on the surface…its a day old for crying out loud and I already want to send it back and drag my old rusty coil stove back inside. Thanks for any insight on this…I know I seem like an absolute idiot lol

First Time Burner, Last Time Fryer

Heather says:

First of all, you do not seem like an idiot. You’re dealing with a brand new appliance and of course, if you’re anything like me, there’s a whole -We just can’t have nice things, mental loop (Seriously, ask me about both the shelves and dresser I just got after moving into a new place. /facepalm I may have cried. May.)

If the bubbles are truly in the surface of the range, unless you were doing something insane with your sausage, the fact that you see bubbles and imperfections in the surface of your stove is NOT YOUR FAULT. If you were using an appropriate pan and didn’t set up a campfire on the surface of your stove, those bubbles shouldn’t be there.

This is why there are warranties; factory defects are a thing. Call the manufacturer. Warranties are there to protect you the consumer AND the good name of a company. Call.

Smooth top ranges are a total pain in the rear, but electric coil ranges have their own issues. I’m back on an electric coil after 9 years and I have mixed feelings. The drip pans and I are not friends and I thoughtlessly stored a large bag of sugar over the stove not realizing my eldest child would try to get it down and spill half of it and not tell me. Cleaning grains of sugar off of a coil range isn’t a treat, either. Someone remind me to get a cheap vacuum just for these kinds of things because I may have gotten a tad cranky.

I digress, back to my point, if the bubbles are truly in the surface of your smooth top range, call the manufacturer.

However, there is a chance those bubbles are polymerized grease. (Heat can transform some molecules found in oils into long chains or polymers. Plastic is a polymer and polymers are a total pain to remove from your stove). Keep in mind that GE only recommends Cerma Bryte and then, if you are feeling brave, grab a can of Bar Keepers Friend and use that to make a paste and rub it gently onto the surface of the stove. Give the oxalic acid some time to work and then yes, go ahead and break out that handy razor scraper we keep mentioning and give it a go.

Remember, only use a new razor blade, dull blades and nicks can cause you to damage the surface of your appliance.

You may have to repeat this process several times. It is a drag. I know. Really. I do.

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Oh, just as a heads up, Amazon Prime has a free 30 Day trial. Y’all know I’m a fan, stuff I need? Delivered for free and streaming movies and tv? I’m in.

How to Remove Melted Microfiber from a Smooth Top Stove

Dear Home Ec 101,

I burned a microfiber rag on my flat top range as I thought it was cool and was wiping it off. The regular ceramic stove top cleaners are not taking it off. How can I remove the melted microfiber from my stove?

Stuck in Sturbridge

Heather says:

Cleaning melted anything off of a smooth top range is kind of a pain in the rear. First, as you’ve noticed, microfiber cloth isn’t like your standard cotton, which would have simply scorched or burnt. Microfiber is a generic term for any fiber less than one denier per filament -the tiny strands that are twisted and woven together to eventually create a cloth -sometimes, like in the case of microfiber, that requires a whole heck of a lot of twisting and weaving.

A denier is really tiny, about ten micrometers. These really tiny filaments give microfiber cloths their excellent cleaning properties, but since they are generally made from polyesters, they have the unfortunate tendency to melt on hot surfaces. Razor Scraper

You take the good with the bad and then to clean up the bad, you find a razor scraper.

Don’t worry, these razor scrapers are super cheap and you can find them at any big box store -Walmart, Target or hardware store, like ACE or Lowes -these are simply examples, not a recommendation of where to spend your money.  If you do not currently live with your parents and do not already own a razor scraper, toss one in your Amazon shopping cart.


Because at some point, you’re going to need this stupidly, handy tool for something, whether it’s for removing melted microfiber, plastic bags, or sugar from your smooth top stove, getting burnt-on grime off of the interior of your oven, or even removing paint from glass, these suckers are handy and at just over two bucks a pop, there is no reason not to have one in your kitchen and one in the garage / workshop area. Also at that price point, it’s worth having in there, if you’re THIS close to free shipping, but not quite.

To use the razor scraper on your smooth top range, hold the scraper at about a 45° angle to the stove and push forward, not side- to-side, never side-to-side, that would be how you scratch your smooth top range.

Got it?

Always scrape back and forth, not sideways and do it at an angle. Picture the razor blade sliding between the plastic and the surface of your stove, prying off the stuck on bits. (Because that’s what it’s doing and why it’s best to use a very sharp blade. Please use common sense and caution when using this tool and hide it from the minions, if you have those lurking about.)


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