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Garage Refrigerator / Freezers, Winter, and Your Food

Dear Home-Ec 101,
I have a refrigerator in my garage and for the last few weeks I have noticed the freezer isn’t as cold as it should be.
Should I be worried?
More importantly, is the food safe? The vegetables seem a little soft.
It’s Frickin’ Freezin’ , Mr. Bigglesworth

Heather says

Garage refrigerators can be very useful for food storage, if you have a bunch of kids, they are also useful to keep the kids from running in and out every time they want a drink.

Unfortunately when the temperature drops below 40°F or 4°C the freezer may not maintain the proper temperature.


Refrigerators are designed for typical household use. The “average” house is expected to be in the general vicinity of 70°F or 21°C or “room temperature.”

Unless you have a high-end refrigerator freezer combo, which is unlikely in a garage refrigerator scenario, the freezer does not have its own thermostat.

The thermostat in the refrigerator portion of the appliance controls the temperature of the entire unit with the logic being, if the refrigerator portion is 40°F the freezer will be at 30°F or below.

In the winter your garage may be much closer to 40°F. Over time the thermostat in the refrigerator tells the motor, hey, we don’t have to run so often. All is well in the refrigerator portion of the appliance, but that freezer is going to slowly approach the temperature of the garage. There is no thermostat back up in the freezer to say, “Hey, we have a problem here, we should be running more often!”

If the garage temperature is only close to 40°F to 30°F for a day or two, it’s really not going to matter. Refrigerators are very well insulated to keep the cold air inside.

The food in your freezer has been beginning to thaw. If it has been over a short period, this won’t matter food safety-wise. If the freezer has time to thaw completely, you’ll need to follow the guidelines in The Freezer Was Left Open, Now What. (Observing whether or not there are ice crystals etc)

Food that is safe is not always good.

Repeated thaws and freezes will destroy the cells walls of the food destroying the integrity and texture of the food. While it may be perfectly okay to eat, I would understand calling it a loss and starting over with the most compromised ingredients, unless you have recipes where the ingredients are cooked to the point that texture is not an issue.

Sometimes life is a series of annoying lessons; I hope that this one wasn’t too expensive.

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A Home-Ec 101 Guide: How To Clean Home Appliances

how to clean appliances

They are our modern day servants and we are at a loss when our home appliances stop working. By taking care of them and keeping them clean you can extend the life of your appliances so they can help you through your daily life.

To read more about the article just click on the title.

How to Clean a Drip Coffee Maker

Multiple ways to keep your coffee maker clean and running smoothly.

How to Clean a Smooth Top Range / Stove

I immediately removed the pot from the burner but there were scorch marks on the pot, and ‘melted stuff’ on the burner.  I was able to scrub the pot bottom clean, but am not sure what to do about the burner, and it’s my ‘favorite’.

How to Remove Melted Plastic from a Smooth Top Range

My husband nearly burnt our house down recently because he turned the stove on and forgot to take our plastic strainer out of it. The plastic is everywhere, now hard and stuck.

How to Clean Out the Refrigerator

I’m gearing myself up to finally tackling the scary fridge. It hasn’t been cleaned since the dawn of refrigeration, so there’s a ton of ultra-scary-ew-nasty-what-is-that-gunk in the fridge. But, I don’t want to use any harsh chemicals, as I’m concerned about the smell/taste of it transferring over to the food once I’m done.

How to Clean a Stinky Garbage Disposal

If you Google the problem you’ll find 101 different remedies for your stinky situation. The problem is then deciding which ones are effective and which are a waste of time or potentially dangerous to your appliance.

How to Clean a Toaster

I clean out the crumb tray, wipe everything down, and shake it like a martini over the trash can, but when I set it back down, its still got crumbs falling out. Repeat process many times, plus when I look down in the toaster it looks like a pepper shaker exploded on the inside.

How to Clean an Electric Kettle

Since it can’t go in the dishwasher or even really be hand washed other than just rinsing it out, I am always careful to empty any leftover water out before I store it. My parents came to visit in July and apparently when the kettle was put away there was some water left in it which I just discovered last night…. I used it to boil water for instant gravy last night and the gravy tasted funny, not sure if it was the water or the gravy mix.

How to Clean and Shine Stainless Steel

You aren’t the first homeowner to fall for the gleaming lure of stainless. It’s so pretty there in the show room. What you don’t see are the legions of employees wiping down the appliances night and day.

How to Clean Ceiling Fans

How do you clean ceiling fans? I’m especially wanting to know how you manage to clean them without dust bunnies falling down onto the furniture.

How to Clean Greasy Oven Glass

We like to roast meats in the oven after searing them on the stove, using a frying pan. Consequently, we have serious grease stains on the inside of the over door and the glass. The stains are very difficult to remove.

How to Clean Sugary Spillovers in the Oven

When I looked in the oven, I noticed that some of the syrupy filling had spilled over onto the bottom of the oven, but the pie was done, so I took it out and didn’t think to even wipe up the sticky mess.  It has since encrusted itself to the bottom of my oven and whenever I try to preheat the oven, it fills our home with smoke.

How to Clean a Humidifier

Humidifiers can quickly become bacteria factories if they are not cleaned thoroughly. The problem is, minerals can quickly build up on your humidifier which becomes breeding grounds for bacteria. Ewww!

Regular Dishwasher Maintenance Improves Performance

My dishwasher just isn’t doing as great a job anymore. I haven’t changed anything: same soap, I scrape the plates, I still use a rinsing agent. What could be going on?

Need help cleaning a home appliance that isn’t covered here? Send your questions to

guide to chemical cleaners

Click this picture to learn more about cleaners!

house cleaning help

Click the picture for more cleaning help!

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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.

[pullthis display=”outside” id=”disclaimer”]Please do not expect Home-Ec 101 to help you study for your physical chemistry final, I am only trying to get across basic concepts. [/pullthis] [pullshow id=”disclaimer”] 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 WaterWarm WaterHot Water
65°F – 75°F80°F – 105°F120°F – 140°F
18°C – 24°C27°C – 40°C49°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. . .