Soap News: Microbeads and the Environment

Print Friendly

Heather says

We spend a lot of time on here talking about cleaning things. Today those things will include you. A few years ago I mentioned the Voluntary Ban on Phosphorous in Automatic Dishwasher Detergent. While I don’t think this particular bill that will ban the use of microbeads in personal care products by 2018 will have quite the same effect, I thought I should mention it.

Apparently the beads in cleansing products with microbeads are made of plastic -I don’t know what I thought they were, I just assumed something that would break down with a pH change. It turns out those microbeads are getting into the water supply where they end up in the belly of fish and other aquatic life.

I don’t recall the last time I purchased anything with microbeads in it, but I thought the Home-Ec 101 Community should be aware of this.

So, if you love all the little fishies -stop buying and using shower wash with microbeads and if you hate the little fishies, be aware you won’t be able to wreak that particular environmental havoc in this way after 2018. (Since when did 2018 become something even on the radar? I ask as I am writing updates on a plane somewhere over Texas. Living in “the future” is pretty awesome sometimes)

H/T to The Consumerist

How to Choose Absorbent Towels

Print Friendly

Dear Home-Ec 101,

I have a question about towels. Is there any way to tell when you buy a bath towel (or any towel for that matter) if it will be absorbent? I’ve purchased many 100% cotton towels over the years. Some are absorbent others and others repel water as badly as those hideous 100% polyester napkins you get at certain restaurants. The worst bath towels I ever bought were two 100% cotton, organic, unbleached towels I purchased from an expensive well-known “natural” products website. Would love to know if there’s any special trick to always finding the perfect towel.


Damp on the Danford

Heather says:

You were totally on the right track choosing unbleached towels. I thought it was an old wives tale that white towels are more absorbent than colored, but there seems to be truth to that, at least according to The International Society Of Hospitality Purchasers (ISHP). When you think about it, those guys are going to be serious about the quality of their bath linens.

Check out this video; it is an excellent aid to visualizing the construction of a towel.

There are two main parts to your towel, the base weave and the pile.  The pile refers to the loops of the towel. The label on some towels may refer to 100% cotton pile or loops, if this is indicated, assume that the base weave contains polyester. In the video above loops are only created on one side of the fabric, in a towel the loops are on both sides.

The number of loops, the length of the loops, the thickness or coarseness of the yarn used,  and how tightly the loops are packed together all affect the absorbency of your towels. In the video, you’ll notice that not every pass through the warp yarns is turned into loops, in towels this gives the loops a bit of room to expand, but this is only helpful to a point.  The length of the individual loops increases the surface area of your towel, more surface area equals more absorbency. Another variable is the thickness of the yarn, thicker yarn means fewer loops per square inch and consequently less surface area for water absorption; many thin loops can out absorb fewer thick loops in the same square of fabric.

So when choosing a towel you want to look for a nice deep pile created with thin yarns. Make sense?

How do you know if your towel has a deep pile and thin yarn?

There is a standard of measurement for fabric called GSM or grams per square meter. The higher the number, the more material has gone into each square of fabric. Typically a GSM over 500 is a good indication of a quality towel.

Keep in mind that the heavier and more absorbent your towels are the more energy or time it’s going to take to dry when laundering.

What’s in a name?

Egyptian, Pima, Combed or Carded, what does it matter?

Egyptian cotton is grown -wait for it- in Egypt. Pima cotton is grown in the southern United States. Both strains of cotton are prized for their longer fibers.  The long thin fibers of Egyptian, Pima, and Turkish cottons can be made into thinner yarns than other types of cotton. Be aware that in the US labeling laws only require that 10% of the cotton be Egyptian to be labelled Egyptian Cotton. If you want to be sure you’re getting 100% Egyptian cotton, the label must say 100% Egyptian Cotton.

Combed cotton is more expensive, but has fewer short fibers than carded cotton, this has more of an effect on the durability and propensity for pilling than on the absorbency of your towels.

I’ve been told that towels made from Egyptian or Pima cotton tend to take longer to break in before they perform as desired, but I have no personal experience to evaluate that statement.

What about velour towels?

Velour towels are manufactured almost exactly like terry cloth towels, only they are sheared on one side. Velour is extremely soft, but it is significantly less absorbent than its terry cloth counterpart.

On a final note, never use fabric softener with your towels. The residue that gives the fabric a nice feel will also make your towels less absorbent.

Submit your questions to


iRobot Roomba 530 Review

Print Friendly

Heather says:

I shouldn’t have so much affection for a robot.

There, I said it.

I am far too fond of this vacuum, heck it even has a name. Internetz meet Gertie, my newest minion¹:

Roomba 530

Do you remember the story, There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury?

Nine-fifteen, sang the clock, time to clean.

Out of warrens in the wall, tiny robot mice darted. The rooms were a crawl with the small cleaning animals, all rubber and metal. They thudded against chairs, whirling their moustached runners, kneading the rug nap, sucking gently at hidden dust. Then, like mysterious invaders, they popped into their burrows. Their pink electric eyes faded. The house was clean.

Gertie IS my robot mouse. Now if we can just skip the nuclear apocalypse part, I am perfectly content to be living in the future.

Gertie is an iRobot 530 Roomba

The Good:

Would you believe I haven’t swept since February 22? Do you know how much time I have back in my life? I loathe sweeping, it’s one of my least favorite chores, because as soon as I’m done, it’s time to do it again, at least in our house where kids and the dog traipse in and out all day long².

I’m more inspired to make sure -read that as make the kids do this- that all the Legos and potential Roomba hazards are off the floor at any given time.  This in itself keeps the house looking cleaner.

It is the first appliance I’ve that has reduced the net amount of work in my life.  For the record, I’m counting appliances invented in my lifetime, washing machines and dishwashers have been around a lot longer than me.

Our other minions will someday be coordinated enough to take over some chores, but they have been mess makers from day one.

We have a large basset hound who plays an important role in our family. He is the shedder and he does it well, probably too well, but the iRobot is keeping up with him. We’ll know for sure in the late spring when he goes into his annual allergy-driven shed mode, but so far so good.

The Awesome:

I also have a new routine. Each night before I go to bed, I turn the barstools over on the counter -takes me back to my bartending days- and turn on the Roomba before I head to my room. Usually while I’m reading, I hear the congratulatory tones that mean “All done” and hear the Roomba send itself back to its charger. How awesome is that? A vacuum that tucks itself into bed? I admit it, I am totally anthropomorphizing a vacuum cleaner, but wouldn’t you?

Potential Cons:

Our home has solid flooring and an open floor plan on on the main level. I moved our Dyson upstairs to tackle the carpeting. In order to give a fair review, I  did give the Roomba a try on the carpet, but overall I still prefer our Dyson Animal for pure sucking power, even though it’s almost 7 years old. The thing about hard flooring is that suction doesn’t matter much at all, on carpet the Dyson rules. Now if they ever automate. . .

There are some people for whom I would not suggest a Roomba:

Clutterbugs – if you have a lot of junk on the floor, getting ready to set the Roomba is going to be just as big a pain as getting ready to use a regular vacuum.

The OCD – the Roomba does not make nice, straight traditional vacuum lines

People with lots of nooks and cubby holes to vacuum or several small rooms not on the same level – for example, a sunken living room, in a split level house would make the chore aggravating.

Finally, people with lots of carpeting and several pets. There comes a point where the small dirt collection bin on the Roomba would become annoying to empty. I don’t mind doing it each morning, but if I had to stop it mid job, to empty the vacuum it would grow tiresome.

I should note that if you have exceptionally deep recesses under your kitchen cabinetry, you may still have to get down there and whisk out the crumbs once in a while.


Would I charge a Roomba on a credit card? No. Absolutely not.

Would I qualify this as anything other than a luxury purchase? No.

Would I skip eating out and other treats for a while to save up? Yes. Absolutely.

Send your questions to

¹I received an iRobot 530 Roomba from iRobot gratis. I was not asked to do a review.
²Rarely noted drawback of homeschooling, the dirt trackers don’t disappear for 6 hours a day.

Revisiting the Voluntary Ban on Phosphorus in Dishwasher Detergent

Print Friendly

Dear Home-Ec 101:

A few months ago Heather wrote a post on the voluntary phosphorus ban in dishwashing detergent.  I don’t recall offhand if Texas is under that ban, but regardless I can’t buy phosphorus detergent anymore.  My cousin found a website that offers Cascade with phosphorus but hasn’t tried it out yet.  My only concern is that it says “for commercial use only”.  Is there any reason it couldn’t be used in home dishwasher?  I have an apartment sized dishwasher and I know commercial ones are much bigger but that is the only potential difference I see.


Filmy in Fort Worth

Heather says:

Frankly, Filmy your question stumped me. You see, there are different kinds of commercial dishwashers, some are very much like home dishwashers. I put in a call to the Cascade Consumer Helpline – 1-800-765-5516 where I spoke with a very patient lady. Don’t worry, I didn’t say, “Don’t you know who I am?”

The only advice we can safely give is for you to call the manufacturer of your dishwasher and make sure the use of a commercial dish detergent would not void a warranty.

You mention that the appliance is apartment size. Are you a renter? Is this your landlord’s dishwasher? These factors would also have an impact on whether or not I chose to experiment with the commercial formula. I simply wouldn’t want to risk losing my damage deposit.

As a company Cascade is having to deal with many disappointed and even irate customers due to the change in regulations regarding the use of phosphates. All you have to do is look at the reviews of the products and this problem isn’t limited to Cascade. Some of these complaints stem from people using the detergent improperly, which must be frustrating for both the consumer and producer. Make sure you follow the directions exactly and use a rinse aid to help get rid of any film.

Additionally, set your water heater to 120°F at a minimum. Without phosphates to improve solubility, hot water is that much more important. Keeping your hot water at 120F or lower is actually in a temperature range that can allow Legionella to grow. What’s Legionella? Have you heard of Legionnaire’s disease? That. 140°F  is the temperature recommended to keep bacteria in check. As a side note, if you have young children or elderly family members in the home, it’s important to not keep the hot water heater too hot, to reduce the risk of burns. There’s always a trade off, isn’t there?

Whichever temperature you decide, be sure to give your dishwasher a jump start by running the water in the nearest sink until it’s hot before pressing start. This helps ensure the dishwasher has the hottest water possible to clean your dishes. Don’t waste that water, just fill the sink to clean the rest of the kitchen or catch it in a bucket to water plants -just let it cool, first.

Be aware that without the phosphates that help rinse away deposits aluminum cookware is more likely to discolor. It may be worthwhile to handwash these pots and pans.

Finally, Cascade recommends the Action Pacs for areas with very hard water.

Send your questions to

The Thrifty Male

Print Friendly

Brian says:

It’s hard, I know. Send a woman to any corner of the planet with just $50 and a dream, and she’ll come back with what seems like sacks of clothes, shoes and trinkets.

Send one of us to do the same thing and we’ll probably come back with one “really nice” pair of $49.99 jeans. That’s just the way of the world, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way all the time. There are a plethora of sites out there designed for the “every man” that have a generous selection and are easy on the wallet.


Having set up a US site not too long ago, Topman is the perfect place for the semi-industrial man with a purpose. Think: “the cool-with-everybody hipster”. A great deal of their collections tend to go on sale two to three weeks quicker than the competition, so you have to jump on it early. It’s the ideal site to snag a $200 military jacket or a $100 cable knit sweater for a fraction of the price.


Boasting both a men’s and women’s section, Gilt is an online auction house on steroids. The rules are fairly simple: Everyday at 11:57 p.m., the site sends an e-mail notification to its members, giving the lowdown on the featured vendors for that day. At noon, the “auction house” opens and you’re given the opportunity to snag quality merchandise for much less than you’d find at the flagship store. You have until 12:10 to lock down your items or they’ll be released from your cart for the other vultures to scoop up.

On any given day, you’ll get offers from top-name brands like Jil Sander, Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, to off-the-wall shops like Tan Ren Knives, Universal Studios and various hotel chains from around the world. The only catch? You have to be invited by a current member to join.

Perhaps I know someone who could arrange that for you…

3. Army/Navy surplus stores

An often overlooked location, military surplus stores are great for low-priced, utilitarian items such as windbreakers, pea and trench coats, chests and tons of other post-issued fodder from the Department of Defense. You have to scour your city or town for them nowadays, but they’re still around. I’ve picked up heavy duty gloves, belts and even long underwear from surplus stores in the past.


A product of Japan, Uniqlo is, well, unique. They feature a lot of seasonal, hi-tech outerwear that’s also practical. Be prepared to stock up on lightweight cords, insulated parkas and comfortable sweaters for now, but their selection will change once this crazy weather does.

5. Family patriarchs, duh!

This should be a no-brainer, right? If it’s a situation where you and your old man remotely resembled each other in body type at some point, he’s bound to have a few things here and there that might fit you. There’s nothing better than getting a vintage watch or billfold, a jean or bomber jacket from the 60s, or even a full-fledged suit (extra points if it’s a three-piece). The best part is that’s it’s usually free and absolutely timeless. Anything like that is a great and economical addition to your wardrobe.

Brian Wilder is a writer for Home Ec 101. You can also find him at Things My Grandfather Taught Me. If you have a question you’d like Brian to answer send it to