Mattress Cleaning and Other Indoor Sports

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
What is the best way to clean a mattress? Dec 2008 I splurged and upgraded from a queen bed to a fabulously huge king size bedset. I’m wondering what is the best way to clean the mattress? I have a small “spot” cleaner by Hoover (I think) – and I use that to get stains/spills – thank goodness there have only been a few. But I’ve been thinking how does everyone clean their mattresses? I’ve heard of putting it outside and letting it “air out” but that’s not feasible where I live. Recently in a yoga catalog I saw a sanitizing wand sort of thing (uses UV I think) and have thought about getting that. Just curious as to what other people do.
How to clean your mattress
Heather says:

We humans are fairly nasty creatures and we spend a lot of time in bed. We shed skin cells, which the dust mites adore and then there’s hair oil, sweat, drool, and potentially other bodily fluids. Even if you don’t have allergies, it’s something to think about. Mattresses can get pretty funky without attention.

Let’s give a thought to prevention. Let your bed air out daily and no, I don’t mean drag the whole thing outside. Just fold the sheets back toward the foot of your bed. Take a shower, eat breakfast, then make your bed. Dust mites love moisture and if you create a favorable environment, they’ll hang out eating, breeding, excreting. . .

Change your sheets frequently, they are your mattress’s first line of protection.

Invest in a good mattress pad. These are absorbent and made to soak up sweat and other people funk.  Wash the mattress pad every other week or once a month. In the Solos house, it’s every other week in the summer and monthly in the winter, unless someone has been ill.

If you have allergies, consider encasing your mattress in an allergen barrier, these can make a huge difference if your mattress is several years old.

Speaking of allergies, your bed is a haven for dust mites.

Vacuuming is the only recommended cleaning technique by Sealy. Simmons, Serta, and Sealy all recommend using a mattress pad since stains are not covered by their warranties. If your mattress is dirtier than a vacuum can clean and still under warranty, contact the manufacturer for advice.

Never use dry cleaning chemicals on a mattress, not only can they damage the fibers, most are toxic.

Never soak a mattress, they take a long time to fully dry and this could encourage the growth of mildew.

bedroom and closet cleaning

Click the picture for more tips!

As a last resort, for a mattress that is no longer under warranty, consider steam cleaning, but approach the job with care, try not to get the mattress too wet, and remove as much moisture as possible with the unit. Allow the mattress to dry fully before replacing the mattress pad.

Some carpet cleaning companies offer mattress cleaning services.

Good luck and take care of your investment.

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Can You Make Your Own Powdered Sugar?

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Heather says:

Yesterday a reader commented on Beet Sugar vs Cane Sugar:

Where do you purchase organic beet sugar? Have you found it in powdered form? I have only found it on an Austrian site so far and would prefer to buy US grown if it exists.

As I am not, nor was I ever, a pastry chef, I began to research.

It turns out the only difference between granulated sugar and powdered sugar is the size and shape of the grains. Commercial powdered sugar often contains corn starch, to prevent clumping.

Twitter user @MadatMama was quick to point out that you can make your powdered sugar by running it through the food processor. This morning I’ve done a little more research and it appears as though people have the best luck making small batches of powdered sugar in their blenders.

There is a caveat: I have the feeling that unless you are especially careful to blend each batch very thoroughly, there may be an inconsistency of texture¹. Any frosting made from homemade powdered sugar may have a slightly grainy texture. However I believe that slightly grainy frosting is superior to no frosting.

¹Well that is unless you have a Blendtec. You have seen the Will it blend videos, right?  Enjoy.


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How to Get Rid of Ants in Compost

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Dear Home Ec 101,

Every time I have tried composting, it gets full of ants and I freak out and spray the compost pile. That’s probably not so good, eh? Is it okay for a compost pile or bin to be full of ants?


Scared There’ll be Ants in My Pants¹

Heather says:

I hadn’t experienced this phenomenon so it was off to the garden forums and county extension office for advice. The answer depends partly on where you live.

In some parts of the country where ants avoid moist areas, that may be prone to flooding, getting rid of ants in a compost pile may be as simple as turning it occasionally and keeping it damp. In other, drier place, they are attracted to moisture. If you live in an area with fire ants, please use a long handled rake and wear closed toe shoes before even approaching the pile.  Having your feet full of ant stings can make for a miserable few days. A hazmat suit and galoshes would probably be better, but most of us don’t have that laying around.

If fire ants are a problem, look for ant baits that contain spinosad, this is available in several organic ant baits. This organic method of fire ant control, works best when it’s an attractive alternative to your compost pile. What would make it attractive? Proximity to the nest in most cases. Follow the ant trail, if you can. Distribute the bait on a dry day when it isn’t likely to rain for at least twelve hours, if you’re in Florida that may be an issue, I get it.

I’ve never had a problem with ants in my compost pile, while they are all over my yard. The reason? My passive compost pile has an obscene amount of coffee grounds, which ants don’t seem to like. If you are not a coffee drinker, try asking your local Starbucks for grounds. If you have a local shop, talk to the owner, they may also be willing to get rid of their used grounds.

If you have invested in a compost tumbler, you can try setting the legs in buckets of water. Ants typically won’t swim for their snacks.

If it’s just a few ants, the answer may be as simple as burying any kitchen scraps in a few inches of other material making it less accessible to the six-legged scavengers.

Good luck!

¹Ants in my pants, ants in my pants, lookin’ like a fool with ants in my pants. I don’t even watch American Idol and the Pants on the Ground song has been stuck in my head forever.

Freezing, A How To, Part Two

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Heather says:

Yesterday’s post on How to Freeze Food inspired a few more questions. Rather than extend an already long article, this is the second installment on freezer tips.

Can you do a post on freezing leftovers? I’m a single gal, and while I do cut down most recipes, sometimes I have a couple stuffed chicken breasts or some steak left over. Do you just put it in the freezer in a tupperware container? Is there a better way – even if it’s gooey (like my stuffed chicken breast)? Any help would be super-appreciated!

I highly recommend freezing for singles and couples as in the long run it requires a little bit of planning to ensure food doesn’t go to waste, but it can be a more efficient use of time and labor. Say you make a pot of chili. Use the freezing soup method I outlined in yesterday’s post on freezing. But, when you do it freeze it do so in both meal size and topping size portions. Why? Chili isn’t just great as a meal, it’s awesome on: baked potatoes, omelets, cheeseburgers, or even hashbrowns. You’ve just expanded your future menu possibilities.

Instead of labeling leftovers with the date it is added to the freezer, consider labeling it with a USE BY DATE.

Many leftovers can be frozen, some will not retain the quality they had, others are hardly affected at all.

As with all foods, freeze as quickly as possible and try to ensure it has as little contact with air as possible. Use freezer-safe containers, foil, freezer paper, or freezer zipper bags.

The biggest factor in texture deterioration has to do with water and fat content. If the ice crystals in some sauces, cheeses, and even starches, like mashed potatoes, form too slowly the crystals become too large and break the existing food structure. This is why mashed potatoes can become watery, cheese texture changes, and cream sauces often break. Sometimes this doesn’t matter and sometimes it can be quite disappointing. So, before tripling your favorite recipe, experiment freezing a small portion. Do you like the results? Great, go ahead and freeze it more in the future.

Is the 3 months or so a rule that works for everything? Or are there guidelines depending on the item? ie. can fish be stored as long as a soup or casserole? Also, can you use inexpensive plastic containers to freeze in or even small CorningWare dishes?

Three months or ninety days is a pretty standard rule of thumb for “short term freezing,” but as commenter Tinkerschnitzel pointed out the USDA has a handy chart for quality of frozen foods. Other factors include how often your freezer is opened. If the door is opened frequently it may rise about the freezing point causing the outermost parts of food to thaw and refreeze which can significantly and adversely affect the texture of your foods.

For longterm freezing in a deepfreeze the guidelines are not safety but quality. If the temperature stays at 0°F microbes cannot grow. The worst that will happen is the food will dry out and become susceptible to freezer burn which isn’t a safety issue, merely a quality issue.

Only freeze in containers labelled freezer-safe. If the containers aren’t labelled they may become brittle and shatter.

Freezer safe plastic containers are fine for freezer storage, if they are filled properly. If there is a lot of air, the quality won’t be the same and if they are filled too full, they may crack or the lid may pop off. Ever cleaned plastic shards and food out of your freezer? It’s not quite as fun as an exploded soda can, but close.

CorningWare™ advertises or it use to, that it could go straight from the freezer to the oven. So, the answer is yes. Just make sure that the food is tightly covered. If you only have one or two CorningWare dishes, line it with foil before cooking, freeze, then pop the food out, wrap, and store. Then you have a dish sized meal ready to go.

Usually when I buy meat, I freeze it in indiviudal portions so I don’t end up defrosting 4 lbs of ground meat to make 2 burgers. But sometimes, especially with steaks since they usually come 1 or 2 to a package, I just freeze in the container, but I still put it in a freezer bag first. Is that ok, or should I take the meat out of the packaging, wrap in saran wrap, and then freeze in the bags?

As long as you remove as much as as possible from the zippered freezer bag, your method is fine. The styrofoam tray won’t hurt anything, the issue is the thin plastic overwrap. It is very susceptible to punctures and tears and may allow air to come in contact with the meat. Again, it’s not a safety, but a quality issue.

Good luck!

Bare Minimum Pantry Supplies for Black-Outs

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The topic of emergency preparedness can be quite overwhelming, over the next few weeks I’ll be covering different aspects of how individuals and families can be more prepared for some emergencies. Emergency preparedness is a practical, low cost insurance policy. Just like car, home, or renters insurance, we may never need it, but that doesn’t lessen its importance.

From the comments on Stocking the Emergency Pantry:

Any suggestions on what to keep in a pantry – especially for a vegetarian? I grew up in earthquake ville and we just keep canned food and water for three days. I have no idea what a real pantry should have!

Yes, that would be helpful, all you ever hear is canned food. What kinds of canned food? If I’m desperate enough I’ll eat anything, but from a planning standpoint something other than canned fruit and tuna would be good.

Heather says:

Since many homes have electric ranges (stoves) and many apartment dwellers are not allowed to store a grill on their patios or balconies,  today’s list is comprised of options that don’t require any heating at all. It is not the optimal scenario. Apartment dwellers should at least own a small grill or camp stove for emergency situations. The list below is intended for the pantry only. Homes should also have a black-out kit consisting of flashlights, batteries, crank radio, etc. The next installment will cover ideas for shelf-stable foods that must be heated.

Important: If you only rarely consume canned food, the high sodium of many processed foods can be a shock to your system. Do not add sports drink to this mix. Save those for times when nothing is staying in or held down. Plain water is best for anyone who is not ill or performing strenuous labor. Assume a minimum of one gallon of water per person for a minimum of three days. Don’t forget to rotate stored water every six months.

The menu for the first day of a power outage for any cause (hurricane, ice storm, forgot to pay the bill, or those pesky zombies) is simple. It’s clean out the fridge day. Those who lose power due to inclement cold weather are often able to use their back porch / balcony / or other unheated area as a makeshift fridge. Those of who will likely have triple digits following a bad storm don’t have this option. Assuming there is no way to heat food, only eat what is safe to consume cold. A case of food poisoning without power or transportation isn’t always just a minor inconvenience. Keep Gatorade, Pedialyte or other sports style drinks on hand (even in powdered form) to help prevent dehydration in individuals who are unwell.

Day two of a power outage is when things start to get a little more interesting. Unless is the weather is cold, the items in a standard fridge will no longer be held at a safe temperature. Whole fruits and vegetables will still be fine, but need to be eaten before they go bad. The freezer section of most side by sides and top mounted freezers will be thawing at this point. You may consume fruits, vegetables, and by all means enjoy the ice cream. If you don’t have a way to cook it to a safe temperature, the meat is most likely a loss.

If you have a fully stocked, chest or upright freezer, it may stay fully frozen for 48 – 72 hours, if no one opens the door.  Unless the power has been restored, do not opening “just to check.” After this time has elapsed, and there’s no assurance of power being restored, by all means dig in and salvage what you can.

Day three and beyond is when you move on to the goods in the emergency pantry (unless there was nothing to salvage from the refrigerator or freezer).

Below is a basic list of shelf stable items that can be eaten without heating. They may not taste great at room temperature, but hunger is often the best seasoning. Vegetarian options are green:

  • Cold Cereals – Try to have something other than Sugar Coated Frosted Chocolate Bombs
  • Crackers – Whole grain are a better choice
  • Peanut Butter
  • Tortillas
  • Dried Fruit
  • Nuts – walnuts, almonds, pecans, peanuts, sunflower seeds
  • Canned beans – kidney, great northern, chick peas, black-eyed peas, black beans, refried beans*, etc
  • Canned vegetables – carrots, collards, corn, green beans, tomatoes, peas, potatoes, spinach, etc
  • Canned fruits
  • Shelf stable milk** or powdered milk
  • Sports drinks or powders
  • Canned Soups – chili, stew, and vegetable / chicken / beef broth based are better options than cream of X at room temperature
  • Cans or Pouches: Tuna, Salmon, Sardines, or Chicken, Vienna Sausages
  • Dried Beef
  • Jerky

Be sure to have a manual can opener on hand.

If you have the ingredients, many of the beans and vegetables can be dramatically improved by adding homemade Italian dressing or oil, vinegar and other seasonings. Just be sure to mix it up in small batches that can be consumed immediately.

To keep the food from expiring, the emergency pantry should be comprised only foods that you are willing to consume and replace on occasion. This does not mean you should switch from your fresh, local diet, but every so often include an item from the stash and replace it with a fresh can promptly.

*Not all refried beans are vegetarian, read the label.

**It’s better to have shelf stable milk in single servings, it must be refrigerated once opened.