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.

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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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Acrylic Flooring Part Deux, Why Do We Do This Again?

Dear Home Ec 101,

I like your suggestion of using an acrylic polish, but the PLEDGE web site I saw said:
“Pledge® FloorCare Multi Surface Finish should be removed from your floor every 6 to 8 applications, or annually, with a solution of 1 cup ammonia and 1/4 cup Pledge® FloorCare Multi Surface Concentrated Cleaner in 1/2 gallon cool water. Then rinse floor with clean water.”

I do not look forward to washing a whole floor with ammonia.

Any suggestions?
Don’t Wanna in Wando

PS All together, I love your site. It’s like talking with my sister and mother around the kitchen table.
Heather says:

Your mom and sister sound like my kind of people, provided they like to play Cards Against Humanity around that table.

No one looks forward to cleaning an entire floor with ammonia. If they do, they should probably get their head examined because you’re right, ammonia isn’t pleasant.

Heck, I don’t know anyone that looks forward to cleaning any floor at any time, much less the giant task of stripping and reapplying acrylic polish. That’s why you only use the acrylic polish when you can no longer bear the look of the floor any longer, thus increasing the length of time between applications.

Sweep or vacuum often, use door mats and kitchen mats, and spot mop most of the time and you can probably stretch out the time between the applications of acrylic polish and only strip the floor when you have to -after that 8th application has started to dull.

That is, unless you have a large dog. Why? Claws are the bane of your floor. Those claws will leave little nicks and dings that will wear off that polish faster than anything other than not sweeping regularly.

Remember the acrylic polish protects the flooring itself from damage, so pay attention to the high traffic areas to make sure you aren’t pushing too long between applications.

Remember regular cleaning and maintenance speaks to the investment and value of an item. Flooring is a giant pain in the butt to purchase and install, so it makes sense to take good care of it. If your flooring is actual linoleum and not just vinyl, it has an expected lifespan of 20 – 40 years -this is also why it is significantly more expensive than vinyl flooring. If the flooring is vinyl, it’s only expected to last half as long as linoleum AND the design is only on the surface. The design may wear off long before the flooring needs to be replaced.

So I agree, playing with ammonia isn’t fun, but you don’t really need to do it more than once a year, maybe even less often than that. And if you truly loathe the idea of it, consider hiring a maid type service for that one job. Get a referral. If I had to guess, it’d probably be about the same as a nice dinner out -this will of course depend on where you live and is under the assumption that Taco Bell is not considered a nice dinner out.

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To Rinse or Not, That is the Dishwasher Loading Question

Dear Home-Ec 101,

My Mom, love her, former home ec teacher, but not strong as a housekeeper…recently I was at her house and as always the sink was full of dirty dishes. Just dishes, no water. So, I wanted to fill it with hot soapy water and the dishes , to have them soak a bit. I was having trouble getting a novelty sink stopper she had, to work, and asked her about it, what she usually did with it. Her reply – ‘I never fill the sink with water.’ (!) That explained a lot, mostly why about 1/4 of dishes taken out of her dishwasher are still dirty. I think many people just rinse their dishes right after using them and then put them in the dishwasher, but that’s not the case here, as she and my sister leave dirty dishes sitting around the house and stuff dries on.

So…is it necessary to soak dishes in hot soapy water before loading into the washer, or is it a waste of time, energy, and soap?

Crusty in Crumpler

Heather says:

I’m going to be a little blunt here: Your mother (and sister) needs to rinse the dishes.  But to be honest, I’m not always the best dish-rinser, either. Sometimes I take the risk. Yeah, I live on the edge, but I know and deal with the consequences.

Does anyone else remember the commercial where an entire cake was placed in a dishwasher? I doubt even Cascade (the brand in the commercial) could handle just the frosting if it were allowed to dry for a couple of days. And probably not at all now that the formulation for dish detergent had to change.

I’m not going to get too precise in the chemistry here, I’m on my first cup of coffee and it isn’t even 6am, but the goo in food is harder to remove as it dries. The longer food has had to bond with a dish, the more difficult the removal process becomes. This is why we can get away with doing a less thorough job of rinsing and scraping if the dishwasher is going to be run immediately. It’s science, people, science.

If you live in a small household, of just a couple of people, where the dishwasher is not run at least once a day, you’re probably going to have to do a better job rinsing the dishes than in a large household whose dishwasher runs after every meal.

Bob over there with his sandwich plate, he can probably just shake off the crumbs. And Suzy over here with her Dishy-poo 5000 with the built in food disposal can probably get away without even scraping before loading the dinner dishes.

The answer to the question: Do I have to rinse the dishes before loading isn’t a simple yes or no, it’s an it depends.

1. Is your dishwasher a cheap, My First Apartment model?

Always rinse.

2. Will the dishes be sitting in the dishwasher for more than a couple of minutes before it is run?


3. Did you eat something gross?


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PS If your dishwasher’s performance has gone downhill, a little maintenance may get it back up to speed.

PPS I realize I didn’t answer the bit about soap… only use soap if the crud formation has already occurred. Let the soap in the dishwasher handle the last little bit of non-rinsed food.

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.