Is Vinegar an Acceptably Safe Alternative for Chlorine Bleach when Disinfecting

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Dear Home Ec 101,

Can one substitute vinegar -lots of it- for the bleach when cleaning and disinfecting?
I can’t be around bleach, it triggers SEVERE migraines.

Pickled in Pickens

home ec logoHeather says:

There are certain times where I am reluctant to give a hard answer. In our litigious climate, I’m sure you can understand my concern. The CDC says the use of vinegar is inconclusive and needs to be studied further and I only found this after using a multitude of search terms to try and weed out the 934462 sites on the web that basically say, “Vinegar is the Greatest Cleaning Agent Ever!!! I don’t have any evidence, so you’ll just have to trust me because I say so”.

Bleach v Vinegar

Do you know how vinegar is made?

Vinegar is the byproduct of ethanol fermentation. Basically, a specific kind of bacteria -genus Acetobacter metabolize (think of it as their equivalent of eating) alcohol and produce acetic acid as their waste. You’re just craving some french fries with malt vinegar, now aren’t you?

Distilled vinegar is the only type of vinegar that should be used for disinfecting. Why? You need to know the acidity of your cleaning agent. Aside from that, you certainly aren’t going to save money by cleaning your toilet with aged balsamic vinegar, even if it does smell nicer.

So here is my advice, given with the understanding that if you have any type of condition that may compromise your immune system, you follow your health care provider’s advice and not mine. Got it?

In most cases, distilled vinegar is acceptable as a disinfectant for hard surfaces in a home.

It is not safe to use as a disinfectant for any medical equipment. If you are looking for information on cleaning home healthcare items, you must follow your physician’s advice.

There’s a whole genus of bacteria Pseudomonas out there that really don’t give a hoot about vinegar. Is Pseudomonas an issue? Well, for some people, it certainly is. If you have anyone in your home with Cystic Fibrosis, it can cause pneumonia, in patients on chemotherapy it can cause skin infections, etc. Ever heard of hot tub rash? Pseudomonas is the likely culprit. So there are cases where vinegar really isn’t the smart choice. In hospitals, Pseudomonas can be particularly devastating, it’s the cause of Necrotising Entercolitis in NICU patients and devastating skin infections in burn patients.

Dilute solutions of chlorine bleach applied properly is the only agent I feel comfortable recommending when disinfection truly matters. If you use chlorine bleach properly, there should not be a significant source of fumes.

Your home is not a hospital.

As humans we actually need some exposure to pathogens (disease causing agents). Encounters with small amounts of some bacteria may actually be good for our body’s ability to recognize and fend off disease. Think of it this way, influenza is especially problematic because of the way it changes. It’s still the flu, but each season new strains of it show up. Because they are just different enough that our immune systems may not have defenses, they cause people to get sick. If the virus did not change, most healthy individuals would pick up a natural immunity to the virus through exposure and it wouldn’t tear through populations each year. It would be more like the chicken pox or other one-time diseases that can be miserable -or worse in cases like polio, but it wouldn’t really have the potential for a pandemic.

Those of us who have healthy immune systems should be exposed to some bacteria. On a related note, there are some really interesting studies that suggest allergies are the result of our lack of exposure to parasites. -I know when I’m sneezing, itchy-eyed, and snot-nosed for days on end, that a low-grade case of hookworms sounds like a fabulous alternative. I am not an advocate of keeping a hyper-sterile home. Despite all this there are times where disinfection matters, in those cases vinegar is a good choice for most of us, but dilute chlorine bleach is the better alternative for those at risk.

Please use your best judgement when making these decisions.

Also? Wash your hands.

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Water Storage Solution for Hurricane Preparedness

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Heather says:

This year, after doing my annual Hurricane Preparedness Reminder, I was contacted by David Dodgen of AquaStorage, creators of the Aquapod Kit. The Aquapod Kit is a  solution to the whole, “But I don’t have enough space to store a two week supply of water for my family of six.” (Quick math will tell you that’s 84 gallons of water)

Water storage has always been one of the more obnoxious pain points of hurricane preparedness in my household. Yes, I do have about 30 gallons of water, but it’s distributed throughout the house in a closet, in the garage, under the stairs. Remembering to rotate the jugs doesn’t always happen. (Oh yeah, we’re back to that whole fallible human thing, aren’t we?)

The Aquapodkit holds up to 65 gallons of potable water and doesn’t take up more than a square foot of storage space until you need it. Brilliant!

The Aquapodkit is an incredibly simple solution to an obnoxious problem. It’s a food grade, hygienic liner for your bathtub that comes with a pump. While the liners are not reusable, you can purchase refills rather than an entirely new kit. Frigging awesome, if you ask me.

Toss the kit into a closet until a hurricane looms and then follow the instructions.

The Aquapodkit now has the Seal of Approval.

However, there are a couple of drawbacks I must mention. The Aquapodkit is only useful for situations in which you have adequate warning. It’s not a great water storage solution for those who deal with emergencies where there may only be a few moments warning or no warning at all. And as I mentioned, the liners themselves are not reusable -the pump is. You should still keep some water on hand for emergencies other than hurricanes.

A few other quick notes about the product from the representative who took the initiative to contact me (Hey, I’m also an entrepreneur, I like people who take appropriate initiative.)

1. Our product is made here in the USA.
2. We support local organizations – our kits are put together at the Austin State School of the Aged and Disabled – we love them and have been working with them for years.
3. We are the only product that offers replacement liners / refills – a great value to the consumer.
4. My parents tested and used the product during Hurricane Katrina.

You can purchase the kits through the website directly or you can purchase the Aquapod Kit from Amazon.

I was sent an Aquapod Kit for review purposes. I opened up the box, took one look at it and said, “Brilliant.” I closed the box and put it with my emergency preparedness supplies. I may be a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one. All opinions are my own, including that one. 

Home-Ec 101 Reader’s 71 Quick Q-tip Tips

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Heather says:

Last week I posted a quick video suggesting that Q-tips could be used to clean a computer keyboard. I then asked for your Q-tip Tips. I thought it would be fun to share the tips that came from the Home-Ec 101 Audience -(Do you remember when we did this with uses for leftover coffee or used coffee grounds?)

Watch the cute video, check out the tips below, then head over to Facebook and enter the Q-tips Tipathon for a chance to be entered to win a $100 gift card or a grand prize worth $1,000. Who couldn’t use that just in time for Christmas?

Here are Home-Ec 101 Reader suggestions for using Q-tips around the house (some duplicates were omitted):

  1. CouponSnob -I use Q tips to clean the tiny, thin edge on my TV screen!
  2. Laura – Oddly enough, Q-tips are the only thing I have found that gets bread crumbs out of the corner of the toaster oven
  3. Lgunnoe965 – I use Q-tips to spot bleach (pre-washing) white shirts that have appliques or printing and shouldn’t be bleached entirely.
  4. Sweepmom – I like using Q-tips for my son to spread glue around when he is pasting things for school projects.
  5. Debb55106 –  Use them to clean my grooves in my Tupperware covers!
  6. Charlene K – I dip the ends of Q-Tips in olive oil and then run them along sticky zippers. The oil is an excellent lubricant that will make the zippers open and close easier.
  7. MarciaF – I use Q-Tips to clean the crevices of my cook top. It works wonderfully to get out the greasy dirt. I also use Q-Tips for cleaning the window frames of the dirt that accumulates around the handles and locks.
  8. Degood – I use Q-tips to apply lipstick after the tube gets too low to apply normally,
  9. Sweetheart4171 – I use Q-tips to clean those hard to clean corners when cleaning the windows!
  10. Patrice – I use Q-tips to clean the crevices of my hummingbird feeder
  11. Gkaufmanss – I use Q-tips for tons of things, including in crafts to apply glue to small corners or delicate projects, to clean tight spaces like the peephole in our front door or the space between tiles in the kitchen and bathroom, and even as a to-go cologne applier (by spraying one end to take with you in case you need a little more by the end of the work day). Thanks!
  12. Steve Berry – I use Q-tips to clean and remove heatsink compound on computer processors. the heatsink compound can be removed using a soft circular motion while soaked in a chemical that breaks down the thermal paste and heatsink compounds. once the paste turns milky, I simply use more Q-tips to soak up the mess and lightly polish the surface from impurities with rubbing alcohol in an open air enviroment to keep from becoming over fumed. It works like a charm, and if it wasn’t for Q-tips, I would have a lot of messy processors to remove and clean using other methods that simply don’t work as well.
  13. RyanMinton – you can use q tips to clean game cartridges..:)
  14. Sksweeps – I’ve learned that a fairly moist q-tip can be used to get things out of your eye, even when everything else has failed! Be gentle, but it works!
  15. Vmkids3 – I use Q-tips to touch up knicks on walls with paint. Don’t have to dirty a brush that way.
  16. Lisa Garner – I use Q Tips for cleaning up an little paint drips on the base board when painting!
  17. Jalapenomama – I use Q Tips for those hard to get at spots on my coffee basket.
  18. Kathy Eyre – I even use Q-Tips for the dog’s ears!
  19. Ecodannelle –  I use Q-Tips for everything an old toothbrush won’t work on. They work great for cleaning that impossible-to-get-to spot between the edge of a pot or pan and where the handle hooks on.
  20. Elizabeth – I use Q-tips to clean our mini blinds. I use a little pledge and just wipe clean.
  21. Tmoyer6980 – I use them with peroxide to clean kids cuts and scrapes.
  22. McKim – My husband uses them for cleaning his guns and scopes.
  23. Katsrus – I use Q-Tips for cleaning my earrings. With some rubbing alcohol. It helps to get the gunk off and makes them nice and clean beofre you put them in your ears.
  24. FictionOneForty – They are great for dusting my collectibles that have lots of delicate crevices!
  25. Dwndrgn – They are great for cleaning remote controls – all the food and grime that gets all over these! I use rubbing alcohol on the tip to avoid water and it works very nicely.
  26. AngelaCisco – I use q-tips to clean the corners of picture fames. The dust gets caught in the corners.
  27. Yadgirl – I use Q-Tips to clean my printer nozzles
  28. Donutsmamab – I use Q-tips for cleaning the little rim around my glasstop stove. It’s too small to wedge my finger into.
  29. Piscesvirgo –  I  clean the camera lens on my phone with q-tips
  30. KellyDelrossoSaver – I use Q-tips to clean small knick knacks, by first dipping them in warm soapy water.
  31. Zippy573 – We use Q-tips at work to clean out the small vents on the oxygen concentrators. it holds the cleaner and is small enough to get in crevices!
  32. Blake Powers – If you have ornate silver or brass items, a small bit of polish or jeweler’s rouge on the tip of a Q-tip makes a great way to get into those hard-to-reach areas. They can also be used for cleaning inside voids and such in decorative items that would otherwise be impossible to reach. They are very good for cleaning intricate mechanisms or items with very tight tolerances in the same way. Finally, if you need to lubricate mechanical items that have very tight tolerances but must not have any greasy/waxy build-up, a very small amount of Pro-Gold lubricant (or similar) can be applied with one end of the Q-tip, and then use the other to wipe so that only a film remains.
  33. MiscRamblings –  I use it when I paint things on my windows (tempra paint) and I get it on the window pane. Keeps me from trying to do it with a rag and ruining the design.
  34. CoupleDumb – I use q-tips to clean all of our gadgets.
  35. Reneefishman – I use Q-Tips to clean out the dirt that gets into the crevices of my iPhone: the doc connection port, speakers, mics & the volume toggle. Also I clean around the rim of the iPhone with QTips – where the glass meets the antenna band. They are great for other small electronics as well.
  36. Firemom – If you spill something really sticky in a hard to reach place, use some Q-tips and your favorite cleaning agent. I find this especially helpful when I spill drinks in the car. Cleans out the console quite well.
  37. Carye – [. . .]  My favorite though? Bird toys! My parrotlets and Quaker loves them!!! Cheap and safe!
  38. Anna Heath – I use them as a mini paintbrush to get in really small spaces.
  39. Stephanie Templeman – I use Q-tips for all sorts of things. I think my favorite is to use them when I clean the small crevices in my hand carved wood items. They work great with a little Old English or Pledge oil.
  40. Cjrthemamiblog – I use q-tips to clean our wooden rocking chair cus it has hard to reach spots!
  41. Doodle741 – I use them to remove the mascara I accidentally get on my skin … I use them to let the kids paint with (they don’t smoosh like paint brushes) … they are SOOOO easy to use!
  42. Simplystriving – I’ve noticed Q-tips are added to my shopping list more now that I’m a parent. We use them to paint. We use them to apply creams to our toddler. We use them to clean toys.
  43. Lori S – I use them to shapre the white polish while doing french manicures on myself.
  44. Taznjade – I use them to polish silver jewelry boxes that have intricate designs with crevices. Works great!
  45. Sadie – Q tips are great for cleaning up playdoh molds.
  46. Klsiegler – I use them while painting nails so I dont have polish on the edges of my fingers too
  47. MelissaSelznickResnick – I used them to clean my car vent
  48. WarpedWeaving – I use them to clean out my son’s belly button. He is not a fan :) I also use them at work (I’m a special ed teacher) as glue brushes.
  49. Misty – I use them to help remove make up AS WELL as to apply moisturizer around my eyes in a cleaner and more gentle way than my fingers can.
  50. Milehimama – I use q-tips to apply Neosporin, athletes foot cream, or other medical creams. It keeps the tube from getting contaminated.Also, you can make dots with them when dying Easter eggs!
  51. MeganRallNatherson – I use them to apply acne medicine to the inside of my teens ears, as well as taking off toe nail polish.
  52. Caanan.Tully – I use Q-tips to clean bathroom faucets–that spot between the handle and the faucet that you can never get… unless you take the whole knob off, and there’s not always time for that.
  53. Debbi.Chum – I use them to clean the straw part of my son’s thermos and get inside the spout of his sippy cups! Nothing gets into those small spots better.
  54. Zwiker – cat toys!
  55. Janlnye – Vents on the hair dryer. Calamine lotion to bug bites. Neosporin to booboos. Dipped in alcohol to remove price tag sticky goop from glass
  56. Annabanana2800 – I use Q-tips when cleaning out the air vent over the microwave! They work great!
  57. Briannelynn26 -i use them to clean the vents. Like the cold air return, and the fan in the bathrooms.
  58. Mclanek – I use them to clean around the faucet (especially on the hard to reach side close to the wall).
  59. SallyNusbaum – I use them to get the “goo” out of the shower door tracks.
  60. CharlenetheBean – They’re great for cleaning the little places in silver holloware. We have some MARVELOUS and BEAUTIFUL George Jensen bowls – the Q-tips can get into the otherwise-inaccessible places!
  61. Katherine – Use them for cleaning the ridges in the seal on the refrigerator door.
  62. Bobbie Laughman – When my kids were little, I had them use Q-tips as the “paint brushes” with those “Paint With Water” coloring books – do they still make those?
  63. They’re also great as disposable eye shadow brushes.
  64. Sara Beth – I use Q-tips to clean the tracks of our windows.
  65. Angie23 – Sorry, I know this is gross, but I use them to clean around the hinges of the toilet! (We all have toilets, I’m just glad you clean yours)
  66. Nova – I use them to clean the drawer tracks in my fridge.
  67. Amanda M – I used them to get into the crevices of my breast pump! Worked pretty well.
  68. Tami – Dip them in rubbing alcohol and clean the tops of dusty candles.
  69. Deneicer1 – I used them as little scrubby brushes to clean inside the spout of my daughter’s sippy-cups.
  70. Andrea – We use them to apply ointment during diaper changes. No mess – I love it!
  71. Phillip Guyton – I used them as a child with nail polish remover to remove the faces of lego men… does that count? :) (Keep in mind this is the same guy that did the photography for this year’s Countdown to Turkey Day, we’ll cut him some slack)

This is a sponsored post.  Q-tips® product was  provided by Unilever, the makers of Q-tips®; my tips and usage suggestions are my own.

What is Modified Food Starch?

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Heather says:

Yesterday on Twitter, during the What is Vegetable Extract kerfuffle, my good friend @notoriouslynice asked:

@HeatherSolos I’d like to know, too, if you find out. Also, what is modified food starch?

First what is starch?

Starch is a  white, odorless complex carbohydrates that serves as primary means of energy storage for plants.

When we talk about starches in reference to food, we usually have a couple of different meanings in mind. Sometimes we say that foods like potatoes are starches. In that case we just mean that the food contains a lot of starch. Other times we refer to products like corn starch. In this latter case, we are more concerned with what the starch does than what it is.

Starches are well known for their thickening properties and are often used to thicken gravies and soups. Corn starch doesn’t work well under certain conditions, if the liquid is too cold it will remain grainy and if the mixture is subjected to heat that is too high, the starch breaks down.

On a nutritional label, modified starches are plant starches whose chemical structures have been changed through physical or chemical changes. Sometimes the starches are treated with acid other times heat or the way in which they are dried achieves the changes necessary to give the desired properties.

Why are the starches modified?

When the structure has been changed it can be used as a thickening agent under many different conditions

The starches have many applications in processed food:

  • thickening agent at low temperatures – instant pudding
  • ability to withstand high temperatures – instant cheese sauce -this is why your powdered mac and cheese sauce won’t “break” and become grainy no matter how badly you abuse it
  • use as a fat substitute
  • anti-caking agent -keeps foods like shredded cheese separate
  • humectant -can keep some foods moist

Like many things found in food, a modified starch isn’t in and of itself a bad thing. However it might be time to take a look at your overall diet if most of your foods contain this ingredient.


Puddings, canned soups, sauces, and gravies probably shouldn’t be the bulk of your diet.

Those who have celiac disease or are avoiding gluten should avoid any food item with modified food starch on the label, unless the food is specifically labeled gluten free. Without the gluten free label, the modified food starch may contain gluten.

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What Causes Black Underarm Stains and How to Prevent Them

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Dear Home Ec 101,
I have black underarm stains on many of my shirts. That’s right – BLACK. It started happening after we moved to the mountains of western NC where we have well water, but it’s only my shirts – not my husband’s. I’ve tried changing deoderant (though I suspect they all have the same active ingredients) with no effect. I’ve tried scrubbing the stains with various stain removers. Nothing. The stains are on the inside of the shirts – but after a while it shows through to the outside of any light-colored shirts. I’ve never seen anything like it before and – to be honest – it makes me feel like kind of a freak. Can you help?
Funky in Franklin

Heather says:

Antiperspirants and deodorants are two distinct products, but in our everyday speech we tend to use the terms interchangeably and I have done so throughout this response as a way to help people using search find what they need.

How to Prevent Black Underarm Stains

You were on the right track when you tried switching deodorants. If you take a walk down the antiperspirant / deodorant aisle, you’ll notice quite the selection. Most of the antiperspirants / deodorants you see will all have the same active ingredient(s): aluminium chloride, aluminium chlorohydrate, aluminium-zirconium or a combination of thereof. Did you notice something about those three active ingredients? They all contain aluminum.

For most of us the aluminum in antiperspirants isn’t a big deal, it helps us stop sweating from our underarms for a few hours and we go through the day without offending our neighbors. Neat.

However everyone’s body chemistry is a little different, it’s the food you eat, the water you drink, and your genetics. You know how everyone likes to giggle about what eating asparagus does to urine? Well it doesn’t do that to everyone’s. Some people think cilantro tastes like soap -and I cry a little for all they miss. Your quirk is that something in your sweat, is making that aluminum show up on your shirts, lucky you.

Since we’re all special snowflakes the first tip is specific to people, like you, who have dark stains from their deodorant / antiperspirant.

Avoid the aluminum

Try switching to an aluminum free antiperspirants / deodorants I did a search on Amazon that will show you specific brands and labels to look for the next time you head to the store.

On a side note, some people avoid aluminum because they believe that aluminum is the cause of of Alzeheimer’s. That hasn’t been proven, what they’ve found is that people with Alzheimer’s tend to have more aluminum in their brains, this doesn’t mean that the the aluminum was the cause, it just means that it shows up in people’s brains when they have Alzheimer’s. It could be like the way ketones show up in the urine of diabetics, the insulin is absent so ketones show up where they normally wouldn’t. Just because something is there, doesn’t mean it is the cause. (I haven’t done a lot of research lately, but feel free to link to peer reviewed sources, if you want to discuss this point).

You didn’t mention where you moved from. Why do I ask? Well, if you moved from a cooler climate, there is a chance part of the problem is that you haven’t had to use as much antiperspirant as you do now.

Use less antiperspirant.

Antiperspirant works by blocking your pores -I’m simplifying here- once those pores are blocked an extra coat of the white stuff isn’t going to be helpful, it’s just going to rub off on the inside of your clothing. When your antiperspirant wears off and you begin sweat, you’ll have more aluminum hanging out on your shirt to react with your sweat and create that dark stain.

For those of us that don’t react to aluminum, this means we have to remove deodorant build up from our shirts.  You can try to remove the dark stains with the same tips as in that article, but with the chemical change, it may be permanent.

Additionally, try to let your antiperspirant or deodorant dry completely before putting on your shirt. This will also help reduce the amount absorbed by the fibers of your clothing.

So your homework is to find an aluminum free antiperspirant / deodorant, use less, and try to let it dry before putting on your shirt to prevent future stains.

Got it?

Submit your questions to