Readers' Tips

Surprise 30th Birthday Party

A theme will make planning it much easier. My husband and sister threw me a Mexican fiesta for my 30th this year. It was easy for them to figure out what to do for food, decorations, music, etc.
Christilynn (via Facebook)

editor's note: For more on throwing a surprise 30th birthday party, please click here.

Expert Advice on DIY Upholstery Cleaning

As someone who used to clean upholstery for a living, let me offer some advice. If you decide to clean it yourself, first keep in mind that you do not want to get the fabric too wet. Although it may seem that more water will allow you to remove more stains, the moisture is in fact your fabric's worst enemy.

Try to presoak the stains with a fabric cleaner (as mild as possible) before actually putting any water on the fabric. Then, when extracting the water, be sure to get as much out of the chair as possible. Also, avoid getting any metal portion of the chair (including pillow zippers) wet, as they will rust. The other important thing to consider is what kind of fabric your chair is made of.

Synthetic fibers (polyester, etc.) are fairly easy to clean without ruining the color or the fabric. If, however, your cushions use more than 50% cotton or especially if they use a fabric called Haitian cotton, I would bite the bullet and have them professionally cleaned (these fabrics require special chemicals to clean and are just too easy to ruin if you don't know what you're doing).

Finally, avoid using vinegar or anything acidic as these will definitely damage the fiber (always test any cleaner on a non-visible area of the chair before starting).

Additional TDS Resource: More on cleaning upholstery

Save the Foil

I was about to toss out one of those "catch drip" disposable foil pans you see at the supermarket when I thought of a good use for it. When I make lasagna or any casserole, I use one under the casserole and the other to cover it (instead of rolling out new foil as I usually do). I soak it in hot water before cleaning and drying it to have it ready for the next use. I have used both foil pans over and over, saving money on aluminum foil.

Better Holiday Tables

Seasonal table linens add a special touch to holiday gatherings, but they can be expensive to buy. Making a tablecloth can mean a major capital investment, as it can take several yards, depending on the size of your table.

My solution is to make a square table topper, which can be used on any size or shape dining table. For special dinners, I use a square diagonally over a solid undercloth. Seasonal toppers look pretty directly on the dining table, too, with a seasonal centerpiece. It is charming, and when fabric is 50% off, the cost is minimal. (After a holiday, prices often drop to 75% off!)

Even if, like me, you hate to sew, making a table topper is quick and easy. I purchase enough 44-inch wide fabric to make a square (a yard and two-thirds, which allows for shrinkage), pre-wash, press, cut, and then hem. Sometimes there is enough left over for a small runner for the coffee table.

I've got toppers for every season and occasion. I even surprised my Vietnam vet husband on Veteran's Day with a US Army-insignia fabric that I found on a clearance table. Kids enjoy special-interest toppers like dinosaur, frog, and jungle animal prints. Unlike full-size tablecloths, toppers take little storage space.
Maxine R. in Everett, WA

Keeping Silver Clean

To keep your silver clean between polishings, wash it in warm (not hot) water and a little dishwashing liquid on a soft cloth and rinse in warm water. Then dry with a soft towel or chamois. This works great and lessens the need for polishing. This also scratches less and there is less silver worn off; silver polish can wear the silver off over time.
D. R.

My Stocked Freezer

One of the best freezer hints I've come across in years is freezing tomatoes. After they are washed and dried, put them on a tray and freeze them. After freezing, bag them in lots of 12 or so. When you want to make tomato sauce, thaw them by running them individually under warm water. The skins will slip off, and they can be chopped up and used in spaghetti sauce or any recipe that calls for diced tomatoes. Canning tomatoes is a job that requires a lot of care, so this is one solution to using up all those cheap tomatoes in season.

I have frozen baked potatoes and used them for hash browns and not had any problem with them. When we are away for long periods of time, I freeze my rice, flour, and cereals. They survive the freeze well, and I don't have to throw away anything.

Fleece at Night

Now that the colder weather is fast approaching, it is time to check out the supplies (we live in Alberta so they are out).

Flannel sheets are great, but another way to keep warm on those freezing night is with fleece. I bought the ends of fabric roles at my local fabric shop. We just throw them under the comforter, and we are set for the night.
B. K.

Heartier Soups

For a hearty soup as a main dish, add a portion of boxed couscous, including the spice packet, to canned vegetable soup. You can determine how much to put in by the amount of liquid in the soup. A variation to this idea is chicken noodle soup with extra veggies and extra noodles added as the soup heats on a low simmer. Or add leftovers in any combination that you think would be palatable, such as mashed potatoes, greens, etc. Serve your soup with a green salad or a fruit salad and a good bread or cornbread.

Cheaper Carpet Cleaning

Tired of paying a lot to get your carpet cleaned? I've done it as a sideline, so here are my tips. Invest in a home carpet shampooer. Make sure it has a powerbrush on it. Or rent one from the local store. Make sure the carpet is colorfast or the shampoo may take out the color in the carpet. All carpet fabrics nowadays are different, so be careful.

Also, some carpet cleaning services make extra money by selling their customers stain removing chemicals and deodorizers. They tack this cost onto the cost of cleaning your carpets. Where I live, the carpet techs are paid by commission on each job. So, they aren't paid very well and are told by their bosses they will make extra commissions by selling stain removers and deodorizers as an extra expense to their customers. Therefore, rent a machine, or if you have small kids in the house and need a shampooer a lot, then get one at your local discount store. They aren't that expensive. Bissell makes a good shampooer, and their shampoo is excellent.

Additional TDS Resource: More on cheaper carpet cleaning

A Different Kind of Holiday

My family of four has a little different way of celebrating Christmas. Two years ago, after weeks of searching for just the right Christmas gifts for our two boys, and then the boys not appreciating the gifts, my husband and I decided to do things differently the next year. We decided to make Christmas memories by going on a family vacation during Christmas break instead of exchanging gifts.

After our trip last Christmas, I cannot recommend this idea enough. I had no stress at holiday time, as I far prefer preparing for a trip to going Christmas shopping. Last year, we flew to Florida and spent time with my parents, who live there in the winter.

This was our best Christmas ever. There were no toys with a gazillion pieces, and our boys thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They got to experience life in a different part of our country instead of getting "cabin fever" at home.

Insider Advice: Funerals

I work for a funeral home in California, and I just wanted to share some information.

Embalming is not required by law unless there will be a public viewing/visitation/wake. Many families who want to see their loved one a last time can arrange for a private viewing without the need for embalming. This is usually reserved for the immediate family and lasts for a shorter period of time.

Direct cremation/immediate burial are the most economical, and you can hold a memorial service or "celebration of life" at your home or have a reception where you may choose. A graveside service is also economical. Also, there are extra fees for evening and weekend services.

Definitely try to make your own arrangements in advance. By doing this, your loved ones will not have to worry about price calculations when you pass on.

Marking Stains

Before throwing an article of clothing that has a stain in the hamper, I clip on a clothespin. That way I don't forget to treat the spot before laundering.
Ed B.

Reusing Plastic Bottles

I recently discovered that I can freshen plastic bottles that I have reused to hold drinking water. I wash well first. Then I put a little newspaper and soda in the bottle and put the lid on tight. The next day I rewash and they don't have an odd taste in them anymore.

I also use newspaper for draining fried foods in a pinch, and I use them to freshen shoes. I wad up the newspaper, stuff in shoes, and let the shoes sit a day or so. Jars can be freshened this way as well.
Janice T.

Oven Clean

A really easy and economical way of cleaning one's oven is to simply mix equal amounts of baking soda and salt and then add enough water to make a paste out of it. I usually will use about one cup of each and then just gradually add the water until it becomes a paste. Then I close the oven door and bake as I would with a commercial oven cleaner. When it cools down, I simply use a damp sponge and wipe everything down. It really does work!
Joyce K.

Additional TDS Resource: More on easy ways to clean your oven

No Fold Towels

Time is money and it takes time to fold towels! Since we live in a two-bedroom apartment, space is a valuable commodity. My husband hinted at a tip his friend's mom used growing up, and I have loved it.

I took a large, roll-top lidded trash can and placed it in my front bathroom that has very limited cabinet space. On laundry day, I toss the large and medium-sized clean towels in the clean can (it's never been used for trash) and only have to fold the small washcloths, which I tuck in a basket under the sink.
K. F.

Easy Garlic Rolls

I buy hotdog buns at the bakery outlet. I separate the two halves of the bun and lay them out flat on a cookie sheet. I then spray them with olive oil and sprinkle garlic, oregano, and parmesan cheese on top. After broiling for a few minutes, I have delicious garlic bread!
Pamela P.

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