Mrs. Sell's Blog of Household Management

Archive for the category “cleaning”

The $20 garbage bowl

This cracks me up. For $20, you can purchase a large bowl for the express purpose of putting trash in, before you take it all the way to the garbage can.

Let me be clear: I have no issue with the idea of a garbage bowl. Just the other day, I was peeling and coring several apples for pie, and I had one big mixing bowl in front of me for the sliced apples, and another one for the peels and cores. I didn’t have to keep leaning over our (covered and locked) trash can or shifting around, I could just toss pieces into the two bowls.

But I didn’t have to spend $20 on a bowl specifically for garbage, either. 😉

Although, now that I look at it, it is a nice-looking bowl. Maybe I’ll get that one for serving and keep using my metal bowl for trash! Eureka!

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Who needs a ‘straw cleaner’?

If you have little kids, you do.

I first heard of a straw cleaner while reading the reviews for the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer. (Go there right now and read them. It will enrich your life.)

Feel better? Okay, continuing with original topic.

At first I thought, ‘Who needs a brush for cleaning straws? Aren’t straws plastic and disposable?’ Some reviewers said they loved the straw cleaner for their fancy, reusable glass straws, and I figured that wasn’t really me, so didn’t think any thing more about it.

Until I encountered this:

purple Playtex water bottle

This is my daughter’s water bottle. It’s by Playtex, she has them in two colors, and I love them. They have easy-grab handles, the lid snaps over to keep them from spilling, and it taught her to drink from a straw (very handy when we’re in a restaurant and the only thing we have for her to drink is a glass of water). They also come apart into four pieces for easy cleaning – at least until you get to the straw part.

Despite my attempts to use them just for water in between meals, sometimes they were the only thing available and she used them while she ate. And a toddler drinking means one thing: backwash.  (This is why I didn’t want them used with food, but whatever.)

So then I was faced with a straw full of crud, which is completely disgusting, especially considered how long it must have been there. Initially I used a toothpick to scrape around inside and got most of it off, but was still grossed out by the problem. I didn’t want to give up the water bottles, but straws really have to be clean, you know?

Epiphany: I could order one of those fancy straw cleaners! I couldn’t remember which one I had seen initially, so I just searched for ‘straw cleaner’ on Amazon, and found that someone had read my mind.

straw cleaner1

Enter the OXO Tot Straw and Sippy Cup Top Cleaning Set. (OXO has the most BRILLIANT stuff.) This amazing set has the straw cleaner, a lid-thread-and-general-tiny-areas cleaner, and a pick-style cleaner for the tiny holes in the lids of your traditional sippy cup.

The straw cleaner is 4 1/2″ long, 2″ of which is bristle. There’s even a little plastic knob on the end to keep the metal from sticking you! It’s plenty long enough to reach through a sippy-cup straw, and might even go through a regular straw if you attack from both ends.

The general cleaner is for all the little crevices and crannies you find in sippy cup lids, the threads on screw-on tops, and even parts for your breast pump. I haven’t gotten much use out of it yet, but am not complaining that it was included with the other two pieces.

The pick-style cleaner is a stroke of genius. Most ‘regular’ sippy cups these days have a series of tiny holes in the mouthpiece through which the drink is dispensed. You could easily use a toothpick to clean these out, but this pick is handy and reusable.

The only con I can find to these tools is that they seem a little delicate. The pick cleaner bends very easily, and all of the brush surfaces are very soft. Truthfully, this is just fine given what you’re cleaning with these. You’re not scrubbing out a baked-on casserole, so as long as you’re washing your sippy cups frequently (which you should be), it should only take a gentle poke and a light scrub to get off the food bits.

This set definitely goes on my list of must-haves for any new parent.

How to: simple ant control

I live in Southern California, and around this time of year we always have at least one ant invasion. I suspect it has something to do with the season and the weather and the ants’ little biological rhythms, because it seems like every ant colony in the county is relocating.

Before our daughter was born, when the ants showed up we just called the landlord, and they sent out a pest control guy who sprayed stuff around, and that solved the problem, at least for a couple weeks. Now that we have a toddler, I am attempting to control the problem without resorting to poisons. Needless to say, if any ant problem becomes extreme, calling in professionals is always recommended, especially now that some services specialize in eco-friendly pest control. But for now, I’m trying to discourage them myself.

The number one rule for ant control is removing their motivation to come into your house. Ants are primarily interested in food, especially sweet, sticky stuff like honey, soda, and candy. They will get into other dry goods, but sugar is their favorite. So your first step is to enclose all open food items: put open cracker packages into zip baggies, tightly tie bread bags closed, and consider transferring items like instant rice from the loose cardboard boxes they come in to air-tight containers (I use Libbey Vibe Storage Jars). Wipe off things like honey jars and syrup bottles, and if they’re still sticky, put them into air-tight baggies. Make sure all crumbs and spills from food preparation are thoroughly wiped up, and sweep the floor religiously, especially if you have small children. Speaking of small children, this is the time to teach them not to carry snacks through the house (guilty). Be sure to throw away empty drink cans and bottles; don’t let them sit throughout the house – ants can find them in less time than you can imagine.

If you don’t wash dishes after every meal, scrape plates into the trash or disposal and give them a quick rinse before setting them in the sink; ants don’t like water very much and will usually avoid stuff that has been given even a cursory wash.

You may have to take the trash out more often if the ants seem bound and determined to get into it. I hate wasting trash bags, but it’s only for a few weeks a year, and it prevents a worse problem later.

Ants have a standard procedure: send scouts out to find food, and when they find something, they form a trail to transport it back to the nest. If you only see a few ants here and there, so far they are just looking for food. I usually just squash them with a tissue, then wipe whatever surface they were on with a bleach wipe, which disrupts the chemical trail they leave behind, so their compatriots won’t follow them later. I then triple check that there isn’t any food anywhere near that surface.

If you discover a trail in progress, your first priority is to remove the food source. Throw away the bottles, food packages, sticky glasses, or whatever they’re feeding off of. Before you destroy all the ants, it’s good to follow the trail and see where they’re coming from, so if you have to call the exterminator, you can tell him where to concentrate the treatment. For big trails, the easiest way to get rid of the ants is the hose attachment on your vacuum; just suck them up all the way along. They will keep coming from the source hole, so it’s best to start at the food end and work backwards. If you can, plug the hole with something; in the past we have resorted to putting sculpting epoxy on small holes in the wall just to slow them down.

Once the actual ants are gone, use disinfectant wipes to clear away their chemical trails. If you don’t, you might as well have left the ants, because new ones can come along and just follow the same trail. Thoroughly wipe the surface the food was on, all around the source hole, and all along the trail pathway. Plus, it’ll make you feel cleaner using all that disinfectant. During ant season, I wipe down my kitchen surfaces several times a day just to be sure, especially the outside of the trash can and places where I’ve seen ants before.

Ant season is icky, but can be controlled through extreme cleanliness and vigilance in squashing, wiping, and taking out the trash.

A note on natural methods: I have not tried most of the ‘natural’ ant retardants, so I can’t really say whether they work or not. I can tell you that ants are repelled by cinnamon, but only has long as the oil is still active. If you sprinkle cinnamon in the middle of a trail, none of the ants will go near it. But after several hours the cinnamon dries out and it stops working. Plus, cinnamon is expensive given how much you would have to use. Try whatever method sounds good to you, and if you have any more tips, let me know!

Cleaning Tips: Washing Dishes

When hand-washing dishes, save especially greasy items (like shortening measuring cups, oily salad bowls, or frying pans) for last so that the oil does not cut your soap. Once grease has dissolved the soap, the oil will float on the cooling wash water and coat everything else with a thin oily layer, which will still be there after the dishes are dry.

To get a large amount of grease off, run a new sink-full of very, very hot water with plenty of soap and let the dishes soak for a while.

A great tool to have is a small plastic pan scraper. I got mine at Wal-Mart for about a dollar. They take up very little space, but are safe for non-stick pans and have a hard, tapered edge to fit in corners and edges. Let pots and pans soak, then get the last hard bits with a scraper.

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