Six cheap tools to keep your kitchen sparkling clean

Six cheap tools to keep your kitchen sparkling clean

If you’re cooking and not making at least a little mess, then you’re probably not doing it right. I tend to make big messes, so I’m clearly doing it very right. Sure, there is plenty of specialized, expensive equipment out there that can help you get your kitchen sparkling again. But whether you know it […]

If you’re cooking and not making at least a little mess, then you’re probably not doing it right. I tend to make big messes, so I’m clearly doing it very right.

Sure, there is plenty of specialized, expensive equipment out there that can help you get your kitchen sparkling again. But whether you know it or not, you also may have a few other multipurpose tools on hand. Here are some picks for cheap cleaning tools worth having on hand.

Magic Eraser (less than $5)

I’ve come to reappreciate the merits of this scrubber while chasing a crayon-toting toddler around the house. It’s more than a wall scrubber, though. Try using it for polishing a tile backsplash or sinks and faucets. Clean up your stove top, refrigerator or microwave (there’s a version that includes Dawn for extra oomph). What shouldn’t you use it on? The manufacturer, Mr. Clean, includes such items as wood, copper, stainless steel appliances and nonstick coating on the no-no list.

Wood skewers (less than $5)

In the WaPo Food Lab, there’s a gap between the cook top and counter where crumbs go to die (or live forever?). The tip of a skewer is perfect for scraping them out of that spot, or any other annoying crevice you might have in your kitchen. You can also use skewers (or their shorter cousins, toothpicks) to poke garlic residue out of a garlic press. Wrap a paper towel around one to clean very narrow glasses or bottles. Skewers are helpful when giving your dishwasher a deep clean, too, such as around the soap dispenser and other parts you can’t take out.

Toothbrush (less than $5)

I’m not saying you have to go top of the line here, although if you’re like me and shop at Costco, you probably have tons of extra brushes hanging around — either that or a stockpile of the freebies from the dentist’s office. A toothbrush is ideal for scrubbing tile grout, around the bottom of the faucet and in the seam where the wall meets the counter behind the sink. Use it in some of the same places as the skewer, including other crevices and in the dishwasher. The Kitchn endorses toothbrushes for cheese graters, small jars and sink drains. They’re also good for cleaning delicate or intricate platters and serving pieces.

Pastry brush ($1 to $10)

No, it’s not redundant with the toothbrush. While the toothbrush is ideal for scrubbing, the pastry brush is great, for, well, brushing, giving you not only softer, more flexible bristles but also a finer degree of control. My Food section colleague Tim Carman uses his to keep coffee grounds out of his equipment. If you grind your own coffee or spices, you can employ the brush to clean the grinder. It can also be useful for sweeping crumbs out of a toaster oven.

Baster ($5 to $10)

Yes, break out the baster for more occasions than Thanksgiving! Channel its intended use by sucking up spills. Or like the pastry brush, it can be used to dislodge crumbs with a puff or a bit of suction. You might find it useful for depositing soapy and then clean water into narrow glasses, too.

Bonus: Hand vacuum (starting around $20)

All right, so the price is a little higher than cheap cheap, but for what it can do and how long it will last, a hand vac can be invaluable in the kitchen. Go basic or go fancy — regardless, when you send that couscous flying, you’ll be glad you have it.

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11 Big Mistakes You Make Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Painted cabinets are ruling Pinterest these days, since intrepid DIYers love the idea of updating their kitchens with only a few coats of a new color. It seems like a no-brainer project, but this undertaking actually has many potential pitfalls. Avoid these blunders to end up with cabinets you can’t wait to show off: 1. You have […]

Painted cabinets are ruling Pinterest these days, since intrepid DIYers love the idea of updating their kitchens with only a few coats of a new color. It seems like a no-brainer project, but this undertaking actually has many potential pitfalls. Avoid these blunders to end up with cabinets you can’t wait to show off:

1. You have unrealistic expectations.

Painted cabinets look lovely, but they aren’t going to look totally smooth. “If the cabinets have a visible open grain, the grooves are going to show through the paint,” warns Don Fahrbach, president of professional painting company PNP Craftsmen in New York City. “Even if it wasn’t super obvious when the wood was just stained, it’s going to be more evident once the paint dries.” You can fill the grain with putty, but that can be time-intensive and challenging to get just right.

2. You don’t allow yourself enough time.

“This isn’t a lazy Sunday project,” says Sherry Petersik, who, along with her husband, chronicled kitchen painting projects on her popular blog Young House Love. She says people often think it’s a weekend job, but it takes at least four to seven days when you build in the proper prep time (and snack breaks, of course).

3. You don’t clean the wood.

“No matter how clean you think your kitchen is, you need to wipe everything down with a grease remover,” says Fahrbach. Otherwise, when you add a water-based paint to an oil-covered door, the paint won’t stick. He recommends a paint-prep degreaser called TSP.

4. You don’t remove the doors off and drawers.

This is a crucial first step: Take all the doors off, pull the drawers out and remove the hardware knobs and hinges. Some people try to save time by painting everything — hinges and all — while they’re still in place, but Petersik warns that it’s not a long-term fix. “Your cabinets and hardware will start to chip and show signs of wear within a month — or even immediately.” Once the paint on the hinges starts to crack, all you can do is sand everything down and soak the hardware to remove the paint, so save yourself the aggravation.

5. You skip labeling where your doors, drawers and hardware go.

Because what once was hung up will need to go back in the same place, it’s worth using numbered labels to help you remember where everything goes. A piece of masking tape stuck to the back of each piece will do just fine.

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6. You skip sanding.

Even if your cabinets are in near perfect condition, you still have to sand them so the paint will stick. Use sandpaper in the middle of the spectrum (150 or 200 grit is good) and just give all of the surfaces a quick buffing. “You’re not trying to get down to the bare wood,” says Petersik. “You just want to take the surface from glossy to matte.”

7. Your surface isn’t dust-free before you paint.

Vacuum up any debris before you even think of dipping that brush in paint. Just a few pieces of dust can ruin the look: “You’ll get a gritty finish and it’ll look like you painted over sand,” says Fahrbach. “To fix it, you’ll have to sand it and repaint it all over again.”

8. You don’t prime.

It’s tempting to skip this step, but consider this: “Your finished kitchen could look amazing then, three weeks or three months later, knots in the wood can start to bleed through your paint,” warns Petersik. Use a stain-blocking primer (she likes Kilz Clean Start), and you won’t get surprise blotches as the paint cures.

9. You pick the wrong color.

Of course, there’s no right or wrong color for your own kitchen. But for cabinets, it’s important you get it right the first time: “This project is easy but it’s not the kind of job you’re going to want to redo any time soon if you don’t like the color,” says Petersik. She suggests painting a big poster board with a tester can in the color you’re considering (you can usually get a small one for just $5). “Hang it up next to your backsplash and your appliances and make sure that’s really the color you want.”

10. You choose cheap paint.

Petersik has tried all sorts of paint and she’s had the best results from Benjamin Moore Advance. At around $53 a gallon, it’s certainly more expensive than other brands, but Petersik says it’s worth it. “You get a smoother finish with a good paint,” she says. Most kitchens need less than two gallons, so the splurge isn’t going to break the budget (plus you’re skipping hiring a pro, so treat your amateur skills to the best, easiest-to-use materials).

Worried about visible brush marks? Virginia at Live Love DIY follows her brush strokes with a foam roller to smooth things out. And a more experienced DIYer might like the finish provided by a spray gun (like Jenny at Little Green Notebook uses), but it’s a bit more unwieldy than a brush.

11. You rush to put cabinets back.

Yes, it’s super annoying to wait days for paint to cure. But if you accidentally smudge the paint, you have to sand the door and repaint it (a hard truth any woman who’s rushed to leave the nail salon surely understands). “As much as it kills me to stare at the doors on the floor drying, I’d much rather wait than jump the gun,” Petersik says.

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5 eco-friendly tips for spring cleaning

Get your spring cleaning off on the right foot with an eco-friendly plan which allows you to save money on your next energy bill. Here are five green cleaning tips to get you started. 1. Declutter responsibly One of the most rewarding parts of spring cleaning is getting rid of the clutter! You know the […]

Get your spring cleaning off on the right foot with an eco-friendly plan which allows you to save money on your next energy bill.

Here are five green cleaning tips to get you started.

1. Declutter responsibly
One of the most rewarding parts of spring cleaning is getting rid of the clutter! You know the rule: if you haven’t worn or used it for a year, it’s time to let it go. Rather than allowing your unwanted clothing or items to go to landfill, consider donating them to charities, selling them online or getting involved with clothes swapping events.

2. Get those spring outfits clean without wasting energy
Getting your clothes and household items in perfect shape for spring is the next part of the process. However, the hot water used in making this happen is a big contributor to greenhouse gases and a cost on your energy bill. Consider green additions to your home this year. The Sanden Eco® Plus Hot Water Heat Pump System uses a natural refrigerant which is ozone friendly and does not contribute to global warming, and could help you save up to 80% on your hot water energy bill.

3. Dry clothes on the washing line
The next step is ensuring your clean items are dry. In spring there is no excuse for a dryer if you have a washing line. This simple step will save you money and have a positive impact on the environment.

4. Use eco-friendly and natural products
Throughout this process, look out for supermarket products that have ‘biodegradable’, or ‘non-toxic’ labels. You can also consider natural cleaners such as white vinegar which is great for cleaning glass, and lemon which polishes stainless steel well.

5. Consider reusable items for cleaning
Instead of using endless amounts of paper towel, buy a bag of washable cloths that you can use again. This means you can clean up mess without more trees being sacrificed.

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How to Grow Lavender Anywhere — Even Indoors

There’s something totally charming about lavender. The vibrant purple flowers, the calming scent, and the DIY crafting and cooking potential. But you don’t have to have a huge amount of space to grow this fragrant herb. Sure, while many gardeners use it as a living border for their garden or a decorative shrub, you can […]

There’s something totally charming about lavender. The vibrant purple flowers, the calming scent, and the DIY crafting and cooking potential. But you don’t have to have a huge amount of space to grow this fragrant herb. Sure, while many gardeners use it as a living border for their garden or a decorative shrub, you can also grow it in a pot — and it’s insanely simple. Here’s how:

Growing Lavender From Cuttings or Seeds

First, decide if you’re going to grow your lavender from seeds or cuttings. Both have their advantages. If you already have lavender plants, or know someone who does, growing from cuttings is a fast way to get lavender that looks just like the parent plant. Here’s a basic guide to planting lavender from cuttings.

If you don’t already have a lavender plant, you can feel good about planting lavender seeds, which is a great way to grow a whole lot of lavender inexpensively. Not long ago, seeds from the same packet would often yield plants of variable height and strength, but now, you can expect a consistent number of plants that look very similar. You can find lavender seeds through a reputable online retailer like Burpee.

In a warm location (about 70 degrees), start your seeds in a seed tray with a very light soil mix or fine vermiculite that drains quickly. The seeds will sprout in about two weeks, at which point you should place seedlings in full sunlight. Water your seedlings, but don’t let them stay damp as this can lead to mildew growth. When your lavender plants have leaves, you can plant them in their final pots.

Planting Lavender in the Right Pot

Terracotta Flowerpot of The Lavander Plant (Lavandula)

Before you transplant your lavender seedlings, or plant your lavender cuttings, make sure you have the right type of pot. Plant lavender in a container made from a material that breathes, such as terra cotta. Repot to a larger container every spring to allow the plant to reach its full blooming and growth potential.

Load your pot with a sterile potting mix, or try this one from V. J. Billings, owner of Mountain Valley Growers organic nursery: Mix approximately 60% peat moss with 40% perlite, with a couple of handfuls of homemade compost thrown in. If you don’t add compost when you pot, you’ll need to fertilize every three weeks or so with a diluted fish or seaweed emulsion.

Once your lavender is settled into its final location, it will likely grow slowly in the first year, but most plants will still bloom. Year two and beyond, expect greater growth and bigger blooms.

How to Dry Lavender

Hanging dried lavender

Many uses for lavender call for the dried version of the herb. Here are the simple steps you need to follow to dry your own lavender.

  1. Harvest stems when you see the first couple of blossoms have opened.
  2. Avoid mildew by harvesting on a dry, sunny day after the dew has dried but before the sun is blazing.
  3. Cut each stem back to the first set of leaves.
  4. Make a bundle of about 50 stems and secure it with a rubber band.
  5. Hang them upside down in a dry, cool, place out of direct sun. They’ll be ready to use in about a month.
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Feast Your Eyes on the Amazing DIY Bookcase This Couple Made for Their Kids

In an effort to qualify for an Australian DIY competition show called The Block, one couple built a very impressive, one-of-a-kind display for their books — and it’s now getting attention from more than just television producers. As they were scheming how to make it onto the popular television series, Jess and Sinclair Breen came […]

In an effort to qualify for an Australian DIY competition show called The Block, one couple built a very impressive, one-of-a-kind display for their books — and it’s now getting attention from more than just television producers.

As they were scheming how to make it onto the popular television series, Jess and Sinclair Breen came up with the idea to build a geometric bookcase, which they ended up creating in less than a day for about $705.

Jess was inspired to create the unit after she saw an image of something similar on Pinterest. With some help from a coworker who specializes in graphic design, the pair created a sketch of what they wanted it to look like with all the necessary measurements and angles. From there, they gathered supplies, mapped it out on their wall, and got to work assembling the bookcase.

When it came to execution, precise measurements made all the difference. “It’s really important that the wall space is measured first before ordering or cutting or buying panels,” Jess tells CountryLiving.com. “Be very careful when measuring, ordering, cutting, or buying the shelving as every millimeter matters.”

creative bookshelf
To ensure the bookshelves had enough support and would stay in place, she and her husband attached a thicker, faux wall to their existing wall. “Make sure that the wall you mount the boxes on has enough studs inside the wall so the panels can be drilled and secured where you need them to be,” she says. (Their added wall is made from a series of secured medium-density fiberboard (MDF) panels.)

diy bookcase
And yes — the couple really did complete the construction over a weekend. After the faux wall was built and painted, assembling and affixing the shelves to the wall didn’t take much time at all. “We started creating the boxes from the panels at 8 a.m. on our 11th wedding anniversary — not our usual idea of fun! — and finished at midnight that day,” Jess says.

bookcase
Now the family has a fun place to store their favorite books. “We find that it holds a lot of our books and [it’s] accessible for my boys, Jack and Ollie, to reach their own, which are all positioned at the bottom of the bookcase,” Jess adds.

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How to Clean Blinds and Shades

Blinds or shades are often the last things we think about when cleaning even though it only takes 30 minutes a month to clear your conscience — and view. But before you get down to the nitty-gritty, you need to figure out what you own. Blinds are made from wood, metal, or a composite and […]
Blinds or shades are often the last things we think about when cleaning even though it only takes 30 minutes a month to clear your conscience — and view. But before you get down to the nitty-gritty, you need to figure out what you own. Blinds are made from wood, metal, or a composite and shades are fabric-based. While shades made out of delicate fabrics, like silk, should be professionally cleaned, everything else you can clean on your own — and here’s how.

How to Clean Blinds

Wood and faux wood blinds

Treat these blinds like wood furniture. Dust with a soft, clean cloth or a chemically treated dust cloth, like Clorox Triple Action Dust Wipes ($11 for two, amazon.com). Lower the blind to full length, tilt the slats to an almost closed position, hold the bottom rail, and dust. Then reverse the slats and repeat. You can also dampen (don’t saturate) a microfiber cloth with warm water and wipe the slats to get rid of stubborn dirt. Then, open the slats and allow to air-dry.

Aluminum and vinyl blinds

Lower the blind and tilt the slats down, but don’t close them completely, or each slat won’t get entirely cleaned. With your hand on the bottom rail, pull the blind slightly away from the window, keeping it taut. Attach the soft dusting-brush tool to your vacuum cleaner and vacuum a few slats at a time, using a side-to-side or top-to-bottom motion. Damped a microfiber cloth with water and wipe slats again. Open slats and allow blind to air-dry.

how to clean blinds
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How to Clean Shades

Cellular shades

Also known as honeycombs, these insulating window treatments are energy efficient, but have a cleaning advantage too. “Honeycombs are so easy to clean. Just use the dusting tool on your vacuum,” says Carolyn Forte, director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab. “Give them a once-over on low suction, and you’re done.” After dusting, most stains can be lightly blotted away with a sponge, lukewarm water, and a mild dish detergent, like Dawn Ultra Dishwashing Liquid Dish Soap ($2, amazon.com). Dab, don’t rub, the fabric.

Roman shades

When you buy Romans — whether they’re flat, pleated, or draped with swags — clean as our experts: use your vacuum’s soft dusting brush attachment on low suction, or gently go over the shades with a handheld vac fitted with the brush attachment. If necessary, spot-clean any stains with a cloth dipped in water and mild dishwashing detergent, but do not saturate the material. Rinse and blot dry.

Sheer shades

Trendy translucent window shadings (which you can adjust to diffuse the light) look delicate, but are fashioned from sturdy, knitted polyester. Vacuum with the brush attachment on the lowest suction setting.

Roller shades

To clean classic vinyl roller shades, use a well-wrung cloth or sponge dipped in a solution of mild dishwashing detergent and lukewarm water, and wipe the shade in sections. Start at the bottom, and continue working (washing and rinsing) upward until the entire shade is clean. Leave the shade fully extended to dry. You can also give dingy vinyl shades a bath. Cover them in warm water in the bathtub and add several squirts of mild dishwashing soap. Using a soft brush, clean the shades on both sides. Rinse, allow to air-dry, and re-hang.

Panel track shades

Durable panels for large doors or windows are low-maintenance. All you have to do is glide your vacuum dust-brush tool over the panels to keep them fresh.

Now that you know the cleaning commitment you’ll be undertaking based on what design you own, use this guide to buying blinds and shades to pick out the best option for you.

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