What’s Under Your Kitchen Sink?

Is your ‘stash it’ place the cabinet under your kitchen sink? Too often it ends up being the place that this-that-and-the-other gets stuffed for lack of a better location or simply to get it out of sight. When this happens, it’s hard to keep this area tidy and ready for the unexpected leak.

Clutter under the kitchen sink
Under-the-sink poorly managed storage. Photo: Robin Litchfield

Along with the maze of pipes that live under the kitchen sink, it’s always amazing what may be found in the ‘cave of castoffs’ scattered among the needed and regularly used dishwashing and kitchen cleaning supplies.

The best way to reorganize and reclaim this space is to take everything out. Once the cabinet is emptied, clean the cabinet to remove dust and crumbs. This is also a good time to note any water stains on the cabinet floor or suspicious signs with any of the pipes, water lines, or faucets inside the cabinet.  (Anything suspicious should be checked out to prevent a plumbing disaster.)

Before putting anything back in the cabinet, consider an absorbent mat for the bottom of the cabinet to absorb a bit of water from a dripping sponge or leaking from a pipe or a stored product. These mats protect the cabinetry and prevent the formation of mold. One may also want to consider purchasing clear plastic containers for organizing or protecting items or even installing tiered under-sink organizers to make use of the available vertical space or pull-out racks to keep items from getting lost in the back of the cabinet and bring them forward for easy access. Home improvement and container stores have any number of these items designed to work around the pipes and garbage disposal. The inside of the cabinet doors are an ideal place to mount a towel rack or racks made for storing everything from trash bags to paper towels and sponges.

With a clean and open space, let’s get started on reclaiming that space and make it work better for you using Store This, Not That tips from various organization experts. It starts with an inventory of the contents noting what should be in the cabinet, what should or could be stored elsewhere, and what should be discarded.

NOT THAT
(What not to store under the kitchen sink.)

Cleaning items. Unused, old, broken or no-long suitable cleaners, sponges, scrub brushes and other castoffs that have accumulated behind closed doors should be discarded. If they might have a life in another capacity, place them with the anticipated activity. If you like to keep worn nylon scrubbers and brushes around to wash garden produce or other outdoor items, move these items to the space where they would likely be used for this purpose.

Overstock, refills, or extra supplies. Quantity or bought-ahead, unopened products should go to another storage area. Perhaps a space in the basement or a storage closet is a great place to store bulk paper towels, dishwasher tablets, boxes of trash bags, and other like items. If you need a reminder of what is on hand, leave yourself sticky notes inside of the cabinet. Refill from the stash in the alternative space until the quantity is exhausted; add the item to your shopping list and repurchase.

Towels, rags, paper towels, paper bags. All of these items absorb water and odors. While absorbing water in the event of a leak may be a good thing, it will ruin them. These items are also prone to odor absorption from other stored items or the waste basket when combined with heat and humidity coming from the sink and/or dishwasher. If the only storage space available for these items is under the sink, they should be stored in closed plastic containers.

Metal items. With one exception*, tools, pots and pans, metal cookware, or anything else that is prone to rusting does not belong. This also includes small appliances and light bulbs. (*Exception will be discussed in Save This.)

Produce, food items, pet food/treats. Produce and dry foods may mold under the sink. 

Harsh chemicals, flammable products, insecticides. Bleach, insecticides, solvents, thinners, paints, polishes, and household cleaners have no place under the kitchen sink. These items need to be stored in the basement, garage, or utility area and away from small children. Occasionally the containers of these items spring a leak or emit fumes—all of which we do not want in our living areas and especially not in our kitchen. Further, often a dishwasher sits next to the sink cabinet; heat or an electrical spark and flammable fumes could cause a sudden explosion or fire.

STORE THIS
(What to store under the kitchen sink.)

Cleaning products. Keep the essentials such as vinegar, dish soap, dishwasher products, cleansers, scrubbers, sponges, brushes, kitchen gloves, and cleansing agents—all of the items needed daily to maintain a clean and healthy kitchen. (If young children are in the home, the doors to the cabinet should be secured with child-proof locks to prevent accidental poisoning from any of these products.) A pull-out rack or a lazy susan is a great way to corral these items and make them easy to access.

Small fire extinguisher. One should always have a serviceable fire extinguisher in the kitchen in the event of a grease fire. Under the sink within quick and easy reach is one of the best locations for it. Before storing, the viability date should be checked and replaced if out of date. Consider mounting the extinguisher to a side wall of the cabinet.

Garbage disposal tool*. The one and only tool that should be stored under the sink is the garbage disposal tool used for unjamming the garbage disposal. Inevitably this tool gets lost. Some disposals come with a pocket for storing the tool on the side of the disposal. If not, consider placing the tool in a ziplock bag and thumb tacking the bag to a cabinet wall making it easy to see and locate when a jam occurs.

Miscellaneous. Depending upon space, items such as a vase or two, trash bags, dish towels in plastic containers, small dust pan and brush, and bags for recycling (contained in some manner) may find a home under the sink.

By reclaiming and organizing under sink space, the kitchen is safer and more efficient. Maybe the space under other sinks in the home need a look, too?

Updated December 2023, mg.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Welcome Jennie Savits to AnswerLine!

AnswerLine is pleased to welcome Jennie Savits as our newest team member. Jennie joined AnswerLine on June 1 and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team. Further, she is no stranger to Iowa State University or Extension and Outreach.  

Jennie holds BS/MS degrees in Food Science from Iowa State University and completed 11 years with the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute at Iowa State University. While with the Institute, Jennie held various roles in the lab and in the field. She worked on extension and outreach activities and research projects to support the local grape and wine industry in Iowa and throughout the Midwest. Jennie also has experience with the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University as a lecturer, where she taught food science laboratory courses and oversaw laboratory renovations.

Jennie’s interest in food science stemmed from participation in the 4H and FFA organizations. Growing up in rural Boone County, she was a member of the Harrison Happy Hustlers 4-H club and the Boone A&M FFA Chapter. Jennie enjoyed completing 4H projects in the areas of food and nutrition, horticulture, and livestock. Food science became a key area of interest after she competed on a team that won the inaugural Iowa FFA Food Science Career Development Event (CDE). Their team went on to place 2nd nationally and directed Jennie’s career path toward food science.

Jennie says that she really enjoys the opportunity to help people find answers and solve problems, especially on topics related to food safety and food preservation. Jennie has developed strong relationships within the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach organization and looks forward to helping disseminate research based information to those we serve.

Family
Savits family – Photo: jsavits

Jennie lives with her husband, Paul, and their 5 children on a farm near Ogden. She enjoys spending time with family, helping out around the farm, and gardening.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Countertop Dishwashers

Three years ago, I was newly married and was touring the farmhouse we were going to be renting. As I entered the kitchen for the first time my heart sank as I realized there was no dishwasher. “I’ll be fine,” I told myself, “How many dishes can we actually make?”

Countertop dishwasher loaded with dishes
Countertop dishwasher. Photo: rsweeney

I had grown up in a household without a dishwasher (or should I say machine dishwasher; my mom shouldered the brunt of the dishwashing growing up) and had lived without one until purchasing my townhouse. Over my six years in this townhouse, I had grown very accustomed to a dishwasher. But I figured we could make the best of our current situation. As time marched on, I got used to doing dishes and it only seemed to be a nuisance during times we had done lots of cooking. However, November of last year, our son Thomas came along. Enter bottles, pump parts, and most recently, additional dishes. Our kitchen countertop was a disaster zone most of the time.

In my quest to streamline household tasks, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of home appliance tips at www.homeupward.com. The website became my go-to resource for practical advice on optimizing kitchen efficiency and managing household responsibilities. From innovative dishwashing techniques to clever storage solutions, the insights offered transformed the way I approached domestic chores. Implementing some of their suggestions not only made the lack of a dishwasher more manageable but also brought a sense of order to our kitchen, allowing me to navigate the demands of parenthood with greater ease.

About a month ago a box showed up on our front step. Much to my surprise, the box contained a countertop dishwasher! I had been fantasizing about one but couldn’t justify the expense. My husband had decided the amount of time and sanity this unit would save us would pay off in the long run. Beyond time and sanity savings, dishwashers also use less water compared to handwashing. Countertop dishwashers only use around 2 gallons of water and portable and built-in units can use as little as 3 gallons of water per load. Handwashing can use up to 27 gallons of water.

There are several options for portable dishwasher models. Freestanding, portable units are available that hook into your sink, but these are large, so you will need to think about where this will be stored when not in use. You can add a butcherblock type surface to the top so it can serve as an island that is used for food prep. We don’t have a great space to store a larger unit like this, which is why we went with a countertop model.

Considerations

  • Size: Think about how much countertop space you are willing to give up as well as the weight if you plan on moving the dishwasher around. You will also want to consider the distance between your countertop and the bottom of your cupboards and make sure the height of the model doesn’t exceed this distance.
  • Capacity: How many place settings do you want the unit to be able to hold? Most countertop units claim to hold up to six place settings and accommodate dinner plates ranging in size from 10-12 inches. Make sure the unit can hold the plates you use most often.
Countertop dishwasher with lid closed
  • Sound: Consider how loud you want the unit to be. Remember that a full-size dishwasher has noise dampening due to the cabinets and walls around it; portable units do not. The lower the decibel rating (dBA), the better. Typical dishwashers have a noise level of 63 to 66 dBA. Quieter portable units have a decibel rating of around 55 dBA, which is about as loud as a microwave.
  • Settings: Think about which controls and cycles will be most useful given your situation. Sleek electronic controls generally cost more than push buttons but are easier to clean.
  • Water source: Your portable unit is going to need a water source. Some portable units have a hose that attaches temporarily to the faucet of your kitchen sink. This only works in your sink faucet has a threaded faucet spout. The other option would be models that include a water reservoir that holds the water needed to run the unit. We went with this option so our kitchen faucet could always remain usable.
  • Energy efficiency: All countertop dishwashers carry yellow Energy Guide labels, so you’ll be able to compare approximately how much they will cost you per year to run. Some models are Energy Star certified, meaning that they are the most energy efficient models.

Cleaning and Sanitation

You may be wondering about the cleaning and sanitizing ability of these portable units. The National Sanitation Foundation has set sanitation standards for residential dishwashers, referred to as NSF/ANSI 184. This standard helps confirm that a residential dishwasher can achieve a minimum 99.999 percent or 5-log reduction of bacteria when operated on the sanitizing cycle. Other requirements of this standard include the dishwasher reaching a final rinse temperature of at least 150°F and sanitation performance being verified only when the unit is operated on the sanitizing cycle. A sanitize cycle will typically increase the heat during the main wash and finish with an even hotter final rinse.

A list of residential dishwashers certified to NSF/ANSI 184 can be found here. I checked on our unit, which does not appear to be certified to NSF/ANSI 184, however the user manual does indicate two of the programs achieve a final rinse temperature of at least 150°F:  

  • Normal: final rinse 158°F, total cycle time of 130 minutes
  • Baby Care: final rinse 162°F, total cycle time of 120 minutes

All countertop dishwashers have filters that require cleaning, and some recommend a regular vinegar rinse to remove deposits and mineral build up. Our model doesn’t require that we pre-rinse our dishes, but we do scrape off any excess food before loading it into the dishwasher. When thinking about detergent, the packets, tablets, powders, and gels are all fine to use. However, most brands caution against using the packets or tablets for short cycles as they may not fully dissolve.

We are looking forward to this device continuing to free up some of our time and counter space, as well as reduce the amount of water we use. Regardless of what unit you end up with, make sure you do your research to ensure the product meets your needs!

________________________________________

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer. 

Resources:

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/appliances/dishwasher-reviews/g33438785/best-countertop-mini-dishwashers/

https://www.cnet.com/home/kitchen-and-household/how-to-buy-a-portable-dishwasher/

https://www.energystar.gov/products/dishwashers

https://www.nsf.org/consumer-resources/articles/dishwasher-certification

Rachel Sweeney

I graduated from Iowa State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Dietetics and Exercise Science. I enjoy gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, being outside, and spending time with my family.

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Cleaning Your Iron

Sole plate of an iron with residue to remove
Sole plate of an iron with residue to remove – Photo: mrgeiger

When was the last time you cleaned your iron?  Cleaning an iron can be one of those tasks that is easily forgotten or put off.  That is, until the iron seems to be sticking to fabric, spraying dirty water, or leaving black spots on your clothing.  It is not uncommon for dirt, dust, lint, detergent, and spray starch to build up on the soleplate of the iron or for water inside the water reservoir used for steam to cause dirty spots.  For those who sew or do fabric crafts, there is often the sticky residue from fusible interfacings or other fusible/iron-on products.

The frequency with which an iron needs to be cleaned depends on frequency of use and/or how it is used.  At any rate, a cleaning or maintenance schedule that meshes with the frequency or use is important to keeping the iron functioning properly.  If maintaining a schedule is too much, then a good rule of thumb is to clean as soon as a problem is detected—iron doesn’t glide as it should or steam doesn’t come out or sprays or spurts out rusty or black droplets onto the cloth.  All are signs that gunk has accumulated on the soleplate, the steam outlets are clogged, or tap water mineral deposits have accumulated in the water reservoir.

Fortunately, cleaning an iron isn’t that difficult.  If you’ve ever Googled “how to clean an iron”, you will find many shared methods.  And if you have a method that works for you, by all means continue on as the bottom line is to achieve a properly functioning iron.  If you are new to iron cleaning or unsure of how to proceed with your iron, the best route is to consult the owner’s manual as there may be specific guidelines for the kind of soleplate (stainless steel, ceramic, titanium, or non-stick), water reservoir, or self-cleaning feature unique to your iron. (If a manual is lost, often times they can be found online.)

Cleaning the Soleplate

Various options exist for cleaning the soleplate.  Below are the three most common recommendations by iron manufacturers.  In all cases, never use anything that could scratch the soleplate.

Hot Iron Cleaners.  Cleaning pastes are found almost anywhere fabric or laundry products are sold and usually restore the iron’s soleplate to perfect condition. They are nontoxic, nonflammable, and nonabrasive.  When the pastes are applied to a very hot iron soleplate, they quickly and easily remove starch, detergent, and fusing residue. These cleaners dissolve the residue either by ironing over the cleaner on an old towel or by squeezing the cleaner onto the soleplate and wiping off residue with an old towel or cloth.   (Rowenta offers a product specific to Rowenta irons for consumers who choose to use it.)  One must be careful to remove the paste from the steam vents as well. (Cotton swabs work great for vent cleaning.)

Iron Cleaning Cloths.  Cleaning cloths (usually in packs of 10) are designed to be disposable and as an alternative to hot iron cleaning pastes for quick clean ups.  They dissolve and remove any residue by simply running the cloth over a hot soleplate. They usually work best for less soiled soleplates or for very regular clean up.  Because there is no paste involved, they do not clog the steam vents.

Baking Soda and Water or Vinegar.  Both baking soda and vinegar are common household cleaners.  They also work wonders as a natural scouring agent to remove grime from an iron’s soleplate.  One begins by mixing baking soda with distilled water or vinegar to make a paste (approximate 2:1 proportions of soda to liquid).  Apply the paste with an old tooth brush to a cool, unplugged iron.  Scrub gently with the brush to loosen the residue; wipe residue away with a microfiber cloth until the soleplate is cleaned. Like the commercial pastes, the steam vents must be cleaned, too. 

Hot vinegar applied to a microfiber cloth works like an iron cleaning cloth if the residue is light.

After cleaning, fill the reservoir with water, heat, and run the iron over an old towel or cloth, pressing the spray button several times to insure the soleplate and vents are clean before ironing clothing. 

Cleaning the Water Reservoir

When cleaning the water reservoir, discretion is needed.  Steam iron reservoirs need to be cleaned out often to ensure that the appliance doesn’t leave rusty or black water marks on clothing or fabric, performs properly, minimizes build up that may damage clothing, and, thereby, extends the life of the appliance.  Whenever possible, follow manufacturer’s directions.

Distilled water is commonly and safely used for cleaning the reservoir and vents.  While there are many distilled water and vinegar recipes suggested for reservoir cleaning, most manufacturers caution against the use of vinegar.  In a previous blog, AnswerLine suggested a method of filling the reservoir with distilled water and allowing the iron to self-steam out the minerals, lint, and other accumulations in the reservoir and vents.

A commercial iron cleaner is another option to decalcify and remove lime and mineral build-up from steam irons and vents. However, some iron manufacturers will void the warranty if you use them as they can be harsh and cause additional damage.

Keep the Iron Working at Its Best

Here’s some tips to protect and keep an iron working at its best.

  • Whenever possible, use distilled water.  Tap water, even when filtered, contains minerals that can clog, corrode, or damage the iron resulting in rusty or black steam or spray.
  • Fill the iron with water before plugging in and while cool.
  • Empty the reservoir before storing the iron—especially if it isn’t used frequently.
  • Store in an upright position.  This will prevent water from leaking if water is left in the reservoir and avoid scratching the soleplate.
  • Avoid pressing or ironing over zippers, snaps, decals, pins, or any screen printing without using a pressing cloth to avoid scratching the soleplate or adhering paint or plastics to the soleplate.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Getting the Oven Ready for Holiday Roasting and Baking

Woman cleaning inside of an oven
Woman cleaning inside of an oven.

Baking for the holidays is about more than sugar cravings. It’s about passing along family traditions, singing or listening to holiday music as you mix, roasting nuts and special meats, and delivering fresh-baked cheer to family, friends and neighbors.

Whether this is your first time for holiday baking and roasting or you’re a pro with the butter-stained recipe cards to prove it, it is a best practice to have your oven ready for what you have planned for it. Because some of us despise the chore of oven cleaning, ovens often become a culinary crime scene!  So before whipping out the ingredients, get that oven in tip-top shape.

Just as preparing your oven is crucial for holiday baking, ensuring your boiler is ready for the winter season is equally important. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned home cook, the warmth from your Worcester Bosch Greenstar 8000 boiler adds an extra layer of comfort during festive gatherings. As you gather ingredients and make preparations for holiday feasts, don’t overlook the significance of maintaining your boiler system. Neglecting boiler maintenance can lead to inefficiencies and potential breakdowns when you need reliable heating the most.

Manufacturers recommend that ovens be cleaned every three to six months depending upon how much they are used and spiffed up in between when spillovers of food or grease occur.  Regular oven cleaning improves the quality of the food prepared in it; the aromas of old grease and spilled food can taint the flavor of what is being baked or roasted.

When it comes to maintaining the heart of your kitchen, professional oven repair services stand as the beacon of culinary salvation. Whether confronted with a temperamental thermostat, erratic heating elements, or stubborn malfunctions, the expertise of skilled technicians is indispensable. Neglecting the signs of oven distress not only jeopardizes the integrity of your culinary creations but also disrupts the harmony of your kitchen sanctuary. With swift and efficient repair services at your disposal, the daunting prospect of oven woes transforms into a mere blip on the culinary radar.

Just as regular oven maintenance is essential for culinary excellence, ensuring the proper functioning of gas lines is crucial for kitchen safety and efficiency. Gas line maintenance, repair, and installation services offered by a vancouver gas fitter are crucial for safeguarding against potential hazards and ensuring optimal performance. From detecting and rectifying gas leaks to troubleshooting and repairing malfunctioning components, skilled technicians possess the expertise to address a wide range of gas line issues promptly and effectively.

Moreover, proactive gas line maintenance and timely repairs not only enhance kitchen safety but also contribute to the smooth operation of gas-powered appliances. Whether it’s addressing issues with gas stoves, ovens, or water heaters, gas fitters in Vancouver offer comprehensive solutions to ensure the uninterrupted functionality of vital kitchen equipment. By entrusting gas line maintenance to professionals, homeowners can rest assured that their kitchen remains a safe and efficient haven for culinary endeavors, free from the worries of potential gas-related mishaps.

A well-maintained oven guarantees that each holiday dish is infused with the flavors you intended. While few look forward to the chore, with the right knowledge and a little elbow grease, oven cleaning needn’t be an overwhelming chore.  Depending upon how the oven will be cleaned a few tools may be necessary—gloves, eye protection, newspaper, paper towels or old towels, cleaning clothes, synthetic scouring pad, sponges with scratch pads and a large garbage bag.

Oven Interior

There are three primary ways to clean the oven interior—self-cleaning, chemical oven cleaners, and DIY with baking soda, vinegar, and water.

Self Cleaning.  If you have a self-cleaning oven, check and follow your owner’s manual for detailed instructions. Make sure to wipe up any spillovers or liquid grease to avoid excessive smoking during the cycle and setting off your smoke alarm. Remove any oven accessories and the racks before starting the cycle. The self-clean cycle takes about two hours (exact time varies by oven type) during which the temperature reaches 800-1000 degrees F. Because the extreme heat has the potential to destroy the shiny chrome finish on the racks, it is recommended that they be cleaned outside of the oven (instructions follow).  The oven gives off a tremendous amount of heat during the cycle as well as some toxic fumes. You should stay at home while the oven is self-cleaning just in case anything goes awry but you and your pets should stay out of the kitchen and vent the room as much as possible. When it’s over, you’ll see a white ash on the oven bottom that you’ll need to wipe out once the oven cools. 

Chemical Oven Cleaners.  This is the easiest, fastest process and will remove serious amounts of grease and grime. The caveat is that oven cleaners can be quite caustic, so if you’re sensitive to harsh chemicals or prefer an all-natural approach this is not for you.  There are low- or no-fume products on the market that do work quite well. Carefully follow the directions on the product and be sure to protect the area around the oven with newspaper, paper towels, or old towels.  Remove the racks for cleaning (instructions follow) as well as any other items in the oven.  Spray the entire interior being careful to not get spray on the heating elements of an electric oven or the gas inlet of a gas oven.  Lift the heating element and spray under it. Gloves and eye protection should be worn when using oven spray cleaners. Also be aware that it is possible that using an oven cleaner could affect the surface of the oven; you may experience white or grey discoloration of the surface. Also, due to the porous nature of the oven surface, some of the product may be left behind after the cleaning process and fumes will be detected the first time the oven is turned on.

DIY.  While this may not be the fastest way to clean the oven, it is by far the safest and is appropriate for any oven type.  Begin by removing everything from your oven and protecting the floor beneath your oven with newspapers, paper towels, or old towels.  Mix 1/2 cup of baking soda with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water to make a spreadable paste.  Spread the paste around the inside of the oven using fingers, spatula, or brush covering the entire interior including crevices. Keep the paste away from the heating element of an electric oven and away from the gas inlet of a gas oven. It is also possible to lightly mist the paste with white vinegar in a spray bottle which will cause the paste to bubble and foam.  Close the oven and allow the paste to sit for 30 minutes to 10 – 12 hours, or overnight depending upon the depth of cleaning needed.

After time has elapsed, glove up and begin to rub the surfaces with a synthetic scrubbing pad dipped in vinegar or a plastic scraper to loosen baked on grime.  Wipe down all surfaces with a damp cleaning cloth. If the paste is dry, spray with vinegar to soften and remove.  After all of the paste and grime has been wiped away, spray the oven with vinegar and wipe dry.

A DIY recipe shared by an AnswerLine client is another option. Mix 2 oz of Dawn detergent, 4 oz bottle lemon juice, 8 oz white vinegar, and 10 oz water in a spray bottle. Spray the oven walls, top and bottoms. Let sit overnight or longer. Wipe clean with wet clothes to remove the residue.

Racks

Racks can be cleaned with either chemical oven sprays, ammonia, or with baking soda and vinegar.  If oven sprays or ammonia are used, the work should be done outdoors with rubber gloves and eye protection.  Once the racks are cleaned, washed, rinsed and dried, replace them in the clean oven.

Chemical Oven Sprays.  Lay the racks on a garbage bag that has been cut open, spray the racks with the cleaner, cover, and tuck the bag tightly around the racks and let them sit overnight.  Spray wash them with a garden hose to remove the chemical residue and then wash them with dish detergent in either the kitchen sink or bathtub scrubbing as necessary. Discard the bag used by placing inside of another bag and putting in the trash.

Ammonia. This is the most dangerous method but one that is frequently used.  Place the racks in a large trash bag. Add 2 cups ammonia to the bag. Tightly tie or seal off the bag so that the ammonia cannot leak out and let them sit overnight lying flat. The racks do not have to be coated in the ammonia because the fumes will circulate and do the job. The next day, open the trash bag being cautious of the ammonia and the fumes.  (Avoid inhaling the fumes.)  Spray the racks with a garden hose and then wash with dish detergent followed by a rinse.  Dispose of the ammonia by mixing with water and pouring down the kitchen sink or toilet.  If you have a septic system, the ammonia should be neutralized with baking soda, cat litter, and sand and disposed in the outside trash.  The bag should be sprayed with the garden hose, bagged, and also put in the outside trash.

Baking Soda, Vinegar, and Hot Water.  Place the racks in the bathtub. Plug the tub and sprinkle baking soda on the racks and then pour vinegar on top creating a foam. When the foaming stops, run hot water until the racks are fully covered.  Allow the racks to sit in the water for 10-12 hrs or overnight. Remove racks from the water and scrub with a cleaning cloth, pumice, or synthetic scrubber until all grease and grime is gone.

Pat yourself on the back when the job is done. You might want to reward yourself with a holiday gift by investing about $10 in an easy-to-clean non-stick oven liner (example) that catches spillovers and crumbs and helps prevent the fore mentioned ‘culinary crime scene’.  Be sure to use the liner correctly in your oven.

Lastly, give yourself a break and don’t stress if the oven doesn’t turn out spotless.  The object is to get it clean enough that the grime doesn’t taint anything that is baked or roasted in the oven and the aromas coming from the kitchen are pleasant.  After all, ‘tis the season for a little fun, too!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Potato Peelings

assorted potatoes with skins onWe recently had friends spend a long weekend with us and they were telling us about a recent mishap at their house. They were entertaining friends for dinner and were preparing a potato dish. They put the potato peelings down the garbage disposer. You may have guessed what happened next – the drain got totally clogged. Typically things like that happen when it is holiday time and we are preparing food for more people than usual. Plumbers are usually not available at a reasonable price at those times as well!

There are foods you should never put down your garbage disposer. Sometimes it happens though that we forget or a helper in the kitchen is not familiar with foods that should not be disposed of in the garbage disposer. Our friends contacted a plumber but decided to try a few things themselves to unclog the drain and they were successful!

Many of us will probably be making potato salad this Summer so I thought it might be a good reminder to all of us to not put potato peelings down the garbage disposer and also to review some ways to try and unclog a drain on your own.

You may want to try the Baking Soda and Vinegar method: Pour 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain. Add 1/2 cup white vinegar and cover the drain if possible. Let set for a few minutes, then pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain to flush it. The combination of baking soda and vinegar can break down a clog and wash it down the drain. DO NOT use this method after any commercial drain opener has been used or is still present in the standing water.

Another method is using Salt and Baking Soda: Pour 1/2 cup salt and 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain. Follow with 6 cups boiling water. Let sit overnight and then flush with water. The hot water should help dissolve the clog and the baking soda and salt serve as an abrasive to break through the clog.

In order to keep your drain running smoothly you may consider pouring a kettle of boiling water down it on a weekly basis to melt fat that may be building up or to put some vinegar and baking soda down the drain to break up fat and keep it smelling fresh.

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Hand Dryers vs Paper Towels

We recently had someone reach out to us asking about the sanitation of hand dryers vs paper towels for drying  hands. I noticed as I recently did some traveling that many airports, restaurants and rest areas are going to air hand dryers rather than paper towels. I’m sure it is beneficial to them as a means to keep their restrooms more tidy.  According to the CDC, drying your hands is very beneficial as germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands. But is it more beneficial to us to use a hand dryer or paper towels?

According to an article in the Harvard Health blog from Harvard Medical School, bacteria in a bathroom can form a fecal cloud due to lidless toilets being flushed. That fecal cloud contains many microbes. Fortunately the majority of those microbes do not cause disease in healthy people. For those people in a hospital or with a weakened immune system though this could be a big problem.

As I was beginning to look for pictures to go along with this article the first place I decided to check was our local clinic. I found only paper towel dispensers there. As I did more research I found that is because paper towels are already routine in health care settings.

As was stated in the CDC article, the best way to dry hands remains unclear because few studies about hand drying exist and the results are unclear. There are many factors involved and of course it depends on who is paying for the study. Many are sponsored by either the paper towel industry or the air blower industry with results of course favoring their products. Some studies focused on the effectiveness of the hand drying, some on the cost, some on the carbon footprint, and some on the degree of which bacteria and viruses are deposited on the hands during the drying process.

The Harvard Health study recommended using paper towels as they found them to be the most hygienic way to dry your hands. Another study agreed suggesting paper towels can dry hands efficiently, remove bacteria effectively and cause less contamination of the restroom environment. That same study found that with air dryers people were more likely to incompletely dry their hands or not dry them at all.

The bottom line is to wash your hands effectively and dry them completely with whatever method is available. Don’t let your hands drip dry and don’t dry them on your clothes.

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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FOG (Fats, Oils and Grease)

As we continue to enjoy the Holidays with family and friends, I want to remind everyone about something we may not think about often but that could certainly impact a gathering in our homes. If not disposed of properly, fats, oils and grease can build up in the pipes of your home and cause a sewer backup. Those backups are always unpleasant and expensive to repair and there are things we can do to help prevent the backups in the first place. Many food products can lead to a buildup in your homes pipes if not disposed of properly: grease from cooking a turkey in the oven or a deep fat fryer, salad dressing, leftover gravy, cooking oil, butter/margarine, etc.

Here are some tips to help us all avoid having a sewer backup event:

Use a paper towel to remove as much leftover fat, oil and grease as you can on dishes and pans before you wash them.

If you cooked with the fat, oil or grease, let it cool completely then either throw away the fat that has hardened or pour the leftover fat in a sealable container and throw it away in your garbage.

If you have deep fried your turkey, dispose of that oil after each use. If you leave the oil in the fryer to reuse at another time it may attract pests and may not be safe. Many resource recovery plants will accept used cooking oil at no or minimal cost.

By following a few tips in removing fats, oils and grease from our dishes and pans we can save ourselves a lot of stress over clogged pipes in our homes.

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Cleaning up the garden tools

Fall is just around the corner and I cannot believe just how quickly the summer has passed. I must admit that I just did not have the time to spend out in the garden that I have had in previous years. We have done some remodeling around our home and the place that I always stored my garden tools has changed. I plan to use the remaining warm summery days to organize and clean up my tools so I can have a great fresh start next summer.

I need to scrub the dry and crusty dirt off my shovel and garden trowels. I will use some hot soapy water and a brush then spray the shovels with the hose. I can apply some WD 40 to the digging surface to prevent rust. My trowel handles are rubber and plastic. I can clean them in the hot soapy water. I will wash the wooden handle of my shovel and wipe it down with some boiled linseed oil.

I plan to wash my shears and trimmers. I will sharpen the blades with a ceramic stone. It is an easy process if you can take the shears apart easily and hold the stone at a slight angle to the blade. A light spray of WD 40 will keep those shears from rusting and will lubricate the blade for easier cutting.

This is also a great time to wash and repair my garden planter. I can organize the planter plates and make sure everything is in working order.

If I need to repair any tools or replace them, fall is a great time to purchase the replacements. Often stores are clearing out their summer stock and I may find a bargain.

If I spend some time organizing my tools, discarding old seed, and making sure that garden chemicals are stored correctly I know I will be motivated to take better care of my tools.

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Fall Spice Refresher

Summer may not be over yet but people are already craving spice-flavored foods, beverages,and smells.  Even before we had our Labor Day barbeques, Starbucks introduced it’s fall Pumpkin Spice Latte because customers were asking.  “Sweet” spices–cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and ginger–go hand in hand with fall and holidays.  Now is a good time to prepare for the season of “spice and nice” and soups and stews by going through our spice collection to make sure we are ready when it comes time to reach.
Ground spices retain their goodness for about six months.  Whole spices such as allspice berries and cinnamon sticks stay fresher longer, 1-2 years, if stored in air-tight containers.  Vanilla extract is commonly used with the “sweet” spices to bring out their best.  Vanilla retains it’s best flavor for 12 months.  And while one is in the process, why not check out the herbs, too.  Like ground spices, herbs retain their best flavor for six months.  All spices and extracts should be kept in locations away from heat and light.  If a date is not present on the container, apply the smell test.  If you don’t detect an intense fragrance when you open the container, it’s likely time to replace it.  I’m always amazed at how much more flavorable something tastes when fresh spices or herbs are used.
While fall spices are reminenct of crips days, rustling leaves, baked goods, and hearty soups and stews, there are always lots of questions about which to use for what.  Here’s a quick primer:
Allspice (whole or ground)  is the dried unripe berries of the Pimenta dioica tree found in wamer parts of the world.  The berries combine the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and complements stews, yellow vegetables, pork, poultry, cakes, cookies, and sweet breads.  When ground allspice is not available, a good substitution is a mixture of half ground cinnamon and half ground cloves.
Cardomom is a blend of seeds that bring a warm and aromatic flavor that is delightful in baked goods like gingerbread; it is also a staple of Indian cuisine. It is often used  with cinnamon, cloves and chocolate.
Cinnamon (ground or stick) is a spice obtained from the inner bark of  the Cinnamomum tree. With its mildly-sweet-to-bittersweet flavor, cinnamon is a nice addition to baked goods, stews, curries, fruit, squash, oatmeal, pork and beef.  It pairs well with fruits and chocolate.  Cinnamon sticks are perfect for mulling cider, tea, or other fall beverages.
Cloves (whole and ground) are the aromatic flower buds from a tree found in India and other countries in that part of the world.  Cloves goes well with sweet breads, yellow vegetables, chocolate, and fruit.
Chili powder is the dried, pulverized fruit of one or more varieties of chili peppers, sometimes with the addition of other spices. It is used as a spice to add pungency and flavor to dishes. Commonly used in traditional Latin American dishes like enchiladas and tacos, a spoonful of chili powder also adds a welcome kick to grilled meats, stew, soup, a pot of beans, vegetables, and even chocolate.
Ginger adds a pungent zest to both sweet and savory dishes. It is derived from the Ginger plant rhizome known as ginger root or simply ginger.   Ginger is widely used as a spice or a folk medicine.  As a spice, ginger has so many uses:  baked goods, stir-fries, curries, hot tea and seafood. It also offers a great accent to garlic.
Spice Mixes (Apple Pie Spice, Pumpkin Pie Spice) are blends of ground cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger made specifically for convenience.  Both can be used as a seasoning in pie as well as general cooking and baking to enhance the flavors of any products using apples or pumpkin/squash.  There are many DIY recipes for making blends using basic spices such as these.
Enjoy the coming of fall and the smells and flavors that enhance it!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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