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.

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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Preparing for a New Baby: Helping Parents Adjust

My husband and I will be welcoming our second child this August. As excited as we are about our newest addition, we also recognize this will shift our family dynamics and be an adjustment for ourselves and our son, Thomas, who will be 21 months when his brother or sister arrives.

Thomas with his Sweeney grandparents.
Thomas with his Sweeney grandparents.

In this blog, I am focusing on things my husband and I plan to do prior to baby arriving to help make the adjustment easier (for strategies on how were preparing Thomas for the adjustment, see my previous blog, Preparing for a New Baby: Helping Older Children Adjust).

We are excited that our family is growing, but also recognize our hands will be quite full with two children under two years old. As we close in on the third trimester, I am embracing Benjamin Franklin’s quote: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Now, I realize not every detail will be attended to (and there are going to be things I overlook) but having a general game plan and preparing accordingly will help reduce my stress heading into this transition.

Strategies to Help Parents Adjust:

Thomas with Grandma Wall
Thomas with Grandma Wall.
  • Create a plan for who will watch the other child(ren): while we are at hospital Thomas will be staying with my in-laws. We plan for Thomas to do a test run at Grandma and Grandpa’s house overnight before the baby arrives, so he is familiar with sleeping overnight in a new place. Also consider what your child needs with them and make sure to pack those items. For Thomas, this will include his sound machine and sleep sack.
  • Create a plan for meals ahead of time: caring for a newborn and toddler doesn’t leave a lot of time or energy to prepare meals. There are several different approaches you can take when thinking about advance meal planning. Some may want to organize a Meal Train, where friends, family and neighbors select a date and meal they will be delivering to your home, others may order frozen meals to be delivered. I am planning to set aside a day to prepare several main dish recipes and store them in my freezer for easy meals when the baby arrives.
  • Preparing nursery and other baby-specific areas: this will look different for everyone depending on the set-up of their home. For me, this will include getting the nursery set-up, washing baby clothes and blankets, creating several diaper changing areas throughout the house, and preparing supplies for nursing. I also plan to set up a subscription for diaper delivery as this will be one less thing to worry about once the baby is here.
  • Pack hospital bag: this is always nice to have done as we don’t always know when babies will make their appearance. Along with the hospital bag, I’ll also be washing the material in our infant car seat, reassembling, and setting it next to my hospital bag so it is not forgotten! 
  • Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed: babies bring so much joy to our lives, but they are also a lot of work. Make sure to accept help from your partner, relatives, and friends. After Thomas was born my mom stayed with us for several days when we returned from the hospital. It was so nice to have an extra set of hands and we’re planning to have her stay again once this baby arrives!
  • Make time to care for yourself: After having Thomas, I decided to swim twice a week as preparation for a half-Ironman relay. I really appreciated this time alone to recharge and found I was more patient with both Thomas and my husband after swimming.
  • Remember to make time for each other: children of couples who have a strong and loving relationship are more likely to adjust well to the new baby. After Thomas was a few months old and we felt comfortable leaving him for a stretch of several hours, we have tried to do a date night (or afternoon) once a month, just the two of us. It isn’t always fancy (sometimes it involves running errands), but it is nice to have that time to reconnect.

Welcoming a second (or third, or fourth, etc.) baby into the family is a big transition for parents but planning and preparing ahead of time can make the transition easier for all involved. With a little preparation beforehand, we are eager to bond as a family.

Sources:

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.

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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Preparing for a New Baby: Helping Older Children Adjust

My husband and I will be welcoming our second child this August. As excited as we are about our newest addition, we also recognize this will shift our family dynamics and be an adjustment for ourselves and our son, Thomas, who will be 21 months when his brother or sister arrives.

Thomas wearing his big brother sweater.
Thomas wearing his big brother sweater. Photo source: Rachel Sweeney

Pregnancy and adding a new baby bring about a lot of changes that may cause Thomas to feel scared or rejected. Oklahoma State University Extension has compiled a helpful table of things to do and say as you prepare older siblings for a new baby sibling. I’m planning to print off this chart and post it on the fridge so I can easily reference it. Too often, parents may emphasize things children should not do with babies. It is recommended that parents give more attention to showing children ways they can have a safe and enjoyable time together. An older child needs to know how to play with a baby, how they can communicate, and how to handle conflict and frustration.

It is also important to consider the age of the older sibling and what is age-appropriate for them as they welcome home a new sibling. The Child Mind Institute offers great age-specific tips to prepare older children for a new sibling.3

Strategies to Help Older Children Adjust:

  • Expose and introduce them to other newborns and babies: this gives them the opportunity to interact with babies and demonstrate how they should behave around babies. My sister has an eight-month-old daughter, so I have been more intentional about holding her when Thomas is around.
  • Read books about babies: the list below can get you started, and you can also check with your local librarian for suggestions.  
    • I Am a Big Sister (Church, 2015, Cartwheel Books).
    • I Am a Big Brother (Church, 2015, Cartwheel Books).
    • My New Baby (Fuller, 2009, Child’s Play International).
    • Peter’s Chair (Keats, 1967, Harper & Row).
    • A Pocket Full of Kisses (Penn, 2006, Tanglewood).
    • 101 Things to Do with a Baby (Ormerod, 1984, Puffin Books).
    • She Come Bringing Me that Little Baby Girl (Greenfield, 1974, Harper Trophy).
    • A New Baby at Koko Bear’s House (Lansky, 1987, The Book Peddlers).
  • Create a special basket of toys for when I am caring for the baby: only use these toys when doing something with the baby that needs all my focus. Several items I plan to put in this basket include a self-propelled plane, dimple fidget toys, and books with sound.
  • Each parent spending individual time (10-15 minutes) with older child: this is a routine to begin before the baby arrives and to continue after the baby arrives. It is important that this time include no younger siblings, no screens, and no other distractions. Make child-directed play the goal; meaning your child chooses what and how to play, and you follow their lead.
Thomas practicing how to give a pacifier on his baby doll.
Thomas practicing how to give a pacifier on his baby doll. Photo source: Rachel Sweeney
  • Purchase a doll and practice skills such as holding, diapering, and feeding: this can help teach children how to rock, hug, cuddle, and even feed and diaper a baby by practicing first on a doll. I am planning to snag one of these at a garage sale this spring.
  • Sibling preparation classes: check with your hospital to see if they will be offering these classes. Unfortunately, the hospital I will be delivering at currently does not offer these classes in-person, but I do see there are some classes available online.
  • Limit major changes to routine: it is recommended to not make any major changes in the routine of the older sibling in the several months leading up to the baby’s arrival as well as a few months after the baby’s arrival. This includes things such a transitioning to a toddler bed, potty training, weaning from a pacifier, and starting a new daycare. We will be moving to a new home this summer, but we are trying to get that done in early summer, so Thomas has several months to adjust to our new home before the baby arrives.
  • Find ways to invite your child to help: you want to make sure your child feels included, which helps create a bond between siblings. I have been brainstorming some tasks that Thomas can help with, including bringing diapers, bringing items to the baby (such as a pacifier), and turning on the sound machine for baby.
  • Ask visitors to spend one-on-one time with the older sibling: this will help the older sibling feel special and not left out. We plan to have guests visit when we return home and since the weather will still be nice outside, I am hoping many of our family and friends can take Thomas outside to play.

Welcoming a new sibling is a big transition for an older sibling but planning and being intentional with your actions and words as a parent can help make the transition easier for all involved. We are eager for Thomas to bond with his sibling once he or she arrives!

________________________________________

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:

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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Test Well Water Annually for Safe Drinking Water

One in seven Americans get their drinking water from private wells. While Federal and state governments set legal limits for contaminants in public water systems, those laws don’t cover private wells. Rather, private well owners are responsible for the safety of their water. No federal or state requirements exist for well owners to test their water. However, private wells must be tested for possible harmful contaminants.

water from faucet filling cup

At a minimum, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recommends bacteria and nitrate testing be performed at least once per year. Nitrates pose a threat to infants and pregnant or nursing mothers, while the presence of bacteria indicates a pathway for disease-causing bacteria to enter the well. You may also want to have your well water tested if you notice any changes in color, taste, odor, hardness, corrosion, sediment, etc. Water can also be tested for naturally occurring contaminants like arsenic, fluoride, and radium. The Minnesota Department of Health recommends testing for coliform bacteria, nitrate, arsenic, lead, and manganese on a scheduled basis.

Nearly all Iowa counties participate in the Grants-to-Counties Well Program to assist families with well water testing. The Grants-to-Counties program can provide free or cost-sharing for water sampling and analysis to qualifying private drinking water systems. To find out if your county participates in the Grants-to-County Well Program or to arrange sampling of your water system, please refer to the list of County Environmental Health Sanitarians supplied by the Iowa DNR and contact the Sanitarian’s office in the county where the well is located. Minnesota also has help for private well owners through grants or loans. The grant programs may also assist with the cost of filling abandoned wells. Old wells pose a safety hazard and a hazard to groundwater contamination. Most state laws require old abandoned wells to be properly filled to eliminate any hazards.

Iowa residents can get more information from the Iowa DNR to learn how to sample and test well water. Minnesota residents can get more information from the Minnesota Department of Health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an all-states listing of contacts for certified laboratories for water testing.

You don’t know what’s in your water until you test. Get it on your calendar for testing annually or more often, if needed. In the meantime, be aware of potential sources of contamination near your well–livestock, septic tanks, fuel or chemical spills, or anything unusual about your well or the water from it.

Sources:

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

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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Induction Cooking – What You Need to Know

If you’re buying a new electric powered range or cooktop, you might be deciding between electric or induction. Induction cooking is currently one of the top choices. It has risen to popularity because of how fast food cooks through the induction method. While both use electricity to cook food and produce the same outcome, the way they get there is quite different. Both are great options, but it’s important to understand the differences between them and which will be the best fit for your cooking needs.

Standard electric cooking sends electric current to open coils or radiant burner elements below the glass or ceramic surface to transfer heat to cooking vessels (pots or pans)  and then to the food inside. This process is known as thermal conduction. It takes time for the burner to heat and transfer heat to the vessel as well as to cool down due to the residual heat that the burners hold; after reducing the temperature, burners take a few minutes to settle to a lower setting and remain hot after burners are turned off.

An induction cooktop or range looks similar to a glass-top electric counterpart but is powered by an electromagnetic field below the surface of the glass cooktop. Instead of passing heat along from surface to cookware to food, induction cooktops heat the cookware directly resulting in even cooking and less loss of energy. The magnetic field reacts with the cookware (which must contain ferrous iron) and transfers heat and energy directly into the cooking vessel. Only the pan, and what’s directly under it, on an induction range gets hot. The surface around it stays cool.  

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF INDUCTION COOKING?

  • Cooking is faster.  In general, an induction range or cooktop is 2-4 minutes faster than gas or electric at bringing 6 quarts of water to a boil.
  • Excellent temperature control. Allows for precise temperature adjustments and reduces the chance of burning food.  When you turn the burner off, heat transfer stops immediately, so there’s less of a chance of foods boiling over or overcooking.
  • Easy clean up. Spatters or spills outside of the pan will not bake onto the cooking surface.  There are no burners to take apart and reassemble.
  • More energy efficient. An induction model uses 10% less energy than a smooth-top electric range.
  • Safe.   There is no emission of gas into the air. Cloth objects will not catch on fire because no element is exposed and heat only transfers to items with iron particles in it. Induction units also turn off when the cookware is removed from the heating element so there’s little risk of accidentally leaving it on when cooking is done. Burners accidentally turned on will not get hot.  Fire hazards and risk of burns is reduced.

Electrical appliances such as an induction unit create Non-Ionizing or Low-Frequency EMF. According to the National Cancer Institute there are no current studies that have been able to provide a link that Non-Ionizing radiation causes any adverse health issues such as cancer. In fact the natural radiation emitted from the sun is far more harmful than induction unit could ever be.[1]

The American Heart Association has also deemed the low electromagnetic field safe for patients with pacemakers or medical implants.

  • Reduces kitchen heat and ventilation requirements.

WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES OF INDUCTION COOKING?

  • Cost.  Induction surfaces are an investment since the technology is relatively new.  However, as induction becomes more mainstream, the cost is decreasing.
  • Require cookware containing ferrous iron.  Specifically, that means stainless steel, cast iron, and carbon steel. Pots and pans made from aluminum and copper aren’t compatible. Most confusing of all, some cookware uses a combination of materials in its construction, so its induction status isn’t always obvious. Look for pots and pans marked “induction safe” or “induction compatible.” An easy test to see if cookware is compatible is to see if a magnet strongly sticks to the bottom of the pan.  If a magnet sticks to the bottom, it can be used with induction. 
  • Caution – Cooktops can get hot.   Heat is transferred from the cooking vessel to the glass through conduction, much as a hot pan would transfer heat to a countertop if you set it down to rest.  The glass surface never gets as hot as it would on a traditional radiant electric range but one can never assume that it will be cool to the touch.
  • Unfamiliar sounds.  Some consumers report a buzz or hum on the higher settings resulting from the high energy transferring from the coil to the pan.  There is also the possibility of hearing the element clicking or the fan cooling the electronics. All are common and resolve by turning down the heat or adding food to the pot or pan,, Consumer Reports says that heavy, flat-bottomed pans help reduce the vibrations that cause the buzz.
  • Magnetic field can interfere with digital thermometers.  Consumer Reports suggests the need to resort to an analog thermometer—an old-fashioned solution to a modern problem.
  • Requires a learning curve. Induction cooking takes some getting used to.  Some nuances include: placing the right sized cookware in the center of the heating element in order for it to be properly activated; cookware must be flat-bottomed; the heating element may cut off prematurely or shut off without warning when the pan is shaken or moved; food may overcook until one learns that cookware doesn’t take long to preheat and a lower heat setting is needed to maintain the temperature of food.  Touch pad controls also take time to get used to.
  • Cooktops scratch easily.  Although induction cooktops are made of a durable glass-ceramic composite, they are more prone to scratching if scratchy pans are slid across the surface and even cracking if a heavy pot is set down too hard. Most manufacturers suggest using cookware with clean, smooth bottoms, and to avoid sliding pots and pans across the surface. Sharp tools or abrasive cleaning materials should not be used on the surface.
  • Repairs may be expensive after the warranty period. 
  • A 240V outlet is required.  An induction range or cooktop easily replaces an electric range or cooktop.   If the conversion is from gas, an electrician will need to install the proper wiring. 
  • Requires canners (pressure and water) specifically made for induction cooktops.  Both are available.

While induction cooking is one of the most efficient, safest and precise ways to prepare food, the question remains, is it for you?

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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Tips for Hanging Pictures Perfectly

Figuring out where and how to hang a picture is an art in and of itself. There isn’t just one correct way to do it.  A quick Google search will reveal any number of ‘how tos” along with video for hanging pictures.  Whatever method is chosen, the object is to get our photos, posters, and artwork on the wall satisfactorily to make a visual impact and enjoy our pieces. 

Here are some tips to hang pictures successfully.

Decide on Placement

Deciding on picture placement can be difficult.  Making paper templates of the pieces to be hung helps with this process.  Any kind of paper or cardboard will work but something of color is nice if one is working with white walls.  Trace around the frame, cut out, and name the cut out to identify the piece.  It is also helpful to note on the template with arrows whether it is to be hung vertically or horizontally. Place the template(s) on the wall using blue painter’s or green FrogTape®. (Painter’s or FrogTape® will not damage or leave marks on the walls.)  Placing the template(s) on the actual wall helps one visualize if the space works, space needed between groupings, best height, and overall placement.  This also allows for lots of ‘playing’ or moving various pieces around without any wall damage.  The template(s) can also be left in place for a day or two for help in deciding if the placement feels right.

There are no hard and fast rules, but some aesthetic principles to consider in placement include:

  • The center of the piece should be at eye level, approximately 60” from the floor.
  • Allow at least a 3” to 6” space between the top of a sofa and the bottom of the frame, and 4” to 8” inches from a table top.
  • A grouping of pictures should be treated as a single unit.
  • Center the piece or grouping within the available wall space or over the piece of furniture below it.

Check the template’s final placement with a level or ruler or tape measure, measuring from a corner, doorway or ceiling.

Choose Appropriate Hardware for Hanging

Once the placement has been determined, determining how the piece will be hung or the type of hanger that is appropriate for the piece. The weight, size, and shape of the piece to be hung as well as the wall material needs to be considered first and foremost. There are various options for hanging including screws, nails, picture hanging hardware, pins, or adhesive strips.  If the piece is small and light weight, pins or adhesive strips may work.  Pieces with more weight will require something more substantial.  If the weight is not too great, it might be possible to use a small nail or picture hanger hardware put directly into drywall.  Larger or heavier pieces may require a drywall anchor to adequately support it.  If the piece is really heavy, consideration should be made to placing the piece where there is a wall stud.  While you can nail or screw directly into drywall, always drill a pilot hole first in plaster to prevent cracking. Brick and concrete walls also require drilling a hole with a special masonry bit then either hammering in a masonry nail or using a plastic anchor and screw.

Determine the Hanging Point

Before putting any type of hanger on the wall, the hanging point needs to be determined.  Locate the frame hanging apparatus on the back of the frame.  Some pieces may have two hanging points on each side of the frame. Measure the distance from the point of hanging to the top of the frame. If the hanging apparatus is a wire or a loop below the top of the frame, pull the wire or hook taut towards the top of the frame to get the correct measurement. In some cases, the hanging apparatus may be decorative and extend above the top of the frame.  In that case, the measurement is taken from the hanging point above the frame to the frame top.

Mark the Spot, Apply Hardware, and Hang

With the template still in place on the wall, mark on the template the distance from the top of the frame to the hanging point centering the mark from side to side.  If the hanging point is above the frame, make a small pencil mark on the wall or on a piece of tape; make sure the mark is centered. Apply the chosen hanger to the wall.  If a pin, screw, or nail will be used, the marked point is the designated location.  If picture hanging hardware is used, the point will have to be raised appropriately for the hanger size so that the loop of the hanger lands on the marked point. Remove the template and hang the piece.  Grab a level and check the work. Voila!  A picture perfect hang! 

If over time, you notice that the piece moves slightly from right or left with vibration in the home, pins pushed into the wall directly under the frame near the corners or on the lower sides will prevent this from happening and be nearly invisible, too.  To prevent frames from marring the wall, apply self-adhesive rubber bumpers to the bottom corners on the back of the frame before hanging. Sometimes the rubber bumpers are also enough to keep the piece from moving on the wall.

To save frustration, time, and unnecessary holes in your wall, take time to consider placement and appropriate hardware for the piece and the wall. And lastly before taking hammer and nail to the wall, grab a tape measure.

Updated February 2024, 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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Holiday Simmer Pots

Simmer pots or simmering potpourri are one of my favorite ways to make our home smell cozy and warm throughout the year, but especially so during the holidays.  They truly bring out the best of the season with very simple natural ingredients such as spices, rinds, sliced fruit or fruit skins and water.  Simmer pots are affordable, sustainable, and an easy way to make your home smell like something good is cooking!

I prefer simmer pots over the many scented candles available on almost every store shelf because most of them are petroleum-based paraffin with dubious artificial scents.  Since it is my preference to steer clear of petroleum-based products in my house as much as possible, I turn to what my grandmother did: simmer a pot of spices. 

Grandma used her stove; I use a small crockette originally designed for warm dips as there is little chance of me getting distracted and ‘boiling the pot dry.’ Because the crockette does not boil, I start the processes by bring the mixture to a boil on the stove and then pour it into the crockette to simmer as long as desired.  To simmer on the stovetop, bring the ingredients and water to a boil, then turn the heat down to simmer. Water should be added about every 30 minutes to prevent ‘boiling the pot dry.’ A slow cooker can also be used to create a simmer pot.  To do so, fill the crock with water to at least half full, add the ingredients, put on the lid, and heat on high. When steam rolls off the lid, take the lid off and set the slow cooker to a low or simmer setting. Add water as needed to keep it at least halfway full.

Simmer pots are also a great way to recycle rather than compost or throw away orange rinds, lemon and lime peels, and apple and pear skins.  They can be used fresh or dried. (And, it is also possible to refrigerate the ingredients for a few days and reuse for simmering a 2nd time.)

Simmer pot combinations are more of an art than a science.  There are lots of potpourri combinations but really it boils down to personal preference or what you have on hand to work with.  Experimenting with combinations is fun. Some of my favorite holiday combinations include apple skins, orange rinds, cinnamon sticks, and whole cloves along with bay leaves, whole nutmeg, fresh or dried rosemary, and fresh or dried ginger.  Sometimes I use a drop or two of pure vanilla or an essential oil and even a little apple cider if there is some on hand. 

A simmer pot recipe can also be great when someone is sick as long as the smell does not upset their stomach. The combinations of citrus, rosemary, clove, cinnamon and eucalyptus are germ-fighting as well as comforting, soothing, and healing to the body as the vapors are breathed in.

Simmer pot ingredients make wonderful hostesses gifts, gifts for a teacher, friend, or neighbor, and lovely party favors for guests, too.  They are cost effective and everyone can use it.  To gift, start with dried ingredients.  Simply add the chosen ingredients to a clear treat bag or Mason jar, tie with a bow, add a gift tag and you’re ready to give a little a bit of the holidays to that special someone. 

There’s nothing like the smells of the holiday to create a warm and welcoming home.  With a simmer pot ingredient gift, you can give beautiful gifts that will help friends and family deck their halls, 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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That DECK Job! Cleaning (and Refinishing)

I’ve had an ongoing project for the better part of a month—cleaning and refinishing our more than 30-year old wood deck.  We have a large, second story deck with two flights of steps that I had let cleaning and resealing go for a while as there was ‘hope’ and ‘promise’ that we’d be replacing the wood floor and rails with different materials to reduce maintenance.  For one reason (or excuse) or another, the project has not come about.  As spring came and time outside became more of our normal routine, I found myself knowing I couldn’t go another year looking at the disgusting discoloration and unsightliness.  If a new deck wasn’t to be, something had to be done—and I did!

As the cleaning and refinishing journey unfolded, the need for a comprehensive decluttering effort became apparent. Old materials, discarded wood, and debris accumulated throughout the process needed swift removal to truly unveil the beauty of the rejuvenated deck. For those facing a similar cleanup challenge, a reliable solution lies in the expertise of professionals. Consider reaching out to www.junk-removal-phoenix.com, where efficient and thorough junk removal services can seamlessly complement your revitalization efforts, ensuring a clean and clutter-free space for your renewed outdoor haven.

I started by washing the deck using a power washer to remove as much dirt and debris from the surface as possible.  There are mixed feelings among “professionals” as to whether one should use a power washer.  Concerns suggest that using a power washer may force algae, molds, and fungus deeper into the wood, may cause undo raising of the wood making the deck surface rough, and remove the sealant.  In my case, I had little to lose in regard to removing the sealant and I was willing to take a chance on the other two concerns.  I was careful to use a fan nozzle and keep the wand at a 45-degree angle a foot away from the surface.  The result was amazing!

The second step was to do a thorough scrubbing.  Sometime in the past for a previous cleaning, I had purchased a deck cleaning product for this step; however, it was somewhat toxic and precautions had to be taken to cover vegetation, etc.  Having done so, I still experienced damage to vegetation from the runoff.  Not wanting to repeat history, I used a powered oxygen bleach solution suggested by Decks.com and a 3-ingredient DIY recipe (OxyClean™, Dawn® Dish Detergent, and water) from Bob Villa.com .  I had no damage to any vegetation and the cleaning solution did an amazing job along with my ‘elbow grease’ and a stiff deck brush.  While there are recipes using TSP and bleach, these products are not for me.

Between the power washing and the scrubbing, I found no evidence of the previous sealant so refinishing was definitely needed to preserve the wood, repel water and mildew/mold and block UV rays.  There are numerous products on the market and deciding which one was the best was a task in itself.  Due to COVID-19, all of my research was done online.  After a lot of reading and thinking, I chose a water-based, semi-transparent stain and sealant specifically recommended for older decks.  The cost was greater than using an oil-based product.  However, the cleanup was easy (soap and water), it dried quickly, and had virtually no odor and therefore no volatile organic chemical (VOCs) fumes.  The product was super easy to apply (I used the hand brush on-hands-and-knees method for better control) even though the old deck boards soaked the product like a sponge.  Two coats were applied leaving a flat, natural looking finish upon completion.  There was just enough product left to also spruce up the skirting, rails, and spokes.  Cleaning and refinishing took quite a bit of time as I had to pick my days and times; application of refinishing products should not be done during direct sunlight or wet weather. All of the time and effort spent was well worth it; we are really enjoying the new look of our old deck and hopeful that the resurfacing will last until the ‘promise’ is delivered.

My sister-in-law asked about cleaning a composite deck.  I referred her to the Decks.com website.  After cleaning, she still had stains that were bothersome which lead to the suggestion of trying an environmentally friendly product, Wet & Forget®.  I’ve used this product on our concrete porch and vinyl railing to remove stains and our brick siding to remove barnacles and other biological stains.  It is not an immediate acting product but over time, the stain gradually, almost magically, disappears.  The active ingredient in Wet & Forget® is Alkyl Dimethyl Benzyl Ammonium Chloride, an ingredient that most consumers already have in their homes in the form of an anti-bacterial wipe or a similar product. (Unlike these products, Wet & Forget® contains a danger warning on its label because the product is a concentrate with 9.9% active ingredient. When diluted with water for application it is only 2% active.)  The product can be applied to a variety of surfaces safely.

Decks take a great deal of abuse from rain, snow, wind and sun. Although we can’t change the weather, we can prolong the life of our decks by regular cleaning and refinishing as necessary.  Regular upkeep will ensure a safe and usable outdoor space.  Sweep leaves and debris off the deck often to prevent stains and mildew.  A fall and spring cleaning is also recommended.  Don’t let safety issues—loose boards, wobbly rails, raised nails/screws—go.  Decks are a great place to enjoy the warm weather, entertain or just sit on the deck and read.

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.

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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Is Calling 911 with An Old Cell Phone or No Wireless Plan Wise?

Many Americans have a cell phone of some sort for emergency purposes only and if so, largely for the ability to call 911. For some this might be an older hand-me-down or refurbished cell phone which may or may not have GPS or a service plan. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) laws require wireless service providers to connect ALL 911 calls to Public Safety Answering Points regardless of cell phone age or plan.

However, there are some big drawbacks to those who may be relying on older phones without GPS and/or no wireless service plan to get help in an emergency. Depending on how old the phone is, the 911 answering center may not be able to map where that phone is located if the caller is unable to talk. The call may even go to the wrong answering center. And if the phone is without a service plan and should get disconnected, there is no way for anyone to call back to that phone as the device does not have an assigned number.

This exact scenario played out in Boone and Dallas Counties in Iowa. Fortunately for the caller in this scenario, emergency responders were eventually (3.5 hrs later) able to reach the victim and get the medical help that was needed. As a result of this incidence, emergency responders have issued warnings of this peril.

In that light, perhaps it is time to consider other options if you, a loved one, or an elderly family member is relying on an older phone or a phone without a service plan as a means to contact 911 in a medical emergency. Options to consider may be a minimal cell phone service on an updated device or contracting with a Personal Emergency Response Service (PERS) for a medical monitoring device. There is some assistance for these services and devices for those that qualify.

Phone service assistance. Forty-nine states, the District of Columbia and Puerto offer programs that offer free phones and free service to Americans on government assistance or those who are below certain income thresholds. (Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota are included.) The programs and eligibility vary by state. To find out more about these programs, check out Free Government Cell Phones. The FCC offers the Lifeline program to help low-income individuals and families get discounted landline or cell phone service.  A Place for Mom offers some excellent suggestions on plans and phones for Seniors.

PERS assistance. Medicare, Medicare supplemental insurance (Medigap), and most private health insurance plans for the elderly do not cover assistance for PERS, medical alert devices or any other form of personal safety monitoring for seniors. However, some options that may be available include Medicaid, state assistance programs for the elderly or fixed income residents that do not qualify for Medicaid, and veteran assistance programs.

When there is an emergency, it is important that responders are able to reach the caller expediently; to make sure that can happen, everyone needs to understand the equipment and service they have and how it works.

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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