Great Reader Tips

Readers agree that vinegar, household ammonia and shaving cream all have uses beyond the ordinary that will help save time and money around your house.


I wash my wool sweaters, skirts and blankets in cold water (either by hand or in the washing machine depending on how delicate the item is) with sudsy household ammonia, which I buy at my grocery store. I use an amount similar to the amount of laundry detergent I would use for that size load, being careful to add the ammonia to the water first to dilute, and then adding the items to be washed. I have done this for years and it works wonders for me! (To be on the safe side and because ammonia can alter the color of some dyes, always pretest. Never mix ammonia with chlorine bleach, as doing so creates toxic fumes.) — Sister Mary Catherine

This sounded suspicious to me, so I checked the ammonia idea with several wool experts and found it to be a highly recommended method for stain removal and cleaning for wool. — MH


Once or twice a year, my coffee pot needs a good vinegar run-through to clean out the lime deposits. There’s no law that says I can’t do this smelly job out on the porch as long as there’s no chance of rain. Vinegar also gets lime out of the teakettle more cheaply than other products. — Prof. Roger K., Ukraine


In response to a previous reader’s inquiry on removing stains from inside a thermos bottle, I pour 1 or 2 teaspoons of automatic dishwasher detergent powder into the thermos, fill with hot water and allow to sit. In less than an hour, all it needs is a good rinsing. Powdered detergent works faster and better for me than liquid or gel. — Shirley R., Michigan


Shaving cream works wonders to remove hair spray spots without heavy rubbing or scrubbing. It’s inexpensive and leaves mirrors and bathroom chrome sparkling clean without telltale odors other cleaners like rubbing alcohol leave. — Karen S., Pennsylvania


The rag top on my venerable Mercury Capri convertible is still in good shape, but the plastic back window was clouded from long days in the sun. I purchased the thickest piece of clear plastic I could find and some vinyl bonding cement. Total cost: $18.21. I cut out the old clouded window, leaving a 1-inch border to glue the new one to. Using the cut-out piece as a template, I cut the new window, adding that 1-inch border all the way around. I applied the glue, attached the new window and taped it to “clamp” the two together. After a few hours, with my heart in my throat, I pulled off the tape. It held perfectly. It was like getting LASIK surgery — I could see again! — Bill C., California


Powdered vanilla is an excellent substitute for vanilla extract for anyone who is severely gluten intolerant and cannot have regular vanilla extract. It seems expensive — about $11 for 3 ounces — but it goes a long way, as you use only one-fourth of the amount of extract called for in a recipe. The brand I use is Authentic Foods Powdered Vanilla and it is available at the Gluten-Free Mall online ( or most health food stores. I’ve found the taste to be so superior to pure liquid extract, I use it in all of my recipes calling for vanilla. — Cindy R., Minnesota

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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