Seal tree pruning cuts with latex caulking, use rock salt to control fleas, prop up heavy blooms with straws, remove rust with vinegar, give your garden as a gift, relieve dry skin with oatmeal baths, get rid of rats with mothballs, fix a loose hammerhead, and other handy tips from MOTHER’s readers.
Through the years we've all discovered a few practical, time-tested solutions to some of the frustrating little problems of everyday life. Here are some of our readers' favorites.
Last summer, I got requests from friends for seed from our flowers. So I took pictures of my many flowers during the height of their blooming season. Then, in the fall, when it was time to harvest the seed, I decided to create surprises for my friends, neighbors and relatives. I folded in half a piece of construction paper the size of a standard envelope. On the front, I glued a photo of a flower from my garden and wrote the name of the plant. Inside, I included planting and care instructions. To finish off the surprise, I wrapped enough seed in tissue paper for the receiver to start a good-sized flower bed.
— Jeanne Knape, Davenport, Iowa
Ever find your champion peonies, roses, irises or other large-flowered plants bent over from the weight of the bloom? To rejuvenate my bowed blossoms, I wrap a section of plastic drinking straw, split down one side, around the stem at the bend and then use a piece of transparent tape to seal the straw firmly. Since plastic straws come in many colors, you can often make an inconspicuous or color-coordinated stem crutch.
— Chuck Williams, Blacksburg, Virginia
If you have a splinter you can't get out, take an egg, break it open, and get the skin that's around the inside shell. Put some of this egg skin on the place where the splinter is, and in six or seven hours the splinter will have come out enough so you can pull it the rest of the way.
— Buck Kuhs, Gowanda, New York
If you're bothered by groundhogs, plant a few castor beans. My grandfather told me that caretakers of cemeteries once planted them to keep the pesky little creatures from burrowing through graveyards, and it works. There's something about the smell of them that groundhogs can't tolerate. The foliage of a castor bean plant is really quite pretty, and the seed pods grow in a pyramid shape that makes a lovely natural decoration at holiday season. (Be aware, however, that these plants—especially the beans—are also quite poisonous; make sure that pets and small children can't get to them!)
— Kathy Smith Anthenat, Elkhart, Indiana
My recently purchased lawn roller needed to be filled with water for added weight. I filled it with used crankcase oil that I'd been saving for years. It prevents internal rust, doesn't freeze (so it doesn't need to be drained over the winter months) and gets rid of the oil ecologically.
— Burdette Kiser, Fremont, Ohio
To relieve dry, itchy skin, I take oatmeal baths. I make an oatmeal "teabag" using a handful of traditional rolled oats tied into a linen tea towel. This soaks in the tub, and when squeezed produces a cloudy, soothing bath. It's much less expensive than commercially prepared powders, and if you're careful, much less messy.
— Evelyn Huddleston, Dresden, Ontario, Canada
To cure the problem of a loose hammerhead, first soak the hammer in water until the head is tight on the handle. Let it dry for a day. Then soak it in antifreeze (ethylene glycol) for a week or two. Let it sit until it feels dry on the outside. Finally, varnish the wood.
— Robert A. Weir, Yucaipa, California
When pruning your trees, seal the cuts with latex caulking. It protects the wounds against insects and disease and works well on both large and small cuts and cracks.
— James Koester, Wellborn, Florida
To preserve wooden fence posts inexpensively, dip the ends that will be below ground into a bucket of roofing tar. It will add years to the life of the post.
— Russell L. Skinner, Sr., Central Point, Oregon
Punctures and small tears in window screens can be temporarily repaired to keep mosquitoes and other insects out by applying clear five-minute epoxy glue over the damaged area.
— Carol Crump, Fremont, Ohio
If spring rains come and you find your well is not filling with water, try pouring two or three pounds of table salt into it. The salt will irritate crayfish and make them dig new channels so water will flow into the well.
— Larry Briggs, Paola, Kansas
Those string-reinforced, green-vinyl garden hoses always seem to get permanent kinks from being pulled when there is a loop in the line. To fix permanently kinked areas in 1/2-inch hose, take a four-inch piece of 1/2-inch PVC water pipe and cut along one side with a hacksaw. Then heat the side opposite the cut with a propane torch or some other controlled heat source. The heated area will soften, and the pipe can be hinged open. Slip it over the kinked area and pinch it closed with pliers. When it cools, it will be rigid again, won't open and will eliminate the kink in the hose. If the kink also leaks, make sure the hose is dry, cover the area with silicone rubber, and put the PVC clamp on right away. Let the silicone cure overnight before using the hose. This works for low-pressure water lines; you may need to use a stronger glue if you have higher pressure.
— Bill Birdsall, Las Marias, Puerto Rico
Two well-tested hints I thought you might enjoy:
1. Before cutting tall, damp grass, spray the cutting blade of the lawn mower with vegetable oil spray. The wet grass won't stick.
2. Use fresh sprigs of peppermint in places haunted by mice. They hate the smell.
— Connie Jo Higgins, Bennet, Nebraska
While living in an old house, we quickly tired of hearing rats run through the walls at night. Rather than dealing with rat poison or traps, we just dropped several mothballs through a few holes we opened in inconspicuous places in the lath and plaster walls of their favorite rooms. That night we heard them rolling the mothballs around quite a bit, but after that we never heard them again—not liking the smell, they left and never returned.
— Aaron Corum, Newberg, Oregon
For the past several years, I've been using rock salt to control fleas in our home. I just put a couple of tablespoons in a jar lid and place it on the floor out of sight (under a couch or bed), one or two to a room. Even with two cats going in and out, and our doors frequently left open, we've never had any signs of fleas. Even our cats (who used to be plagued with them) are nearly flea-free.
— Cindy Corum, Newberg, Oregon
Soak rusted tools, nails, bolts, etc., for around three days in vinegar. Take them out and wash with soap and water; the rust will be gone.
— Billy Morris, Austin, Indiana
Use kitty litter on sidewalk ice in the winter instead of salt. Salt, as we know, harms the environment and also causes pain to pets' feet. I find kitty litter just as absorbent as salt, safe for pets and the environment, and the birds love it, as it provides them with the much-needed gravel in the winter months. Come spring, you won't even have to sweep the sidewalks. The birds will have taken care of it for you!
— Brigitte Von Budde, Fargo, North Dakota
To get rid of perspiration stains and odors on work clothes, sprinkle meat tenderizer on the soiled areas after dampening them with water. Rub the tenderizer into the shirt lightly and set the garment aside for at least an hour. Then wash as usual. This works on cotton and cotton-poly blends, although I wouldn't try it on a delicate fabric like silk.
— F. Karen Anderson, Rancho La Costa, California
To prevent the risers on heavily traveled wooden stairs from getting kicked and marked, cut a piece of Formica or plastic-coated wallboard to the size of the kick plate behind the stair tread. Use the appropriate glue for the material to fix it into place. This facing saves painting and makes cleaning a snap, since any mud or dirt wipes off easily.
— Mrs. Andrew E. Guskea, Jr., Corry, Pennsylvania
Two hints for your kitchen:
1. To keep from crying when peeling onions, hold a wooden match between your teeth.
2. To remove stubborn stains from a Tupperware bowl, put a tablespoon of IronOut powder in it, fill with water and let it soak. (This also worked great for loosening deposits in our humidifier so we could clean the filter and wheel.)
— Earl and Barbara Hodel, Little Falls, Minnesota