Farming Advice and Folklore: Fireplace Smoke Stains, Vinegar Solutions and Clogged Sink Remedies

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Not so delightful, though, were the dark smoke stains on the brick and stone surrounding the opening. We found, however, that the stains could be removed with a spray-on cleaner for whitewall tires.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers share their farming advice, fun tips and country folklore, including eliminating fireplace smoke stains with a whitewall tire spray, multi-uses for home vinegar solutions and clearing clogged sinks using hot water, baking soda and vinegar and machine shop vac remedies.

MOTHER’s Country Farming Advice and Folklore

We can’t ignore the curse of winter chores.

I love sitting in front of a fireplace and was delighted that the house we’d just bought had one. Not so delightful, though, were the dark smoke stains on the brick and stone surrounding the opening. We found, however, that the stains could be removed with a spray-on cleaner for whitewall tires. Scrubbing with a brush got the cleaner into crevices. When used on the glass doors of our fireplace, the same product dissolves creosote and smoke deposits like magic. I just spray it on, wipe it off with newspaper and polish off the remaining streaks with window cleaner.

— Jan Cunningham
Crossville, Tennessee

Tire Tote

I made a handy log carrier out of an old car tire. Using a utility knife, I cut away all but about 18 inches of the tread and the side walls, leaving an inch and a half or so of rubber around each rim. This gave me two full circles as handles, joined at the bottom with enough tire to support four or five splits at a time. An even better carrier can be made by using a 1 inch by 8 inch by 24 inch board as the bottom of the tote and cutting the rubber off in a straight line under each handle. Then screw each straight edge onto one long edge of the board. The board is longer, of course, than the diameter of the handles, so be sure to center it so your load will be balanced.

— Jere A. Koons
Newmanstown, Pennsylvania

Unturned at the Stake

I attach our garbage can to a stake with a short piece of chain and a snap hook like those used on dog leashes. This keeps the can from blowing away or being turned over by animals, but still allows me to remove it easily for cleaning.

— J.A. Gehrer
Milton, Pennsylvania

Tips on Drips

Here’s some advice from a candlemaker. Before lighting a used candle, retaper the burnt-down end with a knife. Extinguish a candle by dipping the wick into the melted wax in the well (be sure to straighten it again). Both these tricks will help prevent dripping wax, but if some should get on your tablecloth, place a paper towel over the spot and use a warm iron to draw the wax up into the towel. Any candle dye that remains can usually be removed by soaking that part of the cloth in acetone.

— Ronald Roman
Lysekloster, Norway

The Alaska Advantage

As a single mother of two, I’ve had to learn how to get hard jobs done as efficiently as possible. Take firewood, for example. Did you know that the colder it gets, the easier wood is to split? When I’m tired and that maul feels almost too heavy to lift, I wait till the temperature drops to around 20 below; the wood practically falls apart on its own.

— Marti Bradley
Fairbanks, Alaska

A Snazzy Signal

My mailbox is a good ways from the house and across a busy highway. It was annoying to walk that distance (especially in winter), dodge the traffic and then find the box empty. I always wondered if I just didn’t have any mail that day or if it hadn’t yet been delivered and I’d have to make another trip. I decided I needed a signal I could see from the house. I tied an 18-inch-long piece of bright ribbon to the top of the mailbox door, tucked the ribbon inside and closed the door. When the mail is delivered, the ribbon tumbles out as the door is opened; when I pick up the mail I just flip the ribbon back inside till the next delivery.

— George F. Tutterrow
Crossville, Tennessee

Twice as Good

I read with interest D. Gallagher’s hint in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 106 about coating the bottom of a power lawn mower with no-stick cooking spray. I use the same product on my snow blower when the snow is wet and sticky. Spraying the auger and the throat of the blower prevents clogging and helps the snow flow freely through.

— Jean Schneider
West St. Paul, Minnesota

Versatile Vinegar

One of my favorite time- and money-saving tricks is to fill a plastic squirt bottle (the kind with a flip-top cap that shampoo and ketchup come in) with a mix of one part apple cider vinegar to four parts water. I keep this in the bathroom and use it a) as a rinse after shampooing to make my hair squeaky clean and restore its pH balance; b) to soothe a sunburn — I just splash the solution on or add it to my bath water; c) as a cleanser to make the bathroom mirror and windows sparkle; and d) mixed into a paste with baking soda to scrub the tub.

— Nanette J. Blanchard
Bayfield, Colorado


When my children were quite young, my little girl begged to take baths with her baby brother, who was just able to sit by himself. I kept all three of us happy by setting him in the bathtub inside a plastic laundry basket. I didn’t worry, because he was safe; she had fun with her brother; and he enjoyed playing with the water as it flowed in and out of the woven sides of the basket.

— Maureen Fuller
Trumansburg, New York

Three Cures for Clogs

Our kitchen sink has clogged more times than I care to remember, and the cause is usually an accidental grease spill. I got awfully tired of removing and cleaning the drain trap every time this happened, so I tried something easier — and it worked. I hold a pan of very hot tap water under the trap, submerging that section of the pipe. In a few moments the grease melts enough to be washed away, and I don’t even have to clear the sink.

— Dean Olsen
San Pedro, California

Though I threatened my husband with exile if he ever again poured grease down our kitchen drain, it still ran slowly and sometimes not at all. I had to find another solution. I now follow a weekly procedure that keeps the drain free of clogs and of odors, too. I pour a cup of baking soda down the drain and follow that with a cup of vinegar. Once the mixture stops foaming, I pour in a pint of boiling water. This method works so well in the kitchen drain that I’ve gone on to use it in my other sinks and in the bathtub as well.

— April L. Anderson
Summitville, Indiana

My shop vac, which handles bot wet and dry materials, is a lifesaver when the sink fills up and the drain won’t function. The machine not only vacuums out the dirty, greasy standing water, but also sucks the pipes clean. When I think of how messy and time-consuming this chore used to be (or how expensive it is to hire a plumber to do it), I feel the cost of the shop vac is justified by this job alone.

— John Carlin
Austin, Minnesota

Hang It All

My daughter and I wanted to hang a framed picture, but there was no hanging hardware on the back. So we improvised with the pull tab from a soda pop can. We fastened the squared end of the tab to the picture’s cardboard backing with a pop rivet, after first drilling a small hole in the metal tab. The round end of the tab with the hole (the part you pull) slips easily over a nail or other hanger in the wall. I realize that not all pull tabs are made the same, but this idea would work with just about any type.

— Ruben Pauly
Alliance, Nebraska

Scents for Cents

To freshen the air in your car, place a sheet of fabric softener under the seat. If the softener odor’s too strong, put the sheet in a plastic bag and expose just a little. For a musty basement, soak a paper towel in pine cleaner and place it in a closed film canister. Punch a hole in the lid; the bigger the hole, the stronger the scent. And for your gym bag or locker (whew!), just keep a big bar of unwrapped deodorant soap in each.

— Terry Fenwick
Bellwood, Illinois

Spuds Out

Did you ever try to unscrew a light bulb only to have the glass break while the socket remained stuck? Just cut off the end of a potato, press it against the jagged glass, and twist out the socket. Be sure, though, to turn the power off first — you might end up with a baked potato!

— Dennis Ouellette
West Hill, Ontario

Through the years we’ve all probably discovered a few practical, down-home, time-tested solutions to the frustrating little problems of everyday life. Why not share your best “horse sense” with the rest of MOTHER’s readers? Send your suggestions to Country Lore, THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Hendersonville, NC. A one year subscription — or a one year extension of an existing subscription — will be sent to each contributor whose tip is printed in this column.  — MOTHER.