Author Archives: AnnJonesRealty

We Tried Viral Cleaning Hacks to Find Out Which Actually Work

Every year, when spring rolls around, I get the itch. The intense driving need to throw open the windows, roll up my sleeves, and scrub every square inch of my house. Suddenly, the cozy home that kept me comfortable throughout winter seemed suffocating and grimy, and everything had to go. This year, a deep clean has been extra rewarding since I’ve discovered #cleantok, the side of the social media platform TikTok where cleaning experts share their most satisfying cleaning videos and tried-and-true hacks to make every corner of their home shine. So, I tried a few viral hacks and am sharing which ones worked for me and which were a waste of time. 
All featured products and deals are selected independently and objectively by the author. Better Report may receive a share of sales via affiliate links in content.
Use Cream of Tartar to Polish Cutlery
My cutlery is embarrassing. Hard water stains cover our silverware, and whenever we have people over, I find myself bent over the knives and trying to make them shine. So when I saw a trick to use cream of tartar and white vinegar to remove those stains, I had to try it. 
Combine equal parts white vinegar and hot water in a bowl. Lay out your silverware on a cloth and sprinkle it with cream of tartar. Dip a microfiber cloth into the vinegar solution and scrub away the cream of tartar. 
Results: I was surprised by how sparkly my cutlery was after using this method. Some of the more stubborn, deep-set stains remained, but in the end, they really did shine. The one downside to this method is that it left my silverware smelling like vinegar, which did go away after airing them out for a few hours, but I wouldn’t recommend trying this method right before company comes over. 
Rating: 4/5 
Put Aluminum Foil in the Dishwasher
Another method for preventing hard water stains starts in the dishwasher. Multiple videos promote balling up some aluminum foil and putting it in the utensil basket before running the dishwasher like normal.

Results: This method worked fine for me. I don’t think I noticed a huge difference, and it certainly didn’t make the cutlery shine the way the cream of tartar did. But there were fewer hard water stains, and the ones that remained were easier to wipe away. The lift level was much easier, though, so I might keep the foil in there for a few washes to see if it improves over time. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Remove Stains from a Baking Sheet with Hydrogen Peroxide and Baking Soda 

I’ve tried numerous methods to remove grease and cooking stains from my baking sheets, and all have failed. So when I saw the before and after results on videos using this hack, I knew I had to try it. 

Sprinkle a baking sheet with baking soda and wet the pan with hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle. Let that mixture sit for four hours, then scrape it clean. 

Results: Alas, this was another method that failed. I let the mixture sit for four hours and scrubbed my pans really hard, but none of the tough stains came out. However, I saw some videos online that recommended eight, so it may need more time. (But who has eight hours to let a pan sit?)

Rating: 0/5  

Remove Oil Stains From Suede
This method was discovered by my husband, who spilled grease on his favorite suede shoes. With his permission, I repeated the experiment on a non-visible side of the shoe to confirm it really did work. 

Create a paste of equal parts cornstarch and baking soda, add a little water, and put the mixture onto the spot. Let it sit for 30 minutes until dry, and then wipe it off. 

Results: Clean suede shoes! Never again do we need to fear dripping oil! 

Rating: 5/5 

Clean Baseboards With a Dryer Sheet 
We don’t use dryer sheets in my house (I find them uneconomic, and I generally don’t love the smell they leave on clothes), but I borrowed a few from my mom to try this one. All you need to do for this hack is run a dryer sheet over your baseboards to capture dust. 
Results: This method worked well but didn’t feel like much more than a glorified duster. The waxy coating on the dryer sheet was great for catching the dust instead of just loosening it, which I liked, but bending over on the floor and rubbing the baseboards by hand was a lot of work. My trusty Swiffer duster does it much faster and has a long handle which lets me go quickly. The dryer sheets do get a bonus for leaving a pleasant smell, but I don’t think I’ll try this one again.  
Rating: 3/5 
Clean Your Oven with Baking Soda and Dish Soap 
My oven was in desperate need of a deep clean. The last time we gave it a good scrub was right after we moved into our home and had an unfortunate incident that involved melting plastic. We used a whole can of oven cleaner, and our house smelled sickly sweet every time we turned the oven on. 
I was interested in a non-chemical method for cleaning the oven, so I found a video that recommended creating a paste made of 1/2 cup dish soap, 1.5 cups baking soda, and 3/4 cup vinegar. Remove the racks, coat the oven with the paste, and let it sit for two hours. Then, scrub hard with a sponge — spraying with water as needed — and wipe it clean with either paper towels or a microfiber cloth. 
Results: The base of my oven was noticeably cleaner after this method, but the interior glass and some of the more stubborn side stains lingered. I will note that I am a weakling not built for vigorous scrubbing, so someone with more upper body strength might find this method more to their liking. Our oven also had the unfortunate side effect of smelling like burning soap when we turned it on afterward, which may indicate that I didn’t clean it off all the way. This method needs refining on my end, so if I do it again, I will need to make some adjustments. 
Rating: 3.5/5

Featured Image Credit: Aygul Bulte/ iStock

Kellie StewartDeputy Managing Editor

Kellie Stewart is a writer, editor, and mediocre cook who hails from sunny Arizona. Thanks to her toddler, she has no spare time, but if she did, you’d find her drinking Diet Coke and reading every book she can get her hands on.

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Are You Loading Your Dishwasher Correctly? Probably Not

Whenever dirty dishes pile up in the sink, it’s tempting just to throw them in the dishwasher with abandon and hit start. But using a dishwasher isn’t that simple, and you may ruin certain items if you don’t treat them properly. Some materials aren’t dishwasher safe, while others need to be loaded onto a specific rack. Here’s how to properly load a dishwasher.

Look for the Dishwasher Safe Symbol

Items made of ceramic, silicone, and metal are typically dishwasher safe, but other kitchenware may melt, stain, or warp inside the dishwasher. If you’re unsure, look for a dishwasher-safe symbol to confirm. There are several varieties, but the symbols usually involve a plate or glassware inside a square. However, not all items feature these symbols, so when in doubt, wash them by hand.

Avoid Pre-Rinsing
Experts agree that pre-rinsing your dishes before they go in the dishwasher wastes water and makes it operate less efficiently. However, scraping solid food waste into the garbage is still essential, or your dishwasher drain will clog. Sauce stains and crumbs are alright, but anything more substantial will need to be removed from the dish first. 
Face Dishes Toward the Center at a Downward Angle
Many dishwashers are designed with a spraying mechanism in the center, so it’s important to face dirty dishes inward. If you leave your dishes facing upward, then water will pool in certain places and not dry properly. Make sure to face your curved kitchenware downwards, especially cups and bowls, to avoid filling them with dirty dishwasher water.

Load Items Onto the Proper Racks

The lower rack gets much hotter than the upper rack in most dishwashers, so it’s important to load items that may warp due to too much heat on the upper rack, such as plastic cups and utensils. Sturdier pots and pans are better suited for the lower rack.

Don’t Put Sharp Items in the Dishwasher
Sharp kitchen items, including steak and butcher knives, should be washed by hand and never put in the dishwasher. Running sharp items through the dishwasher will dull the blades over time.
Secure Each Item With Tines
Dishwasher racks are equipped with tines to stabilize your dishes. Never lay plates atop the tines. Instead, secure each dish to prevent them from falling over and potentially breaking other items in the dishwasher.
Don’t Overcrowd the Dishwasher
You may be tempted to pack the dishwasher to the brim, but overcrowding will prevent the dishwasher from doing its job. Too many plates may block the jets and prevent water from reaching all of your dirty dishes.
Face Utensils Upward
If your dishwasher has a silverware basket, place spoons and forks facing upward so that the water cleans the dirty food part instead of the handle. However, place butter knives with their blades down so you don’t accidentally cut yourself when removing them.
Use the Right Amount of Detergent
Never fill your detergent dispenser to the brim, as too much detergent may leave a thin layer of gunky film on all your dishes. Instead, use detergent pods or fill the dispenser to just one-third its capacity, which is the perfect amount for a proper cleaning.
Featured Image Credit: Daiga Ellaby/ Unsplash

Bennett KleinmanStaff Writer

Bennett Kleinman is a New York City-based staff writer for Optimism Media. He is also a freelance comedy writer, devoted New York Yankees and New Jersey Devils fan, and thinks plain seltzer is the best drink ever invented.

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Yes, It’s Possible to Clean Your Blinds Without Taking Them Down

Cleaning your blinds is one of the most frustrating household tasks. No one wants to go through the hassle of awkwardly removing blinds from the windows whenever they need dusting. The good news is with a bit of planning and patience, you can make your blinds look like they’ve just come home from the store without having to wrestle them into the tub for a deep clean.

How to Clean Plastic Blinds

Dip a clean sponge into a bucket filled with warm water and mild dish soap, and gently wipe down each blind — yes, while they’re still hanging. Be sure to lay a blanket or tarp underneath them to catch any dripping water. Dry with a clean towel and air dry for an hour before returning the blinds to their normal position. This process can be used on plastic, faux wood, and other similarly-manufactured blinds.

How to Clean Wooden Blinds

Never use water to clean wooden blinds; it can warp the material and cause discoloration. Instead, use a feather duster and a bristle brush for any stubborn dirt. After removing any debris, lightly spray the blinds with antibacterial spray and wipe with a dry cloth. Let the blinds air dry for an hour before returning to their standard position.

How to Clean Metal Blinds

Metal blinds can be pre-treated with anti-static chemicals to repel dust, but they must still be cleaned to remove any grime and build-up. Use a sponge and warm, soapy water to clean the blinds. Wipe them off with a dry cloth to prevent streaking before vacuuming with a brush attachment to remove any remaining dust. Let the blinds air dry.

How to Clean Fabric Blinds
The best way to clean fabric blinds is by running a vacuum with a brush attachment over each panel to remove dust. Next, mix 2 cups of warm water with a few drops of mild dish soap and gently dab any stains — avoid rubbing, which can damage the fabric. Finish using a hair dryer on low heat to dry the damp fabric.
Tips for Success
• Open the blinds before cleaning so each slat is slanted perpendicular to the floor.
• Work from top to bottom so any dust that falls will still be cleaned up.
• Spot-test all cleaning products to make sure they don’t damage the material.
If you have trouble reaching high blinds, wrap a microfiber cloth around a pair of tongs, secured with a rubber band. This will add extra height for removing any debris.
Featured Image Credit: ronstik/ iStock

Bennett KleinmanStaff Writer

Bennett Kleinman is a New York City-based staff writer for Optimism Media. He is also a freelance comedy writer, devoted New York Yankees and New Jersey Devils fan, and thinks plain seltzer is the best drink ever invented.

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As Mortgage Rates Fall, the Number of Homes for Sale Reaches a 4-Year High

By Margaret Heidenry
May 16, 2024

Mortgage rates continued their downward trend with the average rate for a 30-year fixed home loan dropping from 7.09% last week to 7.02% for the week ending May 16, according to Freddie Mac.

“Mortgage rates decreased for the second consecutive week,” Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, said in a statement. “Given the news that inflation eased slightly, the 10-year Treasury yield dipped, leading to lower mortgage rates. The decrease in rates, albeit small, may provide a bit more wiggle room in the budgets of prospective homebuyers.”

Mortgage rates have been on a repetitive see-saw lately, bouncing between the mid-6% range and to over 7%, so whether this week’s movement will make a difference in the sluggish spring housing market remains to be seen.

“Mortgage rates remain stubbornly close to 7%,” says® economist Jiayi Xu. “To see mortgage rates dip further below 7%, persistent evidence showing inflation back on the path to 2% will be necessary.”

Until then, buyers might want to focus instead on the housing market breakthrough that’s been four years in the making.

“Last week saw the highest number of homes for sale since August 2020, a significant milestone,” says senior economic research analyst Hannah Jones in her latest analysis. “The recent strength in listing activity means buyers are seeing more homes for sale than they have seen in almost four years.”

Will a rush of homes hitting the listing pages tempt both buyers and sellers to accept high mortgage rates and dive in? Here’s what the latest real estate data means for homebuyers and sellers in our most recent installment of “How’s the Housing Market This Week?

The latest mortgage rate outlook

Despite this week’s dip, mortgage rates have remained stubbornly high, largely powered by the robust economy.

Though the Federal Reserve had promised to lower key interest rates in 2024, it has yet to do so as economic reports have been coming in strong. (Though the Fed does not set mortgage rates, the two numbers often move in the same direction.) Yet this week, a report showed that inflation fell from 3.5% in March to 3.4% in April.

“This week’s consumer price index inflation data showed improvement, a welcomed sign of progress which can positively affect mortgage rates,” says Jones. “The CPI data will likely hold more sway over the policy and economic outlook, which means we may see this positive data reflected in mortgage rates in the near term.”

Economist Xu agrees, adding, “While this improvement is a baby step forward, it’s expected to foster stability in mortgage rates at their current level and possibly even trigger further declines.”

While many might be waiting for rates to fall before entering the housing market, some buyers have a workaround for high mortgage rates: larger down payments.

The more money a buyer puts down, the more they “minimize housing payments at a high mortgage rate by minimizing loan size,” explains Jones.

The listing pages hit a four-year high

Buyers who have faced years of scarce listing pages have much to celebrate, given the data for the week ending May 11. The total number of homes for sale was strong, 35% higher than the previous year, marking 27 weeks in a row that homes have been above the previous year’s levels.

“Seller activity continued to climb annually last week and accelerated relative to the previous week’s growth,” says Jones.

However, she notes that the annual amount of fresh listings “was lower than almost every week back to early February, signifying a slowdown in new listings growth.”

New listings were up for the week ending May 11 by 6.6% from a year ago.

“New listing activity will continue to be influenced by mortgage rate movement, but cooling labor market and inflation data could mean things are moving in the right direction,” says Jones.

Home prices remain flat

The median list price didn’t rise or fall for the week ending May 11, remaining unchanged at 0.0%.

“The prices for homes on the market notched in at the same level as one year ago for the second week in a row,” says Jones. (The median-priced home cost $430,000 in April.)

A flood of homes priced in the budget-friendly $200,000 to $350,000 range might have helped to tamp down list prices compared with last year.

The pace of home sales is slowing

The pace of the market softened for the week ending May 11, with homes lingering one extra day compared with the same time a year prior. (The typical home spent 47 days on the market in April.)

“Homes sold slightly slower than one year ago last week but remained within a tight margin of the previous year, as has been the trend over the last couple of months,” says Jones.

As to the reason why, once again, all roads lead to mortgage rates. If rates cool, the pace of home sales will likely tick up.

“Improving mortgage rates could bring buyers back en masse, which could drive up competition and lead to a quicker pace of sale,” says Jones.

However, as Jones notes, it’s also important to note that homes are still selling “faster than pre-pandemic.”

Margaret Heidenry is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Boston Magazine.The® editorial team highlights a curated selection of product recommendations for your consideration; clicking a link to the retailer that sells the product may earn us a commission.

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Mortgage rates continue to trend down ahead of inflation report

Housing inventory continues to grow with 35% more listings on the market than a year ago

As the U.S. reaches its peak homebuying season, mortgage rates continue to ease week over week.

HousingWire’s Mortgage Rates Center showed the average 30-year fixed rate for conforming loans at 7.45% on Tuesday, below the rate of 7.51% one week ago. At the same time one year ago, the average rate was 6.54%. The 15-year conforming fixed rate averaged 6.75% on Tuesday, down from 6.77% one week earlier.

“Bond yield keeps heading lower and mortgage spreads are getting better,” HousingWire lead analyst Logan Mohtashami said. “Since the softer labor reports happened, mortgage pricing has improved. Despite today’s hotter Producer Price Index (PPI) inflation print, yields fell again after traders digested the reports.”

The release of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) on Wednesday will allow experts to determine whether or not this trend continues, Mohtashami said.

As of May 10, there were 568,000 unsold single-family homes on the market, up 1.5% compared to the week prior.

“It’s not a massive gain, but inventory is growing and will continue to grow over the next few months,” Mike Simonsen, founder and president of Altos Research, wrote on Monday.

Compared to a year ago, there are 35% more homes on the market, a gap that continues to expand. Simonsen expects there to be 700,000 unsold homes on the market by the end of September.

During the week ending May 10, 89,000 new listings hit the market, according to Altos Research, which was 3% less than the week prior.

“There is still a sense of optimism that more sellers will help this market grow,” Simonsen said. “Ideally, the combined number of new listings should be above 100,000 each week, so it’s a bit disappointing to see only 89,000 today.”

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10 Easy Ways to Spruce Up Your Home’s Curb Appeal

Who wants to be stuck indoors once warm weather arrives? (Not us!) If your home’s exterior and lawn feel a little more “stay away” than “relax all day,” you might find yourself indoors more than you’d like. Of course, the obvious solution is to take on a wheelbarrow full of landscaping projects to make your yard or patio feel more welcoming — but who wants to spend all weekend on yard work? (Again, not us!) Fortunately, there are several ways you can add some pizzazz to your home’s exterior with minimal effort.

All featured products and deals are selected independently and objectively by the author. Better Report may receive a share of sales via affiliate links in content.

Credit: welcomia/ iStock

Powerwash Your Driveway and Walkways

Power washing videos are popular on YouTube for a reason: The simple sense of satisfaction that comes with seeing years of dirt and grime removed in seconds. Experts recommend power washing your driveway and walkways once per year to get that sparkling clean look. Hire this role or buy your own powerwasher and add this to your annual clean.

Credit: SVproduction/ iStock

Add Path Lighting

Adding solar lights to your walkways and outdoor steps will create a soft, welcoming vibe — and (bonus!) help prevent stumbles and falls in the dark. DarkSky International, a nonprofit that works to minimize light pollution, recommends using warm-colored bulbs angled downward for the best effect.

Plant Perennials

Not every homeowner has a green thumb, but with this gardening trick, you’ll never have to admit to being a plant killer. When shopping for outdoor plants, buy perennials. These plants return on their own each spring and grow larger yearly, filling larger garden spaces with less work from you.

Credit: AJ_Watt/ iStock

Select Native Plants

Don’t forget to read that handy plant info tag to see if your garden store selections are native species. These plants are already adapted to your region, meaning they can survive with less care, and some even thrive with neglect. Native plants require less water, fertilizer, and pesticides, knocking a long list of garden tasks off your checklist.

Credit: Larisa Stefanuyk/ iStock

Mulch Your Garden and Trees

A fresh layer of mulch in garden beds and around shrubs and trees adds a crisp landscaping look and helps keep weeds at bay. How you lay the mulch around trees is important: Most arborists recommend spreading mulch in a doughnut shape about 2 to 4 inches deep at the tree’s base instead of a mounded volcano look, which can cause root rot and allow bugs to move in.

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Install a New Mailbox

While mailboxes can last up to 20 years, the average letter receptacle starts failing around the 10-year mark. Upgrading from a rusty, leaky box to a new model can improve your home’s curb appeal and your letter carrier’s mood (there’s a reason the USPS holds a weeklong “mailbox improvement week” each May).

Credit: Peter Carruthers/ iStock

Tack Up New House Numbers

Out with those old, illegible house numbers. Upgrading to a new set of numerals can give your home a more current look. And while you’re at it, give the numbers painted on the curb a touch-up. Your pizza delivery driver will thank you.

Credit: Randy Amor/ iStock

Hang a Birdhouse

Birdwatching from your front porch or window isn’t just a hobby — studies find it’s a known stress reliever. Adding birdhouses can attract natural beauty to your yard and create entertainment. Plus, common birds such as cardinals, house sparrows, and barn swallows eat mosquitoes, making your patio more comfortable all summer.

Credit: MartinPrescott/ iStock

Add Color to Your Porch

A pop of color at your home’s entry can give it an entirely different look. Achieve the look by selecting a bold doormat, brightly colored furniture, or painting your front door. Unsure about a long-term commitment? Even a planter of flowers situated near your entryway can have the same effect.

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Personalize With Garden Art

We’re not saying you should add a flock of plastic pink flamingos to your front yard (but we won’t judge if you do) or adopt the classic Midwestern porch goose (though it can be decorated for every holiday). But adding an enjoyable visual element like a sculpture, water feature, or arbor can give your yard an attractive focal point that reflects your interests and personal style… even if it’s a decorative waterfowl.

Featured Image Credit: Randy Amor/ iStock

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6 Home Repairs You Should NEVER DIY

There’s plenty you can do yourself in your house: painting, laying tile, and even replacing flooring are easy tasks for most people with minimal technical skills, and there’s immense satisfaction in making a home repair on your own. But even the most savvy DIYers know when to ask for help. When it comes to property repair work that could endanger your life, the lives of others, or your house itself, rely on licensed professionals to see you through. Here are six times when you need to put down the toolbox and call the experts.

Roof Repairs

If you don’t have experience walking on a roof, now is not the time to start trying. A roof sits anywhere from 10 to 20 feet off the ground and slopes at an extreme angle, making it an extremely dangerous fall. Call a professional who’s used to navigating heights and pitches of different types of roofs and keep your feet squarely on the ground.

Credit: eclipse_images/ iStock

Major Plumbing Repairs

Fixing a running toilet or leaky faucet is easy enough, but don’t try to DIY plumbing problems beyond that. Water can do serious damage that’s often invisible — until a ceiling or floor gives way, of course. For problems like slow or blocked drains or sudden low water pressure, find a licensed plumber right away.

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Electrical Problems

Simple electrical repairs like replacing an outlet or light fixture can be manageable with the power turned off at the circuit box. But when it comes to replacing a water heater, running wire through walls to install a new plug, or replacing a circuit box, it’s time to bring in a professional. Certain localities have electrical codes to promote safe living spaces that are best decoded by electricians, not the average homeowner. Attempting to DIY electrical repairs can also pose significant harm to yourself and your property.

Credit: Alina Rosanova/ iStock

Gas-Powered Appliances

More than one-third of U.S. residences still use natural gas-powered heat and appliances. Natural gas is versatile and often highly flammable, so if your home has sizeable natural gas appliances — water heater, stove, fireplace insert, HVAC system — install carbon monoxide and natural gas detectors and set up a service schedule for regular maintenance and checks.

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Major Home Renovations

A house without structural integrity is in danger of collapsing. While it might be possible to remove a wall or two to give an older home a modern open floor plan, those decisions have to be made by licensed engineers or architects. Additionally, local codes often require permits and inspections when a homeowner moves a wall, adds a room, or moves a doorway. Professionals will know how to protect the structure from top to bottom during this process.

Credit: Nadiia Borodai/ iStock

Tree Removal

If you can safely reach a hanging tree branch to pull or saw it down, go ahead. However, if the limb is dead, still attached to the trunk, or you need the whole tree down, call a tree company. These professionals will come with harnesses, spotters, and serious equipment. They also know how to place cuts so that when wood falls, it won’t hurt humans or nearby structures.

Featured Image Credit: Bill Oxford/ iStock

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5 Dryer Tips You Need to Know

We take our dryers for granted. The wet clothes go in, you select the proper setting, hit start, and 45 minutes later, your clothes are fresh and dry. (If only our dryers could also fold our clothes.) Because drying our clothes is a routine, everyday task, it’s easy to forget that dryers need regular maintenance like many other appliances. Dryers that aren’t maintained are less efficient and, in worst-case scenarios, may cause a fire. Here are five simple things you can do to ensure that your dryer is functioning properly.

All featured products and deals are selected independently and objectively by the author. Better Report may receive a share of sales via affiliate links in content.

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Don’t Overload the Machine

Trying to cram too much clothing into a single load does more harm than good. Doing this prevents air from adequately circulating, which means your clothing will end up wrinkled and damp. Too much clothing in a single load can also damage the dryer’s drum and bearings, which may cause the appliance to break down over time. Check the owner’s manual to learn more about your dryer’s weight limits so you don’t make this common mistake.

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Clean the Lint Trap After Every Load

Cleaning the lint trap isn’t just a courtesy for the next person to use your machine — it’s also a safety necessity and should be done after every load. Built-up dust and dirt could cause your dryer to catch fire, a shockingly common scenario.

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Deep Clean Your Lint Trap Every Six Months

Lint traps can also develop a sticky residue from excess detergent and fabric softener, so they should be deep-cleaned twice a year. It only takes a few minutes and will make a world of difference.

  1. Remove the lint trap and scrub with a nylon brush dipped in a cleaning solution of equal parts hot water and dish soap
  2. Rinse the trap in hot water and pat dry with a clean towel
  3. Use a vacuum with a narrow crevice attachment to suck up excess lint from the trap opening before returning the lint trap

Credit: Bill Oxford/ iStock

Clean the Dryer Vent Every Year

Keeping the dryer vent clean is as important as keeping the lint trap clean, though it should be cleaned less frequently — once yearly. To clean the vent, hire a professional or follow these simple steps yourself.

  1. Detach the vent from the back of the dryer
  2. Insert an extendable nylon laundry brush deep into the vent and slowly pull the brush toward you to remove the built-up lint
  3. Repeat until you no longer see any lint, then reaffix the vent to the dryer

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Don’t Use Too Many Dryer Sheets

Using a single dryer sheet with each load won’t cause any problems, but an excessive amount can actually damage the appliance. Too many dryer sheets can cause waxy residue to build up on the drum and the lint tray. This wax may also cover the internal sensor that tells the dryer when it’s time for a cycle to end. If that sensor is covered, the machine will keep running longer than expected, wasting energy and potentially damaging your clothes. You can purchase reusable, environmentally-friendly wool dryer balls instead to eliminate the need for dryer sheets.

Featured Image Credit: UnitedPhotoStudio1/ iStock

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Read This Before You Cancel a Credit Card

Do you have a credit card that you just don’t use anymore? Maybe a hasty in-store sign-up or a too-good-to-be-true introduction offer led you astray? Logically, canceling any unused credit cards makes sense — but pause just a moment. According to financial experts, canceling a card can often do more harm than good. However, there are ways to mitigate any damage, and knowing what steps to take before canceling — and alternatives to canceling — can help keep your finances in check. Read on for tips on what to do before you hit “cancel.”

How to Save Your Credit Score

One of the biggest concerns when canceling a credit card is your credit score — no one wants to take the hit. If you must cancel a credit card, there is a way to do it that won’t negatively impact your score. Reduce the damage by paying down all your credit card balances — not just the one you plan to close. Why do other credit cards matter if you’re only canceling one? It comes down to credit utilization, which measures how much available credit you use based on your credit reports. The more credit available (including combined credit card limits), the more significant the decrease in credit score

Say you have two credit cards: one is fully paid off with a $1,000 limit (that you plan on canceling), and the other has $1,000 due with a $1,000 limit. Before you cancel your card, your credit utilization is 50% because you have $2,000 in available credit between both cards but owe $1,000 overall. If you cancel the first card before paying off the second, your credit utilization jumps to 100% because now you only have $1,000 in available credit and owe $1,000.

The Surprising Impact on Credit History

The length of your credit history also impacts your credit score. Canceling a credit card can hurt or help your credit history, depending on what happened before you closed the account. FICO, the most popular consumer credit report, uses open and closed accounts in its calculations. Closed credit cards remain on your credit history for up to 10 years. If you made payments on time and paid off the card before you canceled it, this closed account will continue to help your credit score until it falls off your credit history report after the 10-year mark. If you frequently made late payments on the card, it will have a negative impact until it ages out of your credit history. 

What to do Instead of Canceling

Before canceling your card, call your credit card company and inquire about a retention offer, explaining that you’re considering closing your card. If your account is in good standing, they might offer you perks for not canceling. This can include bonus points or miles, an extension on a 0% APR, statement credits, or a waiver or reduction on the annual fee. It varies by credit card company and type of card, and while there are no guarantees on an offer, it’s worth a shot. 

You might also consider downgrading your card. Often, credit card companies offer different tiers of the same type of card (some with lower fees, better interest rates, etc.), albeit with fewer benefits. Because you are just switching cards and not canceling an account, it will not impact your credit score. Be sure to ask customer service how this will affect the rewards and points you already earned. You might have to use them before you switch your card if they can’t be transferred.

When to Cancel

Many experts advise against canceling credit cards, but occasionally, it’s unavoidable. A significant life change or accumulating too much debt are good reasons to cancel a card. It could also be a good idea to look elsewhere if a high interest rate or annual fee limits your financial freedom. If you’re looking for better benefits, it’s probably worth contacting the credit card company and inquiring about upgrading your card because this doesn’t count as an account cancellation and won’t impact your credit score. 

Remember to redeem your unused points and rewards before canceling, or you’ll probably lose them. Some carriers offer a grace period after canceling to use your rewards, so you must read up on their policy before closing your account. There are occasional exceptions to losing points, including a few cards that partner with specific airlines or hotels, because those rewards are posted to accounts outside the credit card company.

Don’t Let a Credit Card Sit Idly
Some card users let their account go unused instead of canceling it, which can cause serious problems. Firstly, you’re more susceptible to fraud because you aren’t checking your account frequently or at all. Another consideration is what the credit card company might do: They can cancel your account. As explained earlier, this can be detrimental to your credit utilization and score if you don’t have your other credit cards paid off when the unused one is canceled. Some companies close inactive accounts in as little as six months. 
Fortunately, as of 2010, the Federal Reserve prohibits credit card companies from charging inactivity fees, but you must still pay any annual fees. For these reasons, it’s better to play it safe — don’t let a credit card go unused for over a month or two before deciding whether to use it or lose it.
Featured Image Credit: Kunakorn Rassadornyindee/ iStock

Rachel GreshWriter

Rachel Gresh is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer. When she’s not writing, you can find her wandering a museum, exploring an unfamiliar city, or baking something new in the kitchen.

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How to Protect Your Home During a Power Outage

No one enjoys sitting in the dark when the power goes out, though it’s bound to happen occasionally. According to the Energy Information Administration, U.S. power customers averaged 5.5 hours of electricity interruptions in 2022. However, power outages aren’t just an inconvenience — they can cause unfortunate problems inside your home, such as a fridge full of spoiled food or burst pipes requiring cleanup and repair. Here’s how to keep your home — and yourself — safe until the lights return.

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Notify Your Service Provider ASAP

First things first: Notify your service provider when the power goes off. While many electric companies can identify power outages for large groups of customers, it’s often difficult for them to discern each home that’s impacted, especially if the interruption is limited to just a few customers. Reporting an outage ensures your home isn’t left in the dark for longer than it needs to be.

Protect Your Home’s Pipes

Storms can knock out power any time of year, though power outages during cooler months can add extra pressure on pipes. You can protect your home’s pipes from freezing during extended outages by opening the under-sink cabinet drawers to help warm air circulate. Turning faucets to a trickle also helps since moving water won’t freeze.

Unplug Electronics to Prevent Damage

When power is restored, the sudden surge of electricity can damage electronics. During a blackout, it’s best to unplug appliances and disconnect other electronics from wall sockets to protect their delicate sensors and components from damage.

Keep Your Refrigerator and Freezer Closed

A typical full-sized refrigerator can keep food cold for about four hours without power, while freezers can hold their chilly temperatures for up to 48 hours. Keeping both units closed locks in cold temperatures for longer. However, you’ll need to take action if your power remains off for more than four hours — that means moving meat, dairy, and other temperature-sensitive foods to a cooler with ice to prevent spoilage.

Have a Backup Plan for Medical Devices and Supplies

Some health equipment and medications rely on electricity, such as breathing machines that need to be plugged in or insulin, which requires refrigeration. Creating a backup plan for alternative power sources before a power outage can keep medically necessary supplies operational. You may consider contacting your utility company to be added to a “priority reconnection service” list, which keeps service providers aware of homes that need power for life-supporting medical devices.

Heat and Cook Safely

Heating a meal or your home during an electricity outage can be tricky. Space heaters powered by a generator and fireplaces can provide some heat, though safety experts warn against using any fume-producing fuel sources inside. Never use a gas stove or oven to warm up; always use camp stoves and grills outdoors.

Use Candles With Care

Emergency candles can help brighten a room, though they’re not the safest light source during a power outage or weather emergency. If you have to use them, safety experts recommend using candle holders to prevent flames from tipping over and keeping candles away from flammable items such as curtains, furniture, and carpeting. A better option? Flashlights and lanterns that operate on batteries are safe to leave on if you exit the room and are easier to move around.

Take Precautions When Using Generators

backup generator is great to have on hand for emergencies, though use it with a few safety tips in mind. Always keep a generator dry and never use one in rainy or flooded conditions. When refueling, always turn off a generator and let it cool before adding more gasoline to prevent accidental fires. Safety experts recommend only operating a generator outdoors (not in a garage) at least 20 feet from windows and doors to keep fumes and carbon monoxide from entering your home. 

Invest in an Emergency Radio

Emergency radios aren’t just for campouts or severe weather — they can help during power outages, too. Consider a model that can charge in multiple ways. Many low-cost models include hand crank, solar, battery-powered, and USB charging options. Most emergency radios can tune into the weather, and AM and FM radio stations, which can provide some entertainment while the internet is out. Plus, newer models often include a USB port, which can charge your phone in a pinch.

Nicole Garner MeekerWriter

Nicole Garner Meeker is a freelance writer, research editor, and Optimism contributor. Based in St. Louis, she’s an enthusiastic gardener, fiber artist, and connoisseur of fine snacks

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