Renovation & Design

Renovation & Design

Boil water and vinegar to clean your microwave

Question: I use my microwave about three or four times per day, it is three years old and smells like food. What is the best way to freshen it, so that it doesn’t look and smell disgusting? Samson

Answer: Pour 1/4-cup of vinegar and 3/4-cup of water into a microwave safe bowl or cup and run the microwave on high for five minutes. Use a sponge to wipe the inside of the appliance. The more regularly you clean the microwave, the easier it will be to clean, as food will not be as baked on.


Question: Is it normal for guys to shape their eyebrows? Or should they just let them grow into a mess of hairy cactuses on their face? Sam

Answer: Untrimmed eyebrows on a guy can be a distraction, which is easily rectified (if the guy is willing or sleeping — just kidding). If professional stylists are offering to trim your eyebrows for you, there may be a reason. Professional trimmers are affordable, and worth the investment.


Question: Can you tell me how to separate two large stackable Pyrex bowls when they will not come apart? Thanks, Marilyn

Answer: The easiest solution for separating two glass bowls, is to fill the inside bowl with ice water, this will force the molecules to contract. Place the outside bowl in a few inches of hot water, this will cause the molecules to expand. After five minutes twist the bowls in opposite directions. Repeat until the bowls separate.


Question: I’m wondering if you can help me! My daughter was stirring/mixing some organic peanut butter the other day and a big glop of oil landed on the front of her favourite white sweatshirt. I’ve tried soaking it in OxiClean and water for several hours and then washing it — but the stain is still there. It has not been in the dryer thank goodness. Thanks so much, Brenda

Answer: Glad to hear that the sweatshirt never made its way into the dryer. Cover the stain with half a teaspoon of Dawn dish soap, half a teaspoon of three per cent hydrogen peroxide and one teaspoon of cornstarch. Leave for two or three hours. Wash the sweatshirt in hot water, air dry. Repeat process until the stain is gone.


Note: Every user assumes all risks of injury or damage resulting from the implementation of any suggestions in this column. Test all products on an inconspicuous area first.

Have a great suggestion or tip? Please send an email at: Reena Nerbas is a popular motivational presenter for large and small groups; check out her website:



Reena Nerbas 
February 27


Renovation & Design

Minor evidence of moisture in crawl space likely not an issue

Question: I think about you every time I open the hatch to enter the crawl space below our basement floor. We had the home custom built in 2007 and I presume met all bylaw requirements of the day. The dirt floor is covered in polyethylene, beneath a layer of gravel. The furnace has two, six-inch diameter heat ducts, connected directly to the plenum, putting heat into the 1800-square-foot cavity, and one five-inch diameter duct connected to the HRV, presumably the return air duct.

The problem I see every time I open the hatch is that the gravel is covered in a thin layer of white, almost fluffy stuff. When I touch the gravel and move it around it shows a perfectly normal underside. This is applicable only to the lowest area of the crawlspace and the upper areas are dry and normal. Some time ago I put some newspaper down on the gravel in the lower area, to keep my clothes clean, as I was working on the sump pump. Today that newspaper looks like it absorbed a small amount of moisture and is all crinkled. The furnace fan and the HRV are run continuously at low speed.

The question I have for you is, should I be concerned about any of this or is it fairly normal? Your expert opinion would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you, Lawrence Klippenstein


Answer: Seeing a thin coating of white minerals on the surface of stones in a crawlspace is not something to be too worried about. Other than showing evidence of some moisture, or lack of ventilation, there is little to be concerned with the visible efflorescence.

There are numerous visible signs of potentially serious moisture related issues inside our homes and some that may appear to be important indicators, but are not. Anytime brown stains are seen on ceilings or walls it may be an indication of a serious water issue. These can range from melting frost and moisture issues in an attic to leaking plumbing pipes. Also, similar stains on basement carpets, or lots of white powder on the interior of a concrete foundation or floor slab likely means water infiltration problems. If these are seen within your home then further evaluation is essential and imminent repairs are likely to prevent further issues.

In a crawlspace, especially one below a structural wood floor as in your home, some moisture is expected. Because this area is well below grade the soil is more prone to water accumulation from surrounding soil. For this reason, weeping tiles should have a greater than normal slope downward toward a sump, normally in the middle of the crawlspace. Checking to ensure the sump pump is properly installed and working is paramount. Also, if there is a substantial amount of water sitting in the bottom of the sump before the pump turns on, adjustments may be required.

The other reason that moisture often is noted in a crawlspace like yours is that there may be areas of poor ventilation or air circulation. Especially if there are several directional changes in the foundation, this will be more likely. Even with the heat and return air or HRV ducts you have described there can be corners or areas away from these ducts where air movement is poor. Especially nearer to the foundation walls, where the soil is likely closest to the wood floor above, condensation is often an issue. If any active water is seen, either on the surface of the polyethylene sheathing over the dirt floor, or condensation on the foundation or floor structure, improvement should be made to the HVAC ducts in those areas. Adding more ducts, or relocating some to more troublesome locations, may be the solution.

To answer your concern more directly, the whitish powder or crystals you are seeing is simply efflorescence and is essentially harmless. This material is just salts and minerals that are leaching from the stones covering the plastic sheathing on the floor of the crawlspace. These minerals will appear after the stones gets wet, but the source of the moisture may be difficult to pinpoint if not immediately visible. It can just as easily occur due to condensation, as from water infiltration. Because the stone is on top of the cold soil below, they will be cooler than the surrounding environment inside the crawlspace. With the relative humidity higher in this area than the home, due to the reasons stated above, there is a much higher chance of condensation when this air hits the cold stones. You may be seeing this only on the lowest areas in the crawlspace, because that is the coldest area and/or has the poorest air circulation.

The only real concern would be if the efflorescence is evidence that the soil near the bottom of the crawlspace is consistently wet. The way to determine that is to physically enter the crawlspace in the summer, pull away some of the stone covering and look for wet soil. It will easily be noticeable as squishy mud when walked on or compressed by hand. In that situation, there may be a problem with the weeping tile system or the sump. You should then consult an experienced Red Seal plumber or rooter technician to check the pump or do a video scope of the weeping tile to ensure they are draining properly.

A small amount of white, fluffy crystals on the surface of the pea gravel in your crawlspace is normally of little concern. Improving the air circulation and ventilation in that area may help, but otherwise this minor evidence of moisture is quite benign.

Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the past president of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors — Manitoba ( Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at


Ari Marantz
February 27

Renovation & Design

The bee's knees

Colleen Zacharias
February 27

Renovation & Design

Helpful tea tips fit for a queen

Tea is popular, I should know, I drink about six cups every day, and I’m definitely not alone. Worldwide tea consumption is second only to water, and is drunk as often as coffee, soft drinks and alcohol combined. According to, natural substances, called polyphenols, are found in both caffeinated and herbal teas. These substances are antioxidants, compounds that may help reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases.

That’s great, but what else is tea good for? 

• Tenderizing. Marinate meat in tea before cooking to make it tender and easier to digest. Use black tea for an enhanced taste and add the seasonings you normally use for marinating meat cuts.

• To clean your windows, brew a pot of tea, cool it down and dip a cloth in the liquid, wipe mirrors and windows, then use a dry cloth to ensure a perfect shine.

• Tea, tea bags and tea leaves all effectively soak up odours. Instead of baking soda in the fridge, try used tea bags.

• Rinse your hands with tea after preparing fish or other stinky foods (this also works on cutting boards).

• Pouring strong tea into a compost bin will help speed up the decomposition process, encourage more friendly bacteria to grow and help increase nitrogen levels in soil. You can throw whole, steeped tea bags into the compost if the bag is made of biodegradable materials — just be sure to remove any staples that may be present.

• Teacups become stained because tea contains tannin (or tannic acid) which gives tea its colour. If you have tea stains in your porcelain teapot or teacups, fill the pot or cup with warm water and add a few drops of bleach and let the solution sit for a couple of hours. Once the stains are gone, wash normally with soap and water.

• Another option for removing tea stains is to squirt a little soap into the mug, add enough warm water to cover the stain, and swish the mixture around. Let the mug sit for a few minutes (longer if the stain has set in) and allow the dish soap to penetrate the stain. Wipe with a green non-scratching scrubby pad.

• If your dark leather boots are full of dirt, grime, and salt stains, you can clean and polish them with a few damp tea bags. Rub a tea bag over the leather using a circular motion, changing the bags out frequently to make sure you remove all traces of dirt from the shoes. Finish by buffing your shoes with a clean, soft cloth.

• Create a tea sachet to keep drawers smelling fresh, perfume them with the fragrant aroma of your favorite herbal tea. Open used herbal tea bags and spread the wet tea on old newspaper to dry. Then use the dry tea as stuffing for the sachet.

• To soothe a sore throat, add a teaspoon or two of honey to a cup of warm tea.


Note: Every user assumes all risks of injury or damage resulting from the implementation of any suggestions in this column. Test all products on an inconspicuous area first.

Have a great suggestion or tip? Please send an email at: Reena Nerbas is a popular motivational presenter for large and small groups; check out her website:


Reena Nerbas 
February 20

Renovation & Design

Early bird gets the worm

Colleen Zacharias
February 20

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