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11 Hacks for Cleaning Tricky Spots in Your Home

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Sweeping, mopping, vacuuming—for the most part, cleaning is pretty intuitive. But what about those hard-to-reach places you forget about all year? Save time (and money) with these modern-day hacks that speed up spring cleaning, thanks to household items you already own.

1. LINT ROLL YOUR LAMPSHADES.

If you can’t toss a lampshade in the washer and a duster doesn’t do the trick, how are you supposed to deal with it? Don’t give in and buy a new shade—just use a lint roller. Unlike dusting with a cloth or duster, a lint roller will quickly pick up dirt and grime and can more easily roll along unusually shaped lampshades for a speedy cleaning job.

2. USE WAX PAPER FOR EASY CABINET CLEANUP.

The tops of kitchen cabinets attract dust and cooking grease, making for a sticky (and disgusting) seasonal clean-up. To help keep them out of sight and out of mind, line cabinet tops with sheets of wax paper that will collect the dust for you. Cleanup becomes as simple as tossing the used wax paper in the trash and cutting new sheets every few months. This trick can also be used on bookcases and other tall furniture that’s difficult to dust.

3. WASH AWAY KEYBOARD GRIME IN THE DISHWASHER.

Keyboards are one of the most germ-ridden items in your home or office, and they’re also a pain to clean. If you’re daring enough—and still use an older USB keyboard—swap the tedious scrubbing with cotton swabs for a light dishwasher cycle, avoiding the heat-dry setting and opting to air dry instead. But before you pop your keyboard in the top rack, check your manufacturer specs—some keyboards can handle water submersion, while others should just be dusted or wiped with a damp cloth (or, you can spring for a Silly Putty-like goo that grabs all the grime between the keys). 

4. GIVE BLINDS NEW LIFE WITH OLD SOCKS.

Blinds can be a spring cleaner’s worst enemy. They collect dust and flop around, making them difficult to wipe down. Instead of buying a commercial blind cleaning tool, round up old socks and slip them on like gloves to easily clean between the blinds. This hack gives you two cleaning wins: fresh blinds and a purpose for those unmatched socks.

5. SCRUB RIDGES AND VENTS WITH MANICURE TOOLS.

Microwave and stove vents accumulate grime but are difficult to clean because of their tiny size. Instead of ignoring them, dislodge gunk along ridges and vents with a nail brush. Or for a deeper scrub in areas you can reach with your fingertips, use exfoliating gloves as scrubbers.

6. SWEEP AWAY TOASTER CRUMBS WITH A PASTRY BRUSH.

If there is one place that crumbs collect in, it’s the abyss known as the bottom of your toaster. Clean out this tiny crumb chasm by using a pastry brush to loosen and wipe away bread debris stuck within the slots. Then pop open the bottom of the toaster to brush everything away.

7. DUST FAN BLADES WITH PILLOWCASES.

Fan blades accumulate heavy dust that isn’t easy to wipe away while on a ladder or step stool. Make the job easier by repurposing a pillowcase as a catch-all duster. Simply slide the pillowcase over the fan blade and pull down any dust that’s collected inside the bag for a sneeze-free cleaning.

8. SOAK OVEN RACKS IN THE BATHTUB.

Oven racks withstand splatters, boil overs, and broiling abuse all throughout casserole season. Give your oven racks a facelift by soaking them overnight in a bathtub with dish soap and dryer sheets. Baked-on gunk will wipe away easily, leaving like-new racks. Just remember to thoroughly scrub the bathtub afterward to prevent staining.

9. IMPROVE YOUR DISHWASHER SPRAYER WITH WIRE.

If your dishes have been through several wash cycles but still aren’t getting clean, consider giving the dishwasher sprayer arm some attention. Over time, sprayer arms can fill with hard water deposits (not to mention gross food particles), making them less efficient. Use picture hanging wire or a wire hanger to dislodge grime particles from sprayer arm holes. Then, give your entire dishwasher a deep clean with vinegar. After all, keeping this machine going may be your best bet for time-saving cleaning year-round.

10. DEEP CLEAN VENTS WITH A BUTTER KNIFE.

Cleaning registers and vents along floors, baseboards, and ceilings is often a job for vacuums. But for a deeper clean, head to your flatware drawer for a butter knife. Quickly clean registers by wrapping a butter knife in a thin towel, then inserting along the grooves to snag embedded debris. There’s no need for a specialty tool and this hack will keep you from having to remove the register altogether.

11. DEEP CLEAN WINDOW AND DOOR TRACKS WITH TOILET PAPER TUBES.

The inside grooves of window frames and sliding doors are notorious for attracting dirt, bugs, and cobwebs. But the tiny, rubber ridges can be difficult to brush or rinse out. For a cleaner view, attach toilet paper tubes to your vacuum’s hose, then fold or bend as necessary for a custom, disposable track cleaner.

All images via iStock.

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Interactive Chart Tells You How Long It Takes to Get Frostbite
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For many people, winter means dry skin and high heating bills. But if you find yourself outdoors in the right conditions, it can also mean frostbite. Frostbite occurs when the skin and the tissue beneath it freezes, causing pain, loss of sensation, or worse. It's easier to contract than you may think, even if you don't live in the Siberian tundra. To see if frostbite poses a threat where you live, check out this chart spotted by Digg.

The chart, developed by Pooja Gandhi and Adam Crahen using National Weather Service data, looks at three factors: wind speed, air temperature, and time spent outdoors. You can hover your cursor over data-points on the table to see how long you'd need to be exposed to certain wind chills for your skin tissue to freeze. If the wind chill is -22°F, for example (10°F air temperature with 5 mph winds), it would take 31 minutes of being outside before frostbite sets in. You can also look at the time scale above the chart to calculate it a different way. If you bring your cursor to the 40-minute mark, a window will tell that frostbite becomes a risk after exposure to -17°F wind chill for that amount of time. You can play with the interactive table at Tableau Public.

Chart of cold weather conditions.
Adam Crahen, Pooja Gandhi

If you can't avoid being outside in extreme wind and cold, there are a few steps you can take to keep your skin protected. Wear lots of layers, including multiple socks, and wrap your face with a scarf or face mask before venturing into the cold. Also, remember to stay hydrated. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, drinking at least one glass of water before going outside decreases your risk of contracting frostbite.

[h/t Digg]

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Flurry Road: 5 Tips for Safe Driving on Winter Roads
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For drivers in the Upper Midwest, traveling during the winter can range from slightly unsettling to deadly. Between 2011 and 2015, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Auto Insurance Center, an average of 800 fatalities occurred annually as a result of weather-related accidents. Icy roads, poor visibility, and other factors can make cold-weather commuting a dicey proposition.

While we can’t control the weather (yet), we can increase our odds of navigating slush-filled roadways successfully. Mental Floss spoke with American Automobile Association (AAA) driving education expert William Van Tassel, Ph.D., for some key tips on how to get your winter driving in gear.

1. GATHER SUPPLIES.

Before you even start your car up for a trip through inclement weather, Van Tassel recommends you pack a worst-case scenario trunk full of supplies. “In case of emergency, you want things on board like water, a blanket, a flashlight, gloves, and kitty litter,” he says. (That last one is for traction in case you get stuck in a snowbank.) You should also have road flares, a shovel, an ice scraper, and a fully-charged cell phone to call for assistance if needed.

2. SLOW DOWN.

Posted speed limit signs assume you’re driving on clear and clean roadways. If snow or ice has accumulated, you need to adjust your speed accordingly. “In slick conditions, tires lose a lot of traction,” Van Tassel says. “You should be cutting your speed down by half or more.” Unfortunately, a lot of people learn this the hard way. “After a snowstorm, we’ll see more crashes on day one than days two or three.”

Van Tassel also cautions to avoid becoming overconfident on snow tires. While they provide better traction in bad weather, it’s not license to speed up.

3. MAINTAIN A SAFE DISTANCE FROM OTHER CARS.

You should be doing this regardless, but bad weather makes it even more crucial. Keep your vehicle at a safe distance from cars behind, in front, and off to the sides, as well as away from pedestrians or cyclists. If you need to brake suddenly, you need time—and space—to avoid a collision. “You really want more space in front,” Van Tassel says. Try to stay between seven and 10 seconds behind the vehicle ahead. That means seeing a landmark and then counting down until you pass the same marker. If you’re only a few seconds behind, you’re too close.

4. DON’T STEER INTO SKIDS.

“That was an old rule of thumb,” Van Tassel says. “The problem is, by the time I remember to steer into a skid, I’m already in a ditch.” If you feel your vehicle sliding, it’s better to steer in the direction you want to go. “You’ll drive where you look, so don’t look at a telephone pole.”

To help maintain control of the car, you want to focus on doing one thing at a time. “If you’re going through a turn, brake, finish braking, then turn. Don’t brake and turn at the same time.”

5. KEEP YOUR HEADLIGHTS ON.

Yep, even in broad daylight. Bad weather limits visibility, and headlights allow both you and your fellow drivers to orient a vehicle. “You’re twice as visible to other drivers that way,” Van Tassel says. “When people can see you, they can avoid you.”

Van Tassel also recommends that drivers avoid relying on fancy car technology to keep them safe. While blind spot monitoring and lane changing sensors are useful, they’re not there so you can zone out. “The tech is there to back you up if you need it. Drive the car, but don’t rely on those things,” he says.

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