Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District
The holiday season is here and, with it, many colorful decorations, delicious treats, and fun events. There also are hidden dangers that can mar this special time of year if we aren’t careful. Follow these twelve tips for a safe holiday celebration:
- To reduce fire risk, do not connect more than three strings of incandescent lights. Follow label guidelines for stringing together LED lights. Check lights for frayed or exposed wires, loose connections, and broken sockets and replace as needed.
- Place candles on stable surfaces away from trees, curtains, and other flammable items and out of reach of children. Never leave burning candles unattended or sleep in a room with a lit candle. Consider using battery-operated candles.
- Use caution when decorating with “angel hair” and artificial snow. Angel hair is made from spun glass and can irritate eyes and skin; always wear gloves when handling or use non-flammable cotton instead. Artificial snow can irritate your lungs if inhaled; follow package directions carefully.
- Keep kids and pets in mind when decorating the tree. Place breakable ornaments or ones with metal hooks near the top out of reach of little hands, playful paws, and wagging tails.
- Use a sturdy step ladder, not chairs or other furniture, to reach high places. Get someone to “spot” you and assist with handing or taking items.
- If you use a fireplace, have your chimney checked and cleaned at least once a year by a certified chimney sweep. Cleaning removes soot and other by-products that can lead to chimney fires and carbon monoxide intrusion into your living space.
- Use special care when giving toys that use coin lithium batteries to children. Older children’s devices with these batteries can be enticing to young children. Ingestion of button batteries can cause serious injury or death. Lock away spare batteries and closely supervise young children around products with button batteries. In case of ingestion, contact the 24-hour National Battery Ingestion Hotline, (800) 498-8666.
- If you want to fry a turkey, consider using an oil-less turkey fryer or purchase a fried turkey from a professional establishment. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that since 2002, there have been 168 turkey-related fires, burns, explosions, or carbon monoxide poisoning incidents, 672 injuries, and $8 million in property damage. Don’t add to the statistic count!
- Use a food thermometer to ensure meat reaches a safe internal temperature. Click here for a convenient temperature chart.
- Refrigerate food within two hours. Cut leftover meat in small pieces and store foods in shallow containers so they will chill quickly. Use leftovers within four days or freeze or discard.
- Reheat sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil before serving.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water to reduce your risk of illness.
Have a happy, healthy holiday season!
National Safety Council
Chimney Safety Institute of America
Electrical Safety Foundation International
Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District
After an extended power outage, your refrigerator and freezer may develop unpleasant odors from spoiled food. To get rid of these odors, remove all food items and clean the inside, including drawers and bins, with a mild cleaning solution of dish soap and water. You also can use a solution of 2 tablespoons baking soda and 4 cups warm water. Strong cleansers may affect the taste of food or ice cubes or damage the interior finish. Rinse with a bleach solution of one tablespoon unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water to sanitize. Lemon juice and water solutions are not strong enough to sanitize effectively. Leave the unit unplugged with the door open for 1-2 days to air out. Spray disinfectant around hinges, locks, and into any openings.
If odors persist, try one of these methods:
- Spread activated charcoal, clean cat litter, or baking soda on trays and place on refrigerator or freezer shelves. Activated charcoal is extra dry and absorbs odors more quickly than cooking-type charcoal. It is available at drug or pet supply stores. Run the appliance empty for 2-3 days. If the odor remains, replace with new charcoal and repeat.
- Place trays of freshly ground coffee on appliance shelves and close the door. Run the appliance empty for 2-3 days. If a slight coffee aroma remains, wash and rinse shelves and the aroma should dissipate.
- Pack each shelf with crumpled newspaper. Set a cup of water on the top shelf or sprinkle the newspaper with water. Allow appliance to run for approximately 5-6 days. While this method is time-consuming, it is effective in removing strong odors.
- Use a commercial product designed for refrigerator and freezer odor removal. These products are available at hardware, grocery, discount, and variety stores.
Once the odor is gone, rinse and dry the appliance. Don’t forget to clean gaskets with a mild cleaning solution and warm water; rinse and dry. Dirt and spills can prevent the gasket from sealing well, resulting in a loss of cold air and higher utility bills. Also, clean the coils and front grill with a brush or vacuum cleaner to remove dirt that can hinder air flow to the condenser.
Use an appliance thermometer to check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer. The refrigerator should be between 33˚F and 40˚F and the freezer at 0 degrees or below.
If there is still an odor after trying these steps, it is possible meat or fish drippings have seeped into the insulation. An appliance service technician may need to remove the liner and replace the insulation or the appliance may need to be replaced.
My Florida Home Book – University of Florida/IFAS Extension
Solving Odor Problems in Your Refrigerator or Freezer – University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cooperative Extension
When the Power Goes Off – Clemson Cooperative Extension
Cleaning the Fridge – North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension
Check your air conditioner filter monthly and replace when dirty.
Photo Source: UF/IFAS Northwest District
When the temperature is in the 90s and the heat index in the triple digits, you certainly don’t want your air conditioner to conk out! Follow these simple steps to keep your AC running efficiently and to save money on your electric bill:
Check the filter monthly. Your air conditioner’s filter catches dust, dirt, and allergens to keep your home cleaner. During periods of high use, like summer, a lot of air passes through the filter so it can become dirty more quickly. If you live in a dusty area or have pets, these, too, can “fill” your filter so be sure to check your filter monthly and clean or change it as needed. Some filters are washable and reusable, such as in window unit air conditioners. To clean, turn off the unit and remove the filter. Wash in warm, soapy water and allow to air dry; reinstall in unit. Replace the filter if it is worn or torn. Inspect and replace window seals to prevent cool air leaks.
Central air conditioning systems typically use disposable filters. Turn off the system to prevent dust and dirt from entering the unit while you are cleaning it. Open the intake grate and remove the filter. Hold the filter up to a light; if you see very little light through the filter, replace it. Make sure to install the new filter so the air flows in the direction indicated by the arrow on the filter frame. Also, dust the grate with a soft cloth. Use the filter type recommended by the manufacturer for best performance; keep a supply on hand so you can change them regularly. Pick a day of the month, such as the 1st or when you receive your electric bill, to check the filter. This also is a good time to dust your ceiling fan blades.
Does a clean filter make a difference? A clogged filter makes your air conditioner work harder to pull air through the filter. Many of the newer air conditioning units now have a safety feature that shuts down the unit if air cannot pass through the filter to prevent the compressor from overheating. When this happens, a service technician must inspect and reset the unit, resulting in a service call charge. Getting in the habit of checking and changing your filters regularly will keep your unit operating efficiently and extend its usable life. You can reduce your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 5 to 15 percent by maintaining clean air filters (www.energy.gov).
Clean leaves and other debris from the fan, compressor, and condenser. Trim shrubbery so it is at least two feet away from the outside unit to allow for proper air flow.
Check and clean the evaporator coil every year.
Use a “fin comb” (available at hardware stores) to straighten bent coil fins.
Twice a year, insert a stiff wire through the drain channels to clear and prevent clogs, which can lead to backups and flooding.
Have your air conditioner serviced at least once a year. Spring is an ideal time to have a qualified service technician inspect and service your unit so it can handle the demand of the hot summer months.
Keep your “cool” this summer with these maintenance tips!
For more information, visit:
Energy Saver 101: Everything You Need to Know About Home Cooling
Florida Energy Systems Consortium
Clean light switches to reduce the spread of illnesses. Photo credit: NW Extension District
Seasonal influenza (flu) viruses are most common during the fall and winter, with peak activity occurring between December and February. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Some people, including senior adults, young children, and persons with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.
When someone in your family has had a cold or the flu, it is important to clean and sanitize your house properly to avoid any recurrences or further spreading. Follow these tips:
- Before you get started, try opening the windows for some fresh air, or raise your blinds or curtains to let in the natural light.
- Clean the areas first, then disinfect.
- Wash your hands often: before, during, and after cleaning.
IN THE BATHROOM
The bathroom will need a good cleaning and disinfection after an illness.
- Disinfect with a mixture of bleach and water. Use one scant teaspoon of chlorine bleach to one quart of water.
- Clean toilet lever, shower faucets, cabinet knobs, light switches, and doorknobs.
- Replace or clean toothbrushes.
IN THE KITCHEN
- Disinfect all things that people touch: refrigerator door handles; coffee pot; electric can opener; microwave oven; door, stove, and cabinet knobs; faucets; light switches. Do NOT use chlorine bleach with added fragrance, as it is not food-safe.
- Run all utensils through the dishwasher after each use.
- For more information on sanitizing the kitchen, see Cleaning and Sanitizing the Kitchen: Using Inexpensive Household Food-Safe Products.
IN THE FAMILY ROOM
- Clean remotes, phones, computer keypads, gaming systems, door knobs, and light switches.
- Sanitize all items with proper cleaning products.
IN THE BEDROOM
- Change pillow cases daily and wash soiled bed linens right away with proper laundry detergent.
- Wash everything in your washer on the hottest temperature the fabric allows, but be sure not to overload your washer.
- Disinfect all items on the night stand. Don’t forget light switches, doorknobs and drawer pulls, and remote controls, if used.
CLEANING KIDS’ TOYS
- Some stuffed animals can be cleaned in the washer with the other bedding.
- For hard-surfaced toys, make sure to clean with proper cleaning solutions for their surface and rinse well.
- Some small toys can be safely cleaned in a mesh laundry bag in the top rack of the dishwasher.
WHAT TOOLS ARE NEEDED?
- Rubber gloves
- A different sponge for each room you are cleaning or paper towels
- Proper cleaning products: Please be sure to follow all manufacturer’s instructions on all cleaning products.
According to the CDC, the flu virus can live on surfaces for 48 hours—potentially infecting anyone who comes in contact with the germs. Disinfecting the house is one of the best ways to prevent anyone else from contracting the illness.
For more information on sterilizing items in your home, visit the CDC Website, https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/infectioncontrol/questions/sterilization/cleaning.html
Set your thermostat to 68 degrees or lower in the winter to reduce heating costs. Photo credit: Judy Corbus
We have recently gotten a taste of what our neighbors to the north typically experience this time of year – frigid temperatures! As the mercury plummets, utility bills move in the opposite direction. Winter is not over yet so follow these easy steps to save money on your electric bill during the next cold snap:
- Set your thermostat to 68 degrees F or lower in the winter. Dress in layers for added warmth.
- Grab a throw or blanket to stay warm while reading or watching television.
- Check air filters monthly and clean or change when they become dirty. This will help your unit to operate more efficiently and last longer. A clogged filter can cause your heating system to shut down to prevent the compressor from overheating – this requires a service call to reset it.
- Use a ceiling fan, moving in a clockwise direction on low speed, to move heated air down from the ceiling into the living space. Turn fans off when leaving the room.
- Open curtains and blinds on south-facing windows to let the sun naturally warm your house. Close them at night to reduce heat loss.
- Caulk or weather-strip around windows and exterior doors to seal air leaks.
- Insulate water heater supply pipes with foam pipe wrap to reduce heat loss.
For more energy-saving tips, visit My Florida Home Energy.
Spring has sprung and this is the perfect time to clean and freshen your house. But you don’t have to spend a lot of money on cleaning products when you can whip up your own with a few simple, inexpensive ingredients.
The basic ingredient list includes:
- White Vinegar
- Baking soda
- Rubbing alcohol
- Mild dish detergent
- Washing soda (can be found in the laundry products aisle)
- Borax (also in the laundry section)
Use clean jars or bottles for mixing and storage. Do not use food containers – children can think the contents are something to eat. Also, don’t mix your products in empty cleaning product bottles; residue from the original product may interact with your product, causing a dangerous reaction. Label each product and store out of reach of children. NEVER mix chlorine bleach with ammonia or vinegar – it will create dangerous, toxic fumes!
Here are a few recipes to get you started:
Mix in a 16 oz. or larger spray bottle:
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 cup water
Use on sinks, countertops, lightly soiled range surfaces, floors, toilets, and showers.
- 3 tablespoons ammonia
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
Put in a spray bottle and fill the rest with water.
HOMEMADE LAUNDRY DETERGENT
- 1 bar Ivory® or 1/3 bar Fels Naptha® soap
- 1/2 cup washing soda
- 1/2 cup borax powder
Grate the bar soap into a cooking pot. Add 6 cups of water and heat until the soap melts. Add the washing soda and borax and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat. Pour 4 cups hot water into a clean bucket. Add the soap mixture from the pot and stir. Add 1 gallon plus 6 cups of water and stir. Let the soap sit for about 24 hours and it will gel slightly. Optional: Add 1 ounce essential oil or fragrance oil of your choice.
Use 1/2 cup per load. This is a low-sudsing soap which removes dirt and odor and can be used in high-efficiency machines.
For more product recipes, check out Homemade Household Cleaners and Green Cleaning: Recipes for a Healthy Home.
Sources: Homemade Household Cleaners
Clean It Green!, C. Rogers, UF/IFAS Extension Suwannee County.