De-skunking the Dog ... and Other Household Remedies That Do (and Don't) Work

We've heard them, we've repeated them, and in some cases we even swear by them -- but do the household remedies we

learned at Grandma's knee really work? The Good Housekeeping Institute staff put them to the test. Here, once and for all, are the surprising answers.

1. Hot water makes ice cubes faster than cold water -- and makes clearer ice cubes, too.
In three trials in our food appliances lab, cold water always won the race. The Good Housekeeping Institute filled one tray with hot water and the other with cold, then recorded the time it took each to reach 32 degrees F. Every time, the cold water cubes froze faster. As for crystal-clear cubes, you'll have to get a professional, restaurant-style ice-cube-making machine, because neither hot nor cold water in regular ice cube trays will produce clear cubes, just the foggy ones you're used to.

2. Tomato juice will de-skunk the dog.
But it's not very practical, since you'll need a tremendous amount of juice after shampooing your dog -- and we're not talking about a couple of small cans. Plus, you might also stain your pet's fur pink. Some vets swear by commercial de-skunking products like Skunk-Off. The Bobst Hospital of the Animal Medical Center in New York City recommends a solution of 1 cup of white vinegar diluted with 1 gallon of water. But Good Housekeeping veterinarian Holly Cheever says that nothing will get rid of skunk odors completely.

3. Baking soda deodorizes a refrigerator.
But only to an extent. The chemical properties in baking soda will neutralize unpleasant odors caused by sour milk, tuna or cabbage but won't make them disappear entirely. To test baking soda's effectiveness, our food appliances lab placed an open jar of chopped garlic in two refrigerators for two days. In the first fridge, they put an open box of baking soda and let it sit for 24 hours. Then, they put the Institute's noses into action. The sniffing testers noted that there was less odor in the refrigerator that contained the baking soda, but that the odor still existed.

4. Ink marks disappear when treated with hair spray.
But only in limited situations. The GH Institute's home-care department stained cotton, polyester and poly/cotton fabrics with three ballpoint ink stains. Then, aerosol hair spray and pump hair spray were used to attack the stains on each fabric. The results? Pump and aerosol hair sprays removed only the ink stains from all-polyester fabrics. The stains were lightened, but still visible, on the poly/cotton and cotton fabrics. And the fabrics sprayed with hair spray were left sticky and stiff. So if you try this remedy, be sure to launder the clothes afterward.

5. Toothpaste will remove stains from clothing.
This one is still a myth in our book. The GH Institute's home-care department applied four stains (Italian dressing, tomato sauce, coffee with milk and sugar, and ballpoint ink) to two sets of cotton, polyester and poly/cotton fabric swatches. Fluoride toothpaste was applied to one set of each of the stains on each of the fabrics. Then the clothes were machine-laundered in warm water and line-dried. No toothpaste was applied to the control set, but it was laundered and line-dried as well. The toothpaste didn't give great results. Only the ink stain on the cotton fabric came out with the toothpaste. And if you give an ink-stained shirt a brisk brushing with toothpaste, you'll still have to launder out the white, pasty stuff. "It's an expensive and ineffective way to treat stains," says home-care director Carolyn Forte "Stick to regular prewash products." She recommends Shout and Spray 'n Wash.

6. An extra potato de-salts the soup.
"It's just amazing. This myth travels like wildfire on Internet cooking and food sites," says Carol Wapner, associate director of the GH nutrition lab. "But if you oversalt your soup, a potato won't really help you." The GH Institute's nutrition and chemistry departments ran a test, putting 2 teaspoons of salt in cream of asparagus soup instead of the 1/4 teaspoon required, and measured the sodium content. Then, a peeled and quartered russet potato was stirred in for 15 minutes. A subsequent analysis revealed that the sodium concentrations were virtually the same with and without the potato. If you've really oversalted your soup, add water, a little bit at a time, to dilute the salt level. Just don't forget to adjust the other seasonings as well.

7. Cold chamomile tea in the wash water will reduce shrinkage.
File this one under the myth category. The GH Institute's home-care department took two identical men's cotton T-shirts and thoroughly measured them. Both were hand-washed, one in a solution of hot water, a cup of cold chamomile tea and laundry detergent; the other without the tea. They were both rinsed in cold water. Then, they were rinsed in cold water and hung dry. The addition of the tea to the water didn't significantly reduce the overall shrinkage of the shirt.

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