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What can I do to remove an odor in my microwave?
Combine 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1 cup water in a microwavable bowl. Heat the mixture for 5 minutes and then wipe out the microwave. This procedure may need to be repeated two or three times a day for a few days if the odor is strong.

How do I know if I have mold growing in my home? Should I get the mold tested to find out what kind it is? How do I get rid of it?

Unfortunately, anytime can be the season for mold! There are mold spores everywhere in our environment just looking for a moist organic surface on which to grow.

If you can smell a musty odor or see mold, you have a mold problem. Reliable sampling for mold can be expensive since it requires special equipment and training. Testing is not generally recommended as a first step.

Since people react to mold whether it is living or dead, the mold must be removed. During mold removal protect your health by using a mask or respirator that will filter out mold spores. Usually it will be designated as an N95, 3M#1860 or TC-21C particulate respirator. Wear eye protection, rubber gloves, and clothing that can be immediately laundered. Dampen moldy materials before removal to minimize the number of airborne mold spores.

Mold can be removed from hard surfaces by scrubbing with a non-ammonia soap or detergent. (Do not mix ammonia and bleach; the fumes are toxic.) Mold on porous surfaces like carpeting and drywall cannot be thoroughly removed, so those materials should be discarded.

After the mold is removed, disinfect the area using bleach and water solution or another disinfectant. The amount of bleach recommended per gallon of water varies considerably, ranging from a solution of 1/4 cup bleach for a clean surface to 1 1/2 cups bleach per gallon of water for surfaces that could not be thoroughly cleaned. The surface must remain wet for about 15 to 30 minutes to allow the solution to disinfect.

Finally, rinse the entire area with clean water and then rapidly dry the surfaces. Use fans, dehumidifiers, air conditioning, or natural ventilation.

The moisture problem must be fixed to prevent future mold growth. Mold cannot grow without moisture.

Reference: Kenneth Hellevang, PhD., Engineer, NDSU Extension Service

How can I remove an odor from my refrigerator?

Here are four suggestions for removing the odor:

  • Unplug the refrigerator and thoroughly wash the inside of the unit with a mixture of two tablespoons of baking soda dissolved in one quart of warm water. Wash the shelves, drawers, accessories and gaskets. Be sure to wash corners, crevices or grooves where odor-causing liquid may have settled. Dry thoroughly.
  • Place activated charcoal or activated carbon in a shallow bowl and leave it in the refrigerator while it is running for several days. The charcoal or carbon is available where aquarium and/or plant and garden supplies are sold. It will become saturated but can be reactivated by heating in a 300 degree oven for one hour and then put back into the refrigerator. Try this for about 10 days.
  • Place toothpaste (not the gel type) on small pieces of foil and set in several spots in the refrigerator.
  • Lightly crumple sheets of newspaper and loosely pack a refrigerator shelf which has been emptied of food. Sprinkle the newspaper with water and close the door. Replace the newspaper every 1-2 days. In 5-6 days the odor should be gone.

If odor gets into the plastic lining or the insulation of the refrigerator, it can take a long time to dissipate.

Reference: Iowa State University Extension and The Answer Book by Maytag/Jenn-Air

Some food thawed in my freezer. How can I remove the odor that developed?

Try one or more of the following methods to remove freezer odor:

  • Unplug the freezer and wash the interior walls with a solution of two tablespoons baking soda per quart of warm water.
  • Pour activated charcoal or baking soda onto jelly roll pans and place in the freezer in two or more areas. Run the freezer for several days. Activated charcoal can be purchased in stores that sell aquarium or greenhouse supplies. The charcoal will become saturated with the odor but can be reactivated by heating in a 300 degree oven for one hour. Try this method for about 10 days.
  • Pack the freezer with lightly crumpled newspapers. Sprinkle the newspaper with a little water. Replace the newspaper every day or two. Allow the freezer to run for approximately five to six days.

If these methods do not remove the odor, it may be that wet drippings have seeped into the freezer's insulation. This problem requires service by a technician who may have to remove and replace the insulation.

Reference: Iowa State University Extension and The Answer Book by Maytag/Jenn-Air

How do I clean a scorched pan?

To remove scorch stains in a saucepan, try a solution of 3 tablespoons Ajax in water and boil for 5-10 minutes. Scrub remaining residue with a scouring pad.

If your pan is aluminum or stainless steel, try 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice or cream of tartar per quart of water. Boil 5-10 minutes. Be sure the water line remains above the scorched line.

How can I remove an odor in my dishwasher?

Try one of these methods to remove an odor in your dishwasher:

  • Use a lemon-scented detergent and/or rinse agent.
  • Fill the detergent cup with baking soda. Select a short wash or run a wash cycle for five minutes. Unlatch the door to stop the dishwasher. Let stand overnight. In the morning, latch the door to restart the dishwasher and let the cycle finish.
  • Select a light wash cycle and allow the dishwasher to fill. When it is filled, open the door and add 1/4 cup liquid chlorine bleach to the water. Close the door and allow the cycle to finish.

Reference: Iowa State University Extension and The Answer Book by Maytag/Jenn-Air

Can my sink drain be cleaned without using a commercial cleaner?
Yes. Combine 1/4 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup salt and 1 tablespoon cream of tartar and pour into the drain. Slowly add 1/2 cup white vinegar and then slowly pour in 1 cup boiling water. Allow to stand; then flush with cold water.

My home received considerable water damage. How can I begin to clean and sort through our belongings?

Information related to cleaning and salvaging flood damaged homes and belongings see the Extension website:

Author: Answer Line

Following the flood how can I clean my home and all of our belongings?
For information related to cleaning a home, furnishings, and other belongings, visit the Extension website:

Author: Answer Line

Some of our food was damaged by the flood waters. Should I discard it?

Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water. Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops and crimped caps. Also, discard cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes and home canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water, because they cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized.  Inspect canned foods and discard any food in damaged cans. Can damage is shown by swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or crushing/denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener.

Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches(for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved is you do the following: remove labels since they can harbor dirt and bacteria; thoroughly wash the cans or retort pouches with soap and water, using hot water if it is available; brush or wipe away any dirt or silt;  and rinse the cans or retort pouches with water that is safe for drinking, if available, since dirt or residual soap will reduce the effectiveness of chlorine sanitation. Sanitize the cans or retort pouches by immersion in one of the two following ways 1) place in water and allow the water to come to a boil and continue boiling for 2 minutes or 2) place in a freshly made solution consisting of 1 tablespoon unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water(or the cleanest, clearest water available) for 15 minutes. Air-dry cans or retort pouches for a minimum of 1 hour before opening or storing; re-lable your cans or retort pouches, including the expiration date with a marker; food in reconditioned cans or retort pouches should be used as soon as possible; any concentrated baby formula in reconditioned, all-metal containers myst be diluted with clean, drinking water. 

Author: Sam Beattie, Food Safety Extension Specialist

How should I clean pots, pans, dishes, and utensils that have been in contact with flood waters?
Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils(including can openers) with soap and water, using hot water if available.  Rinse and then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water(or the cleanest, clearest water available).

How should I clean my countertops?
Thoroughly wash countertops with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and then sanitize them by applying a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water. Allow to air dry.

Author: Sam Beattie, Extension Food Safety Specialist

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