Patio Furniture Cleaning Tips

Patio Furniture Cleaning Tips

Follow these simple instructions once a month and neither rain, wind, sun, nor drop of bird can ruin your patio pieces.

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Cast Aluminum

Cover furniture pieces from top to bottom with all-purpose cleaner and rub with a nylon scrub brush. Next, wipe with a microfiber cloth. For extra protection, finish with a coat of car wax, says Linda Cobb, the author of the Queen of Clean book series.

Cushions

Combine 1 quart warm water, 1 teaspoon dishwashing detergent, and 1 tablespoon borax in a bucket. Dip a sponge in the solution, then use it to scrub the cushions on all sides. Let the solution soak in for 15 minutes. Rinse with a hose. Stand each cushion on an edge until dry.

Umbrella

Hose down the umbrella. Rub a wet soft-bristle brush across a bar of laundry soap. Run it over the open canopy, working from bottom to top. Rinse with a hose. Leave the umbrella open until dry. In between cleanings, wipe off bird droppings as soon as you spot them; the high acid content damages fabric, says Don Aslett, the founder of the Museum of Clean, in Pocatello, Idaho.

Wicker

Use the vacuum’s crevice attachment to dislodge leaves and bugs from the cracks. (A paintbrush works well, too, says Cobb.) Next, wet a microfiber cloth with all-purpose cleaner and glide it over the wicker. Rinse with a damp sponge. Dry with a cloth to prevent mildew.

3 Feng Shui Tips

3 Feng Shui Tips

Follow these three decorating tricks to make your house feel happy and calm.

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1. Clear Clutter

Mess is the number one enemy of feng shui. Dead or uncared-for piles sap your home’s strength and block positive energy from entering. Most significant is entryway clutter, so deal with this first. Next up, any clutter at the center of your home.

2. Fix or Toss Broken Things

They’re impediments to vitality. Toss chipped plates, burned-out bulbs, and clothes with holes. Repair stopped clocks, clogged drains, teetering chairs, and loose cabinet pulls.

3. Clean the Windows and Oil the Doors

In feng shui, the windows are the eyes of a home, and the front door is its mouth. To bring clarity to the space (and to yourself), maintain them, making sure that they open, close, and lock well.

Want to know more? Learn all about fung shui, then use this 8-point guide to create a feng shui house.

How to Care for Hardwood Floors

How to Care for Hardwood Floors

Follow these easy steps and you’ll soon worship the ground you walk on.

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Tread Lightly

You don’t have to enforce a strict no-shoes policy, but whenever possible, avoid walking on wood floors in high heels, which can easily dent the surface. Furniture can scratch wood, too, so adhere felt pads to the bottoms of all chair and table legs. Put doormats outside every entrance to keep out dirt, sand, and salt. “If you take this precaution, you’ll prevent particles on the soles of your shoes from damaging—and possibly even removing—your floor’s finish,” says Brett Miller, the director of education at the National Wood Flooring Association.

Stay Cool

The ideal temperature for wood floors is 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with a 30 to 50 percent humidity level. Keep the thermostat in that range year-round and you’ll lessen the chance of planks gapping and buckling, which is caused by drastic changes in heat and moisture, says Miller. But don’t sweat slight heat fluctuations: The room temperature has to change radically and stay that way for a prolonged period to affect the wood.

Keep Dust in Check

Debris takes a toll on a floor’s sheen. Sweep or vacuum twice a week—or every day, if you’re up for it. Once a week, use a microfiber mop with a pH-neutral cleaner (like Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner; $9.50, us.bona.com) or a homemade solution (1 tablespoon distilled vinegar in 1 gallon of water) to wipe up stuck-on dirt. Avoid products that claim to “shine,” “polish,” or “rejuvenate”; they often contain additives, like acrylic wax, which create a buildup, says Josh Frink, the wood-floor chairman for the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification.

Bring in Pros

Properly maintained floors may never require replacement. “Many wood floors on the East Coast are well over 100 years old,” says Frink. But when the wood loses its luster, hire an expert to apply a new coat of finish. If your floors see a lot of foot traffic, food spills, or pet mischief, have the surface sanded every 7 to 10 years or whenever you notice worn areas, loss of stain color, or gouges.

3 Genius Solutions for Living Room Layout Problems

3 Genius Solutions for Living Room Layout Problems

The hangout zone of your home can be hard to arrange. So Real Simple asked two designers to sketch out solutions for three of the trickiest scenarios. Pull up a chair and take some notes.

Problem: If Your Living Room Has No Foyer

You can fake one with your choice of clever work-around. The idea is to create a pause before the seating area. Check out two solutions below.

Introduce an Entryway

Solution #1: Introduce an Entryway
Position a rug and some key pieces of furniture just inside the front door.

  1. Set Up Drop Zones: Bookend the doorway with two greeting areas. “A bench-and-hooks combo on one side lets people know right away that this is an entry area,” says Shea McGee of Studio McGee in Salt Lake City. On the other side, place a chest of drawers with a tray on top for grab-and-go essentials, like sunglasses and keys, and a mirror above “for that last check on your way out.”
  2. Bridge the Gap: Center a rug between the drop zones to help define the “foyer.” “I like a rug that’s a foot wider than the door-way on either side,” says McGee. “Any smaller and it can feel puny, like a doormat.”
  3. Add Strategic Sitting: Connect the foyer and the main living area (couches plus TV) with a pair of poufs or low stools. “It’s cumbersome to have to walk around a sofa or two big chairs,” says McGee. “And those pieces would also block your view of the room.”

Related: 33 Modern Living Room Designs

Block Foyer With a Bench

Solution #2: Block With a Bench
Set up a divider—a bench, a bookshelf, or a console—and lay down a runner to carve out an entrance corridor.

  1. Bring in Greenery: Pop a plant into the corner facing the entry door to fill out that blank space. It’s in your line of sight when you walk in, so it makes the room feel instantly welcoming, says Amber Lewis of Amber Interiors in Los Angeles. (A snake plant is a good option if that corner doesn’t get a lot of light.)
  2. Decorate With Doubles: Structure the main seating area with some symmetry: a pair of end tables with lamps flanking the sofa, a pair of accent chairs on either side of the coffee table. “Symmetry looks deliberate, so it helps define a space and makes it seem finished,” says Lewis.
  3. Anchor the Main Area: Lay down a rug in the middle of the larger seating section to establish it as a separate space. “I like the outer pieces of furniture to rest partially on the rug,” says Lewis. “The room feels more easygoing, less stiff that way.”

Problem: If Your Living Room is Super Long and Narrow

Divvy up the space to get the most out of the oddly shaped square footage. Opt for either two defined spots or a more fluid layout. Take a look at some ideas below.

Create a Rectangle and Circle

Solution #1: Rectangle + Circle
Section off the room with dual, seating-heavy groupings—a linear one and a piecier one. Filling out the space actually makes a room feel less confined, says McGee.

  1. Start With a Pair of Sofas: Set up the main seating area with two same-size couches and a coffee table in between. “Some people like a sectional to squeeze in more seating,” says McGee. “But in a tight room like this, it makes traffic flow tricky. A pair of sofas opens up the space better.”
  2. Create a Circle Seating: Turn the second half of the room into a loungey area with four accent chairs surrounding a cocktail table about 18 inches high. “It gives you an intimate spot for conversations or playing cards or board games, and it balances the other side’s chunkier setup,” says McGee.
  3. Add a Flowing, Organic Element: Ground the accent chairs and cocktail table with a cowhide rug. “The curvy shape helps a narrow room feel less boxy,” she says.

Related: 6 Things to Eliminate From Your Living Room Right Now (That You Won’t Miss)

Make Narrow Feel All-Inclusive

Solution #2: All-Inclusive
Break up the rectangle into areas that function well on their own or in tandem: a big, communal spot and a smaller, cozy, nook, says Lewis.

  1. Choose Double-Duty Pieces: Cap the main seating area with a bench that can be reached from either side. “The bench adds extra seating, and because it’s low, the division it creates is very subtle,” says Lewis. “You’re utilizing the narrow space better if you keep an open flow in the room.”
  2. Decorate on an Angle: Outfit the smaller spot with an ottoman and two plush armchairs tilted to face the center of the room. “That way, you can use that nook on its own, or if you have guests over, it morphs with the larger grouping into one big seating area,” says Lewis.
  3. Keep the Nook’s Floor Bare: “I love all kinds of rugs in all kinds of spaces. But in a narrow room, an area without one can open the space and help it feel airier,” says Lewis. “In this scenario, it’s often better to go with one attention-grabbing rug for the main area.”

Problem: If Your Living Room Has Lots of Windows

Build the room from the inside out. (You have no wall space, after all.) Let the setup support your vibe: casual or formal. See two options below.

Make a Homey Hub

Solution #1: Homey Hub
Keep the area around the windows clear to make them the focal point, and concentrate the coziness in the center of the room.

  1. Use Seating in the Round: This setup creates a comfortable conversation area—just be sure that you have enough space to pull it off, says McGee. “You need about three to four feet in the walkways and about two feet of breathing room in areas that don’t get foot traffic.”
  2. Choose an L-Shaped Couch: A sectional sofa isn’t just a savior for spaces that can’t comfortably fit a sofa and a love seat. It’s also a great choice for anchoring a furniture arrangement in the center of a room, because it’s so weighty and substantial.
  3. Bring in a Little More Bulk: To balance the scale of the furniture, pair the sectional with an oversize coffee table or ottoman (ideally, about half or two-thirds the length of the sofa). A side table topped with a tall lamp adds visual height and draws the eye up to accentuate the windows.

Related: 16 Decorator Tricks for Small Living Rooms

Create Structured Symmetry

Solution #2: Structured Symmetry
Double up on sofas and accent seats to maximize the middle of the room, and utilize the scant wall space you have, says Lewis

  1. Section Off Your Space: Usually the walls delineate space in a room, but if you don’t want to block the windows, you have to do it with furniture. Floating two sofas around a coffee table creates a framework, says Lewis. But keep in mind: “You need at least five feet of space between the sofas and windows so the room isn’t cramped.”
  2. Sprinkle in Shiftable Seating: Extra ottomans that can move around keep everyone happy, says Lewis. You could also add two chairs at the other end of the coffee table if you have enough room for people to sit comfortably there.
  3. Sneak in a Sleek Accent on the Side: Balance the heavy pieces in the middle of the room with a clean-lined console on one wall. “Often people put tables behind the sofas,” says Lewis. “But if you have a little wall space between windows, a console is a slim pick that offsets the bulkiness in the center.” 

 

3 Easy Crafts From Etsy Studio

3 Easy Crafts From Etsy Studio

The brand new marketplace for craft supplies is launching today. Take a look at these three projects that you might want to tackle this weekend.

A few months ago, we announced that Etsy was launching a new site, Etsy Studio, which is a marketplace dedicated to craft supplies. The new site will feature eight million craft supplies to choose from, making it easier than ever to create DIY projects. Consumers can find everything from traditional and vintage craft supplies to hand-dyed fabrics and hand-carved weaving looms. In addition to the supplies, you’ll also find original craft projects and tutorials to inspire you.

Etsy gave Real Simple a sneak peek at three new projects—take a look below and get started on your next DIY venture. See more craft supplies and ideas at EtsyStudio.com.

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Driftwood Jewelry Organizer

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Photo by Etsy Studio

Tangled necklaces or bracelets in your jewelry box can get annoying—and even cause some damage. This pretty driftwood jewelry organizer will keep your items safe and put them on display. Once you complete the project, hang it on your closet wall or in your bedroom so you can easily grab your favorite pieces when you get ready in the morning.


Party-Ready Paracord Coasters

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Photo by Etsy Studio

Cocktail hour just got a little more fun with these colorful coasters. They’re made of paracord and wound in a spiral design. You can experiment with playing with the patterns and colors to match the rest of your table décor.


Wood Bead Keychain

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Photo by Etsy Studio

We guarantee you’ll never lose your keys again when they’re on these colorful, pattern-happy holders. Made with wooden beads and tassels, express your creative side by pairing different patterns and colors.

The $6 Kitchen Tool Real Simple Food Editors Are Obsessed With

The $6 Kitchen Tool Real Simple Food Editors Are Obsessed With

Every home cook should own one—but most don’t.

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Photo by Ateco

There are hundreds of specialized cooking gadgets you can buy, from strawberry hullers to olive pitters. Even if you have a big kitchen, we believe less is more: you really only need 3 knives and a streamlined set of tools. But the one tool we can’t live without (besides the knives) is the Ateco Small Offset Spatula. It’s an inexpensive multitasker that takes up barely any space in your kitchen drawer.

Technically a baking tool, the offset spatula has a long narrow flexible blade with a rounded end. You’ll see the Ateco spatula comes in a variety of sizes. Bakers will appreciate the largest (9.75-inch) offset, fantastic for frosting a cake in a smooth, even layer. But the tool that every home cook should own is the mini, measuring in at just 4.25-inch offset.

We like to think of it as an extension of your hand, like a regular spatula, only more precise. Because of its flexibility and angled end, it can easily slip under delicate foods without breaking them (unlike a regular table knife). You’re frying eggs, for example, and the whites look like they’re about to start cooking into one big mass. Use an offset to gently push them apart. You’re searing homemade veggie burgers and want to move one to the hottest part of the pan. Give the burger in question a lift and a scoot with your offset. You forget to put parchment paper down when you’re making brownies: slip down and underneath to neatly loosen them from the pan.

RELATED: How to Stack and Frost a Layer Cake

The Ateco offset is also better at spreading condiments than any butter knife you’ve met. Because it sits flush against bread, you spread with much more surface area than a knife, which forces you to pull spreads along on its edge. Whether you’re buttering, mayo-ing, or peanut butter and jelly-ing, the offset will become your new best friend. Check out your sandwich maker next time you’re at the deli. Chances are they’re using one of these babies.

How to Reduce Food Waste

How to Reduce Food Waste

Every year, the United States chucks nearly 40 percent of its food. Dana Gunders, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the author of The Waste-free Kitchen Handbook, offers money- and planet-saving tips.

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Photo by Peter Oumanski

Your book says the United States wastes 50 percent more food now than it did in the 1970s. Why is that?
Portion sizes have grown tremendously since then. Plus, it’s become normal for restaurants and caterers to produce excessive menus and buffets and for consumers to buy more than they need.

We’ve come to expect large amounts of food.
Yes. Research NRDC has done found that people are not comfortable with empty white space on plates or in fridges or grocery carts. There’s an urge to fill those spaces with food. And in our culture, throwing food out is acceptable. In fact, leaving something on your plate is considered posh.

What else contributes to food waste?
A lot of produce won’t get picked for market because it’s not pretty enough to be sold. It gets tossed or turned into the soil.

What’s the environmental impact?
About 70 percent of our water and 50 percent of our land is devoted to agriculture. So when we’re not eating that food, it’s a huge unnecessary use of resources. About 33 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gases are produced to grow food that never gets eaten.

What types of food get wasted most?
Fruits and vegetables. Tied for second are dairy products and bread. Meat is third, but it has the biggest impact. If you throw out a hamburger, that’s the equivalent of taking a 90-minute shower, in terms of the water it took to produce it.

How can we waste less produce?
If you need small amounts of specific fruits or veggies for a recipe, buy them from the salad bar so the excess won’t rot in your fridge. Or buy frozen versions, which have almost the same nutritional value with none of the pressure.

What else can we do?
Be realistic. What tends to happen is you buy all these groceries on the weekend because you’re feeling aspirational about how much you’re going to cook. But by Wednesday, life has happened and you’re ordering takeout. And then the broccoli goes bad. Instead, plan for that. If you can, shop often and buy less.

How else can we be conscientious shoppers?
Use a shopping list or an app. And take a last look in your cart before checking out. Think about when in the near future you’re going to eat each item. If you don’t have a clear answer, don’t buy it.

You also talk about conducting a “waste audit.”
For two weeks, jot down what you throw out to pinpoint what you are wasting and why. Did dinner plans change? Did you get wooed by a sale and buy too much? Write down the cost so you feel the financial pain.

How closely should we follow expiration dates?
Take them with a grain of salt, as they’re not federally regulated. A “use by” or “best by” date typically says when the product will be at its best quality. There may be a change in taste, color, or texture.

So we may be throwing out food that’s still OK?
Yes. A big misunderstanding is that when food is old, it will make you sick. The main reason for illness is pathogens like salmonella and E. coli that contaminate food at the farm or processing plants.

What do we need to be careful of?
Mold, green potatoes, and rancid meat, oil, or nuts.

What are some ideas to use up food?
Toss a mishmash of items into a tortilla or in fried rice or pasta salad. You can also sauté wilted lettuce with butter and garlic. Even if you waste a little bit less, it’s still an accomplishment.

 

5 Unexpected Causes of Pollution

5 Unexpected Causes of Pollution

Five surprising ways you’re hurting the environment—and the surprisingly easy changes you can make to be greener.

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Using Body Wash All the Time

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Photo by Aaron Dyer, Prop Styling by JoJo Li

Liquid soaps require five times more energy for raw-material production and nearly 20 times more energy for packaging production than bar soaps do. “And higher energy consumption usually correlates with a higher carbon footprint,” says David Tyler, a professor of chemistry at the University of Oregon, in Eugene.

Greener Habit
Stick with bars when you wash up. Not only do they have a considerably lower impact on the environment but also you’ll use less. A study from Zurich’s Institute of Environmental Engineering found that consumers use almost seven times more liquid soap than bar soap when hand washing, so it’s quite likely that we’re overdoing it in the shower as well.

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Being Oblivious to Your Electronics Settings

The average home contains about 24 energy-sucking electronic devices, with TVs, desktop computers, cable boxes, and game consoles among the worst. Combined, they consumed about $20 billion worth of electricity in 2013, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in New York.

Greener Habit
It’s easy to tweak a TV, so start there. Select “home” mode in the setup instead of “retail,” which is meant for a bright in-store display. If there is an automatic brightness control, turn it on. “This feature measures the amount of light in a room and adjusts the screen. This can cut energy use by up to 50 percent,” says Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist for the NRDC. On smart TVs, disable the quick-start function, which eats up extra power.

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Running the Dishwasher and the Clothes Dryer During the Day

These machines produce heat and humidity, which means your air conditioner has to work harder, says Jennifer Amann, the buildings program director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, in Washington, D.C. Besides, many utility companies charge higher rates during peak hours.

Greener Habit
Use your dishwasher and dryer during off-peak hours, which typically start between 8 P.M. and midnight and end around sunrise. (Check with your provider.) For maximum efficiency, use a low dryer setting, and line-dry thick items, like jeans and towels, whenever possible.


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Tossing Used Coffee Pods

Around 9.8 billion K-cup pods were sold in 2014. (They account for a reported 85 to 90 percent of the coffee-pod market.) The number 7 plastic most contain isn’t accepted at many recycling plants (also, plants won’t accept pods if they are filled with coffee), so a majority end up in landfills, says Elizabeth Glazner, the editorial director of the nonprofit organization Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Greener Habit
Find a nearby recycling facility that will take them by searching for “number 7 plastic” at search.earth911.com. Then separate the plastic cup from the lid, the filter, and the grounds. The Recycle A Cup gadget ($13, recycleacup.com) will do this in seconds. Or mail pod plastic to Recycle A Cup for free recycling. Easier yet, use a refillable pod (My K-Cup, $15, keurig.com).

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Overdoing It With Aluminum Foil

Americans discarded about 2.8 million tons of aluminum—including containers, cans, and foil—in 2013, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Whereas soiled containers can be recycled, dirty foil can’t. And it can take centuries for aluminum to biodegrade.

Greener Habit
Use unbleached parchment paper for baking and roasting as well as for wrapping sandwiches and snacks. It’s biodegradeable, compostable, and often reusable.