Wendell T. Webber
A down pillow needs zip-on cover as well as pillowcase. Covers protect against dust, humidity and oils and help pillows keep shape.

Dear Martha: What are the advantages of down pillows? Are they hard to clean?

Answer: For softness, nothing is better than down pillows. Filled with the delicate fluff from the bellies of waterfowl, they're especially popular with stomach sleepers, who tend to like their pillows cushiony, not firm. (If you prefer a firm pillow, consider one filled with feathers. For a medium-firm pillow, try one filled with down and feathers.) Expect to pay at least twice as much for down pillows as for synthetic-fill ones. Down pillows, like feather ones, can last up to a decade if properly maintained, while even the highest-grade synthetics will likely need replacing after a few years.

Down pillows require a zip-on cover and a pillowcase. Besides protecting against dust, humidity and natural oils, covers help down pillows keep their shape. A daily fluffing will also prevent dust from collecting and will redistribute the filling evenly. Once a month, air out pillows by hanging them near an open window or on a clothesline (but avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, as it can deteriorate the natural fibers). If stains have penetrated through to the lining, spot-clean them with a mild detergent; air thoroughly to prevent mold.

Deep-clean your pillows a few times a year. To do this, remove the case and cover and examine the lining for tears that could release down. Then either hand-wash in a tub with mild, low-sudsing detergent, or clean in a front-loading machine (the central agitator on top loaders is too aggressive). Do not wring. Tumble dry on low heat along with several clean, dry towels, which will absorb excess moisture. To keep the down fluffy and evenly distributed, add a few tennis balls encased in clean cotton socks. To avoid overheating, check on pillows every 30 minutes and take them out when thoroughly dry.

Dear Martha: I inherited a rug that smells like smoke. How can I get the odor out?

Answer: Zeolite, a porous mineral that absorbs the molecules that cause odors, should be able to extract the smell. Available as small rocks or as a powder, zeolite is naturally occurring but also can be produced artificially. It is sold at pet stores and home centers, often under the name "volcanic mineral." Larger quantities can be found for a lower cost at stores that sell swimming pool supplies. (Zeolite is used in pool filters.)

To rid a rug of a smoky smell, spritz the surface with water, then cover it with a layer of zeolite about 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick. In a couple of days, collect the zeolite and vacuum the rug. If the rug is small, you can also put it in a plastic trash bag with a few cups of zeolite. Tie the bag and leave it for a few days.

Zeolite is reusable — place it in the sun for a day or two and it will discharge the smells it has absorbed — and can be employed to treat a variety of odors, including those on furniture, fabrics and car upholstery.

Dear Martha: I noticed something called mace in the spice aisle of my market. What is it and how should I use it?

Answer: Mace is a yellow-orange spice that tastes and smells like a more potent form of nutmeg. That's not surprising, as the two spices come from the same fruit (nutmeg from the seed, mace from the membrane that covers the seed) and can be used in similar ways. Mace is dried and often sold ground, but you may also find whole pieces, known as blades.

You can cook and bake with mace as you would with nutmeg, but you should use less mace because its flavor is more intense. Though sometimes considered a baking spice — for example, it's a common pound cake ingredient — mace enlivens many meals. It can be enjoyed in dishes with fruits (apples or pears), meats (beef, duck or ham), and vegetables (corn, eggplants or sweet potatoes), as well as in breads and stuffings.

Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10036. Questions may also be sent by electronic mail to: [email protected]. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column.


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