Dear Readers: Are your white clothes looking dingy? The reason could be the very thing we've always used to whiten our whites — bleach! We now know that bleach can break down the optical brighteners that are added to many white fabrics and, with continued use, leave our white clothes yellowed or gray-looking.

The answer? Avoid using bleach altogether, unless the care label says you can. Try washing whites in the hottest water that is safe for the fabric. Because today's laundry detergents work so well in cold water, we automatically use cold water to wash all of our clothes, but for our whites, we have to go back to hot. The detergent will work better, and stains will also come out easier. If you're worried about shrinkage, set the dryer on low to medium heat.

It's important to check for stains and pretreat them. If allowed to set in, a stain could permanently weaken or discolor the fabric. I have a homemade prewash-spray formula that works great and is easy to make. Just mix equal parts of water, household ammonia and dishwashing (not dishwasher) liquid. Put the mixture in a clean, labeled spray bottle, and apply directly to the stain. Wash the garment immediately after applying.

For a bunch of other laundry hints and an alphabetized list of stain-removal treatments, send $4 and a long, self-addressed, stamped (58 cents) envelope to: Heloise/Stains, P.O. Box 795001, San Antonio, TX 78279-5001. Remember to treat the stain as soon as you see it, and don't dry the fabric until you're sure the stain is gone. —Heloise

Dear Heloise: I read in one of your columns two helpful hints about using newspaper sleeves (store decorative banners and as an umbrella cover).

I save and use many of my Sunday newspaper sleeves for travel. Dad taught me the Navy way of rolling clothes to pack. I roll and place in large sleeves, and the security inspectors can tell at a glance what is in the bag. I love it. I have done this for world and local travel. —Patricia, via e-mail

Dear Heloise: Because I paint for a living, I came up with a great little helper when I have to buy 5-gallon drums of paint. Pour the amount you need into a coffee can. The indentations in the container make it easy to carry the paint. A 3-inch brush fits right inside. When finished for the day, all I do is put the lid back on to keep the paint fresh until I'm ready to use it again. Usually, when I have big jobs and I'm using multiple primers and paints, I'll put the lid on, stroke the lid with some of the paint and write through the paint/primer to tell me what it is for the next use. —Cindy Hassay, Petersburg, Ohio

Dear Readers: To perk up a dried flower arrangement in a glass or ceramic bowl, add a few drops of cinnamon or orange essential oil.


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