part twenty-seven


Do your dishes come out of the dishwasher smelling funny? Fishy? Plasticky? It might be black mold living in your dishwasher.

Black mold, the devil's proudest achievement, grows in anything that stays damp for extended periods of time. Some people are allergic to the stuff and once it takes hold on something, like your roof, your driveway, your toilet, your drains, your dishwasher or your washing machine, it's darned near impossible to remove. However, I've picked up a trick or two regarding black mold and I'll share them with you now.

Copper is to black mold what kryptonite is to Superman. Black mold will not tolerate even the slightest concentrations of copper. Fish farmers use copper sulfate to kill mold in their catfish ponds.

Go to the hardware store and buy some 3/8 inch copper tubing and a tubing cutter. Cut a handful of beads from that stock about a half inch long. Put those beads in the dish washer's silverware basket. Pour a cup of vinegar in the washer and start her up either with or without a full load of dishes. Do this a couple of times a month and black mold will go away.

You can do the exact same trick with your clothes washer, your shower drain, your toilet tank. Just cut the copper tubing into a length or shape that won't fit down the drain. Your toilets, drains and washers probably account for most of the black mold in any house, so if you're allergic, this is a cheap way to cut down on your exposure.

Quick note. For some reason pennies don't work. I'm guessing the alloy they're using to plate the coins reduces the copper's solubility. Anyway, just use real copper. Also, I'd advise against substituting electrical wiring or anything else for copper tubing. You just don't know what other metals are mixed in with the copper in electrical wiring. Copper tubing is manufactured for house plumbing, so you can assume the absence of toxic metals.

RTJ -- 12/28/2009


If I have any regular rant readers, they'll recall my complaints about the horrible horrible smell, how to detect it, where does it come from, is it causing any health problems and how can I remove it. One persistent problem has always been that the currency in my billfold seems to be a major source of the smell, yet there's no good way to remove that smell. Check it out for yourself. Boil a pot of water and dunk a couple of bills into it. Do you get a powerful dark plastic funk rolling out of the steam? Well just think that's the last thing you touch before you eat your Wendyburger, and you'll want to rid your cash of the horrible horrible smell as well.

Here's the latest technique I've been using, and it seems to work pretty well. It seems to destroy the smell rather than just remove it.

Make yourself an alcohol lamp and pass the bills through the flame. Don't just heat the bills above the flame. That will volatilize the stink and disperse it through the environmnet. Pass the bills, front and back, through the flame itself, quickly enough so that the bill doesn't catch fire but slowly enough so that the flame touches every part of the paper. It takes about five seconds per bill and your cash will smell like paper and not like a plastic toy.

To make an alcohol lamp, just stuff a shot glass with cotton soaked in grain alcohol. I recommend an alcohol lamp because it doesn't create soot or fumes. Alcohol also has a cool flame, and if you tip over your lamp, the cotton will keep the fire contained so it can be easily put out.

You can also use this technique to remove the horrible horrible smell from coffee filters, canned goods, dishes, etc.

RTJ -- 1/08/2009


Perform this test the next time your bring a plastic jug of milk home from the store. Take a milk jug to room temperature. Sniff the bottom of the jug. Now sniff the top around the neck and handle. Do you get two different smells? Does the smell of the neck and handle irritate your nose a little bit? That's horrible horrible. Here's how to remove that smell from milk jugs, soda bottles, plastic packages of cheese and lunchmeats, plastic toys etc.

Grate a potato into the sink as you run it half full of lukewarm water. Place your foul-smelling plastic items in the water for ten minutes to a half-hour. Remove the items, rinse them off, and the smell is greatly reduced. Wear kitchen gloves as you discard the water and potato shreds.

This isn't the best horrible horrible smell removal method, but it's the best I've come up with so far for plastic. This also works on jars and cans and cookware and flatware and stoneware and beer cans and all the usual stuff. I haven't tried it on cloth or paper. One disadvantage is that it'll soak the labels off of your cans and jars. There's also a problem with plastic snack bags in that they're full of air and won't submerge.

RTJ -- 1/10/2009


You know the guy I'm talking about. He seems to be completely unaware that his peculiar unhuman BO makes people woozy, yet he always finds a way to intrude into your personal space and waft upon you the fragrance of his weaponized armpit. This guy doesn't have regular locker room BO, but a really surprising acrid underworld squid fart aura. There's one of these guys stationed in every workplace. I think it's the law.

Often some mineral supplement can be used to address one of these very strange body odors that evoke sewage, rotting meat, animal smells, that kind of thing. Obviously you could go down to the vitamin self at Walgreens and start working your way through the periodic table to see which mineral mitigates what odor, but that's the costly and time-consuming way.

Here's what you do. Bake a batch of cookies and load them up with pumpkin seeds, which are a good source of a wide range of dietary minerals. Make sure Mister Stinky gets one every day. By the end of the week you'll be able to visit his cubicle without passing out.

RTJ -- 1/12/2010


Sure you can. I can fool a dog with a tennis ball, but of course that's not what people mean when they say that. What they mean is that dogs are good judges of character, and can be used as a social barometer. Some people around here take that seriously, even to the point of introducing their trusted dogs to job applicants.

No sooner does clever Iago learn of this than he starts coming up with ways to rig the canine jury to get the testimony he wants. Check his iPhone to see if it doesn't have a dogwhistle app that emits high frequencies inaudible to humans. It looks like Iago is just making a phone call, but he's making that dog bark every time you pass by.

Iago places a drop of coyote urine on your shoe and every dog in Little Rock will testify against you until you wash that shoe. How often do you wash your shoes, anyway? Have the dogs in the park been going after your ankles all of a sudden? Maybe somebody's having a little fun at your expense and trying to drain you of your social capital. So trust your dog but realize that with very little effort Iago can mess with his mind.

Appropos of nothing, and for those of you who like coincidences, about a year ago on the David Letterman Show, Billy Crystal told stories about coyote urine and pumpkin seeds.

RTJ -- 1/14/2010


Suppose Mister Stinky, mentioned above, pays you a special visit (just because he likes you) and in his wake he leaves the gift that keeps on giving. That is to say, he leaves a lingering malodor. Here's a remedy.

Put a dinner plate in the middle of the floor and a can of sterno in the middle of the dinner plate. Let the sterno burn for ten minutes. Smell is gone. Same theory as lighting a match in the bathroom. You could also burn the improvised alcohol lamp mentioned above, but Sterno is safer and easier to handle. After all, it's formulated to use indoors with food, so it makes no fumes or fragrances of its own. That's why I don't recommend using candles for this. They make soot and sometimes have their own masking scents.

That's important when dealing with the horrible horrible smell. If you cover it up with a powerfully scented cleanser like Mr. Clean or Fabuloso, you've just built a horse for the Trojans. The horrible horrible smell will lie undetected beneath that industrial rosewater, so steer clear of powerful scents. They're only marginally better than the horrible horrible smell itself anyway. And as I've written before, many commercial cleaning products are actually sources of the horrible horrible smell. If a woman is wearing a loud perfume it's likely because something underneath is repugnant. I apply the same principle to household cleaning products. See my rant on the cardboard test for details.

RTJ -- 1/18/2010


If you've stayed with me this far through the page, you're probably thinking of all the horrible horrible you've inhaled, ingested and absorbed throughout the years. What to do, what to do?

If you had a contaminated aquarium you'd use activated charcoal to clean the toxins from the system. Why not use charcoal to clean your system? I'm not suggesting briquettes (They're made with paraffin, so don't.) or even aquarium charcoal. But if you'd like to try a little dietary charcoal, what would be the harm in making your morning toast very very dark to the point of, say twenty percent burnt?

P.S. If you get the kind of panic attacks where the sides of your head feel hot, a piece of burnt toast will stop that attack in its tracks. By the time you swallow the first bite you'll be wondering what you were so nervous about.

RTJ -- 1/21/2010


This is probably the least useful method, but as long as I'm giving it the kitchen sink treatmet I might as well throw this one in.

Dirt removes the horrible horrible smell. Just about any old kind of dirt, mud, clay, sand, dust. Whatever you've got. Rub the dirt on the bad smelling surface, wash it off. No more horrible horrible smell. Trouble is, do you really want to rub mud all over your kid's soda bottle just before he drinks from it? Yeah, didn't think so. This technique has limits, since it doesn't make much sense to remove one contaminant by applying another contaminant.

Still, there are some situations where the dirt method is worth a try. Dirt (like unscented cat litter, which is pelletized clay) can remove the horrible horrible smell from synthetic fabrics, which are particularly difficult to deodorize. Just put about an ounce or two of dirt in the pre-soak tub. Give it an occasional stir for a half hour. Machine wash. Evil smell is gone. Be advised not to put cat litter down your drains. It's clay and it can turn into pottery down there.

RTJ -- 1/21/2010


Here are some photos of rooftops. I've selected these rooftops because of the materials used in the fixtures, vents, ports etc.

Here's a typical roof streaked with mold. The mold grows thicker in some places than others. Note on this picture that the small vents B and C, along with the dish antenna D have painted metal around the bases and they don't affect the growth of black mold. Note that all the rest of the fixtures, including the horizontal wall fixture G do seem to inhibit the growth of black mold.

What we're looking at are the rainshadows of the fixtures on the roof. Rain falls on the fixtures and runs down the shingles from there. Some factor in that runoff either inhibits or doesn't inhibit the growth of roof mold. Another roof. Fixtures A, D, and F leave the roof mold unaffected. Fixtures B, C and G do inhibit the growth of roof mold.

Here's the opposite side of that second roof. Point B is opposite point F on the previous picture. The blocks and electrical conduit at point A have a strong effect on the mold on both sides of this roof.

All of those big clear swaths on otherwise mold-streaked roofs have one thing in common. They are the rainshadows of fixtures made of galvanized steel. Wherever you find painted fixtures or fixtures made of stainless steel, aluminum or vinyl, the roof mold grows unabated.

Time was every roofing fixture was either copper (if you were rich) or galvanized steel (if you were not). Both of these materials inhibited black mold. But now roofing fixtures and gutters are made of vinyl, stainless, aluminum, practically anything other than copper or galvanized steel. As a result we have more mold to contend with which to contend.

The patterns of mold created by these vents and whirlygigs shows that we have rooftops that have patches that are immunized against black mold. We have created those self-cleaning areas by accident. Why don't we just intentionally recreate those conditions across the whole roof and make the whole roof self-cleaning?

The first suggestion is to roof the ridge line with a strip of galvanized steel. That's the easiest and most obvious route.

On the other hand, you could figure out what it is about galvanized steel that gets rid of mold. It's probably the zinc coating slowly dissolving in rainwater. Zinc oxide is in your athlete's foot powder, so it's already used to control mold and fungus. Why doesn't some shingle maker just work zinc oxide into the asphalt of the shingles, or make the grit on the shingles 1/10th of one percent zinc oxide? You'd have just a few ounces of zinc oxide over your whole roof and it would keep the roof mold away. Your roof would look newer longer.

You could do the same thing with cement. Mix an ounce of zinc oxide into a yard of concrete and keep black mold from taking hold. If the effectiveness of the galvanized steel is any indicator, the amount required would be very small. The clear patch in the rainshadow of a whirlygig might last through two sets of shingles. That's forty to fifty years, and there must be just a couple of grams of zinc on a whirlygig.

RTJ -- 1/24/2010


As long as I seem to be dedicating this entire month's rants to the removal of household odors, here's another one. I noticed that about half the cars in any junkyard have a particular old car smell. It's kind of musty, sour and vinegary. What's more, once it's in your car it doesn't like to leave. I'm not sure what it is, maybe a mold or fungus; but it seems to accumulate so gradually that the owner doesn't notice it. You can load up your upholstery with darn near any commercial deoderizing product and do no good whatsoever. At best you end up covering the old car smell with a perfume that's just about as nasty.

I've found something that magically eliminates the musty smell from old car upholstery. Ready? It's Miracle Gro plant food. The blue stuff. Just mix it up as per the directions on the box and put it in an old Windex bottle because it's blue like Windex. Just spray that mist over your upholstery and instantly the smell is gone leaving absolutely no smell at all in its place. No citrus grove, no pine forest, no truckload of rose hips, no nuthin', an olfactory tabla rasa.

Once your car is damp and deoderized, wipe the plastic, glass and metal surfaces with a cloth and vacuum the upholstery (preferably with a wet vac) to remove the solution and the smell that's stuck in it. If you don't, the smell will come back out of the solution after it dries.

As sure as God makes little green apples, the Devil comes along behind and tries to unmake them. (Remember what happened in the case of Carter's Little Liver Pills.) In the nearly certain event that someone buys the Miracle Gro brand and changes the formula, you'll want to save the list of ingredients from the side panel of the package. One or more of those components make a great upholstery deoderizer. Try it on pet odors. Coyote urine.

RTJ -- 2/2/2010


This is a cedar fence streaked with black mold. Note that the streaks tend to begin at points where nails and staples are driven in. People use cedar for outdoor applications because it is resistant to black mold, but here it grows at certain points. There's something about those iron nails and staples that causes black mold to grow where it otherwise would not. Note that the top row of fasteners is made of nails while the builder used staples in the lower row. Some difference in the iron alloy used might account for the fact that mold growth from the top row is lighter than the mold growth originating from the bottom row.

Here is a closer view of that same fence. You might try to argue that water pools in the nail indentations, thus keeping the wood downstream from the nail wetter longer than the rest of the board, thus encouraging mold growth. But if that were the case, wouldn't we get the same effect with the knothole at the upper left of the picture?

So my preliminary conclusion is that copper kills the black mold, zinc inhibits black mold and iron promotes growth of black mold.

RTJ -- 2/9/2010

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