The Washington Post

Christina Peterson, a home product analyst with the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, joined the weekly chat.

Sep 29, 2011

Christina Peterson, a home product analyst with the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, joined Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza for their weekly Home Front chat. Together, they give advice on home improvement, cleaning appliances and stain removal.

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We are excited to have Christina Peterson from Good Housekeeping Research Institute here to answer our questions on washers, dryers and laundry. Let's get going.

For readers who post sometimes lament countertops and cabinets they don't like (but aren't in the market for the major remodeling that might be called for)... Here's an Apartment Therapy review of the Rustoleum products for DIY makeover. The process sounds a little daunting for some DIYers, but this review might help them make the decision. 

I salute anyone who is DIY handy...

Hi there, I have a small built in with an area for a TV, but we've decided to mount our TV on the wall instead of using this space. Do you have any ideas for decorative items to put in this space? It's rather large and clearly meant for a TV so I'm not sure what would look good there. Help! Thanks :)

You could hang or lean a piece of art where the TV used to be. Or you could have another shelf installed to break up the large space.

I don't understand why people object to front loading washing machines. Aren't most dryers front loaders? What is the difference? That objection has always puzzled me.

All dryers are front-loading; however, there are different configurations for washing machines.  People may object to front-loading washing machines because of their size and complexities.  Yet, don't be intimidated by them.  In our most recent test of washing machines, the front-loaders had the best cleaning performance.  Keep in mind that the cycle time is much longer than top-loaders.  When choosing the configuration best for you, take into consideration the amount of laundry you wash, the degree of soil on your laundry, space, and price.  You can find further details about the washers and dryers we tested on our new product channel on

I am a big Washington Nationals baseball fan. Over the years I've collected some cool memorabilia that begs to be (tastefully) displayed. I would like to redecorate my home office around this theme, but not have the room scream "baseball" or "tacky." The team colors are red, white, and navy blue, so staying away from too much of that color scheme would probably be good, although the accessories/memorabilia obviously include those colors to some degree. Any thoughts on the best way to do this? I guess I'm looking for color options for carpet or flooring, window coverings, wall paint. Thanks and love love love this chat!!

I think I would keep the big elements (walls, floors, windows) classic and neutral and allow your memorabilia and other accesories to provide the color and personality in the room.

Good morning. I'm submitting early as I will not be available during the actual chat. I'm looking for an unusual doorknocker. My current one is really ugly and we're going to replace the door at some point, so we'll need a new one. But I'd like to get something different, although I'm not quite sure what I want. (Is that vague enough?!) For example, my in-laws' door knocker is a figure of a bagpiper playing the pipes. Does anyone have a source for interesting door knockers? Thanks much!

What an interesting question! I just did a story on a house with an owl doorknocker which they got at Urban Outfitters I believe.  Also go to I really really love the bear door knocker at Restoration Hardware! What do you guys know about this topic? Please chime in.  I must admit, mine at home is a bit boring and now I feel like I should change it!

Good Morning: we are turning our sunroom into a dining room, and we need a bit of advice. The room is long and narrow (approx. 8' x 25') and surrounded by floor to ceiling windows; ordinarily we would simply center the dining table in the middle of the room, however there are french doors leading outside that could possible hinder this arrangement. Any suggestions for a potential furniture layout that could work here? Thanks.

Really tough to say without seeing the room, but could you create two separate areas in the room? Have the dining table on one side of the doors and a small seating area on the other?

A large floral arrangement.

yes, but keeping that up is a very expensive option!

Everyone I know who has one has complained about leaks.

Really? I have had no leaks in the five years I've owned one, but I have had a moldy smell. I now leave the door ajar and have bought Affresh front loading washer cleaner tablets which I use once a month to keep it smelling better.

Hi! I'm soon replacing my countertops and had a question about their color. We have white cabinets, does that mean that everything will go, or are some colors better than others? Thanks!

I think absolutely anything will go! I might avoid white, as that would look too sterile with the white cabinets...

Hello Ladies, my question is regarding rugs. In my living room, I have beautiful Persian rug. I'm looking for a rug for the dining room, do I try to match the pattern and colors or do I go with a rug that is more solid in color? Both rooms are painted mansfield tan by BM. I don't want a Persian run in the dining room because we do use it when we have guests and I want adults and kids to be comfortable eating and not thinking what if something drops. Thanks so much!

No, the rugs don't have to match.

I, like many others, never seem to have time for cleaning. What house cleaning tasks would you consider essential to keep the house looking clean and the family healthy? Thank you!

I too have this problem.  I try to focus on areas of the home most seen by guests.  I always keep the bathroom and kitchen clean and the living room tidy.  For the bathroom and kitchen, I always make sure the counters are wiped down, and in the living room I'll do a quick dusting on eye level or below surfaces, such as shelves and tables.  For speed cleaning, don't move furniture just vacuum around it and take advantage of all the attachment tools.  As a health tip, use a HEPA vacuum.  They work great at containing dust particles you've just vacuumed.

It seems no matter what my husband and I do, we wind up with streaky stainless steel kitchen appliances (noticed most on the fridge!) But we use specific stainless steel cleaners, always! What are we doing wrong? Are there any tricks here? Thank you & love the chats!!!

I forget where I heard this tip, but I use it all the time on  my stainless appliances: a soft cloth and a little olive oil. Works wonders on streaks and smudges.   

Hi ladies - help! Last winter I found a few wool sweaters had tiny holes in them when I took them out for the season. They had been dry cleaned or washed prior to storing, so after this past winter ended, after cleaning them I put cedar blocks in the armoire where I keep them (tried the lavender moth sachets but the smell was overpowering and nauseating). I took one out to wear recently and noticed a tiny hole. Any recommendations on how to keep my clothes from being eaten? Does an exterminator handle this? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

An exterminator will be helpful in removing current moths from your home.  To prevent future infestation, try storing them first in sweater bags and placing them in your armoire.  The key is to keep the armoire closed to prevent the pests from having access.   

I used to have the same problem with streaky stainless steel appliances. A friend suggested using simple green, wiping it off and the drying with a soft cloth. Works great!


Good morning, My wife and I are trying to figure out the best way to keep the air in our house smelling fresh. We are trying to keep the windows open as much as possible, but when we close them up, the stale smell returns. We have a three level townhouse with the walkout basement as our primary hang-out space, midlevel kitchen/great room and three bedrooms upstairs. We also have a very cute puppy, who although he is hypoallergenic is also very hard to dry off, so all of this rain is not doing much since it's impossible to get him dry after a walk without a 15 minute session with a hair dryer. We are considering getting air filters for the basement and main floor, but if you've got a better idea, I certainly could use it. Thanks!

Do you have a dehumidifier? I think this could solve your problem!!! Here is my article on them.


I sympathize with the chatter -- I tried dozens of stainless steel cleaners. And then I realized that what worked best was a microfiber cloth dampened with a bit of olive oil. If the stainless is really dirty, you can use white vinegar and water first (i keep a 50/50 mix in spray bottle for counters and stainless steel.)

Another vote for olive oil.  And I like the idea of keeping a spray bottle with white vingear and water.  Great tip. Thanks!

I need a new vacuum cleaner. It'll be used for rugs mostly, some hardwood floors, and I'd like for it not to be too heavy. One of the rugs I have came with instructions to not use a dyson type vacuum cleaner. Do you have any suggestions on vacuum cleaners?

I would go with a canister style vacuum.  I have a Miele which I love - they are a bit pricey but the investment is worth it as mine is like 8 years old now and still works perfectly.

My son's class collected postcards last year, so now we have a lot of postcards from interesting places that I'd like to use rather than keep in a drawer. Any interesting ideas for how to display some of them? I've thought about hanging some of them "clothesline-style" in our family room, but am open to feedback and other ideas. Thanks!

How about getting a few large frames and having a custom mats cut to fit a handful of  postcards per frame? Any local frame shop should be able to cut a mat for you if you bring your frame in. They could probably also help you determine how many per frame would look best. 

The concrete path and steps leading to my door has taken on a green cast. I think it must be mold from all the rain we'e had. Does anyone have some environmentally friendly advice on getting rid of it?

I consulted with our gardening editor Adrian Higgins about this. He suggested mixing up a bucket of 90 percent water and 10 percent bleach. Use a scrub brush on the mold with the solution. Then rinse well with your hose.

most people who own front load washers realize that they may not be up to par on cleaning. unless you buy a high end model with steam capabilities you may not be getting a really clean wash as this is the nature of front load machines. also, remember less is more with HE detergents. very true with linens/towels/bedding. you don't want to leave soapy residues behind on your items. and never use any other detergents but HE or you will be sorry - and a huge repair bill to fix the machines. and never use those dryer blocks that attach to the inside drum - major problems. no woolite. no downey. no pre treatments unless made for HE machines. serious problems with all these as none are HE.

Thanks for your observations.

Good morning. I'd really like to replace my current stacked washer/dryer (circa 2001) with one of the nice front-loading sets, but I am afraid that the new machines aren't as well made as the older model top-loading machines. I would hate to replace my still-working set with something that will not be as reliable. Are you finding in your research that the reliability of the newer machines is not as good as the older models?

Unfortunately, we are unable to test the durability of appliances, due to time constraints.  I can say that appliances are not made like they used to be.  Some manufacturers have actual life expectancies for their appliances, which can be around ten years.  However with newer models, you're more likely to save on energy.

It's small, looks very 70's, and says "peace to all who enter here" in rainbow letters. I found it on ebay!

very nice.

Hi Jura, I have an old one in the shape of a Texas longhorn steer, and have found them in the shapes of a tiger, a horse, an eagle and a globe, but these are all estate sale/yard sale finds. Perhaps you could do an article on a source that crafts such things.

You know, that is a great idea!  Yours sound very cool.

water has run along between the floor and baseboards in my bathroom and left rust-looking stains on the vinyl - I presume they are hard-water stains. I have tried bleach, comet, oxyclean - they don't even fade. Any ideas?

When removing rust, you should always use a commerical rust stain remover.  Since you've already applied bleach to the stain, it is permanently set in.  Adding bleach to rust causes a chemical reaction, that can't be reversed.  Your best option is to replace the vinyl.

My family too has this problem. My husband and I both work full-time and the last thing we want to do is spend the weekend cleaning. So we decided we'd be happy enough if each level of the house got a decent cleaning once per month. So one weekend we concentrate on the basement rec room, the next weekend on the living room/kitchen level, the next weekend on the upper level. One person picks up stuff and vacuums/cleans floors while the other person dusts and cleans the bathrooms. Our 3 year old daughter pitches in by cleaning up any of her toys and art supplies on the level we're cleaning. It only takes an hour with all of us working on it. (Or a bit longer if my 3 year old decides she wants to help vacuum and dust - how could I refuse such a sweet offer?) Then we take 1 weekend off from cleaning. Of course, we do quick spot cleanups as needed, especially in the kitchen and bathrooms. We used to let the cleaning go for too long and then we'd have to spend tons of time and do the entire house at once. Now that I know I only have to thoroughly clean one level of the house over the weekend, it's not so daunting.

A three year old who cleans? Amazing!

It might not be moths. Carpet beetles are a big problem in this area, especially in older homes.


Hate to point someone to the competition, but my friend, Grant Gibson, a super-talented decorator from San Francisco was in the NY Times today with a piece about door knockers of all styles and price ranges. The on-line Style section even has a slide show of them Meg@Pigtown*Design

Oh my! I didn't get to the NYT yet today!

The Design section of your distinguished competitor to the north has a short piece on them in today's edition. Some cool (and some pretty pricey) options.


here's why i don't like them. it never fails that after i load it and start it, i leave the laundry room and find some piece of clothing that fell out of the basket. top loader, i can run back and add it to the wash. with the front loader, you can't throw in the "forgotten" item.

Yes. You know I have the same issue - once the door locks with those front loaders, it's just too late to get that last sock in there!

After years of search my husband and I are finally under contract on a house we both like. If all goes well with the appraisal we will soon be the owner of nearly new stainless steel appliances. I know that much that I have already that is stainless (bowls, utensil crocks, etc) shows smudges pretty easily. How do I keep my future fridge, dishwasher, and stove clean on the outside?

In the October Good Housekeeping issue, we tested 30 stainless steel cleaners, and found Homax Stainless Steel Magic Aerosol to be our top cleaner at removing grease from stainless steel and did a good job at making new fingerprints visible.  Another product that worked well at preventing new smudges and fingerprints was Fuller Brush Stainless Steel Gel.

If you have a lot of post cards left that don't make it into your display, I'd get some of those clear pocket pages that go inside a three ring binder. They are often used for photo or baseball card storage. I think the size made for 5x7 photos would work. If you got a nicer binder then you could leave it out to peruse through.

Thanks good idea.

This is sort of a laundry question: what's the best way to store clothes you won't be using for a while? I'm pregnant and moved into maternity clothes full time, so I washed and put my regular clothes in Rubbermade tubs with lids. In the past, clothes coming out of storage in these tubs have smelled a little funny. I like the tubs because they keep bugs and moisture out. Is there something I'm missing? I put dryer sheets in with the clothes this time. Maybe that will help.

Sometimes the plastic can off gas. I think the dryer sheets are a good idea. Plastic tubs are definitely the best place to store anything as they keep out bugs and water.

The problem with our front loader is that it stinks! Literally--I had the Sears maintenance guy come out to clean it, we leave the door open, and run vinegar through it every couple months, and it still smells. It's only 3 years old, so we have a long way to go before we can buy again.

This is a problem that many people have with front-loaders.  Dirt and bacteria can form around the gasket and within the machine.  The solution is to stay on top of the odors by cleaning them out regularly.  Keep doing what you're doing and leave the door open after use.  Also remove any excess water that's in the gasket.  Since vinegar isn't doing the trick, you can use bleach or try Tide Washing Machine Cleaner.  It's a powder that works well at removing these musty odors.  We use it to clean freshen the front-loading washing machines in our lab.  You should clean your machine monthly.

Well, she tries. She hates to be left out of any activity and wants to do whatever mommy and daddy are doing. But it does take a lot longer when she "helps." But I'll take the together time while I can get it.

Please send a video !

A problem I have is the mildew stained caulk in the shower. I have used various bathrooms cleaners and nothing takes the dark stain out. Any suggestions? thank you.

Have you tried a combo of bleach and water?

Jura, how is your Miele vacuum with stairs? I am desperate to find a vacuum that won't knock my back out of alignment while vacuuming the stairs! Also, a previous poster mentioned keeping a spray bottle of white vinegar and water handy. Is that a good cleaner for granite countertops? Thanks, ladies!

I love the Miele because it is lightweight and it has a long hose.  No do not use vinegar on your granite - it can make the finish dull. Use a special granite spray cleaner or just a microfiber cloth with water.

Just did a quick Google search for "door knockers" and checked out Amazon - they have some really neat ones! In addition to the regulars, there are knockers for Harley Davidson, Neptune, fish, mermaids, cladaughs, bears, shells, a kissing couple, lions, deer, squirrel, turtle, birds, dragonfly, crabs, etc. And the finishes vary as well - brass, nickle, bronze, "old rust," etc. May just have to get one of these...

Yes. Amazon is amazing. A mermaid would be nice...



Due to a remodel my dryer is now in a location where the vent has three turns and is a bit on the long side. Are there any driers you could recommend?

To be honest with you, this is not the best location for your dryer.  For best drying performance, ducting should be short and straight as possible.  In Good Housekeeping's most recent evaluation of dryers, the Frigidaire Affinity was our top pick.  The unit was able to dry our small to large loads quickly and thoroughly.  Others to choose from are Amana, Haier, and LG.  For further details check out our new product channel on

We bought a top loading high efficiency washing machine a few months ago. Is it safe and effective to wash the machine with vinegar, or should I purchase a special washing machine cleaner? Thanks!

Check your washing machine's manual.  They will provide you with cleaning instructions.  Many suggest a speciality cleaner, while others recommend bleach.  Vinegar may not be as effective as removing trapped bacteria.  To prevent odors from developing, you should clean your machine at least monthly 

Hi - I'm tempted to buy a Natural Curiosities artwork from an on-line retailer, but I'd really love to see one in person before I buy it. (It's over $2000, and not easily returnable if I don't like it). Do you know of any local retailers who carry Natural Curiosities products? (Of course, I'd RATHER buy it locally if at all possible, to support a local retailer and avoid shipping.)

I know And Beige in Adams Morgan carries some NC pieces. I'm positive there are others locally, but can't think of the top of my head. You might try calling NC and asking them for retailers in the DC area. Which piece are you thinking of buying?

I've been washing everything in cold water to save on energy costs. Is there ever a reason to use hot water, or does cold water do just as good a job?

Using a coldwater detergent in cold water will provide similar cleaning results as washing in warmer water.  Hot water is beneficial at killing germs.  In cold water, germs will slow down.  Many newer machines that have sanitizing cycles boost the hot water to kill germs.

use it as a mini-gallery for kids artwork and craft pieces they bring home from school.

This is a really cute idea. thanks.

Christina, thank you so much for being with us today. Your answers were so terrific and your knowledge of home appliances is vast. We appreciate everyone who clicked in. Have a great weekend.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius uses her years of experience as a home expert and her network of well-placed sources to help you choose everything from paint type and colors to how to de-shed sofas from pet hair to where to find the best designer fabrics at a discount.

• Home Q&A archive
Terri Sapienza
Terri Sapienza is a staff writer for The Washington Post.
Christina Peterson
Christina Peterson is a product analyst in the GHRI Home Appliances and Cleaning Products Department. There, she tests and evaluates a range of home-care products and appliances, such as dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, and laundry-care and cleaning products. Her expertise includes a wide variety of cleaning topics, including stain removal, cleaning shortcuts, appliance upkeep, and how to maximize your product’s performance. Christina holds a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Howard University. Her #1 piece of cleaning advice? Clean as you go!
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