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Dear Mary: What is a safe disinfectant for colored clothes, such as underwear and bath towels? I can’t use chlorine bleach, and since I usually wash my colored clothes in cold water, I do not feel like I am getting them sanitized enough. Thanks. — Sherri

Dear Sherri: Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill tested conventional household disinfectants, hospital disinfectants and natural alternatives to measure each product’s ability to kill specific hazardous microbes. Their results show that white vinegar killed 90% of germs without regard to the temperature of the water.

Sounds pretty good until you realize that leaves a 10% chance for Salmonella, Streptococcus and Staphylococcus viruses, Influenza A2 virus and Herpes Simplex Type 1 to live on. A product like Lysol disinfectant, on the other hand, kills 99.9% of those germs.

For fabrics that cannot be washed with bleach, add a liquid disinfectant according to product instructions, such as Lysol, SNiPER or Mr. Clean Antibacterial, to the wash.

Just a reminder that water at 120 F (hot) plus laundry detergent is sufficient to kill ordinary household germs without the need for an added disinfectant.

Dear Mary: I was recently given some fabric that was stored in mothballs. Any advice on how to get the smell out? I tried washing and ended up with a whole load of laundry that smelled of mothballs. Thanks. — Lucille

Dear Lucille: This a tough problem. So difficult, I called in the pros for advice on how to rescue your fabric and that load of laundry. Here’s what I learned:

Mothballs are small balls of chemical pesticide used to protect your clothes from hungry moths and other insects while in storage. The active ingredient, depending on the age of the mothballs used, is either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, which are petroleum-based with fumes that can be toxic to both people and pets.

Typically, one puts clothes, or in your case fabric, in an airtight container so that the fumes are trapped and build up to a level that kills pests. There’s no doubt that mothballs work to kill pests, but the unintended consequence of that odor does become counterproductive, as you have learned.

The only way to get rid of that horrid smell is to oxidize it — transform the odor-causing chemicals into something harmless that has no odor.

Nok-Out (www.nokout.com) is the only thing I know of that will effectively eradicate the smell of mothballs. Here’s how to do it:

Spray the fabric and clothing items with enough Nok-Out (or SNiPER) to make them completely wet. Next, massage it in so that the item becomes uniformly damp but not dripping wet. Turn the item inside-out and then repeat. Allow to dry fully. Repeat until the odor is gone. For really tough situations, it may take three to four cycles to reach success.

Another option is to treat with Nok-Out in the washing machine, following these instructions (www.nokout.com/Laundry-Odors.html). You may want to increase the amount of Nok-Out used in your washer when treating mothball odor.

Dear Mary: I have a sticky situation. My parents are in their mid-50s, and I think they spend way too much money. They have been in big financial trouble in the past and have gotten out of it, but I am starting to see the same type of spending that got them in trouble before.

They both work and make very good money. However, I know that they are not saving a lot of it. They are paying for student loans (theirs, not mine) and home improvement loans. I also see them spending a lot of money on other things. These are not extravagant things like cars or trips, but like you said before, it appears to me that they are five- and ten-dollaring themselves to death.

I am worried about their future. My mother makes comments about how her children will hopefully help them out if they need it when they are elderly. At this rate, I know they will need help if they don’t start cutting back and saving. Retirement age is coming quickly.

I have my own family, plus college educations to pay for. Of course, I love them and would do anything I could to help them in the future, but at the same time, I feel like they should start worrying now about their future, and not rely on their kids.

What can I say or do that can help them? I don’t want to offend them, but I also want them to be able to have a happy retirement. — Mary Alice

Dear Mary Alice: While it’s impossible to force change in a person who doesn’t want to change, never underestimate the influence you might have on them. Your enthusiasm for what you are learning and doing to prepare for your future can be contagious.

Without criticizing their lifestyle or perceived spending habits, tell your parents what you’ve just told me, that you are worried for their future. Statistics say they’re going to live many years in retirement. But most of all, talk about your own successes with saving and planning for your kids’ educations.

Your genuine concern for them might just be the catalyst that gets them thinking in new ways.

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