Dear Mary: I love all the tips you give for making your own cleaning solutions. Sadly, over the past year, my youngest daughter has developed a severe fragrance allergy. This means I can no longer use blue Dawn in any of my cleaning solutions. Do you know of any substitutes for Dawn that would work as well in the homemade liquid laundry detergent (everydaycheapskate.com/laundry-detergent)? Would liquid castile soap be a good alternative? — Jenny


Dear Jenny: You're not the first to inquire about substitutes for blue Dawn, for a variety of reasons. I decided to test your suggestion by substituting the very popular Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Liquid Soap for the 3/4 cup of Dawn called for in the recipe. My immediate reaction was that it mixed up just like blue Dawn.


I ran a few loads of laundry using this alternative recipe. A few days later, I began a laundry load by shaking the container to remix the ingredients that typically settle, but it felt weird, like it had thickened. It wasn't easy to pour; it was gloppy and slime-like. And by the end of that week, my husband noticed the return of that annoying itchy feeling he gets with commercial laundry products.


That test detergent kept getting thicker and gloppier until after 10 days, it solidified! I threw the entire mess out — plastic jug and all.


My conclusion is that Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Liquid Soap is not a reasonable substitute for blue Dawn in our homemade liquid laundry detergent. If I were a chemist, I'm sure I'd know why.


For now, I suggest you experiment using only Dr. Bronner's Baby Unscented Pure-Castile Liquid Soap as directed on the label, or some other "free and clear" commercial product. Make sure you always opt for an extra rinse and add white vinegar in that last rinse as insurance against any detergent product remaining in your daughter's clothes and bedding.


Dear Mary: I love your blog, columns and your wonderful tips. With the cold and flu season upon us, do you have any tips on how to sanitize the refrigerator dispensers for ice and water? I see them as germ collectors. Thanks so much. — Sandy


Dear Sandy: Yes! Every kitchen needs an effective antibacterial solution to clean everything from cutting boards to counters, refrigerators and those dispensers you mention. But don't spend $6 for a 12-ounce bottle of commercial cleaner.


Make it yourself: Combine 1 quart of 70° F (cool) water plus 1 teaspoon of liquid bleach. If it's any warmer, the bleach evaporates; more bleach will harm some surfaces and fabrics. So, don't get obsessive. Just measure carefully, and stick with this perfect, dirt-cheap recipe. It will not harm wood, paint, granite, marble or fabric, but it will kill all kinds of bacteria, including salmonella.


Regularly sanitize all surfaces with this bleach water, particularly those that may have come in contact with raw poultry, such as the inside of the refrigerator. Spray and then allow to air dry.


This solution should be made fresh daily, as bleach loses its effectiveness over time. Never mix bleach with ammonia or other cleaning products, as harmful gases can be produced.


Thanks so much for your kind words and loyalty!


Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com and author of "Debt-Proof Living." Questions, comments and tips can be sent on her website.