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Dear Mary: How can I whiten my whites? I have well water, and I use homemade laundry detergent. But my whites -- especially my white uniforms -- are graying. I use white vinegar in the rinse. I can't soak them in bleach or use the Cascade formula every time I wash. Any ideas? -- Dotti

Dear Dotti: Dingy-gray coloring is usually a sign that too much detergent is not completely getting rinsed away in the rinse cycle. If your well water is especially hard, that could also be contributing to this problem. White vinegar doesn't necessarily help to whiten clothes. We use it in the rinse cycle to help release all of the detergent.

Here's a frugal fix for your problem: Add 1/2 cup of Borax to each wash load. This will boost the cleaning power of your laundry detergent. (Your homemade version does contain Borax but a very small amount, which in a usual situation is sufficient.)

Borax contains a natural mineral, sodium tetraborate, which has been mined and used for thousands of years.

Borax is safe to mix with chlorine bleach and detergents, and has been proven to enhance their cleaning power.

Borax whitens your whites because it converts some of the water molecules to hydrogen peroxide, which is a whitening agent. This enhances the action of bleach, whether you add it separately or it's already present in your laundry detergent. If you don't like to use bleach, Borax is still a good whitener on its own.

Borax acts as a pH buffer, which means cleaner clothes. It softens hard water and helps to remove soap residue from clothing. It neutralizes laundry odors because it inhibits fungi and mold, which means it has disinfecting properties.

Borax increases the stain-removal ability of your detergent. For super-stained items that have become dingy gray, pre-soak them for 30 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of Borax per 1 gallon of warm water, or add 1/2 cup of Borax to a pre-soak cycle. The alkaline pH of Borax helps to break down acidic stains like tomato or mustard.

Borax is sold as 20 Mule Team Borax in many stores or in bulk as just plain Borax.

Hope that helps, Dotti!

Dear Mary: What size Instant Pot would you recommend for my husband and me? I want to use it primarily to make cheesecake, but now I wonder if most IP recipes would work well in the 5-quart size. -- Carla.

Dear Carla: The 5-quart Instant Pot has been discontinued (you might be able to find a stray one out there somewhere, but it won't be easy). That leaves three sizes for your consideration: 3-quart, 6-quart and 8-quart.

The 3-quart model is quite small and will limit your ability to make cheesecakes because you need a springform pan that fits inside to do that. That leaves either the 6- or 8-quartz size.

I'm quite sure the big 8-quart Instant Pot would be overkill for a household of two, so I recommend the 6-quart DUO60 7-in-1 Instant Pot, currently available for about $90 along with a springform pan, about $12. This is the Instant Pot I have, and I've never found it to be too large for two, but it's also ideal for when we have guests.

Here's the deal with a pressure cooker: You can cook a small amount of food in a larger Instant Pot. But if the Instant Pot is too small, you cannot add more. The rule is that you should never fill a pressure cooker more than two-thirds full.

You're going to love your Instant Pot and oh, that cheesecake!

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