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Moms' Folk Remedies That Work
Moms are magic—their kisses alone can cure so many ills! But in a recent survey, Motherboard Moms told us that they have even more magic up their sleeves—from homespun remedies for childhood ailments (sore throat, lice!) to a sneaky way to get crayon marks off the walls.
Cure for a Dull Sink
Mom's magic: "My absolute favorite home remedy is to cut a lemon in half and sprinkle baking soda on the pulpy part and use it to scour my sink," says Amy Smith, a mom of three young children in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Her white porcelain sink shines, and she loves "the real, fresh scent of lemons."
Expert explanation: The citric acid in the lemon reacts to the minerals found in hard water, dissolving them, says Larry Ferren, Ph.D., professor of chemistry in the department of physical sciences at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois. Plus, on a chemical level, the baking soda—sodium bicarbonate—helps the citric acid to work more effectively. "Baking soda makes a good abrasive without scratching," says Debra Lynn Dadd, author of Home Safe Home. "And lemon's good at cutting through grease."
Battling the Bug Bites
Mom's magic: When any of Jessica Payne's three children, ages 5 1/2, 4 and 3, gets a bug bite, she applies a paste of baking soda and water. "My mom used to do it," the Granby, Colorado, mom says, "and my kids say it works." In fact, Julianna, Payne's oldest child, reacts to mosquito bites—they sometimes swell up to the size of a quarter—but the paste brings relief from the intense itching.
Expert explanation: This is one of those home remedies that even the Mayo Clinic recommends, yet no one understands exactly how it works. The paste probably hydrates the outer layer of skin, which would feel soothing, says Larry Millikan, M.D., professor and chair emeritus of dermatology at Tulane University. Or the baking soda may adjust the pH of the skin "just enough" to make it feel better, he says.
Get the Stink Out
Mom's magic: Seven years ago, Trisa Hosford bought a bag of lava rocks at a local hardware store in Overland Park, Kansas. The gray rocks were supposed to get rid of strong odors, so she hung the mesh bag of them above the two litter boxes for her cats. "I thought it was the strangest thing," says the mom of two daughters, ages 12 and 9. "But it works." When she starts smelling cat urine, it's time to rinse off the rocks and hang them outside in the sun to dry. Then they're good to fight odors once again.
Expert explanation: Lava rocks, which are marketed online as zeolite, actually remove the molecules that cause odors from the air rather than masking them like conventional air fresheners, says Dadd, the homekeeping author.
Zeolite is the only known negatively charged mineral, making it able to pull pollutants naturally from the air in a process known as adsorption, not absorption, explains Wendy Gordon, editorial director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Simple Steps and co-founder with Meryl Streep of Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet. Because the physical structure of zeolite is like a sponge with nooks and crannies, the expanded surface area allows it to adsorb 30 percent of its weight.
The Secrets to Calmer Babies
Mom's magic: Tamara Goldstein of Overland Park, Kansas, swears by swaddling. She's swaddled each of her three daughters, now ages 7 and 4 years and 3 months; her oldest slept through the night at seven weeks. "You wrap them tight like a burrito—that's how my husband describes it," Goldstein says. She recommends swaddling until the baby's old enough to roll over on her own.
Other moms, like Julie Patton, swear by a bouncy chair. "It was the greatest thing ever," says the Dallas mom of four: 9-year-old twins and a 7- and 5-year-old. Patton could nurse one twin while the other lay in the bouncer that she could rock with her foot, she says.
Expert explanation: "Swaddling replicates the feeling of closeness in the womb," says Jennifer Shu, M.D., co-author of Heading Home with Your Newborn and a pediatrician in private practice in Atlanta. It also prevents the baby's natural "startle" reflex from kicking in and waking up the infant.
A bouncer, or cradle, stroller, or car ride, can soothe the baby with a rhythmic, relaxing movement that again mimics the feeling of the womb. "Babies are so used to the feeling of being walked around in the womb," Dr. Shu says. "It lulls them to sleep."
Clean Up the Creativity
Mom's magic: Three years ago on moving day, Leigh Ann Teubert of Overland Park, Kansas, discovered her son had scribbled with a crayon on his bedroom walls. Frantic, she searched online, which led her to WD-40. After spraying it on the wall, she wiped it off with a paper towel. It took off the crayon marks without removing paint.
Since then, the mother of a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old has used WD-40 on permanent marker and "mystery stains" on painted walls. "You can use a lot of it," she says. "But it may take some elbow grease."
Expert explanation: "WD-40 is a good solvent for grease," says Marshall Brain, founder of the website HowStuffWorks.com. "And crayons are made of wax, which is just thicker grease," says the father of children ages 12, 10, and twins, 8.
Stop Lice in Their Tracks
Mom's magic: Kirsten Kemmler's daughter, Caroline, was the only child in her preschool class to escape the lice infestation. "We're now in year three of no lice," says Kemmler, a mom of three children who are 6 and 4 years and 5 months old in Orinda, California. She credits her daily diligence for her daughter's escape from the little critters. Kemmler puts her daughter's long hair in a bun every day before school and then sprays it with hairspray. "Lice don't like product in hair," she says.
Expert explanation: Contrary to popular opinion, lice don't really make Evel Knievel style jumps from one child to another—but they can be transferred from one head touching another one, says Dr. Shu. Girls with long hair are especially prone to lice for that reason, so keeping hair confined to a bun may keep the lice away, says Deborah Altschuler, president and co-founder of the National Pediculosis Assocation at www.headlice.org. "I cringe at the daily use of hairspray, though," she says.
Soothing a Sore Throat
Mom's magic: "Salt-water gargle is one of the things my mom did and that's what I do with my kids," says Amber Flowers, mom of two girls and two boys, aged 9, 6, 4, and 3, in Mosquero, New Mexico. Her younger children just swish it around in the mouth, but Flowers' oldest, at 9, can gargle. "I told her to blow bubbles with her throat but don't swallow it." Other moms told us they turn to ice pops as a way to sooth a sore throat.
Expert explanation: "I actually recommend a salt-water gargle after tonsillectomy for kids old enough to gargle," says Adele Evans, M.D., assistant professor of pediatric otolaryngology at Wake Forest University. It may help sore throats by rinsing away debris and secretions and may even remove germs. "It's like washing and cleaning a wound," Dr. Evans says. Her daughter, who's almost 4, can gargle, but most kids pick it up around 5 to 7 years of age, she says.
"Popsicles are a great way to keep kids with a sore throat hydrated who don't feel like swallowing water," Dr. Evans says. They feel good because the cold helps numb the pain and the liquid goes down more slowly than plain water, she says.
Out, Out, Earwax!
Mom's magic: Marthe Anderson, mom of three children ages 6, 4, and 1, of Houston, has found an easier method to remove the earwax stuck in her kids' ears than digging it out with a cotton swab. She pours a capful of hydrogen peroxide in her child's ear during bath time, lets the peroxide sit for a minute, and then easily wipes out the wax with a washcloth.
Expert explanation: Over-the-counter products for earwax removal often contain peroxide, says Dr. Evans. The peroxide forms bubbles that float the wax to the surface. Warning: Don't use peroxide when there's earache or for a child with a perforated ear drum or who's had ear tubes. Check with your doctor if you're not sure.
Clean Those Clogged Drains
Mom's magic: "When you live a hundred miles from the closest store, you have to make do with what you have," says Flowers. Her mother-in-law recommended pouring a cup of vinegar down a clogged bathtub drain and letting it sit without running water for at least 30 minutes. It wasn't as effective as a commercial drain cleaner, but it did help. Flowers also straightens a wire coat hanger, leaving a hook on the end, to clean hair out of drains.
Expert explanation: Vinegar is acetic acid, which cuts through the buildup of minerals from hard water, says Marshall Brain of howstuffworks.com, and it might cut through grease to some extent. But one of the major culprits responsible for clogged drains is hair, and physically removing that—with a coat hanger or a gadget sold in hardware stores—is probably most helpful, he says.
Slip on a Banana Peel
Mom's magic: Or Dad's magic, in this case. Todd Neal of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, convinced his daughter, then a middle school soccer player, to try the wart remedy he'd used successfully: Tape a small piece of banana peel over the plantar wart. "It works so well, it's ridiculous," says the father of a 19-year-old and 17-year-old. After a couple of days, the wart falls off.
Expert explanation: It's not surprising that banana peel is an effective treatment. The peel contains a fruit acid: alpha hydroxy acid, says Sandra Marchese Johnson, M.D., co-author of Warts: Diagnosis and Management: An Evidence-Based Approach and a dermatologist in private practice in Fort Smith, Arkansas. "It works by passively exfoliating the skin," the same method used by over-the-counter treatments that contain different acids, she says.