Q: I bought a split-level house and I am finishing the basement. When I pulled out the insulation of one wall above, what appears to be about a handful of rice came out with it. What would the purpose of this rice be? I looked closely and there does not appear to be any traces of mice or other critters.
A: I immediately thought it might be insect larvae, so checked with a University of Minnesota Extension entomologist. It is not.
Neither is it descriptive of any type of building material, according to a state housing construction expert.
Speculation is that it has to do with the traditions of the previous owners or the home's builders. It's tradition in some Asian cultures, for example, to place rice in the corners of the house to protect it from evil.
Or, early in the construction process, rice is put into a hole in the ground and covered up. If spirits don't move the grains overnight, the house as situated is a good one. Perhaps the house was built in winter and the wall cavity was the only way to check this.
In Filipino tradition, rice and salt are symbols of wealth and good fortune, and are the first things brought into a new house. Rice also is a symbol of fertility — the reason it's thrown at weddings. It may be that you simply bought a house with a hidden lucky charm.
Q: What can I use to get cloudy scum off of glasses from the dishwasher?
A: It depends on if they are etched or have hard-water film. To find out, take a cotton ball dipped in vinegar and rub a glass. If the cloudy area clears and stays that way when dry, it's hard-water film.
If not, then your glasses are etched, and there's no way to remove it. It's typically caused by an unwitting combination of water, detergent and a diligent owner.
Soft water, which makes soaps clean better, is heated in the dishwasher to further increase its cleaning power. A dishwashing detergent containing phosphates boosts cleaning power even more. Then the homeowner dutifully rinses dishes before loading the dishwasher.
Inside the machine, there's a hunk of cleaning muscle with nothing to do. With no hard-water minerals to act on, and little food waste to clean up, phosphates in detergents turn on any glassware. They "pick out" minerals such as lead from the glass, altering the surface. The glasses emerge with an iridescence or foggy coating. Under a microscope, however, the surface is as rough and cratered as the moon. The glasses are etched, "eaten away."
While hard-water film is removable with vinegar and preventable by treating the water, etching is irreversible. But it is preventable.
Read the label and select a low-phosphate or no-phosphate detergent (for example, Seventh Generation, available at food co-ops and many supermarkets). Don't rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.
Or buy cheap glasses and replace them regularly, and wash the special ones by hand.
(Send your questions to Fixit in care of the Star Tribune, 425 Portland Ave. S., Minneapolis, Minn. 55488, or call 612-673-7032, or e-mail fixitstartribune.com. Sorry, Fixit cannot supply individual replies.)
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