How to stretch leather shoes that are too small

A little while ago I bought some RM Williams boots on Ebay that were just the style I like and were surprisingly cheap.

Small problem – they were a size too small. I could get them on, but after a couple of hours it hurt so bad I had to take them off. So I hunted around for a way to stretch them. There are lots of ideas out there, and it took a while before I found that I thought would work: rice.

Fill the front half of the boot with rice, sit the boots up against something so that the toes are pointing to the ground, and fill them with water. The rice, of course, soaks up the water and expands, and in doing so moistens the leather and helps it stretch.

I left them overnight and it worked – my boots are now a comfortable fit.

Warm is the new hot

It used to be when you were using the HOT cycle on your washing machine it would just pump hot water straight in. WARM would pump both hot and cold, and of course COLD would just pump cold water in.

But that now appears to have changed. My LG top loader pumps both hot and cold water when set to the HOT setting. The resultant temp is 40 degrees. If I turn off the cold tap and just allow it to only pump hot in, it finishes up at about 50 degrees.

The reason for this, no doubt, is that modern laundry powders are heavily based on enzymatic cleaners, and enzymes work best at about 40 degrees.

So I’m curious to hear from others on this. You may not have an IR thermometer handy like I do, but I’m curious to know whether your machine pumps in both hot and cold water when set to the HOT setting. Please comment below, and remember to tell me the brand of machine.

What can you use vinegar for?

The farmer’s almanac gives us the following uses for vinegar. I’ll copy and paste from their website and comment accordingly:

  • Bring a solution of one-cup vinegar and four tablespoons baking soda to a boil in teapots and coffeepots to rid them of mineral deposits.

Yes this will work, as long as you don’t add the baking soda. Vinegar is acidic and therefore is the right pH for removing alkaline mineral deposits. But adding the baking soda will partially or fully neutralise the vinegar and reduce its effectiveness. The chemistry of vinegar/baking soda is explained here

  • A solution of vinegar and baking soda will easily remove cooking oil from your stovetop.

It will work a little bit as long as you don’t add the vinegar, as the vinegar will neutralise the baking soda. But baking soda is only mildly alkaline, and you will get better results with the more alkaline Washing Soda

  • Clean the filter on your humidifier by removing it and soaking it in a pan of white vinegar until all the sediment is off.

This will not work very well at all. Presumably this is cleaning dust, and dust is essentially dead skin that contains fat, so it is oily when you wipe it with a wet sponge. It therefore requires an alkaline cleaner, such as an oven cleaner. Spray it on, wait about 30 seconds, then just wipe it off.

  • Saturate a cloth with vinegar and sprinkle with baking soda, and then use it to clean fiberglass tubs and showers. Rinse well and rub dry for a spotless shine.

Baking soda and vinegar neutralise each other. Far better results will be achieved with washing soda

  • For a clean oven, combine vinegar and baking soda, then scrub.

If you use just use washing soda for this, you won’t need to scrub

  • Clean and deodorize your toilet bowl by pouring undiluted white vinegar into it. Let stand for five minutes, then flush. Spray stubborn stains with white vinegar, then scrub vigorously.

This could work. Harpic used to make a range of cleaners that used hydrochloric acid as the active ingredient. The beauty of toilet bowls is that the porcelain is impervious to almost any chemical.

  • Clean windows with a cloth dipped in a solution of one part white vinegar and 10 parts warm water. This works for dirty TV screens, too!

Ammonia will work better, as it has grease-cutting properties that vinegar doesn’t. Also it will leave a positively charged surface that will repel further dust (which is also positively chatged

  • To clean drip coffeemakers, fill the reservoir with white vinegar and run it through a brewing cycle. Rinse thoroughly by brewing two cycles with water before using.

Yes, this ll work by removing mineral deposits

  • To remove bumper stickers from car chrome, paint on vinegar and let it soak in. Next, scrape off the stickers. Decals can be removed similarly.

No this will not work. Use acetone – it will work instantly, as it dissolves the adhesives

  • Rid your refrigerator and freezer of bad odors by cleaning the insides with a solution of equal parts vinegar and water, then wiping dry.

Yes this could work. Vinegar is acidic, and many fridge smells are amines, which are both volatile and alkaline – so the vinegar neutralises them.

  • To remove smoke odors on clothes, hang them above a steaming bathtub filled with hot water and a cup of white vinegar.

Not sure about this one. But it’s possible.

  • To prevent mildew, wipe down surfaces with vinegar.

Yes – it could work – the biomass probably wouldn’t like to adhere to an acidic surface

  • Use a sponge dampened with vinegar to clean shower curtains.

Yes, this could work, as most of the deposits would be alkaline minerals

  • To loosen a stuck jar lid, hold the jar upside down and pour warm vinegar around the neck at the joint between the glass and the top.

Hot water (without the vinegar) will work here

You’ll notice that baking soda is often used as a sidekick to vinegar. Find out more helpful household uses for baking soda here, and see a list of more natural household cleaners.

It is used as a “sidekick” simply because they foam when added together, and for reasons dating back about 70 years, people associate foaming with cleaning. This is the only reason. Explanation here 


  • Vinegar naturally breaks down uric acid and soapy residue, leaving baby clothes and diapers soft and fresh. Add a cup of vinegar to each load during the rinse cycle.

It is true that the vinegar will react with the urea (from the urine) but it also breaks down mineral deposits (scale on clothes)

  • To remove chewing gum, rub it with full-strength vinegar.

????  Can’t imagine why this would work, but I haven’t tried it. If you put the garment in the freezer, you will be able to pull away the frozen gum easily

  • Soak paint stains in hot vinegar to remove them.

If this works, it’s the heat that’s doing it. Try a steam cleaner

  • To remove salt and water stains from leather boots and shoes, rub with a solution of 1 tablespoon white vinegar and 1 cup water. Wipe over the stained area only, and then polish.

I can’t see why this would work, but I haven’t tried it

See our page on how to remove stains for more tips.


  • For brunettes, rinsing hair with vinegar after a shampoo makes hair shinier. Use one-tablespoon vinegar to one-cup warm water.

Correct, because you are neutralising the pH of the alkaline shampoo. A conditioner would achieve the same result

Haven’t tried this. It’s possible.

  • Place a vinegar-soaked brown bag on sprains to ease pain and aid recovery.

There is some history to this (Jack and Jill fixed a “broken crown” with vinegar and brown paper). I’m not sure of how much science there is behind it, however.

  • Rub cider vinegar on your skin to repel insects.

Very possible, if you had no Aerogard (or equivalent) available


How to get antipersperant stains off

One of the most common questions I get asked is how to get yellow underarm stains off from antisperperant.

The colour comes from the reaction of the aluminium in the antiperspirant. To get it off, you need a pretty strong acid, and a good choice is the sulphamic acid in BAM Easy Off bathroom cleaner.

Image result for bam easy off


An alternative, believe it or not, is asprin. Make a couple of tablets up in a cupful of water and soak on the stain before washing. The acetylsalicylic acid will complex the Al and break up the yellow colour

How to get Cooking Oil Stains Out of a Cotton Shirt

Today on 720 ABC Jane Marwick asked Dr Karl how to get cooking oil stains out of a cotton shirt.  Although Dr Karl is a very knowledgeable man, he is a physicist and biologist, and this is a question for a chemist (like me).

Fortunately, this is a very easy question to answer.  There are many ways to get cooking oil out of a cotton shirt, depending on what you will have lying around, and any of the following will work:

1.  Oven cleaner.  Oven cleaners are excellent general purpose hard surface cleaners and degreasers.  The reason for this should be obvious  – cleaning an oven of course requires removing grease and oil, and if the stain in your shirt is either grease or oil the oven cleaner will work nicely.  The chemical process is called saponification.  That is, the oven cleaner converts the triglycerides to soap, which is exactly how our great grandmothers used to make soap at home – caustic soda (lye) mixed with cooking oil.  So squirt some oven cleaner onto the stain and work it in with your fingers.  Wait a few minutes and pop it in the wash.    Or, just rinse it out with water, let it dry and bobs your uncle .

2. Degreaser.  Any hardware store these days stocks a range of degreasers.   There are two basic types, the solvent based formulas which are the older type, and the alkaline salt  based degreasers which are the more modern type.   Get one of the latter (to make sure you have the right stuff look for the phrase “alkaline salts”  somewhere on the label).   Use it as a pre-wash – squirt some onto the stain, pop it in the wash, and it will come out clean as a whistle .

3. Enzyme based cleaners.   White King make an excellent enzyme based  laundry prewash (stainlift)  which will do the job. Squirt some on, work it in with your fingers, then pop it in the wash .    Alternatively, get some Biozet Attack  and use it the same way.    The beauty of working it in with your fingers is that enzymes perform best at about  body temperature, since they are naturally occurring molecules.   And therefore washing in warm water,  as opposed to hot or cold,  increases the performance of the enzymes.

4.   Acetone will also get the oil out (available from any hardware store ).   But test an inconspicuous part of the garment first, as acetone will also dissolve some garment dyes.

5.   Washing soda.    Make it into a paste, rub it into the stain then rinse. Repeat if necessary.

5.  Dishwashing liquid.   If you aren’t already using it, get some Morning Fresh  which is the most concentrated dishwashing detergent on the market,  and use it as a spot cleaner.  It won’t be as efficient as the methods above,, but if you’re too lazy to go to the shops it will work.   Rub it in with your fingers, rinse, repeat and rinse until the stain is gone.

So you see Jane  it’s pretty easy –  you just have to ask the right person.