Q. What’s the best way to clean soot off the front of a fireplace?
A. Smoke and soot can build up, causing black stains on your fireplace over time.
The first step toward maintaining it is to clear away any debris, says Sophie Hudson, cleaning merchant at Home Depot. So sweep around your fireplace.
Next, spot-clean the soot marks. Whether you have a granite, brick, or stone hearth, you never want to use water-based solutions — these will only spread the greasy soot around. Instead, use a dry-cleaning soot sponge (usually sold at hardware stores). The trick is to swipe it firmly in one direction. Hudson recommends cleaning the soot off at least once a month, more if you use the fireplace frequently.
Hire a chimney sweep at least once a year for a professional cleaning of your firebox and chimney. Schedule an appointment now for spring.
Q. What are some natural ways to relieve dry, itchy winter skin?
A. Cold weather can dehydrate skin. Luckily, natural therapies can soothe skin and return its pH level to normal.
Colloidal oatmeal is one such remedy. You can buy a product by Aveeno called Soothing Bath Treatment ($8, drugstore.com), which features this skin-calming ingredient. Or, according to Barbara Reed, a dermatologist in Denver, you can easily make your own by grinding rolled oats in a blender. (Just be sure they are completely pulverized to ensure they will dissolve in the bath.) Add one to two cups to lukewarm water, and soak for up to 10 minutes a day.
You can also try a baking soda bath. Add a few handfuls of baking soda to a tub of lukewarm water, suggests Meghan O’Brien, consulting dermatologist for Physicians Formula, and soak for five to 20 minutes. Take these baths only once a week, since overexposure to baking soda can irritate the skin.
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living.