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Have you ever suspected your non-toxic cleaning products are overpriced? Maybe laundry detergent and multi-surface spray could cost less if they didn’t have expensive advertising and marketing costs. And why do companies ship spray cleaners with water? Wouldn’t it cost less and be better for the earth if you just added your own water to a concentrated cleaning pack?

These are the kinds of questions Brandless asks and answers when they make non-toxic cleaning products. I was definitely intrigued by the Brandless philosophy: “Everything we do has to pass our Just What Matters standards of high quality, better-for-you goodness offered at simple, fair prices. For every product sold at Brandless, you can be sure we’ve scoured the world to research and meet the quality gold standards for that category.”

Since I consider cleaning to be more of a hobby I enjoy rather than a chore to avoid, I was excited to give Brandless cleaning products a try in my home. Here’s what happened. (These are the cleaning products professional housekeepers swear by.)

What Is Brandless?

Brandless is an online marketplace for cleaning supplies, beauty products, kitchen products, health and wellness products and essentials for babies and pets. The name Brandless is a signal to consumers to downplay the importance of brand names. The company focuses on producing toxin-free, sustainable, and organically sourced ingredients for their products at affordable prices.

Many of their products are Green Seal Certified, which means they’re independently proven to meet transparent performance, health and sustainability criteria.

How Did We Test Brandless Cleaning Products?

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I immediately liked the Green Seal Certification and prices of Brandless cleaning products. But do they actually work?

To test them, I got my hands on three products and put them to work in my kitchen, bathroom and laundry room over multiple weeks. Here’s how I tested each product, and how they performed in the real world. (These are the top five cleaning products you already have in your pantry.)

Laundry Detergent Packs

I swear by laundry detergent packs. Tossing a packet of pre-measured laundry detergent in my top-loader washer is way faster, easier and cleaner than measuring out liquid laundry detergent (and dealing with the messy cup). So I was excited to try Brandless laundry detergent packs in the lavender scent — my favorite fragrance.

I used the laundry packs multiple times, in separate loads of white bath towels and sheets, dark sweaty exercise clothes and jeans. Every load came out smelling fresh and looking clean.

The towels were fluffy. I could still smell the lavender scent in my leggings when I did Pilates about a week after they were washed. The laundry packs even took out a small tomato sauce stain on a pair of light colored jeans. Win!

Laundry detergent pack pros:

  • Each jar comes with 50 laundry detergent packs, so about 34 cents per load. Affordable!
  • Detergent packs melt away without leaving plastic or a lump of soap in the laundry drum.
  • Non-toxic formula is free of dyes and brighteners.
  • Works in cold or hot water cycles.
  • Tough on stains and cleans clothes gently.
  • Child-resistant jar is composed of a minimum 90 percent post-consumer recycled material.
  • Clothes and towels smell like lavender for weeks.

Laundry detergent pack cons:

  • The lavender scent is slightly smokier and less floral than I expected.
  • The detergent packs tend to cling together in the storage jar and must be carefully separated so they don’t break open.

Maudia, a Brandless web site reviewer, says, “Makes my laundry smell great. Cleans my clothes nicely.”

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Refillable Multi-Surface Cleaner

The premise behind the Refillable Multi-Surface Cleaner is genius. You get a reusable plastic bottle with a spray attachment, and a plastic pack filled with concentrated multi-surface cleaner. Simply pop the pack into the bottle, add water, shake it up and wait a few minutes for the cleaner to dilute. Then spray and wipe with a microfiber cloth or rag like you would with any cleaning spray.

I’ve used the cleaner multiple times a day for about two weeks and I’m really happy with the performance. It makes quick work of coffee rings on quartz countertops, toothpaste splatters in the bathroom sink and grease on the glass oven. The scent is really subtle, which is a pro or con depending on how strong you want cleaning products to smell. The scent definitely doesn’t linger in the air after I spritz.

Pro tip: Give the bottle a good shake if it’s been sitting for a day or two.

The plastic bottle for the Brandless Multi-Surface Cleaner arrived slightly battered with a dent in the top. The bottle still works perfectly, but I’ll eventually replace it with a reusable glass or aluminum bottle and just buy the multi-surface refills.

Refillable multi-surface pros:

  • Green Seal certified and non-toxic.
  • You fill the bottle with your own water, saving on shipping costs and carbon footprint.
  • Multi-surface refills save on plastic, shipping and overall cost.
  • Works fast to clean grease, grime and stains from kitchen and most bathroom surfaces.
  • Light salty cotton scent is pleasant and not overpowering.

Refillable multi-surface cons:

  • Plastic bottle doesn’t stand up to too much use or abuse.
  • Scent is subtle (which might be a pro for people who don’t like a lot of fragrance.)

Whitney, another Brandless web site reviewer, says, “I’ve tried out various eco-friendly cleaners and have been disappointed with most of them (too sudsy, didn’t actually cut the counter grease around the stove, etc), but this one is exactly what I’d hoped! It leaves my counters and stove spotless, doesn’t lather up all over the counter, and smells lovely. Added to the subscription box for sure!”

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Dishwasher Detergent Packs

Dishwasher detergent packs are akin to their laundry detergent pack cousins. Tossing a packet of dishwasher detergent in the detergent tab is way easier than measuring out gel or liquid dishwasher detergent. But dishwasher detergent packs can be pricey.

That’s not the case with Brandless. You get 50 packs for $12, which comes out to 24 cents per pack.

I did not go easy on the dishwasher test. The dishwasher was packed and some of the dishes had been in there for a few days before I ran the normal cycle — I even had my dog’s dish in there. Success! The dishes came out clean, without a funky smell or soapy residue. These are my go-to dishwasher detergent packs. This is how to fix a smelly dishwasher.

Dishwasher detergent pack pros:

  • Non-toxic and biodegradable formula.
  • Removes residue and grease from dishes.
  • Doesn’t leave a soapy film or icky smell.
  • Easy to toss into the dishwasher.
  • Affordable at 24 cents per pack.

Dishwasher detergent pack cons:

  • The detergent packs tend to cling together in the storage bag and must be carefully separated so they don’t break open.

Steve, a Brandless web site reviewer, says, “I tried it for the first time just to try it out. It works as well or better as anything I’ve bought locally, and the price is competitive. The best thing is my dishes were clean without the dishwasher smelling soapy.”

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The Final Verdict on Brandless Cleaning Products

Brandless cleaning supplies are a good deal that are better for the earth and perform as well as some of the more expensive brands I usually buy. I also really like the concentrated refill packs — they just make way more financial and eco sense than buying plastic bottles again and again.

I’m definitely getting Brandless in the future and excited to try their glass cleaner and beauty items.

Where to Buy Brandless Cleaning Products

Brandless is available for online ordering at Brandless.com. Prices range between $3 and $17 for cleaning products. Even better, we have a Brandless promo code to save you even more money:

1. $10 off $50 with code BRANDLESS10;
2. $20 off $100 with code BRANDLESS20.

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The picturesque beauty of the weeping cherry tree’s white and pink blossoms has inspired artists for centuries. Although native to China, they were first cultivated in Japan at the homes of Kyoto royalty, where their blooming flowers are celebrated to this day.

The tree also represents friendship. As an act of diplomacy, the Japanese government donated 3,000 weeping cherry trees to Washington D.C. on March 27, 1912. The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival is held there on March 27 to commemorate this event, and to appreciate the beauty of these trees.

What Is a Weeping Cherry Tree?

Weeping cherry trees are a variety of ornamental cherry tree with pendulous “weeping” branches that produce clusters of white and pink flowers. While there are dozens of weeping cherry trees (belonging to the genus prunus), common varieties include Higan, Shidare Yoshino and Snow Fountain.

Each type is prized for its stunning flowers that bloom only for a couple of weeks each spring. The rest of the year, the weeping branches are covered in green leaves that turn a vivid yellow in fall before dropping to the ground, leaving the tree bare through winter.

Environmental Requirements

Weeping cherry trees thrive in full sun with at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. They can tolerate partial shade, but the lack of sunlight can result in inhibited spring blooming. They’re heat- and drought-tolerant and can grow in most regions of the U.S. as long as the average minimum temperature remains above -20 degrees F. That means USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4 and higher.

These trees prefer loose, well-draining soil. Plant them in a hole that’s roughly twice the size of the root ball and backfill with well-draining dirt. Although they’re drought-tolerant, dry soil makes them more susceptible to pest infestation and disease, so keep them adequately watered.

Common Pests and Diseases

  • Aphids. Small insects (less than 1/4-in.) that feed on plant sap in large colonies. There are several types of aphids that can affect weeping cherries, but the black cherry aphid with a shiny black color is the most common. They can cause distorted and wilted leaves, and they leave a sticky residue (called honeydew) on the tree’s leaves.
  • Cherry leaf spot. A fungal infection that causes purple, yellow and black spots on the leaves of cherry trees. The size of the spots will expand as the infection spreads, and will eventually cause the leaves to fall off.
  • Cytospora cankers. A fungal infection that causes yellow and gummy lesions to develop on the tree’s bark. The wood underneath the canker will eventually die, and the tree can lose its leaves.
  • Japanese beetles. Japanese beetles are roughly 3/8-in. long with shiny green bodies and tan wings. They feed on plant leaves and flowers, usually in groups. They will leave large sections of a tree defoliated or “skeletonized.”
  • Powdery mildew. A fungal infection that appears like a white powder on the tree’s leaves and flowers. It can cause stunted growth on the affected branch, and the leaves may prematurely fall off.
  • Spider mites. Although not technically spiders, spider mites are small, tick-like arachnids that feed on the leaves of trees and plants. There are many types of spider mites. They can be red, green, yellow or brown.
  • Tent caterpillars. Tent caterpillars create webbed, tent-like nests on a tree’s leaves as their larvae feed on the leaves. They don’t usually harm the tree, but the nests and chew marks left on the leaves can be unsightly.
  • Twig cankers. A bacterial disease that causes rough-textured and discolored depressions or deformities (cankers) on tree branches. Twig cankers can cause the affected branch to die or cause spots to develop on the leaves. It’s most common on young trees and is most likely to develop in the spring.
  • Verticillium. A fungal infection that causes yellowing leaves, wilted or dead branches and stunted growth. Verticillium can develop at any point during the year but is most common during the hot summer months.

Weeping Cherry Tree Care

  • Watering. A weeping cherry tree should be watered two or three times a week during the first year it’s planted. Afterward, it should only be watered when the top three inches of soil are dry. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings.
  • Fertilizing. Fertilize with an all-purpose or ornamental fertilizer once new leaves bud in the spring.
  • Mulching. Lay three to four inches of mulch around the tree during dry spells and hot weather to assist moisture retention in the soil. Keep the mulch at least six inches away from the base of the tree to prevent an environment hospitable to pests and diseases.
  • Monitor for and eliminate pest infestations. Periodically examine the leaves and flowers for evidence of pests. Eliminate pests as early as possible with insecticide, predator bugs (like lady beetles or pirate bugs) or by pruning the branches where tent caterpillar nests are attached.
  • Monitor for and treat diseases. Periodically inspect for evidence of disease development. Remove the affected branches, ensuring that you sterilize the cutting tool’s blade between cuts to prevent spreading the infection. If the infection is severe, consider using a fungicide or bactericide.

How to Prune a Weeping Cherry Tree

The different types of weeping cherries can grow to between eight and 40 feet tall. Proper pruning keeps these trees looking beautiful and can prevent the development and spread of diseases. Prune while the tree is dormant (no flowers or leaves on the branches) in early spring or late fall. Take the following steps once a year with bypass pruning shears or a pole pruner.

  • Cut back any branches that contact the ground until they’re at least six inches off the ground.
  • Remove branches that are rubbing against each other.
  • Trim back branches that are closer than two inches apart.
  • Remove dead branches.
  • Remove stems or branches growing out of the trunk or around the base of the tree (a.k.a. suckers).
  • Trim back the tips of the branches around the perimeter of the canopy until it’s a balanced, uniform shape.
  • Remove branches that are growing straight up on grafted cherry trees because they will continue to grow upward instead of weeping down.
  • Thin out the mangled cluster of branches that often develops near the base of the canopy of grafted trees.
  • Remove diseased branches as soon as they’re discovered, regardless of the time of year. Sterilize the blade of your cutting tool in between cuts to prevent disease spread.

How to Propagate a Weeping Cherry Tree

Weeping cherry trees can be propagated from softwood cuttings that will be ready to transplant within a year. Begin the propagation process in spring after the last frost, when the tree’s blossoms have faded and young leaves have formed on the branches.

  • Fill a small nursery pot with a soilless media that is loose and allows for adequate drainage. This can be perlite, sand, vermiculite, peat moss or a combination of these.
  • Soak the media in water and allow excess water to drain out.
  • Cut a three- to six-inch section off the tip of a branch from the weeping cherry tree, 1/8-in. below the spot where a leaf meets the stem (a.k.a. leaf node).
  • Pull off the lower leaves to expose the nodes.
  • Apply rooting hormone to the cut end and leaf nodes.
  • Place the cut end into the nursery pot with the leaf nodes just below the surface of the media.
  • Place the pot in an indoor area with indirect light and add water to the media when the top inch feels dry.
  • After about a month, check for root development by gently tugging on the cutting and feeling for resistance.
  • After roots have formed, transfer the cutting into a nursery pot filled with potting soil mix.
  • Transplant the cuttings outdoors in the fall after acclimating them to the outdoors (a.k.a. hardening off) by setting the pot in direct sunlight for about a week.

If you’ve ever grown lavender in your garden, you know there are a lot of reasons to love it. Lavender’s pretty, fragrant blooms attract pollinators and give off a sweet perfume. It’s a hardy, perennial bush in most zones, and easy to care for. And lavender plants look nice even when they’re not blooming.

To remain healthy and beautiful, lavender needs regular pruning, along with well-drained soil and lots of sunshine. Lavender bushes need to be cut back every year to keep them from growing out of control.

“Pruning lavender keeps it looking full, encourages new growth and flowering, and gives you lots of fresh tips to harvest throughout the season,” says Amy Fedele, a home gardening expert and Pretty Purple Door blogger.

Here’s when and how to best prune lavender.

When to Prune Lavender

Since lavender dislikes extreme heat or cold, it can grow perennially in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 to 8. North or south of those zones, it does better as an annual, or in containers that are brought inside during extreme wet or cold weather.

Fedele says that lavender can be lightly trimmed or pruned anytime during the spring and summer. “Ideally, you should prune your lavender twice in a growing season — once in early spring and once in late summer, after it’s done blooming,” she says.

In early spring, Fedele suggests waiting until you see new growth before you prune. Then in late summer, after the plants have stopped blooming, prune again.

Do your last pruning by early fall, especially if you live in a cold climate, where frost can damage fresh growth. In winter, you can generally leave lavender alone. If you live where there’s risk of extreme cold, Connecticut nursery White Flower Farm experts advise that you cover your lavender plants with evergreen boughs to protect them from frigid winds.

How to Prune Lavender

Pruning lavender isn’t complicated, but Fedele says there are a few things to know:

  • As with all pruning tasks, start with a pair of sharp, clean pruning shears. Fedele recommends always sterilizing the blades before you prune. Wipe them down with rubbing alcohol or bleach, then rinse off and dry.
  • Cut off the branches and bits that are above the new growth. This will make your plant fuller.
  • Don’t prune into the woody area of the branches below the leaves.
  • Always leave some green on the stems.
  • When pruning in summer, take some of the best snips and use them as cuttings to start new plants.
  • When you do your late summer/early fall pruning, cut back about one-third of the plant. Work on getting a pleasing shape.
  • If you live in a cold climate, avoid pruning past early fall to avoid possible frost damage.

Fun Uses for Lavender

  • Try adding some lavender to a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers.
  • Plant some in a container and place in a warm, sunny window.
  • Use English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) flowers for tea and as a flavoring for cocktails, lemonade or ice cream. It’s also a great herb for savory dishes — use it like rosemary.
  • Fedele likes to use the large, woody pieces of pruned lavender as skewers for kabobs.

frosty attic whole house humidifier

What You Need To Know About Whole-House Humidifiers

Whole-house humidifiers make dry, brutal winters far more comfortable indoors. Unfortunately, if you have a manual humidifier, the problems might outweigh the benefits. With manual humidifiers, you need to know the outdoor temperature hours in advance and adjust the humidity accordingly, every day. Few people actually do this. Most people just select a middle setting and never touch it again. As a result, home inspectors regularly find frost- and mold-covered attics, damaged windows and ruined ceilings.

Here’s everything you need to know about humidifiers.

Automatic whole-house humidifiers, on the other hand, have an outdoor temperature sensor so they can adjust the humidity level for you. If you do have a manual humidifier, either leave it off or do the daily work of keeping it properly adjusted. – Reuben Salzman, Home Inspector,  StructureTech1.com

If the humidifier on your furnace is not working, you can easily fix or replace it yourself.

Here’s how to clean a humidifier:

To enjoy watching hummingbirds, you’ll need a healthy feeding station where they can quickly fill up. These jewel-feathered whirling dervishes eat half their body weight in bugs and nectar each day, according to the National Audubon Society. That’s the equivalent of visiting more than 1,000 flowers.

A feeder makes it much easier for them. Here are eight common mistakes you can avoid when putting out hummingbird feeders.

Forgetting the Ratio

The standard recipe for homemade nectar is four parts water to one part sugar, so two cups of water for every half cup of sugar or four cups of water to one cup of sugar. That’s it. Tap water is generally fine to use. If your water source is high in minerals, put it in a glass measuring cup and microwave until it boils. Hot water dissolves the sugar more quickly, and leftover nectar stores better (up to a week) in the refrigerator.

Trying Honey or Other Sugars

Honey and maple syrup have soared in popularity with “no sugar added” becoming a frequent selling point for cereals and sweets. With hummingbirds, though, the National Audubon Society advises sticking with refined sugar. Honey, when diluted with water, can cause fungus growth. Organic, natural and raw sugars might have levels of iron that could harm the birds. Say “no” to molasses, brown sugar or sugar substitutes as well.

Adding Red Food Dye

While the color red does draw hummingbirds, most feeders already have red or yellow on them. That’s enough to catch hummingbirds’ attention without potentially harmful dyes. If you want to draw more attention to your feeder, hang it near a hanging basket of hummingbird-friendly flowers, such as petunias.

Filling Feeders Only Once a Week

Plan to change out the nectar every three to four days. You may need to refill it daily in the peak heat of summer when birds need more hydration, and near the end of summer when hummingbirds are bulking up for migration. If you notice nectar turning cloudy, replace it immediately.

Topping Off the Nectar

It may be tempting to top off the nectar already in your feeder, but it’s important to empty it and clean it with mild detergent each time, according to the International Hummingbird Society. Refill with fresh sugar water.

Not Sterilizing the Feeder

At least once a month you should soak feeders in a bleach solution (one tbsp bleach per cup of water) before rinsing it thoroughly. Sterilizing the feeder helps avoid fermentation, mold or fungus that can harm hummingbirds. Some glass feeders are dishwasher safe. It’s always best to check the recommendations of your feeder’s manufacturer.

Placing a Feeder Too Low

It may be tempting to use a shepherd’s hook to integrate your feeder among garden flowers, or to keep it at eye level near outdoor seating. Don’t. Feeders should be at least four feet off the ground and away from tree trunks, retaining walls or steps where roaming cats and other predators can lurk and capture hummingbirds.

Sparking a Feeder War

A super-sized hummingbird feeder with several nectar ports might attract more visitors, especially more mild-mannered females. Unfortunately, males, in particular, can be fiercely territorial. One alpha male hummingbird can claim a feeder and doggedly chase all others away. Consider more than one feeder and place them in different locations.

A nipper holding a piece of tile | Construction Pro Tips
Image Courtesy of Shutterstock

What is a tile nipper? 

A nipper is a hand tool used to bite off small chunks of tile in order to cut along curved lines. A nipper resembles a pliers in that there are two handles connected at a pivot point. The main difference is that the jaws on a nipper have cutting edges. Nippers are used by tile installers most often on smaller jobs where setting up a saw or running a grinder is not practical.

How is a tile nipper used?

Remove as much of the waste-side of the tile with whatever tool you’re cutting the straight lines with. Clamp the cutting edges of the nipper down onto the tile and squeeze. The tile should break off right at, or just in front, of the cutting edges. Never start cutting right at the line; instead, work your way up to the line by incrementally removing the material in front of it. Nippers leave behind a jagged edge which can be cleaned up with a rub brick. Always wear safety glasses when working with tile nippers.

What are the different types of nippers?

Nippers vary in size. Some have extra leverage points which increases the power at the jaws. The cutting edges are made out of varying types of materials. A separate type of nippers is required for cutting glass.

What makes a good tile nipper?

  • Carbide cutting edge
  • Comfortable grip
  • Spring loaded handle

QEP makes a good nipper. 

Tile nipper tip:

Cutting a groove in tile | Construction Pro Tips

You can achieve a crisper cut line if you score first.

Learn more about cutting tile. 

A professional landscaper might work on a lawn maintenance crew, maintain gardens, build retaining walls and patios, or design outdoor spaces. They may even run their own company. If this kind of work intrigues you, there are multiple paths to becoming a pro landscaper.

What Makes a Good Landscaper?

Jeff Rossen, owner of Rossen Landscape in Great Falls, Va. near Washington D.C., says work ethic is the main thing he seeks in potential employees. “You’re looking for anybody who’s willing to work,” he says. Rossen feels he can train people on the job for most positions in his company, but landscaping is not for the lazy. It requires demanding, physical labor, and workers better be up for it.

Lawn crews spend much of the day outdoors wielding grass trimmers or riding behind stand-up mowers. Install crews dig trenches, carry and set heavy wall blocks, and lay sod and mulch. Horticulturalists and landscape designers work more in offices but need experience in the field to be successful.

Landscaping may not require a high school diploma or GED, but most employers prefer that minimum standard. Reliable transportation is a must because of changing job sites, so a driver’s license is desirable. The job also demands frequent bending and lifting. Work may be seasonal, but in northern states it often transitions to snow removal during the winter months.

Finding a Path

For aspiring landscape designers and horticulturalists, a trade school offering an associate degree provides a reliable route into the profession. Landscape companies such as Rossen’s often recruit from these programs.

Whether enrolled in a degree program or not, Rossen offers internship training for promising newcomers. Interns develop basic skills while also learning the business side of the operation. From there they can develop into crew leaders, salespeople, or designers and horticulturalists.

Room for Advancement

Of course, many tradespeople start out on a crew and work their way up the ladder. Some tasks, like applying pesticides and fertilizers, require a state license. Otherwise, states usually don’t regulate general landscaping tradespeople.

Only recently, a formal apprenticeship program for landscapers has emerged to pair job seekers with employers struggling to fill crews. The program combines 2,000 hours of on-the-job training with 144 hours of classroom/online instruction, equal to about a year of continuous progress or 18 to 24 months of seasonal work experience. According to the National Association of Landscaping Professionals, apprentice wages start slightly higher than a general employee and increase as the apprentice reaches program benchmarks.

Wage Information

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, opportunities for landscaping tradespeople are expected to grow nine percent in next few years. The department lists the median wage at $15.43/hour or $32,360/year, with top earners approaching $50,000/year. Crew leaders and foremen can make $23 to $25 per hour according to Rossen. Wages for landscapers with a specialized degree increase to recognize those skills in design or horticulture.

Rossen says he starts new employees at $12.50/hour, but after as little as a week of demonstrated effort he usually bumps it to around $14/hour. “It’s a tight labor market,” he says. “Anyone actually willing to put in an honest day’s work is making at least $14 an hour with no experience whatsoever. You don’t have to be very skilled to prove you have a strong work ethic when you’re digging a ditch for an irrigation system.”