Dear Mary: While my daughter was on staff at a summer camp, she did not launder her bedding frequently. Even though the bedding has been laundered a number of times since being home, I’ve noticed that the sheets, pillowcases and comforter appear dingy even though they’re fresh from the dryer. Is there anything that will brighten these items? Lexi

Dear Lexi: You don’t mention if these linens are whites or colors, so I will assume the latter. If I were you, I would fill the washer with hot water; add 1/2 cup of Cascade automatic dishwasher powder (you may have to look hard, but it’s still available), 1 cup of borax and your regular laundry detergent. Once dissolved, add the linens and allow the machine to agitate for a few minutes before turning the machine off and allowing them to soak overnight. In the morning, complete the full cycle. (If yours is a front-loading machine, use the “pause” feature, or do this in a large container or the bathtub.) I would also hang them out in the bright sunshine to dry, if that’s possible this time of year where you live.

You should notice a dramatic change in the appearance of these linens; that’s how powerful the combination of automatic dishwasher detergent and borax can be. If you don’t achieve success, it could be that your linens are made of polyester or microfiber, in which case replacing them may be your only option. In that case, I suggest you stick with 100% cotton.

Dear Mary: Last year, I started doing some transcribing work at home to earn a little extra money. Now that it’s tax time, I am confused about what I can deduct as home business expenses.

I’d like to include my home office and internet costs, but my kids also use the computer. How do I figure out just how much I can list as a deduction? — Bethany

Dear Bethany: I am not a tax professional, so please do not rely solely on what I have to say here.

The way I understand the home office deductibility for a business that you run out of your home is that the space and equipment must be “regular and exclusive.” That means if you use a spare bedroom for your office, it cannot also be used as a spare bedroom. You would need to move the bed out and set it up as an office because — trust me — the IRS could make you prove the exclusivity of this space if you claim it as a home office.

The IRS has prepared a useful resource, a webpage entitled “Home Office Deduction,” in the Small Business and Self-Employed area of its website. It should answer all of your questions.

Dear Mary: I have two daughters with light pink canvas backpacks that are in good condition, which they love. The problem is that they are dirty. What can I use to clean them without causing damage? — Patricia

Dear Patricia: Because these backpacks are made of canvas, I’d spot treat any stains or super dirty areas with Lestoil, one of my favorite laundry stain treatments. It’s the most effective laundry stain treatment I’ve ever tried.

Allow the backpacks to sit overnight and then put them into the washer with your regular detergent, set to cold water on the delicate cycle. Hang them so they can air dry. That should make them perfectly serviceable for a few more years.

You can find Lestoil online, as well as at some Walmart and Home Depot stores.

Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, “Ask Mary.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”

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