Q I bought some clothing this week at two well-known retailers, and all the items I bought smell like some cheap perfume. I know it's possible that one item smelled, and I contaminated the others by mixing the bags, but I don't think so. I am wondering if these crazy folks spray the clothing made elsewhere? I bought off the racks, so I suppose it's possible someone with perfume tried on one or some of the items, but most seems unlikely. I even tried hanging things outdoors, to no avail. To further complicate matters, one of the people I bought for is allergic to perfume and gets wheezy very quickly.

A New clothing is often finished with fumigants, disinfectants, insecticides and antimildew sprays. Formaldehyde has a rather pungent odor that's often associated with new clothes. Some retailers spray their clothing with perfumes, sometimes their brand-name products, to cover this disagreeable odor.

Wash all clothing before you wear it. The clothing you buy has passed through many hands and traveled many miles from manufacture (often abroad) to the store shelves. It may take several washings to remove odors.

Lower wattage; more light

Q Because mini spiral fluorescent bulbs burn cooler than incandescent bulbs, can you use a higher wattage fluorescent bulb in a table lamp than the recommended wattage? For example, if my table lamp says 60-watt maximum incandescent bulb, can I safely use a 75-watt mini spiral fluorescent bulb in the table lamp?

A Actually, it's the other way around; you can put in a lesser wattage bulb and get the same amount of light, or more! Paul McLellan, vice president for eLightBulbs, explained it this way:

The primary difference between spiral fluorescent bulbs and incandescent bulbs is the wattage, which is the amount of energy required to actually light the bulb. Most people have equated the wattage with the light output, and in the incandescent world, that is pretty standard. For example, we all know what a typical 60-watt incandescent screw base light bulb will look like.

But wattage doesn't measure light output; it simply measures the amount of energy required. Light output is measured in something called lumens.

Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs give the same light output as their incandescent counterpart, but require 25 percent of the energy. Therefore, you could replace a 60-watt incandescent bulb with a 15-watt compact fluorescent spiral bulb and still have the same lumens, or light output.

This proves very beneficial for people who want to increase their light output. If you have a current socket in your home that says "max 60 watts usage," you could put in a 30-watt CFL bulb and have the light output equivalent of a 120-watt incandescent bulb, and you would still be cutting your energy usage in half.

Send your questions to Fixit in care of the Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488, or call 612-673-7032, or e-mail fixit@startribune.com.