Dear Heloise:

I need advice on washing my childhood stuffed animals. They have been stored in plastic garbage bags for the past three years in a garage. I am ready to move them into my house, but I am unable to get the musty smell and dinginess out of them.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. My washer does have both hand-wash and delicate cycles, but what about drying the animals and restoring their fluffiness?

Terri Coles

Rio Rancho, N.M.

If they only have a musty smell and are clean except for being dusty, toss them in the clothes dryer on the air setting with a fabric-softener sheet for 15 minutes or so. The dryer will remove dust, and they will smell fresh and clean. You can also rub some cornstarch through the "fur," then brush with a soft brush to remove dust and dirt.

If they are really soiled and the material is washable, you can open a side seam, remove the stuffing and put them in the washing machine on the gentle cycle with a very mild detergent. Put them in the dryer on the fluff cycle, then restuff them and sew the seam.

Good luck!

Dear Heloise:

We received a plastic gift card to dine at a well-known seafood restaurant. Our meal cost less than the amount of the gift, so we planned to come back another time to use up the leftover balance.

The waitress took our card, brought it back to us and told us the remaining balance. On our next trip to the restaurant, when paying our bill, we were told that the card was good for just over a dollar, considerably less than the amount the waitress on the previous occasion had told us.

Fortunately, I had saved the receipt from our first dinner and was able to see that the credit- card numbers from the two occasions did not agree. It is important to sign a plastic gift card just as you would a regular credit card, which neither I nor the owner of the other card -- which was mistakenly returned to us on the first occasion -- had done!

Fran Whitcraft

Vero Beach, Fla.Send a money- or time-saving hint to Heloise, P.O. Box 795000, San Antonio, Tex. 78279-5000, fax it to 210-HELOISE or e-mail it to Heloise@Heloise.com. Please include your city and state when faxing or using e-mail. I can't answer your letter personally but will use the best hints received in my column.(c)2003, King Features Syndicate