Category Archives: Product recommendations

Product review: Why I chose the UNII makeup palette

Several years ago, I grew tired of having a dozen different eye shadow containers, so I purchased a Mary Kay® makeup palette to corral them in one place. The palette allowed me to snap the uniquely shaped Mary Kay eye products in and out and see all the colors available to me at a glance. Now, however, there’s a problem: Mary Kay has changed the shape of its eye shadow containers, so the new ones won’t fit in my palette. So, I set out in search of a new solution.

Conduct an Internet search for the words “makeup palette,” and you’ll find several different designs. Some, like these Sephora makeup palettes, already come with the colors selected for you, and they don’t seem to offer you the option of replacing a color when it runs out. Mac Cosmetics allows you to build your own palette, but its product is expensive: $48 for a palette with four colors. Plus, you’re locked into using only that company’s eye shadows.

After searching for more customizable options, I discovered the Z Palette, which allows you to mix and match eye shadows from different manufacturers. Its magnetic base allows you to insert and remove products easily, and metal stickers are included to help adhere products that come in nonmetal pans. The Z Palette comes in a variety of sizes, including some that are big enough for large blush and powder tins, as well as makeup brushes. Some buyers may also like its clear lid.  The downside? The Z Palette is made from a cardboard-type materials. While this makes the product recyclable, it made me worry about its durability. I didn’t want to pay $14 to $25 (plus shipping) for something that would not hold up well over time.

Finally, I found the UNII makeup palette. At $29 plus shipping, it wasn’t exactly cheap, but its design and flexibility made it the best option.

The UNII palette's packaging offers many helpful tips about how to use the product.

The UNII palette’s packaging offers many helpful tips about how to use the product.

The plastic case appears to be durable and easy to clean.

The plastic case appears to be durable and easy to clean.

The UNII palette is made of hard plastic, giving me confidence that it will stand the test of time, even if tossed into a purse or duffle bag regularly. It should also be easier to clean due to its construction.

Note the thumb grip on the left side. It can be repositioned anywhere on the palette.

Note the thumb grip on the left side. It can be repositioned anywhere on the palette.

The UNII palette can hold makeup and tools from a variety of manufacturers, and it comes in six colors: pink, lavender, turquoise, black, white/clear and pale yellow. While you can’t see through the lid, it does have a mirror on the inside that spans the width of the case, making it easy to apply makeup on the go. Like the Z Palette, it uses a magnetic base to attach your makeup products and includes stickers you can use for pans not made of metal. The UNII Palette has a neat magnetic thumb grip that can be placed anywhere on the inside of the palette, making it easy to hold the palette with either hand. I also like the rolled-edge clasp that securely closes the palette.

How’s UNII’s customer service? Great! I emailed a question about the product before purchasing it and received a quick response. The product shipped promptly after my order, and UNII sent me an email with a a few tips to keep in mind when my product arrived. My UNII palette was packaged in a classy box that included more helpful advice. After unpacking it, I found the product to be attractive and well made.

The UNII’s biggest limitation may be its size. At 5.4 inches long and 2.8 inches wide, the interior may not hold all of your makeup products.

The palettes come in several different colors.

The palettes come in several different colors.

For me, this is not an issue, because I only intend to use it for eye shadow. It would take more than one palette to accommodate my blush, powder and/or lip products. It also may not be big enough to store all your makeup brushes. You could buy multiple palettes to house all your makeup, or use the palette as an on-the-go solution for makeup touchups or short trips.

If you buy two palettes or more, UNII ships them for free. Shipping for my one palette was a reasonable $4.

Have you tried UNII or another customizable makeup palette? Please share your experiences.

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Drug lockbox: a convenient way to keep medications out of children’s reach

My husband and I are licensed foster parents, and one of the safety requirements we must meet is that all of our prescription and over-the counter medications must be kept locked up at all times, along with all of our vitamins. So, we can’t keep medications in an unlocked kitchen cabinet, in a dresser drawer or even on a high shelf.  We tried keeping them in a locked linen closet, but this proved inconvenient, so I set out in search of a better solution.

Finding a medication lock box on the Internet sounds simple enough, but I struggled to find a solution that met our family’s criteria. I wanted something large enough to keep all our medications and vitamins in one place, but I didn’t want to spend more than $30 on it. I found locking personal safes, train cases for makeup and cash boxes, among other potential solutions. Then, I discovered the LockMed website.

LockMed offers several types of medication lockboxes, as well as locking bags suitable for securing your medication while traveling. I debated between the medium-sized drug box and the large one, which comes in two varieties: one with a combination lock and one with a key lock. At $24.99, the large Lockmed box was only $2 more than the medium one, so I chose the bigger size. Shipping was a bit steep at $8.50, pushing my purchase a bit over my $30 goal.

LockMed shipped my medication storage box quickly. It arrived promptly and was well-packaged. I was pleasantly surprised at how well-made it is. I felt like I took a risk ordering from a company I had never heard of, so I was relieved that the product was what I expected. It has a sturdy metal exterior that is easy to wipe clean, and a nice velvet interior to keep medications from sliding around.

Warning: As the LockMed website notes, this is not an indestructable box. Someone determined to access your medications could probably find a way to break into it or any similar box. I will be using the box with infants and toddlers and storing it out of their reach; so, it is a suitable solution for me.  If you are worried about medication theft by older children or adults, you may wish to consider other solutions and read LockMed’s tips for keeping your medications safe.

LockMed is not the only medication lockbox on the market. After my initial search, I discovered additional products online. Amazon offers a medication case for $24.95 with free shipping, but it is considerably smaller than the LockMed box. A larger box sold on Amazon costs more than the one I bought from LockMed and is still smaller than mine. Another website offers a small box for just $8, but charges $13 to ship it, making it a poor value. Sears sells a medication wall safe that may offer more security than any of these lockboxes, but it only holds seven bottles up to 4 inches tall, and it costs $60.

In the end, there may be no solution that keeps a determined thief from accessing your medications. For me, the LockMed box offers an affordable solution for a home with young children, since it will be stored out of their reach.

How do you keep your medications secure?

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Product review: The best oven mitts I’ve ever used!

They may not be the most exciting item you’ll ever purchase, but oven mitts are an indispensable part of a cook’s daily routine. Whether your preparing a roast for your family’s dinner or baking cookies for an office party, quality mitts protect your hands from the high temperatures you encounter when removing items from the oven.

In the past, I’ve mainly used cotton oven mitts. I liked them because they were easy to toss in the washing machine. But I found that over time, that washable fabric started to wear thin from its trips to the washer, eventually resulting in heating make its way through the mitts way to quickly. I tried some cotton mitts with silicone insets, but they didn’t fare much better. Another problem with cotton mitts is that they can pick up permanent stains, despite washing.

Finally, I decided it was time to give silicone mitts a try, and I picked one of the highest-rated designs on the Chef’s website: the OrkaPlus silicone mitt with a cotton lining. Doubtful as to how well it would work, I only ordered one at first. The OrkaPlus quickly proved its worth. It reliably protects my hands from heat, and it’s easy to wipe food off the outside of the mitt. The mitt’s grip area can be harder to clean, because it has tiny silicone “ribs” that help you grip pans securely. Thankfully, the entire silicone mitt is dishwasher safe, and I’ve found the dishwasher does a good job of cleaning those grips.

Inside, the OrkaPlus silicone mitt has a cotton lining that spans the length of the glove. This is easy to remove and can be washed in the washing machine.

According to the Chef’s website, the OrkaPlus mitt is waterproof, even in boiling water. I have not put that claim to the test, however.

The mitt is available in red, green, blue, purple and charcoal hues on the Chef’s website. Amazon offers all those colors as well, plus a raspberry shade.

There are a couple of downsides to the mitt. The first is that it is only available in one size, and that size is rather large. People with small hands may find it too large to be practical, but it has worked fine for me, even though it is loose on my hands.

The other downside is the cost. One OrkaPlus mitt sells for $15.95 at, meaning a pair will cost you about $32. By comparison, you can get a pair of cotton oven mitts for less than $5 at discount stores. But I submit that the OrkaPlus will pay for itself over time. It offers much more stain resistance and durability than cotton mitts, and one pair of OrkaPlus mitts is likely to outlast several pairs of the cotton variety.

Do you have a favorite kitchen product you want to tell others about? Please leave a comment with your product recommendations.

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RoadID delivers prompt, friendly service

If you run, walk or bike outdoors, you may want to familiarize yourself with RoadID. The company makes a suite of products designed to communicate your vital contact and medical information if you’re injured while exercising. The company offers bands you can wear on your wrist or ankle or attach to your shoes. Each band contains an engraved metal plate that you customize with your name, loved ones’ contact information and vital medical details. This will allow emergency personnel to access your important information if you’re unable to communicate it yourself. There’s also a necklace version of the ID and a product that attaches to your pet’s collar.

I began wearing the “Shoe ID” several months ago on my running shoe. Some of my family members’ contact information changed recently, so I requested a replacement ID plate as a birthday gift. My sister ordered the customized item on Saturday, and it arrived on Thursday. Not only does RoadID offer quick shipping, its ordering-related materials show the company cares about its customers by offering a friendly, helpful tone.

For example, my gift include a slip with the name of the person who packed my order and her contact information. It also offered email and telephone contact information for RoadID’s customer service team. The company even puts the email addresses of its owners on its packing materials.

RoadID backs its products with a “for real, rock-solid guarantee.” If you are not satisfied with a RoadID product, you can return it for a full refund or exchange. Plus, the company offers a lifetime warranty on its stainless steel ID. The ID plates are interchangable among several RoadID products.

If you prefer a version of the RoadID that you don’t have to update when your contact information changes, check out the interactive RoadID. It provides a phone number and website address responders can use to access your vital details. This allows you to change your contact information without having to order a new ID. I don’t like this version of RoadID for two reasons:

  1. I would rather that my information be immediately available to an emergency worker. I don’t want the person to have to call a number or visit a website to find out how to reach my husband or what medications I’m allergic to.
  2. The product has a $9.99 annual membership cost. Depending on how often your contact information changes, it would be cheaper just to order a replacement ID tag.

My shoe ID has held up well so far. It’s a great alternative to trying to carry a driver’s license and list of personal contacts with me when I run. Before ordering, I wondered whether it would interfere with the proper fit of my shoes. It doesn’t; in fact, I don’t even notice it’s there.When you’re ready to order a RoadID, visit RetailMeNot to find a promo code that can save you a buck or two.

What kind of personal identification do you wear when exercising outdoors? Share your experiences with these or other products.

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Made in the USA: Headbands for running and fitness from 4 manufacturers

Finding running gear made in the USA is tough. In a previous post, I discussed the handful of running shoes I could find that are made in America. While searching for a good headband for running, I was pleased to discover this week that my favorite product line is made in the USA!

I first tried a Bondi Band headband after purchasing one at a pre-race runners’ expo. The headband stays put and has a comfortable backing that wicks sweat away from my skin. It is also wide, giving you more forehead and hair coverage than some of the very narrow headbands sold by major sporting goods stores. The band comes in a couple of different styles and numerous colors and prints. A group that have sayings on them  offer humorous options. Not a runner? The Bondi Band could be used for aerobics, yoga and other workouts as well.

I investigated headbands made by other companies, but many were more expensive than the Bondi Band. I found a promo code on RetailMeNot that allowed me to get five Bondi Band headbands for $25 — a discount of $3 each. Another wide headband I seriously considered was $18 for one. Plus, BondiBand says 10 percent of its pre-tax profits go to charity.

While I have not tried them, I found three other headband lines made in the USA. First is the Halo headband. The manufacturer says the Halo wicks sweat and absorbs moisture. It comes in three different styles: a pullover headband, a version that ties in the back and a Velcro headband. If you’ve tried a Halo headband, please share your comments on how well it works. RetailMeNot also offers a Halo promo code. The bands cost $12.95 to $14.95.

A line of headbands made for women are also manufactured in America — RazzyRoo headbands have a unique design in the back and come in a wide array of prints and colors. The manufacturer’s website doesn’t offer many details on the features of these, so its hard to tell if the group labeled “running headbands” have wicking or sweat-absorbing properties. Expect to spend $5 (clearance items) to $15 for one of these.

Chica Bands offer another headband option for women. In a response to my email, a company representative told me these are made in America. The Chica Bands website describes the product as “a nonslip, nonbinding hair band…for active women and girls.” They come in solid colors, reflective finishes and a variety of other designs. Check out RetailMeNot for Chica Band coupon codes. These headbands range in price from $10 (sale selections) to $17.50. A “Chica on the cheap” option in the sales section allows you to get 10 discontinued bands for $25, but you won’t know the width or style until they arrive.

I would love to hear from ladies who have tried RazzyRoo headbands or Chica Bands for athletic use and get their comments on how well the bands work at keeping sweat off your forehead.

If  you’ve found other running or fitness headbands that are made in America, please let me know so I can expand my list.

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Product review: Wristband pepper spray makes protection easier for runners, walkers and joggers

Companies who care about customers create products that address real-world problems. For those who run, jog or walk for exercise outdoors, safety can be a serious concern. Aggressive dogs and passersby who want to do you harm pose a real threat in many areas. But if your athletic wear doesn’t have pockets, it can be tough to carry along something to help you protect yourself. For many months, I put up with the hassle of jogging with a can of pepper spray in my hand because of the peace of mind that it brought. Then, someone suggested a new product that makes it easier to work out while keeping your spray handy.

It’s called the Personal Savers Wrist Saver. The product has a 1/2-ounce can of pepper spray that slides into a pouch on a wristband you secure with Velcro. So, you basically wear it like a bracelet. There’s an extra pocket on the pouch where you can put a small identification card. The manufacturer says you can hit people up to 10 away from you with multiple blasts from this small canister.

Thankfully, I have not had to spray my canister, but I have worn it on my wrist frequently while jogging. The wristband feels a bit bulky, but it is a lot less cumbersome than running down the road and trying to hold a canister in your hand. The wrist saver comes in three colors: pink, black/pink and black/orange. You can also get it in two sizes (measure your wrist before ordering). A small LED light is included that functions like a tiny flashlight.

In addition to the Wrist Saver, Personal Savers sells pepper spray accessories designed specifically for biking and attaching to baby strollers. As with all personal protection products, be sure to read the instructions immediately after your purchase.

My one wish is that the pepper spray container that comes with the Personal Savers products were larger. The old canister I ran with contained one ounce of spray. Maybe I don’t need that much, but I felt it gave me a better opportunity to defend myself against multiple threats. I have decided the convenience of the Wrist Saver is worth the trade-off of the smaller container, though.

Do you have a go-to product for personal safety when exercising outdoors?

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Product review of Comet CM-MO7CD shredder: Finally, a shredder I can recommend!

Regular readers may recall a previous post where I relayed my terrible experience with an AmazonBasics shredder I purchased. The failure of that machine sent me in search of a replacement. I did a lot of research and read a lot of reviews. I found that to get a shredder with consistently high ratings across various websites, you have to be willing to spend at least $85 to $100. Because I need a reliable shredder and a cheaper model failed quickly, I decided to pony up $90 for the Comet CM-MO7CD, a 7-sheet shredder. (Amazon has since raised its price to $109.99.)

After owning the shredder for 2.5 months, I feel I can fairly evaluate it.

Things I like:

  • This is one of the quietest shredders I’ve ever owned. I used to dread shredding due to the noise, but this is no longer the case. According to its product description on the manufacturer’s website, this shredder produces 55 decibels (dB) of sound.
  • It has a 4-gallon, pull-out wastebasket for easy disposal of shredded materials. No more lifting a heavy shredder head every time I need to dump out the paper, and no more emptying a small wastebasket frequently.
  • The wastebasket has a window that allows you to see how close the wastebasket is to being full.
  • It is a micro-cut shredder that cuts materials into tiny pieces that would be practically impossible to reassemble into a readable document.
  • It has wheels, making it easier to move.

Things I don’t like:

  • The shredded paper tends to accumulate in the front of the wastebasket, when there is still empty space in the back. You have to pull the wastebasket out part way and shake it to create more room for additional shredding.
  • When you remove the wastebasket, some material falls from the shredder head into the base of the shredder.
  • You can only shred for 8 minutes at a time, then you have to take a 45-minute break before your next 8-minute session. This is probably the biggest drawback of the machine.
  • You can only shred 7 pieces of paper at a time, and letter-sized sheets have to be lined up just right to be picked up by the machine.
  • The shredder is a bit large, measuring 13.5 inches wide, 9.53 inches deep and 21.06 inches tall.

For those who need a higher-security shredder at a reasonable price, the benefits of this machine definitely outweigh the drawbacks. I would buy it again.

Do you have a shredder that performs well? Please post a comment with the details.

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An affordable alternative to Keurig coffee makers

I am not a “morning person,” so coffee plays a key role in perking me up and getting my day started on the right foot. When the java coming out of our old coffee maker started to get lukewarm, my husband and I decided it was time for a new model. I liked the idea of Keurig machines, but the price tag was quite steep, and I read a number of online reviews from various websites citing problems that occur with them after about a year of use. For these reasons, I researched other brands that might meet our needs.

I settled on the KitchenAid Personal Coffee Maker. After two months of use, I highly recommend this model. I bought mine from Target, where the price was $20 lower than that of the KitchenAid website and about half the cost of comparable Keurig models.

This machine makes hot coffee–we didn’t realize how poorly our other coffee maker was performing until we tasted the coffee coming out of the KitchenAid. I brew my coffee into the stainless-steel mug that came with the coffeemaker to keep it as warm as possible when brewing, then pour it into my personal mug when I’m ready to drink it. You can also drink directly from the mug that came with the machine or brew directly into a personal mug (I’d recommend a tall one to prevent splashing). A downside of the mug included with the machine is that it is not dishwasher safe.

The KitchenAid Personal Coffee Maker comes with a dishwasher-safe gold-tone filter, so you don’t have to use any paper filter unless you choose to. One reviewer on the Target website complains that this machine leaves “sludge” in the bottom of your cup. This is true, but it is a pretty small amount, so we just leave the last sip in our cup, and we never taste the sludge.

One complaint I have about the machine is the water reservoir. Instead of being totally see-through, it has a “smoky” finish that makes it difficult to monitor the amount of water you are putting in. We’ve found better visibility by positioning the coffee maker directly under an overhead kitchen light. I am sure KitchenAid used the colored finish to make the machine more attractive, but I would prefer a clear finish.

One of the great features of this machine is that it will make an 18-ounce cup of coffee. Many of the other machines we considered had a much smaller capacity.

The KitchenAid Personal Coffee Maker comes in silver, black and red and has a one-year, total replacement warranty. It is almost 15 inches tall, but is only 7 inches wide, so it has a relatively small footprint on our counter.

Because it uses a miniature, standard filter basket, it won’t take K cups, but I see no reason you couldn’t use miniature coffee filter packs or bags like these.

If you use a personal coffee maker, please share your experience (good or bad) to guide others when selecting a new model.


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How to get a great deal on custom framing made in the USA

My mission? Find a frame for a 12-inch by 12-inch photo print I bought at a street festival last fall. Since this is a nonstandard size, I knew I would have to purchase a custom frame for my item.

My first stop? A major arts-and-crafts supply store that offers custom framing. Armed with a 50-percent-off coupon, I thought I could easily get my item framed for around $60. After all, it was already matted —all I needed was the frame. I was so sure that I’d get a decent price that I brought my print to the store, expecting to return in a few days to pick it up. To be honest, I didn’t really care for the store’s selection of frames, but I was willing to settle for one that looked decent because 50 percent off seemed like a great deal. That was, until I got the price quote. I don’t recall the exact amount, but it was around $130. I took my hummingbird photo print and returned home.

I didn’t bother going to other major or locally owned framing shops, because I figured the results would be about the same. Instead, I turned to an online resource I’d used before in a similar situation: The company may not have the fanciest website, and you may never have heard of it before, but it’s a great place to go if you need a custom frame.  Plus, you get a product made in the USA. is a lot like quick-service restaurants where you build your own meal. In the website’s custom-framing section, you pick the size of frame you want, the material you want it to be built from, the frame width and the frame color. You choose whether to have a matte included with your frame, and what shape, size and color it should be. Want a mounting board? You can add that to your order as well.

Have a question? I got a quick answer to mine from a friendly customer service representative using the website’s chat feature.

Here's my print in the frame I purchased from

Here’s my print in the frame I purchased from

After you place your order, builds your frame by hand. My item was constructed and shipped quickly. The only criticism I have is that the instructions enclosed with the frame were confusing, and the metal hanger we had to attach to the frame was of poor quality. The latter is easily rectified by purchasing your own hook at a local hardware store.

If your order totals $49 or more, it ships free. My order was close to that price at $42.50, so I got a small photo album from the site to get free shipping. If I’d gone with pay-your-own shipping, my order total would actually have been higher than it was with the photo album.

Speaking of photo albums, has a good selection of those as well. I’ve previously purchased a product from their “build-your-own” photo album line. This allows me to select the album, which has a three-ring-binder style, and then choose the photo print sizes I want it to hold. In my case, I had a lot of 8 x 10 photos to keep, so I bought a package of 8 x 10 sheets, as well as some that held other nonstandard-size photos.

The company also sells ready-made frames and gifts.

The custom frame I purchased from cost about 2/3 less than the price quoted at my local chain store. I got good customer service, fast shipping and a beautiful, high-quality wood frame. The next time I need a custom frame, I’ll go straight to this website.

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Product review: Drinkwell 360 stainless-steel pet fountain vs. Drinkwell Original

There was a time when I thought it was silly to own a pet fountain. After all, why couldn’t my cats drink out of a plain old bowl? After someone told me a fountain would encourage my cats to drink more water, possibly preventing urinary tract problems, I decided to give one a try. I discovered the person was right — my cats did consume considerably more water when their bowl was replaced with a fountain.

My first fountain was a Drinkwell Original, the plastic kind with a relatively small footprint. One thing I didn’t like about it was that the parts for mine were not dishwasher-safe (although newer models are), and I grew tired of taking the fountain apart every week and washing everything by hand.

When the time came to replace my old pet fountain, I did a lot of research. One of my key criteria was that the fountain had to be dishwasher-safe (understanding that motors must always be cleaned by hand). This significantly limits your fountain choices. After reading many reviews and spec sheets, I settled on the Drinkwell 360 stainless-steel pet fountain. I found the best price on the Doctors Foster and Smith website. I’ve been using the fountain now for 7 months, so I feel I can offer a fair review of its performance.

The dishwasher-safe factor has proven to be a nice benefit. However, I was unprepared for how much room the fountain would take up in my dishwasher. The bowl has a 12.5-inch diameter, so it takes up about 60 percent of the space in my top dishwasher rack. The interior fountain parts (minus the motor) go in a dishwasher basket in the top rack, taking up another 10 percent of the space in the top. I put the fountain insert on the bottom, where it takes up about 20 percent of the available space. In other words, don’t expect to get a lot of other dishes washed when running the pet fountain through the machine.

I do believe the stainless-steel construction helps the Drinkwell 360 stay cleaner than the Drinkwell Original, which had plastic parts that got “slimy.” However, the filters for the 360 do not work as well as the filters for the Drinkwell Original. The 360 filters are much smaller and in cylinder form. The Drinkwell Original filters had a much larger surface area and seemed that kept the water cleaner longer.

The 360 filters seem so ineffective that they weren’t worth the cost, so I’ve stopped using them. Now, I just run the fountain without the filters. This is one bonus of the 360 — you can run the fountain without the filters, according to the instruction manual. Other manufacturers say their fountains will not operate properly without a filter.

The 360 holds a gallon of water, while the Drinkwell Original holds 50 ounces. However, you can buy an optional reservoir for the Original, like I had, which automatically refills it as the water level goes down. I do miss the reservoir. With the 360, I have to remember to add to or check the water level daily, which leads me to unplug the fountain if going away on a weekend trip.

The 360 also takes up a lot of space. When it first arrived, my husband referred to it as a “cattle trough.” The Drinkwell Original was less noticeable in our kitchen.

The 360 is slightly harder to assemble then the Original, in my opinion. The first few times I washed it, I had to read the instructions to remember how to put it back together. Once you get the hang of it, though, it is pretty easy. However, even after numerous washings, I still find it very hard to remove the filter cover. I worry that I will break it one day trying to pry it off.

The big question is: if I had to do it again, would I purchase the Drinkwell 360? Probably not, mainly due to the ineffectiveness of the filters. I feel like I have to wash this fountain more frequently than I did the Drinkwell Original. If I purchase a second pet fountain, I will likely try a dishwasher-safe ceramic model.

Do you use a pet fountain with your cats or dogs? Share your model and experience to provide valuable feedback for others.


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