Cleaning the House with Cleaner Cleaners
I was in the middle of writing a cheery post about favorite things when the news of the tragedy in Connecticut came in, and it pretty much stopped me in my tracks. Couldn’t find the words. Some people pray when hearing news like this, but I usually can’t manage that, nor can I meditate. Movement is required, until thoughts catch up with emotion and then something can be articulated. I spent Saturday slowly and quietly cleaning house. What follows is simply minimalist cleaning information that I have been intending to share at some point, something useful and neutral. Everything seems so trivial, though.
Clean Things for Cleaning Things
One of the things about cleaning house that used to be unpleasant was the harshness of the chemicals and scents in various products, especially when it was too cold or hot outside to open the windows. Like most Americans, I had an assortment of cleaning products in the cabinet under the kitchen sink, and a few more in the bathroom. I would try this and that, and try things that were supposed to be nontoxic, and nothing really seemed to do the job, save for extra-powerful chemical concoctions that could break through grease, soap scum and hard water deposits. The better the product worked, the worse my lungs worked. Not good.
Then a bit of reading and research led me to try a couple of different things, and I was so impressed by them that they are now the only things I use. They are easy to get, easy to mix, and easy on the body, the environment, and the wallet.
I know it is better to reuse spray bottles from other products, but most of them leave a lot to be desired in durability and ease of use. The Rubbermaid spray bottle works beautifully, is easy on the hands, and has a space to write what’s in it. Best of all, it has measurement markings on the side, making it perfect for creating solutions right in the bottle. I got mine in the brush and broom section in Target.
For the all-purpose cleaning solution, put 3/4 teaspoon of washing soda (NOT baking soda) in the bottle, and fill it to the 20 oz. mark with hot tap water. Put on the sprayer top and give it a few shakes to dissolve the soda. Then remove the sprayer and add 3-4 drops of dishwashing liquid, put the sprayer back on and shake gently a couple of times to mix it in. Use on floors for a no-rinse cleaner, on walls, on countertops, and just about any place. It’s pretty good at cutting grease, too. I put the mesh filter from my range hood in the sink, sprayed it with this cleaner and let it set for a few minutes, then rinsed with really hot tap water. Came out looking like new.
Then I read about using vinegar on hard water lime deposits. A lot of people use a 50/50 mix of water and vinegar in a spray bottle, but others with really hard water use straight white vinegar. I tested this by sprinkling straight vinegar on my kitchen faucet, and darn if it didn’t make it look like new in a matter of a couple of minutes–no scrubbing, either. I was sold. So I picked up another one of those neat spray bottles for the vinegar. Oh, and the smell–no worries. It evaporates within minutes, or as soon as the surface is dry.
In the bathroom, the hard water deposits seize on any less-than-perfect surface, making cleaning ridiculously difficult and time-consuming. I use both the vinegar and the all-purpose spray. The all-purpose spray cuts through soap and grime and the early stage of mildew, and the vinegar breaks the hold of lime deposits. Each product helps the other get the job done.
The bathroom sink drain gave off a nasty smell, and various drain products didn’t take care of it. Then I read about a combination of baking soda and vinegar followed by a hot water rinse. This works better than anything else I’ve tried and keeps the smell away for a couple of weeks, but using it weekly is a good idea. Shake about 1/4-1/3 cup of baking soda in the sink drain, and follow with 1-1 1/2 cups of straight vinegar. You don’t have to remove the pop-up if your sink has one. The combination of baking soda and vinegar will bubble like mad. Let it sit for about an hour, then follow with a kettle full of boiling water (1 1/2 quarts).
That’s pretty much it. No bleach, no ammonia, no headaches, no wheezing. Big jugs of vinegar are around $2.50, baking soda is pennies, and washing soda, while a little more expensive, goes a long way. One standard box will last for years at this rate. It can also serve as a laundry booster, even in HE washers. Annie at annienygma.com has come out with the second edition of her Minimalist Cleaning Method, which has a lot of recipes and good ideas, too. I grew up in a family that rented carpet shampooers, and it never occurred to me until reading Annie’s book to create my own solution and just wash down a carpet like one would wash down a wall or any other surface. I tried my all-purpose solution on the beige berber carpet in the high-traffic hallway, really getting it in the fibers with a scrub brush, and wiping off the residue with a rag. It works better than anything else I’ve ever used, even on old ground-in stains. Amazing.
If you try these methods, let me know if they work for you, or share your own formulas. I think the exact formula or ingredients that work best depend on the hardness of your water, which affects the way dirt and grime adhere to various surfaces. But I’m not a scientist, just a middle-aged woman quietly going about cleaning house while the world seems to go crazy.