Cleaning out your cleaning products

by Martha Hollinger

Spring cleaning? I think not. Once this snow and cold is gone, I am definitely NOT spending my time indoors cleaning.

However, I do occasionally clean this and that around my house, and I admit I used to have a wide assortment of cleaning products hiding under my sink. But did I really need them all? Were they good for the environment? Were they good for me? After all, they had all those charming little pictures on them - skulls and crossbones, explosions, boney hands - hardly encouraging. Maybe there were less dangerous, less environmentally harmful, and less expensive alternatives.

Before you start changing your products, you may also want to rethink your system. All those commercials try to convince us to be a throw-away society. Disposable wipes, mops, even toilet bowl scrubbers -are they really necessary? Of course not. They say they're designed to make our lives just a little easier (after all, wringing out a cloth is so much work), but really they're just designed to make you buy more stuff.

So go back to the basics - a squeeze mop (or the microfiber ones you can wash), good old rags made out of your old clothes (we call that "recycling"), newspapers for washing windows - and keep our landfills as empty as possible.

We've also been brainwashed into thinking we need a different cleaner for every job - the bathroom is different from the kitchen counter is different from the floor, and so on. This, again, is about buying more stuff and it creates clutter.

Non-toxic cleaning products that you should (in fact, must) have on hand:

Baking soda: it cleans and deodorizes; it's a water softener, a whitener, and great for scouring.

White vinegar: it cuts grease; it's mildly disinfecting, and can dissolve mineral deposits.

Borax: (a salt derivative of the mineral boron). It cleans and deodorizes, as well as disinfecting; and also softens water. It inhibits the growth of moulds and mildews. Look for it in the laundry section of your grocery store. NOTE: It is mildly toxic.

Washing soda: It's a grease cutter and stain remover; also a disinfectant and water softener. Can also be found in the laundry section. Also known as "sodium carbonate". It is slightly caustic, so best used when wearing gloves.

Soap: Choose vegetable-based soaps, without dyes or perfumes. You can choose flakes, liquids, or whatever form you prefer.

Toothpaste: (Yup, really) Especially the kind with baking soda. It is a mild abrasive with cleaning agents.

As a bonus, Essential Oils: these are the true essences of a specific plant, and many have properties that have been used for thousands of years. Some that are antiseptic include lavender, citrus, or tea tree (and boy, do they smell good, too). They can be expensive (frankly, if they're not, they're probably not good quality), but it only takes a couple of drops in some water to get the benefits.


So, how do you use those few ingredients listed above to clean your whole house? The "recipes" vary, but I've tried to pick the common themes.

Recipes for Non-Toxic Cleaners:

Feel free to play around with ingredients, proportions, etc, until you find what works best for you.

General Household Cleaner:
Mix 1 tsp liquid soap, 1 tsp borax, a squeeze of lemon or 2 tbsp vinegar, and 1 quart of warm water. OR
Mix 1/4 c baking soda, 1/2 c borax, 1/2 c vinegar, and 1 gallon water.

For extra scouring power, sprinkle with baking powder directly and use a little elbow grease. Rinse. OR
Mix 1/2 c baking soda with 1 c vinegar.

Disinfecting Cleaner:
Mix 1/4 c borax with 2 quarts hot water.

Drain Cleaner:
Pour 1/2 c of baking soda down the drain, followed by 1/2 c of vinegar. Cover the drain, and let this sit for 15 minutes, then pour down a kettle of hot water. Doing this on a weekly basis helps keep things running smoothly. If you've got a serious clog, and this still doesn't get it unstuck, try a good old-fashioned plunger, or a plumber's snake (you can purchase one at hardware stores for as little as $10). Follow plunger or snake up with boiling water to flush out whatever it was that was stuck. NOTE: A plumber once told me that the worst culprit in clogging drains is pasta!

Oven Cleaner:
Mix together 1/4 c baking soda, 2 tbsp salt, and hot water to make a paste. Spread it on the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes, then scrub (with steel wool for the really tough bits).
Mix 2 tbsp liquid soap, 2 tsp borax, 1 qt warm water into a spray bottle. Spray on the oven, wait 20 minutes, then clean.

Toilet bowl cleaner:
Pour 1/4 c baking soda into the bowl, and spritz with vinegar; let sit 15 to 30 minutes. Scrub and flush. Use borax for tough stains.

Window/Mirror Cleaner:
Mix 1/2 c vinegar to 1/2 c water. Use newspaper (yes, really!) for best non-streak results.

Floor cleaner:
Mix 1/2 c vinegar and 1 gallon warm water. This is safe (even recommended) for laminate floors. Frankly, plain water works well too. Microfibre mops that you can wash seem to be very popular.

Mix 1 part vinegar, 1 part rubbing alcohol, and 1 part water.

Rug and upholstery Cleaner:
Sprinkle corn meal, baking soda or cornstarch on dry rugs, and vacuum. Use club soda or soap-based rug shampoo for tough stains.
For stains: mix together 1/4 c liquid soap, 3 tbsp water, and whip with an egg beater. Rub foam into stain. Rinse with water.
If the rug is colour-fast, 1/4 c salt, 1/4 c borax, 1/4 c vinegar, rub into stain, let sit several hours, vacuum.

Particular carpet stains:
Mud: rub with salt; let sit one hour, and vacuum.
Coffee: Pour over with club soda. Blot with a dry cloth.
Red wine: cover with salt while wet. Let dry, then vacuum.
Pour white wine over red, blot with dry cloth.
Chocolate: Mix borax and water into a paste, rub into stain, let dry, and vacuum.
Grease: Cover with cornstarch or cornmeal, let sit an hour, rub in, and vacuum.

Furniture Polish:
Rub toothpaste on wood furniture to remove water marks.

Polish wood with 2 tsp of lemon oil and 2 cups of mineral oil in a spray bottle. Rub in and wipe clean.

Mix two parts olive oil to one part lemon juice. Rub in, let stand several hours, then polish with a soft dry cloth.

Fabric Spot Removers:
Fruit and Wine: Immediately pour salt or hot water on the stain and soak in milk before washing.
Ink: Soak in milk or remove with hydrogen peroxide.
Coffee: Mix egg yolk with lukewarm water and rub on stain.
Lipstick: rub with cold cream or shortening and wash with washing soda.

Silver: Mix 4 c warm water, 1 tbsp baking soda, 1 tsp. salt, and a small piece of aluminum foil (or use an aluminum pot if you still have one). Soak silver in this solution.
Rub toothpaste on the silver, let it dry, and rinse off (seems to work especially well with baking-soda toothpastes).

Rub with paste of baking soda and water.
Copper: Rub lightly with fine table salt wetted with vinegar. (Or soak in vinegar & salt solution.)
Chrome: Rubbing alcohol; or try white flour in a damp rag.
Brass: Mix equal parts salt and flour with a little vinegar; rub.

[Source: February 2009 WasteWatch ]