Monday, April 28, 2008

Living Organically, Part Four: Clean House

I can sum up my "recipe" for cleaning without chemicals in one picture:

Truly, that's it. I sat down and tried to think of everything I use to clean, and this was it. It's simple and it's cheap. I'm sure I don't need to run down the whole list of why you should stear clear of cleaning products with chemicals. I cringe to think of all of the crap we inhaled prior to changing. Personally, I've decided that anything that's marked as poisonous isn't something I want to be breathing. Plus, it's better for the environment.

When Marci arranged for the cleaning service for us after Finn was diagnosed, I noticed that they cleaned with vinegar. I was intrigued. How could vinegar clean? Little did I know. White vinegar can do about everything. I buy it in those huge plastic bottles at Costco. I think that big bottle is less than $3. It might even be less than $2. I also buy the big bags of baking soda at Costco. They're in the mid $4 range. The big box of Borax is from WalMart for under $4. You can get smaller boxes at the grocery store, but they're way more expensive.

Here's a rundown of what I clean and how:

Toilets--The bowl. Flush. After the bowl has filled again, sprinkle the Borax around. You can let it sit for awhile or go ahead and scrub. For the rim, seat and other parts of the toilet, I use straight white vinegar. I just spray it on and wipe. Also, because sponges gross me out, I use Costo's paper towels, which you can actually scrub and scour with because they're so strong. I know this environmentally horrible because I'm using so much paper towel. I just hope I'm making up for it by using environmentally conscious products. Does it work like that?

Sinks, shower trays, bathtubs, stuff like that--I sprinkle in some baking soda and then add a little water which makes a paste. Scrub. The end. Seriously, when we built our house in Ohio, I had chosen this amazing gourmet kitchen sink. I loved that sink, and I still miss it. At any rate, it was a light color and it would stain. For years I tried a zillion different types of cleansers. And they got the stains out, kinda sorta. But because I am anal retentive, I was never really satisfied. Then I switched to baking soda and that was that. It didn't even require much more scrubbing. It was like some sort of crazy miracle.

The baking soda "paste" is also great for hard water marks. We use it on the glass of our shower and it takes it right off. And believe me, you ain't seen hard water until you get your water from mountain runoff. It's like rock deposits. So trust me, this works.

Mirrors--Straight vinegar in a spray bottle. I use paper towels, but there are die hards who swear by cleaning mirrors with vinegar and newspaper for a streak-free shine, but all that newsprint on my hands grosses me out.

Wood floors--Diluted white vinegar and water. But check with your flooring manufacturer on this one. It's what we were told in our last house when we had a new wood floor, but I don't want to ruin anyone's floor.

Countertops--straight white vinegar. Stovetop--straight white vinegar. Spill chicken juice on the counter? Straight white vinegar. Hangover remedy? Straight white vinegar. OK, I'm kidding on that one, but white vinegar is to me as Windex was to the dad in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." I just can't think of a single thing I don't use it for.

Laundry--The boys and I all have really sensitive skin, so we've used natural laundry detergent for years. But last summer I switched to Melaleuca and I love it. It takes just one ounce to wash a full load. I'm a huge, huge fan. I don't always recommend brands on the blog, but when there's something I really, really like, I'll let you know. Anyway, I use the Melaleuca liquid detergent and also the fabric softener, BUT I don't put the fabric softener in the wash. Nope, here's what I do: To the wash I put a one ounce pump of the detergent, about a half cup of baking soda (I could probably stop this because the Melaleuca is that good, but I got in the habit of using it when I used a different natural detergent that didn't get things as clean as Meleleuca does and I just haven't stopped), and then I fill a Downy Ball with white vinegar and throw it in there. The white vinegar is a natural fabric softener. Bizarre, I know. But I still then take an old washcloth and spray it 5 or so times with the Melaleuca fabric softener. It's just so dry here I feel like we need the extra static control. Plus I love the way it smells.

There are tons of other things you can do around the house and not use chemicals. You can use vinegar for weed control in your yard, toothpaste to clean your silver (if you own a silver service like my mother who used to make me clean it), or unclog your drains with baking soda and vinegar. Speaking of drains, that's possibly my favorite "green" cleaning thing to do.

Drains--To keep your drains running smoothly and smell fresh (because have you ever noticed how nasty your drain gets?), pour one cup of baking soda down. Then pour in vinegar. Voila--you've got your basic 7th grade science class volcano on your hands. Add vinegar until it stops bubbling. Or you can keep putting baking soda and vinegar in there and watching it for fun to see what roils out of there, like I do. When all the bubbling is done though, pour boiling water down there. Ahhh, fresh, clean drains.

I learned all of this info from either my sisters (of course) or two different books that I really like: Home Safe Home by Virginia Dadd or Clean and Green, whose author I don't remember and am too lazy to walk downstairs to see who it is.

So that's it! Use up what chemicals you've got and then go out and get yourself some vats of vinegar and baking soda. It's tons cheaper and your lungs will thank you for it.


Anonymous said...

I just scrubbed my toilets and sinks with Clorox Cleanup. I know that doesn't count for chemical-free.

I like my "clean" to smell clean. Does your vinegar do the trick?

I own vinegar. I own Borax and I have a small box of baking soda. Sounds as though it is time for me to get the huge box!

Our kitchen sink manufacturer recommends its own brand of non-abrasive cleaner. It is unbelievably expensive. I wonder how abrasive do you think a baking soda paste actually is?

So, there you have it. Two questions for you!

Bridget said...

Sorry, Natalie. The anonymous note, that I forgot to sign, is from me!


Leeann said...

Great ideas.

I can see instituting these changes.

How's white vinegar on granite? Is it okay?

Also, this laundry detergent you mentioned. Does it work fine in front-loaders? And you mentioned liking the scent. None of you react to the scent or fragrance in it?



1dreamr said...

This is great stuff; would you mind if I cross-posted the URL on my blog?

I'm curious about the wood floor cleaner -- what ratio of vinegar to water do you use?

Anonymous said...

Another great use for vinegar is to take the pain out of sunburn! Just dump some on a washcloth and pat it on for a few minutes. You will smell like a pickle until it dries, but it sure works!
Sheila-in STILL frozen Minnesota, where winter never ends

Anonymous said...

I use vinegar for cleaning mirrors and windows - but I'm having a hard time giving up my Clorox - I disinfect everything and in my mind vinegar just does not have that ability, but I could be wrong.


Laurie said...

Great post, Nat, thank you so much! I am anxious to start anew with cleaning in our house. Do you know off hand where I can find Melaleuca in town?

utahsweeney said...

OK Natalie, this week I bought organic raisins, organic oatmeal, organic milk and organic tea. Cleaning products are a lot less intimidating to change - maybe that's a sign I'm not cleaning enough??? Anyway, I'm waiting for your post on organic personal products... moisturizer, sunscreen, makeup??? Bring it on!
Take care, Laurie

Mountain Mama said...

I have been using Melaleuca products. I likey your products much better. The price is perfect! I am all over it! Thanks for the tips. I see Sweeney's comment. How in the world did you get her to buy organic? Erin and I have been working on her for years. Way to go!

1dreamr said...

I'm sold on the baking soda "paste." I absolutely HATE my kitchen sink. It's white and likely a relic from the 60's - it NEVER looks clean. I was just making some banana bread and when I got the baking soda out, I thought - what the heck - sprinkle some in the sink (I used wayyyy more than I needed), add water and see what happens.

I'm telling you, I couldn't *believe* how it removed the stains from that sink (and with very little scrubbing effort on my part). Could.not.believe.it. I may actually find that cleaning is a lot more pleasant and actually DO it more often without the awful fumes from the chemicals, not to mention what scrubbing with chemical cleansers does to your hands!

I'm actually excited about cleaning...! Eh, that probably won't last long! :-)

Anonymous said...

Okay, what kind of spray bottle do you put the vinegar in? I tried putting it in a little "personal care" one from Target (hey, it's what I had in the house!), and after a week or two, the metal parts had rusted, and I was spraying rusty vinegar all over the house. Not too pleasant.

Anna in IL