Cleaning products are expensive. Not only that, open the cupboard under almost anyone's sink and you're almost overwhelmed by the odors that emanate from the products stored there. Commercial products contain perfumes and masking fragrances to cover the chemical smells inherent to those products; this can be especially harmful to those with allergies or sinus problems. You already know you want to avoid any products with the words "Danger," "Poison," or "Warning" on the label. Beyond that, in most cases, manufacturers aren't required to list details about the ingredients in cleansers and polishes. To find that kind of information, you either have to write to the company or check the product's Web site to obtain a list of hazardous ingredients, which must be listed on the product's Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). The sad fact is that it isn't necessary to expose your family to possible harmful side effects of using such products. You can do most of your cleaning with products you already have on hand.
Baking soda truly is the jack-of-all-trades around the house. You can use it as:
- A gentle scouring powder for kitchen countertops
- A paste (mixed with a little water) to shine stainless steel
- A vinyl floor cleaner (¼ cup mixed with a quart of water)
- A way to soften water so you can use less soap; with a half cup in your laundry, for example
- An air freshener: Simply set some out in a bowl, or place some in your cat's litter box
Keep these few supplies on hand and you'll be ready to clean just about anything:
- Borax (sodium borate)
- Cider vinegar
- Club soda
- Food grade peroxide
- Lemon juice
- Lemon juice
- White vinegar
Be careful that you don't inhale any borax when you sprinkle it. It can irritate your lungs.
Borax has natural germicidal properties. Dissolve ½ cup of it in a gallon of hot water to keep on hand to add to laundry or use in a spray bottle to wash down countertops.
Use a mixture of equal parts borax, table salt, and baking soda for scouring tough stains.
It happens to everyone sooner or later. Swim trunks are left in a duffel bag, or a damp towel gets thrown into a clothes hamper, and by the time you're ready to do laundry you find that you have ugly black mildew stains on some of your clothes. Stain remover won't work; you need to kill the mildew. To do so, dampen each stain with lemon juice and sprinkle salt over it. Set the clothing in direct sunlight until the lemon juice dries. Launder as usual and, voilá! The stains will be gone.
Cotton doesn't create static, so there's no need to add a fabric softener to the wash when you launder clothing made from that fiber. For other fabrics, you can eliminate the need for fabric softeners by adding either a cup of vinegar or ¼ cup baking soda to the final rinse.
Recycle some of your newspapers by using them to polish the glass when you're cleaning the windows. For some reason, this works really well with car windows.
If windows are especially dirty, wash them first with a soft cloth dipped in soapy water. (You'll want to wring it out after you do the dipping.)
Follow the soapy water wash with another one using 1 part white vinegar to 4 parts water. The easiest way to do this is to put the vinegar and water mixture into a spray bottle. Squirt the windows and then buff them dry with crumpled newspaper.
This works great on mirrors, too.
You can prevent drains from clogging by periodically flushing them. Assuming you don't have water standing in the sink or tub, it's easy to create your own foaming drain snake by following these steps:
- Pour ¼ cup vinegar down the drain
- Follow that step by pouring ¼ cup baking soda on top of the vinegar
- Now top it off with another ¼ cup vinegar
- Allow the mixture to foam for 15 minutes
- Pour a teakettle of boiling water down the drain
- Run hot water down the drain
Remember that when you use any drain cleaner, even an all-natural one, there's a chemical reaction going on. Never lean over the drain. Also, never pour vinegar into a drain in which there may be commercial, chemical drain cleaner residue; vinegar is an acid that could cause an adverse or explosive reaction.
Vinegar and baking soda work great as a toilet bowl cleaner, too. Sprinkle the soda into the toilet water and then add a little vinegar. Use a toilet bowl brush to tackle tough stains.
Clean your floors with a solution of 1 cup vinegar to a gallon of water. After you mop the floor, go over it again using club soda to polish it to a fine shine.
You can clean up nasty scuff marks by using a bit of toothpaste.
There's no need for expensive furniture polish. Simply mix 1 part lemon juice to 3 parts vegetable oil. Apply to the surface of your wood furniture with a soft cloth, allow to sit for a few minutes, and then use a clean dry soft cloth to wipe away any excess and buff the furniture to a shine.
Scratches on furniture are easy to mask, too. To do that, mix 1 part instant coffee with 2 parts water or cooking oil to form a paste. Apply the coffee paste to the scratch using a cotton swab. (I've substituted milk for the liquid when I've wanted to use it to "stain" lighter wood.) Use a small amount at a time, buffing the area with a soft cloth after each application.
Another alternative is to dab the area with cold tea. Use whatever method will best match the wood you wish to repair.
Because full-strength vinegar can trigger migraines in some sensitive individuals, it's probably better to lean on the side of caution and avoid directly inhaling the fumes.
- Simmer whole cloves in vinegar water; add orange peel and cinnamon if you want to add a spicy scent to the air
- Get houseplants; they act as natural room deodorizers
- Steep fresh thyme in hot water, strain, and then use in a spray bottle; this works as both a room freshener and as a disinfectant
- Sprinkle baking soda on your carpets; if possible, leave it on for a half hour and then vacuum as usual
- Get rid of mildew odors in carpeting by mixing 1 part borax with 2 parts cornmeal; sprinkle over the carpet and then vacuum as usual
Keep in mind that the old adage is especially true when it comes to keeping your house clean: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Clean up spills when they occur. Flush your drains once a week. By keeping on top of your work, you won't be tempted to resort to harmful chemical cleaners to tackle the job later.