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Who wants to clean?
I’ll admit, you didn’t find me cleaning much in my past life when products contained strong chemicals. My place was respectable, but if I didn’t have to pull out foams and sprays that made my sinuses burn, then I didn’t. Following the instructions on the bottle, I always turned on the bathroom fan or opened a window to properly vent the area. But this never seemed to be enough, and I could feel my airways mildly burn for a couple hours afterwards.
Adding to this, I had too many cleaning products overall. The cabinet underneath my kitchen sink was full, my bathroom cabinet was full, and my linen closet contained several. I had all the typical items: dish soap, window/glass spray, general cleaning spray, shower foam, toilet bowl cleaner, laundry detergent, fabric softener, stain remover, dryer sheets, etc. I’m pretty sure that I had more, but I’ve since forgotten about the products that formerly believed were necessary.
These products were also expensive. $5 for a typical spray or stain remover, north of $10 for laundry detergent, etc. “I’m so excited to go to the store and spend money on toilet cleaner,” said no one, ever. One of my goals was to reduce expenses and this seemed like a good place to start.
I began experimenting with natural sprays that were simple to make at home. I found two main problems with most of them: one, they took time to mix together and two, many of the ingredients were counterproductive, such as an acid and a base neutralizing each other. The last thing I wanted to discover when tidying up before guests arrived was that my special cleaning mixture was gone, and I may not have time or ingredients to make it again. If it’s not easy, I won’t use it.
So, while natural spray mixtures were better, I found them to be too much of a hassle to be practical. I also still had too many bottles laying around because I hadn’t discovered effective multi-usage. I gradually started substituting some products. Then, I decided to toss the rest and make do with what I had. The results: three remaining products that were easier on myself and the environmental.
1. White vinegar
Did you know that you can use white vinegar as glass cleaner? It doesn’t leave streaks and it’s ammonia-free! I also use it for dusting and wiping down counter tops. The best part? A gallon is about a dollar or less at most stores. Check the label to make sure there aren’t added ingredients and fragrances.
There is a difference between white vinegar that is used for cooking versus cleaning. Cleaning vinegar has a different acidity and is in the cleaning section of the store. Do yourself a favor and buy a nice spray bottle from a hardware store, where they sell empty and unlabeled ones.
Many household cleaners contain an unhealthy level of bleach. A family member who has worked as a government health inspector often checked the concentration of bleach in house-made cleaning solutions at restaurants. Too much could be dangerous and cross-contaminate food, so it’s something that health inspectors regulate.
However, performing this same litmus test on common household cleaners revealed high concentrations of bleach that would never be acceptable during a food inspection. If the government wouldn’t approve using so much bleach on restaurant counter tops, why would I use it at home? Using white vinegar is a great alternative.
2. Multi-purpose soap
In my search to find a natural dish soap that was gentle on my hands yet still a powerful cleaner, I came across a product that did it all. I use this biodegradable, multi-purpose soap for almost all cleaning needs. In the kitchen, this means washing dishes and cleaning counter tops. In the bathroom, cleaning my sink and tub. Around the house, washing floors and spot-cleaning furniture. In the laundry room, washing clothes and anything else that goes in a washing machine.
As I was thinking about how to find multiple uses for my 3 remaining products, I started thinking about what I was trying to clean. What made it “dirty?” Why does a bathtub become dirty? Advertising led me to believe that it’s “scum” and “grime” and other nonsensical things. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that most of what we view as dirty comes from the oils from our skin. Hair looks dirty because it’s greasy from oil, bathtubs become yellow and sticky from residue and body oils, and clothes smell worn after our oils and sweat build up in them.
Knowing this, to clean my tub was to cut through oil. What was I currently using for dish soap? The multi-purpose soap. This is when things started to make sense. To remove water deposits from my shower liner, I spray it with white vinegar. Now that my shower contains only 4 items, this is all an easy process.
At first, I was hesitant to use an unknown solution on my clothes. Would the color fade? Would the fabric pill and wear more quickly? I was so conditioned to believe that I needed special cleaning and personal care products for everything that I didn’t know what would happen if I used something else. A little experimenting eased my fears. The basics are all that we need.
Laundry detergent is an interesting thing. Nothing smells more like home than freshly baked brownies and a fresh load of laundry. It seems trivial, but it can be hard to disassociate these comforting smells and switch to unscented products.
When I was perusing the fragrant laundry detergent aisle with shelf after shelf of brightly colored bottles, I became curious to know what was in them. I checked labels for my favorite brands, but instead of finding a list of ingredients, I only found warnings to contact a poison control center if accidentally ingested. I’ve since decided to only support products that openly display their contents.
Common laundry detergents are a prime example of why many cleaning agents are wasteful and expensive. Have you ever wondered the difference between detergent geared towards regular versus high-efficiency machines? Concentration is the main difference. HE machines use less water. With less water, the detergent dilutes less. Therefore, companies can sell the same cap ful of detergent that is essentially just a watered-down product of the regular one.
I don’t know, I’ll just use this soap on it and figure it out!
3. Oxygen Cleaner Powder
Right now, I’m using an unscented oxygen cleaning powder that contains sodium percarbonate and sodium carbonate. I buy the store brand from Roundy’s when it’s on sale. I primarily use it as a laundry booster for brightening and deodorizing. (It does not work well in cold water and clumps together. Warm or hot water is highly recommended). It works on both whites and colors. The powdery texture can also serve as a scrubbing agent in the bathtub. Regular baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) will have a similar effect.
I want advice on this blog to be eco-friendly but also to be honest so that others can realistically follow it. My immediate goal was to reduce at least 80% of the toxic or harsh chemicals during cleaning, and I’ve accomplished this!
There are just a couple times when I regress to the dreaded bottle of chlorine bleach. The main reason is to kill mold and mildew that grows in my bathroom. However, I clean frequently enough that this isn’t common. When I do this, I use as little as possible and dilute according to these guidelines.