For all of us who are aware of the harmful affects of conventional household cleaning agents, and who are dismayed at the presence of toxic chemicals in everything from dish soap to baby wipes, there comes a day when we go on a deadly rampage through the house, mercilessly gutting it of all the bleach, ammonia and sulfate laden products. Perhaps that day has already come and gone for you. If so, congratulations. But if you haven’t declared war on your cleaning supplies yet, and you feel the time is approaching, here is a brief guide that will help you strategize. What should you replace those foul cleaning products with? And what are the MUST-HAVE items for a clean, green home? Read on to find out.
1. Baking Soda- I know, I know, I’ve got a thing for baking soda. I probably mention it in over half of the posts on this blog. But there’s a reason for that! It’s awesome. Not only is baking soda completely non-toxic, it’s also great for scrubbing, scouring, stain removing, deodorizing, unclogging a drain (with vinegar), and more. Plus it’s so cheap! I think everyone should just go out and spend $20 on baking soda right now. That much baking soda will last you a couple of years, at least. That way if the zombie apocalypse comes, at least your house will be clean.
2. White Vinegar- Ditto everything I said about baking soda, above. Vinegar works well for washing windows, decontaminating germ-y surfaces, cleaning faucets and fixtures, fighting mold and mildew in the shower, and more.
3. Essential Oils- A well-stocked apothecary of essential oils can help you maintain health and good smells in your home, without resorting to the toxic chemical cocktails sold on the market as “air fresheners” and “antibacterial sprays”. Lemon and tea tree oils are great for cleaning. Try lavender, peppermint or rosemary for making the house smell fresh. Experiment with mixing different varieties!
4. The Rag Bag- When I was a kid, my grandma had one set of fancy dish towels that she replaced once a year. These usually had pretty embroidery on them and were hung on the oven handle when company came to call. But for regular, every day cleaning? There was the rag bag. Both economical and sustainable, the rag bag was actually an old feed sack and was stuffed with all kinds of cloths. Pieces of worn denim and holey t-shirts, squares cut from old towels, and the remnants of each year’s fancy dish towels. For every cleaning task that arose, there was a specific type of rag. She didn’t have to worry about messing up her fancy company towels with yucky spills, and she saved a lot of money on cleaning supplies. These days there are tons of different kinds of cleaning cloths on the market, with different qualities for different types of jobs. And some of them (like my microfiber cloths) I can’t do without. But I still keep a rag bag, just like my Grandma did.
5. Squeegee- This snazzy little tool is a must-have for window cleaning. It’s also a good idea to keep one in your shower (some of them have suction cups so you can attach them to the shower wall). Just squeegee down the shower before you get out to prevent mold and mildew growth. You can also use it on mirrors, appliance fronts, and of course, your car windows.
6. Arm Length Rubber Gloves- Even in the green home, some cleaning jobs are just too gross to do with your bare hands. Like getting those hairballs out of the bathtub drain—ick. I’m shuddering just thinking about it. For tasks like these, regular old dishwashing gloves aren’t going to cut it. You need the rubber glove equivalent of overalls.
7. Scrub Brush- It seems like a no-brainer, but this tip bears repeating. A good scrub brush is a necessity for cleaning stubborn stains on tile and vinyl. It’s also a wonderful laundry aid for tough fabrics like denim and canvas. And it can’t be beat for the dreaded annual under-the-oven and behind-the-refrigerator cleaning. (You are cleaning under and behind your appliances at least once a year, right? If not, now’s a great time to start!) Most every veteran homeowner has a scrub brush or two, but you’d be surprised how many college students and newly weds have forgotten to check this item off their lists. The really great thing about scrub brushes is they last FOREVER. Another thing you’ll be glad you purchased when the zombie apocalypse happens.
8. Nylon Pan Scraper- THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER INVENTED. Problem: your nonstick pan was in the dishwasher, so you used that OTHER pan to fry your morning eggs. And the egg sticks. Of course it does! And no amount of soaking in hot water or scrubbing will remove the residue. Solution: Grab one of these babies and scrape. In mere seconds, all of the crusted egginess will have disappeared. It works on cast iron, stainless steel, ceramic… pretty much anything.
9. Borax Powder- Here’s another time tested cleaning aid from Grandma’s pantry. Borax powder is great for laundry and floors. It does a great job cleaning the gunk out of coffee makers. It’s toilet bowl scum’s worst enemy, and it deters mice and insects. (NOTE: Borax powder is not safe around dogs, so don’t leave piles of it lying around where they can sniff at it. It can also be harmful to some plants, so don’t use it in your laundry if you have a graywater system that waters your landscaping.)
Good luck, soldier.