Friday, July 24, 2009

Better Basics for Your Abode

Have you noticed that everywhere you look these days you see little tidbits on how to save money? If you read the newspaper, scroll the web, or watch the news, it appears that most of the country is just waking up, due to the recession, to the fact that not every purchase needs to be spontaneous, "convenient", and costly. There are cheaper ways to eat, clothe your family, have fun, and even clean your home.
Of course, we one-income-family homemakers have always known that.
But a little review never hurts!

Today let's talk about some basic -VERY basic - supplies you can stock in your cleaning cabinet, that are cheap, multi-purpose, and probably better for your family's well-being and the planet's health than the toxic one-job chemicals most folks buy. Why keep 20 bottles of expensive cleaning solutions in your home when just a few will do?

Baking Soda  This is not just for fridges anymore, Bootcampers! It works great as a non-abrasive powder cleanser on countertops and ovens, sinks and tubs. Add some to your laundry load to get rid of summer stink! It even rids carpets of that wet-dog  (or wet-kid) smell - just sprinkle a little on, let it sit for a bit, and vacuum it up.

Want a little more oomph in a ready-made version? Try Bon Ami, which contains no chlorine, perfume, or dyes. It contains feldspar and calcite, and will not scratch. You can even use it on those delicate glass-top stoves instead of the expensive creams they say you need.

Badly stained porcelain sinks or tubs? Bar Keeper's Friend is inexpensive, and can be used on almost any surface. It's made from oxalic acid, which is derived from rhubarb, so it's non-toxic and biodegradeable.

Salt Yes, salt. Team it up with baking soda, and it is a wonderful abrasive that adds more power to your elbow grease. It's perfect for scouring pots and scrubbing Sharpie stains off the kitchen table. Ask me how I know.

Washing Soda  Also known as sodium carbonate, washing soda is a caustic cleaner that is far safer than other solvents. (It's still recommended that you wear gloves while using it, though!) It cuts grease, gets stains out of clothing, whitens whites, brightens brights, and neutralizes odors. You can find washing soda in the laundry aisle of your grocery or big-box store.

Lemon Juice  The acid in lemon juice neutralizes hard water deposits, dissolves greasy fingerprints and dirt buildup on wood, and cleans silver as well as commercial silver cleaner. (For really dirty silver, make a paste of baking soda and lemon juice, scrub, and rinse well.)

White vinegar  White vinegar is the mother of all multi-purpose cleaning products, and can be used in place of lemon juice. The great news: It's dirt-cheap. The even greater news: It can be used safely in every room of your house. Use it in place of toxic ammonia-based cleaners (like Windex) to clean glass and mirrors.(Just combine 1/4 cup undiluted white vinegar, 1 tbsp cornstarch, and 1 quart warm water. Divide into spray bottles.)
Use vinegar as a degreaser on counters and table-tops. Mix vinegar and baking soda in your toilet for a fizzy bowl-cleaning extravaganza. (Remember those fun papier-mache volcanoes from grade school? Same concept, sans the red dye.) You can even use it as a simple mop solution for hard-wood floors, when something stronger isn't necessary. The infamous strong smell dissipates as the vinegar dries, but if you can't stand the smell, or like your cleaning supplies to smell, well, good, consider adding...


Grapefruit seed extract or essential oils such as lavender, clove, and tea tree oil. Not only do they smell good, but they have antiseptic properties and operate as natural fungicides (These products hush that little germophobe in you...you know he's there!)
They work great by themselves (diluted in water) as well. To keep mold at bay in the shower, add 1 or 2 teaspoons of essential oil to 2 cups of water in a spray bottle, or 20 drops of grapefruit seed extract to 1 quart of water.

Still prefer something without vinegar?

Liquid Organic Soap Concentrate (natural biodegradable castile soap), such as that from Dr. Bronner's or Ballard Organics, can be diluted as needed and used to clean EVERYTHING. We use it on counters, walls, dirty tile and hardwood floors, mirrors, dishes, hands, bodies, and even the baby's hair. Sure, it's more expensive than vinegar, but it takes only a tablespoonful, diluted in one quart of warm water, to clean our house for a week or more.(Use more to clean your home, less to clean your family.) Because it is organic and non-toxic, I trust my children, as young as four-years old, to use it unsupervised in their cleaning chores (after training, of course.) By the way, the bar form of these soaps are great for use in the bathtub, as stain removers, and to grate into homemade laundry soap. (Recipes coming on a future Laundry Day post!)

These concentrates come in a host of yummy scents, such as lavender, orange, grapefruit, lemongrass, peppermint, tangerine, almond and tea tree. Your home will smell delicious!

"This is too much!" you say. Actually, it's really quite simple. Just buy a few spray bottles (or better yet, clean well and re-use the bottles from supplies you already have as you use them up), create your solutions, LABEL THEM CLEARLY, and you're all set. The CLEAR LABELS are especially important in case a child or pet ever ingests the solutions - - in a moment of severe stress you do not want to have to remember your recipe, or worse yet, have another caregiver assume that the Windex bottle is filled with Windex when it is really just white vinegar.

So the next time your run out of Lysol or Mr. Clean, don't run to Stuff-Mart - - Run to your pantry and clean the cheap, safe, and natural way!

Looking for more great recipes? Look for Natural Cleaning for Your Home by Casey Kellar and Better Basics for the Home by Annie Berthold-Bond at your local library.


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1 comment:

Carla said...

I love cleaning this way and would not go back to toxic cleaners ever! I did need to give my kids a few lessons in tact when helping at the church building. "Oh, mom, they use poison here!" doesn't go over very well with the older ladies at church. {blush}