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Clean with less (monetary) green


My first summer guest, my mom, just arrived, and I wanted to make sure the house was clean and fresh without spending a lot of money. Commercial cleaners have their uses, but they can be expensive and chemical-laden. I do use some (like Comet and Clorox bleach- they clean pretty much everything but windows), but I don’t suggest you shell out all your hard-earned money for cleaning solutions (unless you have a REALLY great coupon).

My three favorite natural, environmentally-sensitive, and non-toxic cleaners are always in my cabinets, and can be used alone or in combination with each other. They are inexpensive, easy to use, and easy to find. Plus, you can eat them. Below is a small sampling of our favorite tips using these items. All work with varying results, but were most assuredly successful for us. They have multitudes of uses (including salad, lemonade, and cake). The amazing food-product cleaners are (drum roll, please)…

Cleaning with Vinegar

I can get a huge container of Heinz white vinegar at our local market for around $6, which means I have cleaners for just pennies a use. It’s economical, and the acidity makes it effective for some sanitizing jobs. Also, the smell goes away when it dries (thank goodness).

A few “don’ts” about vinegar:

  • Don’t use apple cider vinegar, wine vinegar, or rice vinegar to clean. Those other vinegars are sticky (and expensive). My sister found that out the hard way one day when she cleaned the kitchen floor with rice vinegar. My mom walked in and got stuck. Oops.
  • Don’t use it on wood floors or any wood with varnish or wax. The acid will strip the finish.
  • Don’t use it on marble. Vinegar will damage and discolor it.

And now for what you CAN clean with vinegar:

Windows. Add ¼ cup vinegar to 2 cups of water. Pour into a spray bottle (make sure you label it). Shake. Spray on the windows, wipe well with a sponge or cloth, and dry with paper towels or a microfiber cloth. For extra cleaning power, add up to ½ teaspoon of dish soap to the mixture, but be sure to wipe well. I used the method with soap at first, but now I just use plain vinegar and water.

The microwave. Got baked-on food? Mix ½ cup vinegar and ½ cup water in a microwave safe bowl. Heat to a boil in the micro and then let it sit inside for about a half hour. Food particles should be easy to remove. You can also do this with plain water, but the vinegar seems to add some power, plus it will take away food odors (though hot vinegar odor CAN be strong).

Drains and garbage disposals. Remember making a volcano out of a cup and some modeling clay, and you combined vinegar, baking soda, and red food dye for the lava? This is JUST LIKE THAT, but not red (er, hopefully, anyway). It’s as fun, though. To clear drain clogs, pour ½ to 1 cup of baking soda into the drain and follow with 1 cup of vinegar. It will bubble like mad! You’ll probably see some pretty grim looking stuff bubble up out of the drain as well. Let the mixture sit for about 20 minutes, then pour a kettle full of boiling water down the drain. Repeat if necessary. For cleaning the garbage disposal, use ½ cup of each or less. If you do this every few months, it will keep the drains fairly clear. We had a shower clog so bad that even liquid plumber (3 bottles!) didn’t help, but the baking soda/vinegar combo worked like a charm!

Some other uses:

  • Clean the fridge with a half vinegar, half water solution.
  • Use a cup of it as a dishwasher rinse to keep glassware from clouding
  • Get rid of lime scale: Teapots- add 1/2 cup to the water. Let it sit overnight, or boil it for faster action. Coffeemakers- run a half-pot of vinegar several times (re-using) at full strength to clean.
  • Remove stains from cups by rubbing gently with salt (or baking soda) and vinegar.
  • Clean shower doors/ toilets/ faucets with full-strength vinegar to get rid of hard-water deposits.

Cleaning with Baking Soda

Any baking soda is fine. Honestly, the cheaper the better for cleaning.

Deodorize your fridge. Just put in an open box and change periodically. Gets rid of those nasty food smells (like whatever my hubby brought home for dinner last night- yuck!). It works for your freezer as well, just in case you, say, ever froze an “adult drink”, forgot about it, and had a minor explosion…

Deodorize a cat litter box. Pour baking soda in the pan before you add cat litter. The box will be fresher longer, although your cat may leave white footprints for a day or so. Makes them easier to track, anyway.

Deodorize carpet. Sprinkle over the carpet and rake in. Let it sit for about 30 minutes and then vacuum up.

Scrub pans. Sprinkle it on damp crusty pans and let it sit for 5 minutes. Scrub off.

Freshen laundry. Toss in a half-cup to eliminate odors in the washer load. Sometimes I add a half cup of vinegar as well for extra cleaning power (and the volcano effect!).

Clean and whiten sinks or tubs. It’s a mild abrasive. Make a thick paste with baking soda and lemon juice. Use a sponge to gently scrub surfaces with it. Rinse well. Super clean, and fresh lemony scent. I did this last night. My kitchen smells DELICIOUS.

Find more tips to clean with baking soda on Arm and Hammer’s website

Cleaning with Lemons

When using lemons to clean, I recommend getting them from a friend with a tree. Lemons at the grocery store can be spendy, and backyard lemons are FREE. And after you’re done cleaning, you can make lemonade.

A few “don’ts” about lemons:

  • Don’t use lemons on brass-plated items.
  • Do not use on silk

Use lemons to:  

Bleach your hair. Ok, it’s not home cleaning, but it works. Just streak pure lemon juice onto your hair where you want highlights. Go out in the sun (a beach day is perfect). When you get back, wash it out. Natural highlights, plus your hair smells fantastic.

Scrub stains out of Tupperware. Use lemon juice and baking soda to make a paste, apply to a sponge and scrub. Or, use a half-lemon and sprinkle the baking soda directly on it. For me, it worked better with the sponge.

Bleach white clothing. Add ½ cup juice to 1 gallon very hot water to soak clothes as long as over night, and then just put the clothes and solution into the wash and launder. Remember, no silk items!

Clean cutting boards- use lemon juice or a half lemon. If using a fresh lemon, use the lemon half like a scrubber. If using juice, use a sponge. Add baking soda or salt for a more abrasive cleaner.

Clean the microwave. Same as with vinegar, but use lemon juice with the water instead, and, it smells better…much, much better.

Shine copper. To clean copper (like copper bottom pans)- cut a lemon in half (sprinkle with salt if desired). Rub the lemon on the copper until the tarnish is removed. You may go through a couple lemons (and salt). When done, rinse and then buff to a shine.

Clean food smells. Hands smell like onions? Rub a lemon on them, It gets rid of food odors on skin (and everything else!)

Make Lemon Drop Martinis. It won’t clean anything, but it might make your cleaning more fun.

While I use commercial cleaners for really tough jobs, I’d rather go natural on a daily basis. It’s healthier, more economical, and greener, for way less green! You’ll have more to spend on all those other fun summer pursuits, too, like hanging out with friends, buying overpriced coffee, and getting those gorgeous summer wedges you’ve had your eye on.

Happy cleaning!

p.s. After using these items for cleaning, even my sponge was happy.

Originally published on July 13, 2012. Last Updated on September 14, 2014 by Pattie Cordova



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