Monday, May 14, 2012

Clean and green without the mean...

One of the things that has always bothered me is the vast number of cleaning supplies available is the stores. Most of them are produced using known toxins or at the least questionable ingredients and the ones which don't are usually prohibitively expensive and are often wasteful of plastic in their packaging. I am cheap but I am a little bit of a neatnik and I worry about the excessive use of single use plastics (more on that tomorrow). I make my own cheap, green and low-pact cleaners. It's actually pretty easy. See, here is part of my secret: I am also a little lazy. I am not about to spend hours and hours prepping careful concoctions in my kitchen so I can clean it. If it is difficult to make, I won't make it and then there will be cleaning to do and no product to clean with. Been there, done that. So how do I keep a trim and tidy home without chemicals or a lot of work? Here's how:

First of all, there are a handful products to clean every single item in my whole house. That might seem like a lot, but really that is all I ever buy. Only one makes me feel guilty and I am planning on switching that one up.
  • Dr. Bronner's liquid soap (I love almond, the girls prefer lavender and my husband and boys like peppermint so naturally I have all three)
  • Baking soda (when I need some grit to things clean)
  • Environmentally safe dish washing liquid (Tropical Traditions is on sale HERE and Costco is good, too, I buy whatever is cheaper when I need it)
  • Rot gut vodka (which is not a brand, just a descriptive reference for the cheapest one on earth)
  • Country Save detergent (for clothes and diapers)
  • Oxy-bleach (use one without additives like Country Save's version, my favorite, or Topical Traditions HERE)
  • Dish-washing detergent (I use an icky one now but had bad luck with homemade recipes so I just ordered the Tropical Traditions one HERE and I hope it works better!)
  • Hydrogen peroxide (I have been dipping cotton swabs in this to touch small areas of mildew in the master bath and it is fantastic, degrades into water and is cheap to boot)
  • Food grade mineral oil (found in the pharmacy section and used for cutting boards, bamboo utensils, butcher block and stainless steel)
What do you not see in my cleaning ingredients list? Vinegar. I am so over all the stupid posts on the internet about the things you can clean with vinegar. Your house will smell strangely pee-like, everything will be smeary, there will still be grime and a massive number of fingerprints all over the stainless steel.Vinegar is not a surfactant, it leaves the dirt there. Do not clean with vinegar! It may be cheap, it may be green, but if your house looks and smells like a dirty-hippy you are not doing yourself any favors. As for the tools I use, they are pretty basic and simple and, with two exceptions, cheaply found anywhere:
  • Sponge mop
  • Spray bottle
  • Pot scraper (small plastic tool that is like a flat square)
  • Broom, whisk broom, dustpan
  • Dust mop
  • Small area carpet cleaning machine (no idea what brand, it was on sale somewhere)
  • Vacuum cleaner
My recipes are idiot easy and all found HERE (includes personal care recipes) and my methods follow:

For Windows, glass and chrome: I use straight up vodka for small areas. Just turn over the bottle and get a little on the cloth and wipe well with a lint free cloth (like an old diaper or athletic sock). If there is a lot of tooth paste on the bathroom mirror, you will need to wash it with water first. Doing all the windows? Use a spray bottle of water with a single drop of dish soap.

For floors: for the hard wood and tile, I sweep with the broom and then the dust mop before I spray it lightly with the all purpose spray and mop. I rinse the mop in the kitchen sink and go over it once more.  I am not going to spend money on an electric mop with a spray trigger when a spray bottle works well for barely any more effort. For the carpets, I vacuum regularly and spot clean using the general cleaning spray and a rag but have a small area machine for bigger problems on the carpet and on the upholstery. I do not buy toxic cleaners but use my general cleaning spray when I use the carpet machine. And by I, I mean my minions.

For counters, stove, appliances: I use my general cleaning spray and the fast evaporation of the vodka prevents some smears. If you have a lot of the finger-print type stainless steel appliances, do not believe the ridiculous lies about vinegar. Get a small cloth, barely dampened with mineral oil, and wipe it down once you have cleaned it. That will prevent finger prints. For real. Not dirty-hippy style. Hint: I use mineral oil on my wooden counter on my kitchen cart and on my bamboo cutting boards and spoons every week. Then, I use that cloth on the stainless steel.

Stubborn stove spills and pots and pans: For freaky difficult areas on the stove or on cast iron, first scrape what you can out with a scraper or a pancake turner and then cut a lemon in half and sprinkle liberally with baking soda and use it to scrub. Smells good, works great and you can use some lemons that are getting hard and nasty in the basket. Compost it when you are done. Then you can wash the area with a sponge or rag and diluted dish soap. If you have a nasty stainless steel or enameled pot or pan, while you are eating, put on the stove filled with water and some oxy-bleach and leave it on the lowest heat. When you are done with supper and ready to wash up, you can dump it down the drain, let the pot cool, and it will wash out easily. If you are not cooking with aluminum, you can put in warm water and oxy-bleach and let it sit overnight. It will react with and weaken aluminum, but you aren't using it anyway, right? This works especially well with eggs. You soak a cloth in this solution and lay it over the bad areas of a baking sheet to get the same effect.

Washing the car: when you wash your car, whatever chemicals you use go right into the storm drain and can contaminate your local water supply. Try using diluted Dr. Bronner's soap, you can usually find the peppermint in half and whole gallons at health food stores. It really will clean the car, it will smell good and the folks downstream will thank you.

Furniture polish and sealant for wooden kitchen bowls, butcher blocks, cutting boards: I use straight food grade mineral oil. I don't add essential oils. I don't add vinegar. I am too lazy to make it special. That is okay because plain it still works great, is totally non-toxic, and I can use the same cloth I use on my cutting boards. I live in a dry climate and use these things a lot so I seal them once a week.

Laundry: I do not use special products for the  most part. I hand wash things in Dr. Bronner's and use it for the delicates wash in the machine (yep, but not all the time, it can cause some build up). I wash all but diapers, whites, sheets and kitchen laundry on cold. I never use chlorine bleach and use oxy-bleach  instead. If something is badly stained with an organic stain (like carbon based), I will soak it in oxy-bleach and warm water over night before washing. If it is an inorganic stain, like ink, I soak the area with straight vodka (hair spray works, too, if you use it and I don't). If I get oil based spills on clothes, I squirt some Dr Bronner's from the hand pump by every sink on it, rub it in and, then toss it in the laundry and wash as usual. It usually comes out.

Need more ideas for green living for families? Visit the Healthy Child, Health World Campaign.

Linking up with Monday Mania!


  1. LOVE IT! Thanks for giving me some alternatives to that nasty vinegar. I personally hate the smell of the stuff. I'm a big fan of unscented Bronners + water + essential oils (Rosemary and Lemon for the kitchen, Lavender for the bathrooms). I like the idea of adding vodka to the mix sanitize, I always use white vinegar for that purpose even though I hate the smell.

    For mopping I have the Rubbermaid spray mop, it was a bit of a splurge, on sale for $25. It has a manual trigger and my 3 yo loves to mop with it. Yes, he empties the bottle of solution every time, but the floors are pretty clean when he's done! :)

  2. Sarah Mulholland5/15/2012

    I have found I like vinegar for a fabric softener. And then I have a couple wash clothes with safety pins on them for the dryer and voila, no static cling. I needed a solution for my kiddos sensitive skin. I was shocked that safety pins wold do this.
    I am going to get some dr bronners to try for cleaners. I never cared for vinegar solutions and now I know why! Thank you for the great always!

  3. Sarah Mulholland5/15/2012

    I was visualizing last night getting a weed sprayer (the big ones you pump) and filling it with my cleaning solution to spray down the tubs and showers. I just might be kooky enough to try it!
    If I use the bronners solution, I can use it for everything outdoors as well, patio furniture, vehicles, etc. LOL!

    1. I told my husband about your idea and he thinks you are brilliant! He is going to do it. I will have to let you know how it goes!

  4. I have tried many permutations of homemade dishwasher detergent and never was satisfied either. I just bite the bullet and buy it. I do love my homemade laundry soap though!

    My super easy tip for burned pots and pans- cover the burned area with baking soda. Then add about an inch of water. Boil for a minute or so then let sit until cool. Should come right off!

    1. I have not tried that trick! I am totally going to use that. Teaching kids to cook means some burnt pots. By the way, the tea trick is awesome! Who knew you could mop with tea?

  5. Anonymous5/16/2012

    (sheepishly grinning about having dirty hippie bathrooms)OK, I'm ready to go out and get myself some cheapie vodka. I'm looking at the cleanest stainless steel appliances I've seen since we moved into our home. Thanks for the great tips! And some alternatives to the stinky vinegar bathrooms.

    1. My hubby was so grateful when I stopped cleaning with vinegar! I am so glad that your appliances are so clean! It makes you feel better, doesn't it?

  6. I love my dishwasher soap and liquid from Tropical Traditions! Hope it works for you, too!

  7. Michelle R8/12/2012

    Hi Melissa I love your ideas! I just put together about 6 drops of bonners peppermint soap-3oz vanilla vodka-3.5cups of boiled water into a spray bottle to make a yoga mat spray! It smells delicious and works great !!!

    1. Yoga mat spray, brilliant! I love it!


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