Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Spring Cleaning: Do It Cheap, Do It Green

Forget Me NotsImage by WOBBLYMOL (a bit better and stopped sulking) via Flickr

I have some old friends from back home visiting this week, and in an attempt to make my house less of a train wreck (not that they would really care either way), went on a mad cleaning spree Friday morning. So, in honor of spring and Earth Day (every day!), I'm going to share some cheap, green cleaning methods and recipes.

Don't think you need to use organic cleaners? Read the "Why Clean Green?" section after the recipes.

For laundry:
  • Fabric softener (makes enough for 8 loads):
    1/2 cup baking soda
    1/2 cup white vinegar
    1 cup water

    Slowly and carefully mix baking soda and vinegar over a sink. Add water and mix well. Pour into a jar or bottle with a lid. Use 1/4 cup per load.

  • Stain remover
    1/8 cup baking soda
    2 teaspoons water

    Mix into a thin paste and apply directly to the stain. Let sit a minute or two and then scrub with an old toothbrush. Add a dash of lemon juice or hydrogen peroxide for extra whitening power; these work especially well on sweat stains (white clothing only).

For windows:
  • Spray window cleaner (makes 64 oz.)
    1/2 gallon of water
    1/8 cup white vinegar
    1/2 teaspoon of organic liquid dish soap (optional)

    Combine and pour into spray bottles.

For general nonporous surfaces:
  • Disinfectant surface cleaner
    2 cups water
    2 cups white vinegar

    Mix in a spray bottle. Wipe on with a cloth or scrubby sponge. No rinsing necessary.

  • Powdered abrasive cleaner (use in place of Comet, etc.):
    1 cup baking soda
    1 cup salt (optional, gives extra scouring power)

    Stir or shake to mix well. Sprinkle on sponge or directly onto surface. Store in a jar or shaker.

  • Liquid/paste abrasive cleaner (use in place of Soft Scrub, etc.):
    1 cup baking soda
    1/4 cup water

    Mix into a paste. Apply to surface. Let sit a few minutes for tough stains. Wipe and rinse. Store in an old Soft Scrub or dish soap bottle.

For carpet:
  • Homemade Carpet Deodorizer
    1 cup baking soda
    a drop or two of your favorite essential oil (optional)

    Mix well and sprinkle onto carpet or rug. Let set for 30-60 minutes. Vacuum.

For the air: (OK, so air fresheners aren't exactly cleaners. Whatever.)
  • Spray Air Freshener
    1 tablespoon baking soda

    1 tablespoon white vinegar

    2 cups of hot water

    a drop or two of your favorite essential oil (optional)

    Pour into a spritzer (old hairspray bottles are good) and begin banishing odors. Even though it won't hurt you, I'd still advise not to inhaling it. It'll taste really unpleasant. Not that I'd know, of course....

For walls and other painted surfaces:
  • Crayon, pencil, marker, and scuff remover
    baking soda

    Sprinkle onto a damp cloth, scrub, and rinse.

For bathroom sink/tub:
  • Rust stain remover:
    cream of tarter

    Mix into a thick paste and spread onto rusty surface. Let sit for 20 minutes. Rinse.

For toilets:
  • Toilet bowl cleaner and disinfectant:
    3 cups white vinegar
    3 tablespoons baking soda

    Pour into bowl and let sit overnight (or at least a couple of hours). Sprinkle a liberal amount of baking soda on a toilet brush, scrub any remaining spots, and flush.

For wood:
  • Furniture/wood polish:
    1 cup olive oil
    1/3 cup white vinegar or lemon juice

    Wipe on with a clean, soft rag. combining three parts olive oil with one part vinegar or lemon juice. Just wipe on with a soft cloth.

More Tips:
  • For cloths to apply cleaners, rip up an old towel or t-shirt.

  • Save the bottles (especially spray bottles) of your old store-bought cleaners to reuse. Just remember to re-label them. Paper covered with clear packing tape works well.

  • Save empty powdered Parmesan cheese or cornstarch containers to use as shakers.

  • Use old newspaper instead of paper towels or rags on windows and other glass. It sounds weird, I know, but it works and doesn't leave streaks. Plus, you're recycling and not wasting resources/money by using up paper towels.

  • Since many of these recipes call for white vinegar and baking soda, buy them in bulk to save even more money.

  • Use a halved lemon as a scrubber. The citric acid works to help remove stains and cut grease, especially on aluminum and porcelain.

  • To help unclog a slow drain, pour in a fizzy combo of baking soda and vinegar and let sit for 1 hour. Pour 4 cups very hot water down drain to rinse.

  • To get rid of winter salt stains on boots or shoes, dampen a rag with vinegar and wipe clean.

  • To remove coffee or tea stains from your favorite mug or teakettle, pour a little vinegar into it, swish it around and wipe with a damp cloth. Wash as usual.

  • Similarly, to clean a coffeemaker, combine 2 cups of vinegar and 2 cups of water in the pot, swirl, and pour into the coffeemaker and run it. Repeat with plain water for 3 or 4 brews/cycles.

Why clean green?
Because the alternative is downright dangerous. Most store-bought cleaning products and air fresheners contain toxic chemicals which can cause respiratory and other health problems (e.g. dizziness, nausea, allergic reactions, eye or skin irritations, birth defects, psychological disorders, cancer) over the long run, especially in children or the elderly. Many of these chemical toxins stay in our bodies for years, stored in fat cells.1 Exposure to airborne toxins from household cleaners is also thought to be responsible for a large percentage of asthma cases, especially in women and children, those who traditionally spend more time in the house. In one decade, asthma cases have increased 29% in men and 82% in women; the higher rate for women is believed to be due to women's longer exposure times to household chemicals.2 And according to an Environmental Protection Agency report from 1985, the toxic chemicals in household cleaners are three times more likely to cause cancer than air pollution. And that was more than twenty years ago. Think of how many new chemical compounds have been introduced into the market and our homes since then.

[1] 1997-2002 Health & Environment Resource Center

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Vital and Health Statistics, Current Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, 1994 (US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Center for Health Statistics); DHHS Publication No. PHS 96-1521; December 1995.

For more information about the safety of chemicals in household products, see:
What's In This Stuff?: The Hidden Toxins in Everyday Products - and What You Can Do About Them by Patricia Thomas
How Everyday Products Make People Sick: Toxins at Home and in the Workplace by Paul D. Blanc, M.D.

Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power by Mark Schapiro

Update: Thanks to Focus Organic for including this post in the All Things Eco Blog Carnival. It's also included in the Festival of Frugality and the Money Hacks Carnival.

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Aice Nice Concepts said...

oh wow amazing this post is very informative I will try all of these remedies (^_^) specially the disinfectant I never knew baking soda is very powerful!
thank you for these information

SavingDiva said...

Excellent list! Before I purchase a new cleaning product, I'll think twice :)

RecycleCindy said...

Lots of wonderful recipes for eco-friendly cleaning supplies! I stumbled and reviewed your post. Hope it spreads the word on these diy eco, green products.

Wren Caulfield said...

Thanks, Cindy!!

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