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Cleaning Solutions – Cheap and Green

Copyright Kristin LeMoine

I love the word cheap. Oh I know it has the feel of being bad quality, but in this case I’m talking quality cleaning products that are very very low cost. In fact, for the truly destitute (or just frugal by choice) you can get by with just 2 very inexpensive ingredients and a little water. There’s a whole world of marketing and business out there trying to convince you to spend your money on their cleaning products and tools. There are so many specific cleaning products for specific cleaning jobs, it’s no wonder people go crazy for coupons to cut their costs in this area. I am here to tell you that this is all unnecessary. Just stick to vinegar and baking soda.

Fighting Germs and Bacteria

There are some pretty heavy duty cleaners out there with ingredients meant to kill 99.9% of germs using all sorts of chemicals and/or bleach. The problem with these cleaners is that we don’t know what kind of residue is left behind. How much of these toxins are getting into our system on a day to day basis? It’s a choice between allowing some bacteria to remain in your environment, or allowing an exposure to harmful chemicals and toxins that don’t always easily flush out of your system. Another concern is the leeching of these toxins into the environment through our septic systems and waterways. This is harmful to the environment, as well as ourselves as the chemicals cycle back through the water system.

More and more scientists are learning about the beneficial bacteria in our world, and how they affect the the way our bodies function. When you kill 99.9% of the bacteria on a surface, there is no exception for helpful bacteria. There is no way to just target the harmful bacteria. Rather than wipe our living areas of bacteria, we can use techniques such as proper food handling and cooking, and hand washing to minimize our exposure to harmful organisms. There are times when sterilization is appropriate and necessary, but the rest of the time – most of the time – just good old clean should be good enough.

“Green” and “Safe” Cleaners

There are many products on the market that announce themselves as “green” or “safe”, and I’m not ruling these out as a possibility. The difficult thing about these products is that we need to operate on a certain level of trust that these claims are true, because there isn’t really any regulating body to determine what exactly these terms mean. Alternately, we would need to do a lot of research to determine what these companies mean by “green” or “safe” and if that matches our own definition of these terms. Making this even more difficult, not all companies are up front and honest about their ingredient lists. Take a look at ingredient lists (if there even is one!) the next time you go browsing through cleaning products, and have a gander at the warning labels as well.

There are honest companies producing safe products out there. However, if we’re trying to cut down on our budget then water, vinegar, and baking soda really are the way to go. You can get each of these ingredients in bulk: the vinegar in large gallon containers, and the baking soda in big bulk boxes. This cuts your costs even more.

The Hows

  1. All Purpose Cleaner – Fill a spray bottle with 1/2 cup vinegar (don’t stress about exact measurements) and the rest water. You can find nice heavy duty spray bottles at most department stores, but re-use what you have if you can. An optional step is to add 5-10 drops of anti-microbial essential oils. Some possibilities are tea tree oil, lemon oil, or thyme oil. These also have the benefit of making things smell nice. OK they don’t smell so nice with the tea tree oil, but that’s my own personal opinion. Need something more strongly anti-bacterial? Work with straight up vinegar.
  2. Sure the smell of vinegar can be strong for some, but the smell dissipates as soon as the vinegar evaporates. I happen to love the smell of vinegar. And hey, the fumes aren’t toxic like in some cleaners!

  3. Scrubbing Paste – For bathroom sinks and tubs I mix a little bit of water in some baking soda to make a paste. I generally use about 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of baking soda to clean the whole bath tub, and just sprinkle in the water until it looks to be a good consistency. You’re looking for something nice and thick like damp sand. Add a few drops of liquid soap for a little extra help if you’d like.

    I’ve found that using this paste, and a stiff bristled brush, you can also get most stains out of cheap laminate countertops. Just give it a few minutes of scrubbing, and you should see a big difference. It will also get rid of many greasy stains such as can get on your cupboards or stove hood.

  4. Cast-Iron Cleaner – I use dried baking soda sprinkled onto my cast-iron to clean off bits of food and extra oil, without stripping it of that nice seasoning we all like on these wonderful kitchen tools. Just give it a good scrub with your sturdy brush, and spray or rinse with some hot water to clean. Dry your cast-iron and wipe it lightly with oil.
  5. Fabric Softener and Laundry Rinse – I don’t use dryer sheets, and I use a natural homemade laundry soap. After a while I found that sometimes my clothes would come out of the dryer smelling a little musty. They smelled like nothing out of the washer, so I knew they were clean. Adding 1/4-1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle of my wash has gone a long way towards removing this odor, especially on my towels. I also like to add an anti-microbial and nice smelling essential oil. The vinegar will also help rinse out excess laundry detergent or soap from your fabrics.
  6. As a side note, consider cutting down on the amount of detergent you use. The companies who make these products are notorious for over-estimating the amount of detergent needed to get your clothes clean. You can generally cut down by about half, and still get nicely clean clothes. Experiment and see what works for you.

    These are just a few of the ways that I’ve used these two versatile ingredients in my cleaning endeavors. There are lots more, but I think this is a good start. There may be a few other products you will want to keep on hand for specialty jobs (like stain removal, mold clean-up, etc) but the bulk of my cleaning is done with vinegar, and baking soda.

    What’s so green about this stuff anyway?

    Nothing is perfect in the world of eco-consciousness. Your vinegar and baking soda have likely caused the production of lots of carbon dioxide emissions on their way to your cupboards. This is true of anything you don’t make yourself from plant sources, or find from local producers. However, these products are not going to come back to haunt you in the soil and waterways like other commercial cleaning products will. You can buy them in bulk and reduce your packaging. It takes a while to go through a whole gallon jug of vinegar, or box of baking soda. It’s a small step in reducing your harmful impact on the environment, but a small step is better than doing nothing.

    Written on November 2, 2013 by Kristin (Yankee Girl).

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