PART ONE: ADVANCED DE-GREASE
You may think that because I chose to “work at home” I must love to clean. Not so! I keep things mostly de-cluttered. I wash my dishes once or twice a day. I wipe down work surfaces and table surfaces and bathroom surfaces. The kitchen floor gets swept. However, when it comes to the down and dirty cleaning jobs, I balk. The bathtub gets soap scummy. The refrigerator is not pristine. The stove rarely gets an application of Easy Off Oven Cleaner. I vacuum the sofa once in awhile, but it probably should be done every day on account of the dog hairs. I don’t even want to talk about my windows.
So, when the online mom’s group in which I’m involved began featuring daily cleaning tips, my conscience started nagging at me that maybe, perhaps, I might want to think about the kitchen cupboards. More specifically, the tops of the kitchen cupboards where I store my bean pot, large ceramic bowls, and a pancake warmer. Above eye level, the cupboards often fall victim to the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon. I have to stand on a chair and climb up onto the kitchen counters in order to see up there. Still, I knew those cupboard tops must be looking rather nasty.
“Fine. Okay. I’ll do it,” I grudgingly agreed to my inner Mrs. Clean who had also, by the way, encouraged me to pick up a book about environmentally-safe cleaning products–what you can purchase as well as how to make your own–a year or so ago from One Earth Natural Food Store in Shapleigh. The book is entitled CLEAN & GREEN: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO NONTOXIC AND ENVIRONMENTALLY SAFE HOUSEKEEPING by Annie Berhold-Bond and published by Ceres Press in Woodstock, NY. Click on the link to zip over to Annie’s website where there are more books and ideas.
CLEAN AND GREEN begins with a list of commonly-used commercial cleaning products and why they are bad for us and the environment. For example, all purpose cleaners can contain phosphates, chlorine, bleach, kerosene, petroleum products, solvents, EDTA, and naptha. These chemicals can be toxic or harmful to the following: fat cells, mother’s milk, liver and kidneys, and the central nervous system. Environmentally, some of the ingredients are considered hazardous waste, cause algae bloom, form DDT which affects wildlife, activate metals in lakes, are nonrenewable resources, and contaminate the air and water. (page 7.) When we purchase these cleaning products, we are also supporting an industry that pollutes during production.
“As to the environment, one of the bleakest trips that you can take is to ride the train from New York City to Washington, D.C. The train winds through the murkiest, muckiest, most discolored earth you could imagine. The tracks are lined with refineries and smokestacks. The manufacturers causing this devastation are producing products that we use at home: paints, furniture polish, laundry soap. What we throw away of these products goes into our landfills, and from there it can leach into our water. The same goes for what we wash down the drain.” (page 3.)
I decided to try one of her all-purpose cleaner recipes for the cupboards and the kitchen walls. I didn’t have any washing soda (my local market doesn’t carry it. I may have to bring a list of my desires to the owner. I really, really need my Green Mountain Pumpkin Spice Coffee in the fall . . . ) so I went with the Plain And Simple spray cleaner recipe which uses borax, distilled white vinegar and hot water. I was able to find borax and vinegar at the local market. A spray bottle from my fabulous local hardware store (they always have everything. It’s amazing!) was not very expensive. I’ve been cutting up old towels and tee-shirts for rags, so I had plenty on hand. I mixed up my cleaner and set to work on the grease, wondering: would this cleaner cut it?
The area above my cupboards was covered with a disgusting film of cooking grease, dust, and the desiccated bodies of insects. (Okay, only a few dead insect bodies, but still!) The cleaner loosened the film on the first application, and I was able to wipe the surfaces squeaky clean on the second. The rags, needless to say, were filthy when I was finished and hour or so later. I even sprayed down the painted walls above and below the cupboards, and I think the borax really brightened them up. I washed bean pot and bowls and the pancake warmer in the sink and hoisted them back into place. Stepping back, I surveyed my work. I saw that it was good. There you go, Mrs. Clean. Don’t say I never did anything for you. (Have I mentioned how working alone at home can lead to imaginary conversations with your inner muses? This time I can’t even blame it on the toxic chemical cleaners.)
A few days later, I took one of Annie’s suggestions from the book and mixed up a fresh batch of cleaner including a half a cup or so of herbal tea that I steeped for a couple hours. I also pounded up some lemon zest and sage leaves, put the mixture in a small jar, covered it with walnut oil, and set it on my windowsill where it should turn into a nice essential oil in a couple of weeks. Adding the liquid from a vitamin E capsule is supposed to help it stay fresh. I’m hoping these nice scents added to homemade cleaning products will inspire me to better housekeeping. You never know, it just might work.
Tune in next week to read about my next experiment with homemade cleaning products. I suspect that not only will these natural cleaners be safer for my family and the environment, but also they may be cheaper in the long run. I’ll try to compute the costs for Part Two: Ring around the Bathtub.