Thursday, February 28, 2008

Non-toxic cleaners

Lately I have noticed a lot of discussion online about non-toxic cleaners. A large part of the rationale for these cleaners is so you can have your little kids help you with the cleaning--not a bad idea. I will put in my two cents because nobody I've seen has yet mentioned the most non-toxic cleaner of all, and one I use ALL THE TIME...

WATER. Yes. You can do a lot of cleaning with no more than water and a cleaning cloth or sponge. I constantly dampen a dishcloth and wipe off kitchen counters and the table and chairs. I also keep a sponge by every bathroom sink and moisten it and wipe down the sink nearly every time I use it (I get stressed out at other people's homes when I wash my hands and drip some water and there is no sponge for me to use to wipe up after myself).

I also got into the habit of just going over the bathroom floor with a damp cloth or paper towel (or even a clump of dampened toilet paper), back in the days when I cleaned the bathroom every night while the kids were bathing. The key is to do it regularly. I used to think I never cleaned, because I rarely made up a bucket of Lysol, put on rubber gloves and took a sponge to the bathroom (like my mom used to do 2-3 times per week). But then I realized that by keeping at things, wiping with water on a daily basis, I am doing just about as good a job with a whole lot less toxins.

Another big one I use all the time: a sink full of hot soapy water, made with... DISH DETERGENT. I wipe all kinds of things with this. I also wash out my dish cloths in this water, rinse them and hang them in a single layer to dry. They can go a long time between washer washings if I do this correctly. I used hot, soapy dishwater to wash toys when my kids were little, and to clean off the highchair. I even used this to wipe down the window behind the high chair on many occasions, and I am still known to take a hot soapy dishcloth to the sliding glass doors in the kitchen. This is also good for wiping off sticky doorknobs and light switches.

I wanted my kids to help with washing the kitchen floor, so I began the method of putting a squirt of dish detergent into a bucket of warm water, giving them a few old rags, and setting them off. It works like a charm (well, to be totally truthful we did have some flooded floors in the early days, depending on who all joined in on this project). You know it has to be non-toxic if you wash your silverware in it, and your silverware goes into your mouth.

Another cleaner that I use a lot is GLASS CLEANER. As soon as I get rid of what I have, I am going to replace it with homemade: 1/3 cup white vinegar, 2/3 cup isopropel rubbing alcohol, and fill to the quart line with water. I use glass cleaner on windows, mirrors, sinks, toilets (the outside of the toilet), faucets, and occasionally tile.

I clean my stove top with BAKING SODA. I sprinkle on the baking soda and rub it around with a dishcloth until clean. Some people like baking soda for cleaning tubs. I have used it, and it is OK, but POWDERED LAUNDRY DETERGENT is better. If you find one that you can wash your clothes in and it doesn't give you a rash, then it should be non-toxic for you to scrub your tub and shower with it. I like the Arm and Hammer brand.

The best way to keep your tub/shower clean, easily, is to get a WATER SOFTENER. I know this because my mom and dad had one. Their house is over 40 years old, and the tub is as shiny as the day it was installed, a testimony to my mom's cleaning habits and the power of soft water. Water softeners are expensive. I know, because I was married for over 20 years before I got one. But now I have one and my bathroom fixtures have never been cleaner or shinier.

Besides soft water, I love having a REMOVABLE SHOWER HEAD. These are not too, too expensive, and nearly any shower head can be easily converted. I use mine to rinse down my whole shower, curtain and all, every time I shower. Then I spray with CLEAN SHOWER, which is a wonderful commercial product. Following this routine, I very rarely need to scrub my shower. When I do, I can just put some powdered laundry detergent on a sponge and scrub down the tile, then step into the shower (yes, naked) and follow my regular take-a-shower routine of rinsing it down and spraying with Clean Shower at the end.

I have not had tremendous issues with mildew in my shower. But in order to pre-empt that from happening, I am going to make up a spray bottle of 1/2 water mixed with 1/2 HYDROGEN PEROXIDE and spray it in the corners. I have also been using hydrogen peroxide (a tissue moistened with it) to clean the mildew from the black rubber seals around the glass in my bathroom windows. My kids' bathroom had some mildew under the caulk that ran between the tub and the tile. We solved that by removing the caulk and scraping out the old grout. Then we scraped out all the darkened grout in the whole shower with a grout remover (dh did most of this, although I started it). Then dh re grouted for me. For $26 and a day's worth of elbow grease, they have a like-new shower, except they haven't used it yet because it is still curing and waiting for new caulk. I do intend to spray regularly with hydrogen peroxide in there to keep it from happening again.

For wood floors and baseboards, all I have ever used is water with a splash of WHITE VINEGAR added. This is also the solution I put into my mini Bissell carpet cleaning system to clean up pet accidents (which fortunately are much fewer and farther between these days).

I do put Ajax or Comet into the toilet bowl and brush with a toilet brush. I used to use bleach, but since I switched to CLEANSER WITH BLEACH added, I have ruined a lot less of my clothes with the splashes. This is mildly toxic, because of the bleach, but I am not all that scared of bleach in reasonable quantities. For heaven's sake, there's chlorine in the water we drink every day! I would not have a toddler do this job, but I think this method of cleaning is basically safe for a child of 7 or 8. There are few fumes associated with it.

I also like to use ENDUST for dusting. I despise furniture polish. Endust just helps to magnetically attract the dust. I read online of someone who uses olive oil and lemon juice on her furniture. I would be very hesitant to recommend that. If you don't feel comfortable with Endust, I would suggest just using a very slightly dampened cloth for dusting. I don't like to use anything that leaves a residue.

Recap:
"Natural" products that make good cleaners--

  • water
  • baking soda
  • white vinegar
  • isopropel rubbing alcohol
  • hydrogen peroxide

Non-toxic things you can use for purposes other than what they are advertised to do--

  • dish detergent
  • powdered laundry detergent

Commercial products that I think are worth using--

  • Cleanser (for toilet bowls--it is cheap, too)
  • Endust
  • Clean Shower

If you stock your house with these cleaning supplies, you should be well prepared to handle most household cleaning chores.

Oh, and get a good vacuum. (*smile*)

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