Natural Cleaning for Spring

If you are like me, you are looking forward to Spring for the new blooming flowers, the heated sunshine, the wildlife emerging from their long hibernation and open windows ushering in fresh air. But when I open our windows I see dust flying. When the sunshine comes pouring in I see the dirt bunnies and the crumb stashes in the dark places. A lot of this stuff is leftover from the holidays! Boy does that sofa have some body oil stains on the arms! And I cannot believe there are old potato chips behind the entertainment center. All winter long our home is like a dark cave. Now the sunshine is revealing way too many blemishes and I am not looking forward to cleaning.

One of things I hate about spring cleaning is the cost of the new supplies. Floor cleaners, furniture wax, rug shampoo, upholstery cleaner, bathtub scrub, window wash and air fresheners! Not only does this stuff put a huge dent in my wallet but it ends up adding tons of chemicals to our home environment. I hate the residue. I have to wipe the furniture down every time I walk past it just because I can see that oily sheen. This year I am passing on air fresheners altogether. The effect is only temporary while the lingering spray ends up all over the house, on surfaces. And it makes me sneeze. So this year I am trying some new ideas. I thought I’d share them with you. Here are some great recipes for natural cleaning alternatives. Some of them will save you money, some won’t. But all of them will help detox your home after the long winter has passed.

Air Fresheners

Instead of running out and buying spritzers that get into the air and end up on your hair and your clothes, consider using herbs and spices. One simple idea is to put fragrant herbs or fruits like Lemons or Limes into small bowls with around 2 tbsp of water and then putting them in the microwave. Slice the fruit first or just use their skins. Another similar idea is to take fresh herbs and flowers and just dump them into a pot of water on the stove and then letting this simmer on low heat. Your house will smell fantastic in a short period and it lasts a long time. No spritzes or sprays. No chemicals. I started doing this last week and the stinky garbagey smell we had lingering in this house is gone. It smells spicy and sweet. Take my word for this: eucalyptus and mint is an excellent mix and can be intense. It will take over any smell within minutes. Just leave it to simmer all day or until the scent fades.

Another idea for freshening the air is the use of traditional sachets and potpourri. I do not recommend burning candles or incense because the smoke from these has been recently found to be toxic. The smoke also lingers in the your hair and on your furniture and smells no better over time than disgusting cigarette or cigar smoke. But sachets and potpourri are safe. I will not make incredible claims for sachets or potpourri. Although these are cheap and readily available fresheners they do not cover really strong smells or smells that are permeating your home. You will need a stronger recourse for really tough odors but for general lifting of the air quality in a small room, they are useful. A bowl full of potpourri can be magical, especially when fresh. And sachets are great in drawers, in small cabinets, next to beds or in the bath. You can make you own crude and inexpensive sachets by stuffing clean socks or stockings full of fresh herbs and spices. For those of you who can sew or are crafty, your imagination is the limit.

If the smells are coming from your sink drain or trash can area, then consider making up a simple remedy. Sprinkle baking soda into the bottom of the can or wash some down the drain. That should do the trick.

For a long term, whole house solution that also adds beauty to the home, try making a lavender nosegay in a planting pot. Lavender is rich, clean and strong smelling. It will make your entire home smell like a fancy french perfume! At the same time, this Nosegay will brighten any corner you set it in. It can be a real work of art if you want it to be.

Lavender Nosegay Pot

Ingredients:

Terra Cotta Planting Pot (8″ or 10″ pot)
1 block of gray floral foam (for dried flowers)
4-5 Large bunches of Lavender (10-12 small bunches)
1 yd Wired Craft Ribbon

Press the foam deep into the terra cotta pot. Decide on the height you would like the Lavender to stand in the pot (stand it in the pot to see) and then trim it to that length plus 2 inches. Start out by pushing a small bunch of Lavender into the foam. See how far the stems go down and make double sure that the height will work. If not, remove the small bunch and trim the stems a little more. When you are sure this looks good, start adding the other bunches of Lavender, positioning them for effect. You can make them stand straight up or you can let them lean for a “spray” effect. It’s up to you.

Once the pot is packed full, wrap the ribbon around the top of the pot and tie a large bow. A purple, lavender, gold or silver silk ribbon would be lovely. Stand the pot in a favorite corner. The smell will make your house delicious!

Furniture Polish

This is a must to make your wood stuff look good, even the crappy stuff made out of particle board with a veneer. Wood furniture collects dust and scratches and gets to looking dull and old quickly. Even the stuff I don’t use I notice getting grimy just from the air. Here again I have a dislike for the sprays and spritzes which seem to spatter everywhere, putting furniture wax on my cat, my clothes and on the upholstered chairs! And then it just doesn’t last long. It literally disappears overnight and the same smudgy, grimy look is back. So I have come around to choosing oils many times in the past. Oils don’t spatter or spritz and they don’t end up in my hair. But they do linger on the furniture. A week later the furniture is shiny alright but you can’t touch it. Not unless you want grease on your hands. And this is where I walk past and wipe it off every time only to find the shine back in an hour or two.

This is where I discovered furniture creams. At first, I bought them and tried them this way, scooping out the cream with a paper towel and rubbing the furniture. I liked the results. This stuff makes the wood look clean and refreshed, enhancing the natural colors the same way polishes and oils do, but it evaporates right away and leaves no residue. And it doesn’t fade in a few days. I had finally found something I liked. And then I realized that I could make a homemade cream that would work just as well and not have chemical toxins like the commercial products. Right away, I considered that maybe the cost of doing this would be prohibitive but when I looked into it I realized my biggest expense would be the turpentine and the beeswax. Beeswax is not cheap and I did find that I needed to use a lot of it to make a useful cream. So this will be your choice. Whether to try commercial creams and stay there or make your own homemade cream. Here is a great recipe to get you started. You can take the list of ingredients out with you when you shop and price the end product. Remember that this does last a long time, so the expense is spread out over time.

Lavender Furniture Cream

Ingredients:

12 oz Beeswax
7 1/2 cups Turpentine
4 cups water
2 oz Soft Soap
Oil of Lavender

Equipment:

Double Boiler
Saucepan
Large Spoon

Please remember that Turpentine is flammable and must be handled with care. Do not smoke or light candles in the same area while making this project. Start by melting the beeswax into the turpentine on the top of the double boiler. Meanwhile, bring the 4 cups of water to a boil in the saucepan. Once it is boiling, stir in the soft soap. Once stirred in, remove from heat and allow to cool completely before stirring again.

Pour the soap mixture gradually into the beeswax mixture and stir it until it reaches the consistancy of heavy cream. Once creamy, add the Lavender oil drop by drop until it smells good but not too strong.

Pot up in a jar with a lid and keep at room temperature. Use when needed.

If you are wanting to soften, clean and preserve hard leather furniture like a couch or a chair that has gotten dirty and grimy after use, then consider a simple remedy. Simply mix 2 cups of raw Linseed Oil to 7 oz Vinegar and use like an oil. Do not use this on leather clothing like jackets or slacks because it is best for hard leather and will soften this type of softer leather far too much and destroy the texture.

Floor Cleaners

Do you remember the days when they first introduced linoleum floors and we were all trying to figure out how to care for them? Waxes made them look yellow. Regular floor washes didn’t cut the grime. They were really hard to get clean. The old tile floors were stone or terrazzo and had their own challenges. Today the stones and tiles that are used in most homes are more evenly graded with less grout and smoother surfaces. They clean really well with just about any cleaner, whether it’s a spray or liquid pour on. Nobody uses waxes or polishes anymore. And just because of that, the best floor cleaner in the world is vinegar and water.

I worked for a summer for a high quality, 4 star cleaning service that called itself a “white glove”. It was hard meeting these standards without working like a dog but the floor cleaning methods were the easiest, cheapest and least toxic of any method I had ever used before. We mixed 50% vinegar with 50% water in spray bottles and used it on every surface in the house. We could get away with this mostly because the people were rarely home while we were cleaning and by the time they got home the vinegar smell had faded. In some homes, I substituted lemon juice for the vinegar because people objected to the lingering vinegar scent. Lemon juice, by the way, did a fantastic job as well.

My recommendation for a cleaner for tile floors, whether stone, ceramic, mosaic, terrazzo or solistone and other manufactured materials, is always vinegar and water. If you cannot stand the scent of the vinegar throughout your house, simply add essential oils to the mix. Avoid floral or citrus scents, which can create a disgusting smell when mixed with vinegar and opt instead for more complimentary foody type herbs like Cilantro, Rosemary or Dill. Adding Garlic to the mix can add an antibiotic property to the cleaner which is good if you want to use it for surfaces like countertops or sink bibs but it can make your house smell like a stiff salad. Avoid this by either blanching the Garlic first to reduce it’s odor or adding more herbs. Another solution to the vinegar smell problem is to use lemon juice instead with garlic and fresh spices. This will add a less stringent, more pleasant citrus smell that will fade a lot faster than the vinegar does.

Bath and Kitchen Scrubs

Here is where we can get into a lot of toxic chemicals. Most scrubs come packed with bleach, which is a dangerous chemical that can simply destroy your respiratory system if you are exposed enough. You should always wear a mask and gloves when working with bleach. I could tell you stories of my own exposure to bleach when I ran a cleaning service in the 1980s. Back then we hadn’t learned all the facts about these chemicals and we just didn’t think they were a problem. Now, since we know different, we should make more informed choices. Try to avoid using bleach in your cleaning and opt instead for milder treatments.

I must tell you that baking soda is a fantastic scrubber. So is salt. If you add these natural substances to just about any cleaning mix you will have made up a scrub. I like to scrub down my sink and tub with baking soda and lemon juice and then wash it down the drain to deodorize it. A really simple and inexpensive scrub recipe involves mixing in a blender 1/4 cup , one cup baking soda and one tbsp salt. Blend until smooth and scrub away! This also makes a great toothpaste if you use peppermint oil instead of mint leaves.

So now you are asking, what about mildew? This is not the problem you think it is. I worked in a hotel laundry one summer and got a first hand lesson in fixing stains. We would get a bonus for every linen, shower curtain or bath mat we were able to save. The shower curtains were always mildewy by the time the maids brought them down so we tackled a lot of them. What did we use? A soak of vinegar followed by a soak of hydrogen peroxide. We never used bleaches because it was possible to destroy the item with bleach. When the curtains were plastic and required scrubbing we used borax and baking soda.

If you are trying to get mildew off the shower walls, use the borax and add grapefruit seed extract, which is a known mold destroyer. To get mildew and scum off of shower curtains, try the grapeseed extract mixed with vinegar. Spray it on and leave it. Calcium stains on tile, shower curtains and porcelain surfaces can be taken off easily with vitamin C. Dissolve a vitamin C tablet in a spray bottle full of water. Spray the surfaces liberally and leave them overnight. In the morning the stain should wipe away but if it doesn’t, spritz it again and wait until later. You should not have to do this again.

Window Cleaner

The first thing you must do when cleaning your windows is to ditch the paper towels. Get out the old newspapers and tear them into thick shreds. Use them like you would the towels. Do not use cotton towels or any other paper product. Only newspapers will leave your mirrors and windows lint free. When you are done with the newspapers, toss them in the recycling bin.

So what kind of mix should you use on the mirrors and windows? Nothing but vinegar. You can use plain old vinegar and water to any strength that suits you and the results will be perfect. If you can’t stand the smell of vinegar, try mixing it with scented herbs like lemon balm or peppermint. Do not use essential oils. Make herbal decoctions by boiling the herbs in water before using. In fact, you can substitute the decoction (tea) for the water in the mix. Boil your chosen herb or spice in the water until you can smell it strongly. Let it cool and once it is cool pour it into a spray bottle until half full. Add vinegar to the strength you desire. You can use this on everything: the windows, the mirrors, the tvs, the computer screens, the appliances in the kitchen, on tile countertops and on ceramic floors.

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4 Responses so far

  1. 1

    Just “stumbled” on this post today and love it! Add my beautiful all natural loofah scrubbers to the “mix” and I have a definite win/win for my Spring 2012 cleaning!
    Thanks a ton,
    Anita

  2. 2

    Hi, nice blog, natural cleaning in the garden are also import, but not tu much. I have also a blog, but another theme, it is about cheap modular timber houses.

    Cuuuu Rudolv… from Europe

  3. 3

    Esther said,

    I really enjoyed this post. Most of us keep going back to bleach, ammonia etc. because we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that we cant get our homes really clean any other way. So many great tips here that I had to take notes and bookmark it. Keep up the great work.
    http://reinventingyourwomanspace.wordpress.com

  4. 4

    Angela Cook said,

    Great post you have here. This made my day. I just needed you to know and now I will send this on!


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