When it comes to housecleaning, I count myself among the minimum-but-good-enough class of rural dwellers.
Heating with wood (smoke, ash, wood chips, sawdust), living with a food-producing solar greenhouse that communicates directly with the house (dirt, dust), and preferring to spend my time growing, foraging, and preserving as much of my own food as possible horticulture, food preservation, and scratch cooking makes maintaining high cleaning standards impossible.
For my good-enough housecleaning tasks, I use a small and admirably versatile array of natural housecleaning products: vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, salt, borax, wood ash.
I started using these products many years ago, mostly because so many commercial cleaning products gave me headaches and irritated my eyes and nasal passages.
The headaches stopped, the natural products worked well, and they’ve saved a lot of money over the years.
I continue to love the fact that this half-dozen of natural products singly or in combination will clean my toilet, tub, teeth, upholstery, carpets and windows, super-clean our grubbiest laundry, deodorize our pets and our car’s interior while they also soothe sunburns and insect stings, relieve an itch, gargle away many sore throats, and wash and condition my hair.
And please note: four of the six are pantry staples, safe enough to eat.
Below, I remind you of just a few of the ways I use these products for tough cleaning and deodorizing tasks.
I use white vinegar in a spray bottle to sanitize kitchen and bathroom surfaces, prevent or remove hard-water scale from the coffee pot, tub and toilet, as a window cleaner, and to remove labels from products or stickers from walls. It will unplug most drains by pouring half a cup of baking soda, followed by a cup of white or cider vinegar. (Don’t use a commercial drain product first, as you could create toxic fumes.)
I’ve learned those tough, longstanding, tough limescale stains in sinks and toilets that no amount of scouring will clean will eventually give way after repeated, long soakings with white vinegar.
Oh, and a couple of tablespoons of ordinary olive oil in a cup of vinegar works well to dust and polish wood furniture.
Especially in combination with salt, baking soda works well for scouring sinks and tubs, brushing your teeth, wiping down and deodorizing the refrigerator, removing smells and stains from carpets and upholstery (rub in, leave for an hour, shake or vacuum out).
Half a cup in a gallon of water helps brighten white clothes without bleach (especially if you hang the clothes in the sunshine.) Sprayed or rubbed on straight, lemon juice removes stains from countertops and rust stains from clothing. Clean toilets with a paste of baking soda and lemon juice; squirt lemon juice for fresh smell.
Half a cut lemon left on a shelf will deodorize the fridge. Sprayed or rubbed on with a cloth, straight lemon juice (or straight vinegar) will remove mold and mildew from many surfaces.
One part table salt mixed with four parts each of borax and baking soda makes a good scouring powder for tubs, sinks and toilets. Adding a little vinegar to a teaspoon of salt makes a good scrub for removing coffee or tea stains from mugs and cups. (And don't forget the health benefits of salt.)
Borax helps clean the tub, remove tough stains in laundry. I add it to baking soda and salt to make a general purpose scouring powder.
In a paste with a little water, cleans glass! Sprinkled on and scrubbed into pavement, bricks, and stone, it will help remove oil stains.
Actually, when you come up against challenging cleaning or deodorizing tasks, try one or more in combination and you’ll probably find something that will do the trick. That’s what I do, and it almost always works.
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.