Monday, March 16, 2009

The Virtues of Vinegar

Cleaning is not my favorite activity. Is it anybody’s? My house is serviceably clean, it’s not going to make anyone sick, but it isn’t ready for a photo shoot by a long shot. Other than health, the only reason I clean is because otherwise I might go nuts. I can’t stand clutter, yet I am surrounded by it. My kids create it. It’s three against one, so I am almost always on the losing end. I just can’t keep up and many days I stay outside where I’m happier and I can’t see it. Still, cleaning is a necessary evil.

I used to go in for every new cleaning product that promised to make cleaning easier and faster. I tried everything that came along and usually loved it for about a week. Then it got pushed to the back of the closet with the other dozens of bottles, sticks, cloths, and powders. These days my cleaning closet has only a few things in it. I’m saving a ton of money and cleaning the way my grandmother did.

I was motivated to clean out the closet for the same reasons I was motivated to clean up our diet – health. In my battle to reclaim my youngest son’s health, I started with the household cleaning products figuring that the air we breathe affects every molecule of our being. We disposed of all toxic cleaning solutions, detergents, shampoos, and soaps. Reading up on alternatives, I discovered that many of the things our grandparents cleaned with are all natural, safe, and work as well, sometimes better, than their modern equivalents. Vinegar can do anything! You name it and vinegar can do it. If you google it, you’ll find site after site extolling the many uses of vinegar.

I use vinegar as my primary cleaning agent. I have spray bottles filled with it stashed all over the house. I use it for kitchen counters, the kitchen table, bathroom counters, sinks, and fixtures. It really makes stainless steel shine. It also works wonders on mildew stains and tile. We have a bathroom ceiling in the older section of our house that constantly grows mildew spots. (Someday it will have a bathroom fan installed in it, hint, hint.) When we first lived in this house I chased after those spots with every kind of bleach out there, only to end up with a headache from the fumes, foggy contacts, and tired arms. Nothing would move them. Then I discovered vinegar and walah! I just spray and they wipe away. A miracle (I’m easily impressed).

I use vinegar to remove any kind of stink from shoes, equipment, trash cans, coolers, and the inside of the free freezer we received that had been closed up for a year. It cleans tile and wood floor, and diluted with water does an awesome job on windows. My younger kids love to clean windows and now I don’t have to worry when I give them a spray bottle and tell them to have at it. Vinegar can’t hurt them. No more worries about Windex wars. Vinegar is a great fabric cleaner too. It removes food, crayon, and God-knows-what-else stains from my couch cushions.

I go through lots of vinegar in my laundry room. Vinegar works great as a fabric softener. It won’t hurt fragile fabrics and it removes any smells. I put about a half cup in the fabric softener dispenser and another half cup in the bleach dispenser with every load.

The best thing about vinegar is that costs only about $2 a gallon. Talk about a deal. On the things that can’t be cleaned with vinegar I use borax, murphy’s soap, and hydrogen peroxide. If you worry about killing all the germs in toilets or on counters, spray some hydrogen peroxide – it’ll kill anything. You can also use the hydrogen peroxide on your fruits and vegetables if you don’t trust plain water. Hydrogen peroxide has no taste and no real smell, so you won’t even notice it.

I’m sure you’ve discovered your own uses for vinegar and other natural, inexpensive cleaning products. I’d love to hear about them – I’m always looking for ways to do things faster, easier, and cheaper. This week I’m making my own laundry detergent. I’ll say right up front that I’m skeptical about the cost savings and the amount of time it will take. But a friend makes her own, so I’m inspired to try it too. I’ll let you know how that works out.

One amazing side effect of losing all the toxic fumes in our house is that my oldest son’s asthma has been nearly non-existent since we cleared the air. And talk about kid-friendly organics - when friends visit with toddlers I never have to worry because pretty much everything in my cleaning closet and under my sinks is edible.

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