Green Cleaning for a Healthy Home

Reader Contribution by Anna Twitto
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Citric acid crystals. 

When standing in the household supplies aisle in a supermarket, it’s easy to be dazzled by all the various cleaning agents in colorful bottles and packages. However, most of that stuff isn’t just outrageously expensive, it’s harmful for the environment and can even be downright dangerous. Luckily, it’s possible to clean house simply and effectively, just the way our grandmothers did – combining simple materials which don’t cost a lot and aren’t dangerous to keep around small children.

Vinegar.Simple, cheap distilled white vinegar isn’t much good in the way of eating, but it does superb job cutting through grease, getting windows and mirrors to shine and removing lime scale, which is a permanent fixture in Israeli households due to our hard, calcium-rich water.

To create a simple, effective and cheap window and mirror cleaner, combine vinegar and water at a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio in a spray bottle. Spray on glass, wipe with a soft dry cotton cloth (a cut-up old T-shirt works well) and polish off with crumpled-up old newspaper.

To remove lime scale from kettles, pour in some vinegar and water at a 1:1 ratio (level of liquid should be high enough to cover all deposits) and let sit overnight. Rinse with water in the morning.

I often get limescale buildup on glass bottoms too, after I’ve washed my glassware and left it to dry bottoms-up a few times. To remove it, I simply pour some vinegar into a wide, shallow pan and place the glasses there bottoms-down for several hours, then rinse and wipe thoroughly. The unsightly deposits all come off and the glassware looks brand-new.

You can even add vinegar to the washing machine, in lieu of fabric softener. It will leave your clothes soft, clean and shiny.

Baking soda. Baking soda is great for scrubbing grimy pots, polishing silver and removing odors. A pinch of baking soda in an open container will deodorize a refrigerator that smells less than sweet and, as has been mentioned before, a baking soda and vinegar combo creates a fun, fizzy reaction that does wonders in clearing gunked-up drains. 

Lemon. Due to its acidity, lemon juice acts in a similar way to vinegar when used in cleaning, with the bonus of a nice smell. Use the half-peels left after squeezing a lemon by cutting them open and rubbing on the area you want to clean: I do it to my granite counters in spots which are frequently exposed to water and have limescale deposits. Or place the peel in the refrigerator for a few hours for an inviting lemony scent.

Citric acid crystals.Citric acid is widely used in the food industry as a natural preservative and to provide a refreshingly tart flavor. A small pinch of citric acid will give as much tartness as a generous glug of lemon juice (although, of course, the flavor will be somewhat different), which has led us to sometimes use it in the kitchen in lieu of lemon or vinegar, especially when adding more liquids isn’t desirable. It has also been great to discover the wonderful cleaning properties of citric acid – another natural material that can be used in getting your house sparkling without any health risks.

Citric acid in crystal form isn’t available everywhere – one must hunt for it a bit, at least here. We often find it in stores that specialize in spices and exotic condiments. It looks like salt or sugar (it’s important to keep a clear label on it so you don’t get confused), is very convenient to store, keeps indefinitely and is really cheap, considering how little of it you need to use either for cooking or cleaning.

Citric acid mixed with a bit of water acts in much the same way as vinegar or lemon juice, and the abrasiveness of the crystals makes them great for scrubbing. It is also great for cleaning toilets (which is especially important, as commercial toilet bowl cleaners are among the most toxic, dangerous and environmentally unfriendly agents found in the average household). This will require somewhat more citric acid than its other uses, but the result is definitely worth it. Take 1/2 to 3/4 cup citric acid crystals, pour into toilet bowl and leave overnight. In the morning, give the whole thing a vigorous brushing and flush.

Hot water. It’s incredible how much easier and more effective cleaning can be made simply by using hot water instead of cold. Hot water cuts through grease a lot more effectively when washing dishes (I can never get dishes properly clean after a chicken dinner without hot water), and sturdy heavily stained work clothes benefit from a hot cycle in the washing machine. Make sure to wear rubber gloves when cleaning or washing up with hot water, because the combination of hot water and detergent can cause your skin to dry and crack really quickly.

Steel wool. This is good when really, really, really grimy pots and pans need to get really, really, really clean. I only use steel wool as a last resort – usually during the annual pre-Pesach craziness that is so prevalent in Jewish households – because it will scratch pots. Keep steel wool in an airtight packaging between uses to prevent it from oxidizing.

Time and elbow grease. These old and unfashionable factors go a really long way in cleaning! For example, if I have a black, burned layer at the bottom of a pot, I can spray a degreaser – or I can simply pour some boiling water in and let the pot sit overnight, then scrub vigorously in the morning. Rolling up one’s sleeves and scrubbing is not very glamorous but definitely effective.

The post above was an excerpt from my book, Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living.

Anna Twittos academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna’s Mother Earth News posts here

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