Make it shiny and clean this spring, but save your dough


Clean home, happy Gloria

I always look forward to spring. By April I’m actually tired of the cold, sick of shoveling out my car and getting awfully grumpy watching the salt eat away at my favorite dressy boots. This year, it’s barely been cold, there hasn’t been snow, and my boots just need a good polish and heel re-covering before getting put away. What is the same this year is the spring cleaning. I don’t do it. I clean regularly, and I have become house proud over the years. Even my dark, little room that makes my allergies go haywire (old house, basement apartment) needs to be clean and as neat as I can get it with limited storage space. This is a challenge with a cat in a tiny room with no air circulation, but I do the best I can.

Spring cleaning is what you do if you have a big home with lots of stuff squirreled away, dusty nooks and crannies, and maybe a fireplace that’s been going all winter, but for most people, it’s not really necessary. Cleaning regularly all year round and picking up after yourself will suffice. This blog is about living well (clean home, happy home) without spending a lot, so you have more shiny in your pocket.

If there is anyone in the world that understands laziness about cleaning it’s me. Seriously. I know people who have lived with me will probably testify to the opposite, especially after they’ve yawned their way into the bathroom one morning, and on a scrubbing spree the night before I scrubbed everything: corners, behind the toilet, under the sink, buffed the mirror, even. They head into the kitchen: the stove sparkles, the fridge is sweet-smelling and gleaming white. I’ve even gotten the oven.

No, I wasn’t born this way. Over the course of many years I forced myself to be clean. When I was young, in my very early 20’s, being a little messy, and not so regular on the bathroom scrubbing was acceptable and ignored, really. (Especially when most of my friends were guys.) However, when I got into my mid 20s, even male-dominated homes were immaculate, put away and comfortable, if not always imaginatively decorated. Nagel prints, anyone?

Needless to say, I got a bit self-conscious about my home. It’s one thing to be a messy, young college student who forgets to take out the trash and thinks the soap and water running down the sink will clean it well enough during hand-washing. An adult who still lives that way gives an entirely different impression. And for those who disagree, trust me, any friends you have who are remotely clean internally cringe at using the toilet or getting a cup of coffee at your place. Guys: whisker shavings all over the sink and body hair dotting the tub? Ew! Ladies: a full trash full of…well, you know. Ew-er!

And while clean is important, I believe that we as a society have become awfully nonchalant about some of the chemicals we use to wash our hands, clean our homes, and purify our laundry. The insult on top of injury is that we pay a lot extra for the privilege of hurting ourselves and our environment. There are plenty of sites out there that talk about quite a few less toxic cleaning alternatives, but I’ll share a couple of my favorites. I can’t make you clean, at the risk of making you feel 17 and rebellious, again (and if that’s your reaction, well…that won’t be covered today), but I can help you get together supplies and tools that work very well, won’t toxify your home or the environment, but will save you cash and effort.

We don't need no stinkin' triclosan!

Shiny Clean, Healthy Clean, Cheapy Clean!

There are some things that no one enjoys cleaning in each room. In kitchens the world over, it is usually the oven and stove. Caked-on spilled food, baked on grease splatter, black charcoal from, well, you’re not entirely sure, but it may have been from Christmas dinner. Okay, first, you should have cleaned that already, lazy! Second, no, don’t haul out that toxic oven cleaner that costs at least $5 and lasts for maybe two cleanings. Take a look at the ingredients. Butane, sodium hydroxide, and other harsh things you really don’t want to huff in accidentally. The following is one of my favorite cleaning methods, and it’s one I love seeing people try. “Oh! Wow, wait, how did that work? WTF?” Okay, maybe they don’t get all that excited, but I do! You’ll need:

  • A box of baking soda, maybe even in a large-holed shaker, shaker definitely optional
  • Spray bottle of water or a small bowl of water
  • A sponge or paper towel

Spray down the inside of your oven with the water and then either shake the baking soda with the shaker all over the place and then re-moisten it with the spray bottle OR make a paste of the baking soda and water and with a sponge, put a layer of it all over the surfaces of the oven. Close the oven door. Don’t turn it on. It is not necessary and will scorch the baking soda, oops!

Every hour or so, go back and spray it down with some water. I usually leave it overnight and just spray it before I go to bed so it can stay nice and damp for a couple of hours. In the morning, or after a few hours: 4-6 depending on how filthy it is, spray down the now-dry baking soda, grab a paper towel, and just wipe it off, followed by a damp sponge to pick up the rest of the residue. Seriously. That’s it. All the gunk, burned on grunge and that ill-fated apple pie you forgot about (okay, we all know it was really a Sara Lee) just slides right off. You’ll have to gather up the loose baking soda and use your damp sponge to pick it all up, but, and here’s the healthy beauty of it; if you leave some residue, it won’t stink, ruin your food, and release poisons into the air. Also a whole box, which you can use for cleaning, cooking, etc, costs far less than a dollar.

You can all go do it tonight and tomorrow let me know if you thought, “WTH?”

As far as the stove, the BEST way to keep it clean is to immediately wipe it after every use. (Thanks, Adriana, for the pointed lesson so many years ago) Oh, man! you say? That’s such a pain! I don’t want to take the time! WHINEWHINEWHINE. Shaddap. You’ll complain even more when every burner on your white stove is now black-brown burned-on stuff that won’t come off without some serious elbow grease or a razor blade (use very carefully held flat against the surface so as not to scratch the finish). If you use steel wool it’ll just scratch the finish. So, the best thing to do is grab your spray cleaner, (recipe coming up) or the sponge you were using to wash dishes with soap still on it, and wipe the stove surface down. It takes 15 seconds. Or, you can spend 30 or more minutes every few weeks trying not to be embarrassed when company comes over.

These next two cleaners are the only products I regularly use at home. You’ll have to invest about $30 or so in materials and supplies, but it will last you a long time, compared to buying fancy scrub cleaners, fancy spray cleaners and those really wasteful and expensive disposable wipes. Just grab a dust cloth, cut up old t-shirt, or paper towel and your spray cleaner.

Scrubbing cleanser:

Mix together and put into a plastic container to shake out when you need it. You can, as an option also add a little natural dry soap or even grab a dried-out bar of soap, shave slivers off (I use my food processor or blender) and mix it into the dry scrub. Another option is when you are going to clean, put 1 part dry scrub to 1/4 part liquid dish soap and enough water to make a light, creamy cleanser. If you do this, you need to mix what you plan on using that day, because it won’t really last stored if it’s wet. In fact, it will start getting really hard and difficult to use if you wait too long. Borax and the washing soda are both a little caustic, (on the lower end of the PH spectrum, in other words) so it’s best if you use gloves. I’ve done without, but it does dry my skin out a little.

Spray/glass cleaner:

  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap or natural soap
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 cup rubbing alcohol (optional, but I like)

Put all into a spray bottle, shake gently. Just spray and wipe. It’s great for counters, surfaces and wonderful on glass. I make one big one, but you can make 2 smaller ones, one for kitchen, one to keep in the bath.

Wasteful, expensive cleaning wipes or cheap, effective do it yourself?

Those popular disinfecting wipes are in almost everyone’s home. They’re good for wiping the kitchen counter, good for cleaning the bathroom sink, etc. The thing is, one, they’re fairly expensive at about $4 for the smallest package, unless there is a sale, and also, it’s got a lot of chemical disinfectants. You may think to yourself, well, I want to get rid of germs! Those cleansers I told you about do pretty well at that, and also, plain old soap without triclosan¬†also washes away germs. Didn’t know that? Well, now you do. We are creating some awfully resistant forms of viruses and other nasties and our bodies aren’t being allowed to develop a resistance to everyday germs, either. That’s a different conversation, but it is one reason I don’t like the wipes. Also, they cost so much, plus cause so much waste. I completely support and follow recycling practices, but even recycling uses energy and materials, so it’s best to keep your carbon footprint small.

That little magic, white sponge

There isn’t much to say about this one, but I absolutely LOVE that magic eraser sponge. There are the expensive brand names or you can go with a cheapy store brand like this one:

Poof! You’re clean!

It scrubs away bathtub ring, soap scum, stains from porcelain and countertops, helps with some of the rust around the sink faucet, removes scuffs from your tile floor, etc. without any cleaner what so ever. You just wet with clean water and scrub. You can use it a few times (You can see I used that one a bit, already) as long as you rinse it out afterwards. It starts to fall apart, but that’s how it works to gently scour.

Relax in your home and don’t worry about unexpected company, ever.

I love a clean home, but I love to relax a lot, too. Just put away those jeans as soon as you take them off. Wash that dish as soon as you’re done (and tap out the sink strainer). Keep a bottle of the spray cleaner in the bathroom, under the sink, along with a roll of those paper towels that let you tear off a half sheet. If guys sprinkle when they, you know, they can easily spray a bit of cleaner, wipe it off, throw in the trash, then close the seat and flush. Same with the ladies. You know what sometimes happens. Have the means at hand to not leave embarrassing things behind, if you know what I mean.

Take 5 minutes to do those little things each day and you won’t have to do a 2 hour cleaning job. I’d rather clean a bit here and there every day and never have to do a spring cleaning, unless I do end up moving into my dream castle, all wood floors, marble staircases, stone walls and lots of nooks and crannies. Then, maybe, I’ll hire a crew to do the spring cleaning. Maybe.

Cheap Love,