Call me crazy, but I love Spring Cleaning! The whole concept of “out with the old and in with the new” just seems to fit perfectly with the season of new growth. And because I prefer to live a gentler, low-impact life, I look towards how our forebears approached this annual rite. Our great-grandmothers didn’t have the plethora of chemical cleaning products we do today, and yet they kept a clean house – how? Well, some of the concoctions I came across in my research seem downright dangerous (laundering with kerosene, anyone?) but many old-time tips I read were for safe, non-toxic potions – downright eco-friendly!
For a natural carpet freshener, I combine baking powder and lavender buds in a shaker jar. For fine or antique carpets, you should test ANY cleaning product on an inconspicuous corner before using. I shake the powder onto my carpets and let stand for 20 minutes or so while I work in another room. This powder is safe if baby or pets run across it – unlike some chemical preparations!
Over time, and with a growing family, I came to adapt many of these gentle, non-toxic ideas for my own use. The number one weapons in my cleaning arsenal are white vinegar, baking soda, and my own brain. Planning and organization are the unsung heroes of spring cleaning – but one experience of cleaning the house top to bottom with no plan will taught me the value of a plan! So before I do anything, I make a master list. My master list includes tasks for each room, plus tasks for areas that might be overlooks, like hallways or the front porch windows. Then I break this down into an action plan for each room, and gather my arsenal of supplies: vinegar, baking soda, liquid castile soap, natural essential oils, spray bottle, bucket, clean rags or cloths, broom, and mop.
Vinegar and water is safe for wood floors, with the caveat that you want your cloth just barely damp, NOT wet.
I like to start each room with a decluttering session – removing items that don’t belong in a room, tossing any trash, and recycling unneeded items to charity. Then I start on the outsides and work my way in. Curtains come down for laundering (with bedding if I am working on a bedroom), windows and trim are washed, windows are then opened to allow in that fresh clean air, walls wiped down, floors swept and mopped (some floors do require scrubbing!), furniture pulled aside to clean underneath, furniture dusted and washed down on all sides, and then everything put back neat as a pin!
I wash windows with a white vinegar and water solution- it may smell like a chip shop for a few minutes, but that vinegar aroma fades very quickly – I promise! I apply and “scrub” with one rag, and then dry and polish the glass with a clean cloth. If you have newspapers handy, you can use them instead of cloths. If the windows are truly grimy, I might add a few drops of liquid castile soap to my solution – if you add soap, you must remember to rinse with clear water!
The kitchen is the heart of the home and should be kept fresh and clean. This is one room where I really appreciate eco-friendly cleaners! After all, who wants stinky, dangerous chemicals near their food? While I prefer to make my own cleaners, you may prefer to purchase some. There are several good brands available nationally, like Mrs. Meyers, Seventh Generation, Method and more. The kitchen has special needs – the refrigerator can hold all sorts of food messes, pantry shelves can hide crumbs, and what might be lurking in the oven? This is the room that I like to tackle in two parts. Day One would be “declutter and inventory” day – tossing expired foods and creating a list of what needs to be replenished. As I take foods off each pantry or refrigerator shelf, I wipe down the shelf with a vinegar and water solution. This way, the pantry almost seems to clean itself!
I pull out any bins from the refrigerator and wash them in a liquid castile soap and hot water and let them dry in the sunshine. I scrub refrigerator stains (or crud!) with a gentle paste made with water and baking soda – and if I’m feeling fancy I might add a few drops of a natural essential oil such as mint or orange or lavender for scent! Once the sticky stuff is gone, I wipe down the entire interior and exterior with undiluted vinegar, for its disinfecting action.
On Day Two, I tackle the big stuff: wipe down stovetop, clean the oven, wipe down walls, scrub floors, and wash windows. And that sounds a lot scarier than it really is! While I’m washing windows, I am also heating a dish of lemon water in the microwave to loosen debris so that it wipes off easily. I use a dedicated mop to wash down the walls, easy peasy!
Oven cleaners can be the scariest chemical concoction in your kitchen! Just take a look at all the warnings – it gives me the creeps! So I use a paste of baking soda and water and just scrub away. If the oven is truly a mess, I may step up to borax – in a spray bottle, combine 1-2 teaspoons of liquid castile soap and 1-2 tablespoons borax with about a quart of warm water. Spray it on and let it do its work for 20 minutes and then wipe clean. Keeping the oven clean is easier than letting it get cruddy and then trying to undo months of mess at once. If something spills, wipe it up!
The scariest germs probably lurk in the bathroom – at least in our imaginations! But I keep them at bay with my trusty green cleaners! I keep a pretty spray bottle with diluted rubbing alcohol and about 20-30 drops of natural essential oil (lavender is divine!) in the shower – I spray it after a shower to help prevent mildew.
I regularly clean the bathroom with homemade cleaners. Baking soda and vinegar does wonders in the toilet! Adding 10 drops of tea tree or rosemary essential oil adds anti-microbial action! My method is to sprinkle the backing powder in the tank, add the oil and then the vinegar. The solution will foam up (nature’s own scrubbing bubbles!) – I let this stand for 10 minutes, then swish and flush! I keep an 8 ounce spray bottle of white vinegar and water with 10-20 drops each tea tree, rosemary and lavender essential oils handy at all times – this is used to disinfect all surfaces. I sprinkle baking soda in the sink and tub, spray with my vinegar solution and scrub away!
So as you can see, it really is not very difficult to spring clean with eco-friendly products and a little smart planning. And you don’t have to convert all at once – take small steps and see what works for you!