Spring is teasing us. Days are slowly stretching out before us like tightly coiled fern heads unfurling. Soon wild flowers will vie for our attention along the footpaths and lanes. For many of us, spring is the time when we treat our homes to a deep clean. A ritual that sees us shrugging off the curtain of dust that has settled in our homes over the preceding months and casting it out of window.
Spring cleaning is a wholesome activity but increasingly the products we use to help ease the task are anything but. Ever ‘new and improved’ formulas cry out their promises from the supermarket shelves: ‘effortless cleaning’ and ‘odour eliminating technology’ that will leave your homes ‘fresh and sparkling’.
Cleaning Products and Chemicals
If you’ve ever had a moment to inspect the labels on some of the most popular household cleaning products you may have noticed the long list of chemical ingredients, many with names we don’t even know how to pronounce. There are infographics warning us that these products are dangerous to aquatic life or should only be used in well ventilated areas. From phthalates in synthetic fragrances to toxic fumes in oven cleaners, manufacturers have historically prioritised product performance in their efforts to drive sales. The UK CPI (UK Cleaning Products Industry Association) says:
‘Though soap is age-old, modern cleaning products let you clean clothes, dishes and the whole house in a fraction of the time it used to take, and in a safer and more sustainable way.’
We are all time poor and easily seduced by the notion that cleaning products will save us precious time, but seriously, can it really be proven that cleaning a kitchen counter top with a leading kitchen brand is substantially faster than carrying out the same action with a homemade natural alternative?
What does the CPI Mean?
The CPI’s statement begs the question ‘safer for what or whom?’. Yes, there is a level of cleanliness and personal hygiene that helps reduce the risk of germ spreading, but there is also an argument that chemicals within many household cleaners may be perpetuating other health issues.
I’m really not clear on the basis of their claim ‘modern cleaning products let you clean in a more sustainable way’. More sustainable how and compared to when? Maybe compared to 20 years ago when our mothers were throwing concentrated disinfectants down the sink in a bid to keep our homes smelling as they did when arriving home from hospital to a houseful of flowers. I refer here to an old zoflora ad.
If you look carefully at the list of bespoke fragrances used to conjure up that happy memory of returning home with a newborn, you will see that it is a list of irritants, all of which may cause allergic reactions, whose germ cell mutagenicity, carcinogenicity and reproductive toxicity data are mysteriously unavailable. Added to that, the packaging and its contents are to be disposed of as hazardous waste. Hmmmm.
Cleaning Products and Health
Some of the ingredients found in cleaning products are toxic and several have been linked to health concerns such as asthma, lung damage, reproductive disorders and worse. While no health expert, this post, written off the back of a few days of online research, has me questioning the need for harsh cleaning chemicals in our daily lives when there are plenty of natural ingredients that can do an equally good job of helping us keep our homes clean.
Reducing Toxins in our Homes
Reducing the toxins we allow into our world is surely better for our bodies, better for the environment and certainly better for our pockets. So a few natural household cleaning tips gathered from writers, bloggers, family and friends to help make the switch to a less chemical crammed home. To start, you will need a few essentials:
Natural Cleaning Cupboard Essentials
- Beeswax Polish
- Bicarbonate of Soda (buy baking soda in bulk online)
- Table Salt/coarse ground salt
- White distilled vinegar
- essential oil – tea tree, lavender, lemon,
- Olive oil/grape seed oil
- Refillable glass jars
- Cotton cloths
- Bristle Brushes
Natural Cleaning Tips & Tricks for the Kitchen
Natural Sink Cleaner
Take ½ cup of baking soda and add 6 drops of essential oil or lemon juice. Rub around a rinsed sink and spray half a cup of distilled white vinegar over the mixture. Once the fizzing has stopped, rub with a damp cloth and rinse with hot water
Natural Oven Cleaning
Fill a heatproof dish with water and put it on a hot oven allowing the steam to soften any baked on grease. Switch of the oven, remove the dish and when cooled, apply a paste of equal parts salt, baking soda and vinegar. Scrub.
Natural Kitchen Cleaner
Pare the rind from five lemons and allow this to soak in a litre of white vinegar for up to 2 weeks. Use to wipe over work surfaces. This lemon and vinegar mixture can also be used as an effective stainless steel cleaner.
Mix a few drops of tea-tree oil and a tablespoon of vinegar with water in a spray bottle and you have an all-purpose cleaner that will cut through grime and disinfect kitchen surfaces.
Place 2 cups of undiluted vinegar in a dishwasher safe bowl on the top shelf of the empty dishwasher, and run it on a hot cycle. It will help clear pipes and tackle musty odours. You can replace the vinegar with two halved lemons.
Cleaning Wooden Chopping Boards
Wood has natural antibacterial properties however you can effectively deep clean your chopping board and wooden utensils by rubbing them with coarse salt and half a lemon to get rid of odours. Once rinsed and dried, wipe over with oil (olive oil or grapeseed oil) to protect and enhance the wood grain.
Natural Cleaning Tips & Tricks throughout the Home
Make homemade lemon dusters with 2 parts water, two parts vinegar and 2 drops of lemon or olive oil. Soak clean rags or cotton dusters in this solution overnight and squeeze out excess moisture leaving them just damp. Store the dusters in airtight glass jam or kilner jars with lemon rinds until ready to use.
Natural Furniture Polish
Ditch the furniture polish in favour of a cotton cloth and few drop of olive oil or natural beeswax furniture polish.
Clean glass and mirrors using ½ cup of vinegar to a litre of water. Decant into a spray bottle, spray onto glass and mirrors and rub off using a lint free cloth, or old newspaper
Natural Laundry Detergent
Soap nuts are readily available online. Made from the dried fruit of the Chinese soapberry tree they can be popped into the washing machine in a little cotton sack in place of laundry detergent. They contain plant saponin, a natural soap that breaks down the surface tension of water creating a mild lather that penetrates fibres to lift away dirt.
Natural Cleaning Tips & Tricks for the Bathroom
First and foremost, good ventilation is key to preventing mildew. To help remove try a spray of 2 cups of water with ¼ teaspoon each of tea-tree and lavender oil. Shake before spraying onto the trouble spots and allow the oil to breakdown the mildew.
Pour 2 tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda down the plug hole followed by half a cup of distilled white vinegar. Leave it to bubble and fizz for half an hour before flushing through with cold water.
Sprinkle one cup of bicarbonate soda in the toilet bowl and allow to soak for an hour. Follow by spraying with approximately 1 cup of vinegar. Allow this to fizz and bubble for 5 minutes then flush.
Soak a towelling rag in distilled white vinegar and wrap it around taps and areas of limescale build up. Leave for half an hour then rinse clean. More stubborn areas of limescale may need a scrub with a hard-bristled brush prior to rinsing.
Spray a mix of one part water to one part vinegar onto tiles and leave for 5 minutes before wiping over with a damp cloth and rinsing with warm water. For a more thorough clean reuse old toothbrushes to scrub grout using a paste of baking soda and water before using cleaning the tiles with 1:1 vinegar and water solution.
A Word on Borax
I’ve always given borax a wide berth. As it’s banned in the UK, I assumed it to be highly toxic, however having read this post by Wendy at Moral Fibres, I’m going to include borax substitute in my cleaning arsenal this spring. According to Christina Strutt in her Guide to Natural Housekeeping, it is an extremely effective antibacterial, fungicidal cleaning and bleaching agent that is almost as effective as regular bleach but with lower toxicity to humans. Great for cleaning fridges, washing delicates and removing carpet stains.
Spring Cleaning Naturally this Spring
Having never been a fan of too many chemicals in the home, I’m eschewing branded cleaning products completely this spring and will be carrying out a completely natural spring clean. I hope some of you will join me. In the words of the late Dame Anita Roddick, we need to ‘move away from a dumb economy that chews up, spits out and destroys nature and people, towards a smart one that operates with natural cycles: we need to learn to live within our limits’ and this is one of my small ways of living better and more responsibly.
I wrote an earlier post on ways to reduce the toxins in your home, which you can read here. If you would like help or direction in decorating and designing your interiors in a low toxin way, please do get in touch.
Resources used in researching this post and places where you can find out more:
- The Naturally Clean Home, Karyn Siegel-Maier
- Cabbages & Roses Guide to Natural Housekeeping, Christina Strutt
- Super Natural Home, Beth Greer
- Fresh Clean Home, Wendy Graham
- Green Interior Design, Lori Dennis
Healthista, Wellness Mama, Apartment Therapy, Don’t Cramp My Style, Upworthy, Mentalfloss,
Greenpeace, UKCPI Association, Asthma UK, NHS, BBC online, British Medical Journal, Organic Consumers Organisation, The Independent, American Journal of Respiratory & Critical Care Medicine, Science Daily, UK Health & Safety Executive.