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I remember, years ago, spending a few hours cleaning my house and when I was done, I’d think, “Now, THAT’S the smell of clean!!“. It was such a satisfying smell. Together with how tidy everything was, it just gave this feeling of “everything is right in my world today!”
Of course, by ‘right’, I wasn’t counting the bleach residue that felt like it was lining the inside of my nose for hours, even after I’d left the house. But my countertops were germ-free, so it was worth it. The blurry eyes I’d get from the ammonia fumes were pretty annoying too, but that was temporary and “look how shiny the sink is!”
The worst were the headaches and that wave of heaviness that drove me to the couch for a big ol’ nap when I still had a thousand things to do. As someone whose identity is practically defined by my incessant need to be productive, that bugged me the most. But I figured, surely it was because I’d just spent all that energy cleaning, right?
Turns out, no. Not really.
Ok yeah, even today, the idea of cleaning my house does make me want to curl up and take a nap with a cat squished into my neck. (Not all naps are unproductive, right?) But back then, after breathing in all those fumes, I didn’t just want the nap – I absolutely needed it. I remember feeling like I’d puke and pass out if I didn’t.
One day while I was spraying down the kitchen and feeling especially disgusted by it, I finally got my awakening. It suddenly dawned on me that, ironically, my cleaning supplies were not clean! It was a weird realization, but it triggered something inside me and thus began my slow transition toward healthier cleaning alternatives.
Dipping My Toes into Natural Cleaners
At first, I was buying brands like Method and Mrs. Meyers, both of which marketed themselves as natural alternatives and both had (still have) great packaging. I used those for a couple years before I’d started reading the ingredients in my body care products and realized I should probably take a closer look at other things I was buying as well.
On a good-better-best scale, I’d probably score brands like Mrs. Meyers and Method as a solid “ok”, maybe even “good”. They’re definitely not as bad as the well-advertised brands my family relied on growing up. But they’re not exactly the squeaky clean ingredients I wanted either. So onto the next phase of my transition I went.
During my research, I’d read about cleaning with things like salt, lemons, or vinegar, but I assumed these “old school” cleaners weren’t as effective as chemicals. For sure, they’d make the job take ten times as long, what with all that extra scrubbing… as I assumed would be the case.
“Nah”, I thought, “I can just find better cleaners at Whole Foods.” And I did.
Taking the Next Step
There were still ingredients in the healthier options on Whole Food’s shelves that I didn’t recognize, but the labels often listed vinegar as well, so that seemed like a good start. I also saw sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) fairly often, especially in laundry detergents. I also noticed that baking soda was one of the ingredients in Bon Ami’s Powder Scrub and it didn’t smell anything like that awfully strong Comet powder we used growing up, which is a big plus.
So those cleaners were good for a while… until I started diving even deeper. To be fair, most of the brands I’d found at Whole Foods and other healthier markets were definitely “better” on my good-better-best scale of clean cleaners. But I was looking for “best”, meaning the purest.
A few products I’d found did border on, even achieved, “best” in my book, including Bon Ami’s Powder Cleanser. Their ingredients are definitely pure… but it made me wonder why I’d need to spend extra to buy a branded solution when I could get the same cleaning effect from baking soda alone. Plus, as a vegetarian, I don’t like that Bon Ami sells a cleaner that uses animal tallow.
So I decided to take the next step and give baking soda and vinegar a solid try. I was still a little nervous, but I was equally curious to see how they’d work.
Never Turning Back
The transition over was easier than I thought. In fact, making that first move was really the hardest part. I even kept my other cleaners on hand for a while, just in case.
I started with a couple small boxes of baking soda, but I ended up using it for everything. I cleaned the sinks and tubs with it, as expected, but I also found myself using it to remove any stuck on foods from pots and pans, as well as boosting my detergent in the laundry. I ended up buying a bulk size container of baking soda, which looked pricey at first, but it lasted for ages and was incredibly convenient to have on hand.
I also bought a spray bottle and a gallon of white vinegar. At first, I filled the bottle entirely with vinegar with no water or essential oils. These days, I do sometimes add essential oils, usually rosemary, lavender, eucalyptus, or cinnamon.
I remember starting in the kitchen, spraying down the countertops and stove, the fridge, and the sink. It was a little strong at first, but the smell dissipated within minutes and it didn’t linger in my nose, like the bleach sprays used to. I also filled a small bucket of half water/half vinegar to mop the floors.
Later, I bought two more spray bottles. I kept the original undiluted vinegar spray in the kitchen for the bigger cleaning days and another undiluted vinegar spray in the bathroom, so I’d have it handy. I filled the third bottle with a mix of half vinegar/half water, keeping that in the kitchen for everyday wipe-ups. I also use the 50/50 mix to wipe down wood furniture around the house.
It turned out that the vinegar spray was equally as easy to use as the old chemical stuff and everything looked nice and clean — with one small exception. The old white porcelain sink was always collecting little silver scratches from the pots and pans. I sprinkled them with a little baking soda, not expecting much. But I wet the sponge, gave it a quick once over and, voila! Clean. Clean. Clean. So far, I was sold.
Onto the bathroom.
Full-on vinegar for the sink, counter, and toilet. Done. Let’s see how this baking soda works in the tub….
I sprinkled it on, thinking I’d be scrubbing for a while. Surprisingly, the soap scum came off so easily. I may have put in a teeny tiny bit more elbow grease into it than I would have with the chemical cleaners, but honestly, not much and it was way more satisfying.
I rinsed the baking soda down with water from the shower head and then sprayed the tiles and fixtures with some vinegar. I also gave the tub a final once over with vinegar to knock out any germs the baking soda didn’t catch, and that was it. (By the way, don’t worry about rinsing the baking soda down the drain! Baking soda won’t clear existing clogs in your pipes, but it does help to prevent them.)
Overall, my house was just as clean as it was with the chemical cleaners, but without the toxic fumes or toxic residue. My cleaning products were finally “clean”. Now I could truly breathe easy!
What I Ultimately Learned
Looking back, I really wish I’d made the transition from chemical cleaners to the natural alternatives much sooner. I was afraid it would be extra work or not as effective, but both assumptions were wrong. Not only are nature’s cleaners just as effective, but they are also safer and less expensive. Plus, I love that I can buy them in bulk.
If you haven’t transitioned over yet, I urge you to give it a try. If you don’t like the results, you can always go back. But honestly, I doubt you will. Either way, I’d be very curious to hear your story! Tag @greenopedia on Facebook or Pinterest or #greenopedia on Instagram to let us know how it goes.
And If You Want an Extra Boost…
If you love the idea of cleaning with vinegar, but just want an extra boost “just to be sure”, you might consider Force of Nature.
Force of Nature isn’t a bottled cleaner, per se. It’s actually a small appliance that “electrifies” tap water + vinegar + salt. This electrolysis transforms the mixture into an all-purpose cleaner that has been independently tested to be more effective (and more cost efficient) than most commercial products for both cleaning and neutralizing odors.
Because it is completely non-toxic, you can use it to disinfect toothbrushes, makeup brushes, cloth diapers, toys, sippy cups, gym sneakers, yoga mats, litter boxes, humidifiers, washing machines, sports equipment, colorfast textiles (e.g., rugs & upholstery)… just about anything.