Try This at Home
There’s no point eating organic foods if you prepare them on a kitchen counter wiped with harmful chemicals, says Ellen Sandbeck, author of Organic Housekeeping.
Sandbeck has a non-toxic solution for just about every cleaning job. Remove sweat stains from the laundry by soaking shirts in vinegar before washing them. Use glycerin-based liquid saddle soap to clean leather furniture. Scrub wicker furniture with a moderately stiff scrub brush dipped in warm saltwater. Polish furniture with four parts olive oil and two parts beeswax heated in a double boiler.
For general sink cleaning, Sandbeck recommends just hot water and a mild dish liquid or baking soda. Wipe and then rinse with plain water. For sink stains, pour a little consumer-strength (3 percent) hydrogen peroxide on a clean, wet cloth. Rub it on the stain and rinse it off immediately. Don’t let it sit on the surface for more than a couple of seconds. Other sink-sanitizing suggestions are Bon Ami, a tried-and-true cleanser that’s been around for 120 years, and Oxiclean, an oxygen bleach.
Sandbeck’s choice for cleaning kitchen surfaces is to mix a small amount of dishwashing liquid with water. She avoids antibacterial dish liquids for two reasons. First, overuse of antibacterials adds to antibiotic resistance, a major public health concern. Second, many antibacterial products contain triclosan, a chlorinated pesticide.
Distilled white vinegar (made from grain, not petroleum) is a safe, effective all-purpose disinfectant. Keep a spray bottle of undiluted vinegar on your countertop and spray it on everything in the kitchen and then wipe it up with a dish towel. The smell, a bit strong at first, dissipates quickly.
Another option is what Sandbeck calls the “dual spray system,” which uses undiluted vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, sprayed from separate bottles but used together. These two substances combined are more effective than either one alone, according to research conducted at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Together, they are as effective as chlorine bleach. (Don’t use this combo on calcium-based stone countertops as it might damage the stone. Use soap and water instead.)
White vinegar can disinfect the toilet, too. To clean the surface, spray vinegar everywhere and wipe it off. If you scrub the bowl regularly with a toilet brush (with some vinegar spritzed in), that will keep it sanitized. However, if you wait long enough between cleanings that mineral stains appear, Sandbeck suggests this: Turn off the water valve and flush the toilet so that the bowl is almost empty. Fill the bowl with vinegar to its normal level (½ to 1 gallon) and let it sit for 8 to 12 hours. Then scrub stains off with a toilet brush and flush. (Before you do this, remove any automatic toilet cleaner or deodorizer in your toilet first. You don’t want to mix chlorine with anything, even vinegar.)
For surface mildew in the bathroom, prevention is key; wiping the bath or shower dry goes a long way. How do you get rid of mildew when your best prevention fails? Sandbeck says it will come off with a cloth saturated with white vinegar. If mildew leaves a stain, spray it with hydrogen peroxide to bleach it. If it persists, try this Sandbeck solution: Pour vinegar into a glass jar, place an inch-long piece of copper wire into it (copper has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties) and let it sit for no longer than two days. Remove the wire, pour the coppery vinegar into a spray bottle and use it to clean off the mildew.
What about a stopped drain? Will vinegar and baking soda dissolve super-stubborn hair clogs? Unfortunately, no. The only non-toxic way to clean the drain is to open it up and grab the gunk.
“It’s messy and icky,” says Sandbeck, “but it gets the job done. And If you’re wondering why to avoid commercial drain cleaner, just check out the ingredient list.”
Do you use a safe trick or two when cleaning your home? Tell us about them.