Monday, February 9, 2015

Au Naturale: How I'm Reducing Chemicals in Our Home

Let's talk about something dirty- cleaning. I know it's not my favorite activity, and maybe not yours either, but I have to admit that I love the feeling of a sparkling clean house! Over the past few years, I've been trying to reduce the amount and intensity of chemicals I use when cleaning. There seem to be so, so many heavy duty, industrial strength chemical products on shelves, and I've really found that in many cases, they can be replaced by more natural, safer products.

A little disclaimer here: I will say that I am certainly, by no means an expert in this field, but this is my experience and what I've found works.

There are a few reasons I've wanted to decrease chemicals. Once we had a puppy in the house, I wanted to be sure anything she might lick, or come into contact with wouldn't be toxic. Also, I just feel in general that the fewer harsh chemicals we can expose ourselves to and inhale, probably the better. When the label suggests that I need to then rinse a surface after using for it to be safe, or should wear gloves to use it, I really have to question if it's safe at all. I haven't done any specific research, but I feel better about what I'm using when it's less hazardous. Another reason is that it's cheaper- way cheaper- to clean my house this way. I'm buying fewer products, using things for many more than one specific use, and decluttering under my sinks. When you can use one product for several purposes, it just makes things seem more steamlined and less complicated.

The first of my experiments was cleaning with a mixture of vinegar and water. I saved a spray bottle from a store bought (all natural) countertop cleaner, and mixed about half vinegar and half water. I also added in some orange peels to help diffuse the vinegary smell. I use this on counters, to clean our stovetop and microwave, Keurig, and to clean the toaster oven and toaster, etc. I really try to avoid cleaning things that will heat up and infuse food with the chemical smell, residue, etc., with harsh chemicals.  This also works as a great natural window cleaner.

While I'm cleaning the bathroom, the vinegar and water works well on mirrors, and counters too. I don't like to spray something like Windex close to our toothbrushes, etc., so this works just fine as a natural bathroom cleaner with a reusable microfiber cloth. 

Another combination I've tried in the kitchen (and bathrooms) is good old baking soda with full strength vinegar - my favorite natural drain cleaner recipe. Think exploding volcanos from science class in elementary school. Remember how fun that was? Cleaning your drains can be just as much fun! I saved a plastic container and filled it with baking soda, and sprinkle some down the drain. Then, I dump some vinegar down and watch the eruption! It will fizz for quite a while, and you might need to do another glug or two to get all of the baking soda dissolved, but it really will do all of the work. After a few minutes, or whenever I finally remember, I run some hot water down the drain to make sure the baking soda didn't clump up anywhere. Try it- you'll be left with a fresher drain! If you do this periodically, you might find that you don't need to use those scary drain clog clearers. Seriously. If it's intense enough to basically burn up a drain clog, do you really want to put that where your dinner dishes go? Invest in those kitchen sink drain strainer things, and fizz it up every now and then.

Speaking of drains, I have also found that using these rubber drain covers in the shower have made a big difference in that drain. I do fizz it every once in a while, but keeping hair out of there all together is the best bet. I have tried a couple of different ones, and this one is best for my super thick, long, and fine hair. Gross. Anyway.

Since we're talking showers, cleaning the shower is not what I'd consider a good time. Additionally, inhaling chemical fumes while the shower steams up after I've cleaned it also falls into that category of not fun. Think about it- the shower is steamy, and all of those chemicals mix into the air. I have found that using a natural tub cleaner mixture of half vinegar and half dish soap has worked wonders. No need to go fancy on the soap, the plain clear or blue kind will be just fine. I pour it into the handle of one of these scrubby sponges and scrub away after a shower. I think having the walls wet and steamed up already is helpful, and then you can just rinse away the bubbles. I've had a lot of success with this, and like the idea of a less harmful chemical cleaner.

Update (August 2016): I recently made up a batch of this daily shower spray that Chelsea shared here.  Give it a try!

Baking soda works well as an abrasive when cleaning something you need to scrub a bit. I have used it with success on the metal parts of our toaster oven, and have also found that cream of tarter works quite well on metal too! Mix it with a bit of water to make a paste, scrub it up, and then wipe off with a damp cloth. A little goes a long way, and works quite well.

When cleaning off the greasy stovetop, I used to use a heavier cleaning spray, but now I use just a soapy cloth. Dish soap has degreasers in it, and it's something I always have on hand, so it's my new go to. I find that it works really well to get the job done.

One more use for baking soda I've found is as a carpet freshener. I sprinkle it all over our carpet, let it sit for a few minutes and up to a half hour or so, and then vacuum. While Lucy isn't all that stinky, sometimes, I feel like I want to just refresh our carpet, and this does the trick. Next time I might experiment will adding some lavender oil to add to the freshness.

I bought a package of these cloths a couple of years ago and really like them. There are some things that I would rather use a disposable paper towel to clean, but these can replace lots of those! I usually wash them in the washing machine after a few uses, but in between uses, if it didn't get really dirty, I'll just quickly hand wash it in the sink with a squirt of dish soap, and drape over the spray bottle to dry.

I haven't given up buying cleaning products entirely. I still have a couple of more natural cleaners that I like, and haven't yet recreated. I really enjoy Mrs. Meyers and J.R. Watkins products, both of which I can find at my Target. I love the fresh scents that make cleaning a little more fun and leave my kitchen or bathrooms smelling clean! I especially like Mrs. Meyers all purpose cleaner and countertop spray in the honeysuckle and lavender scents, and J.R. Watkins countertop spray and air freshener in lemon. I tend to mix these cleaners with water to dilute and stretch them. I've had no problems with this, and am spending less money because they can go a lot further this way!

I would say that overhauling my cleaning regimen has made me be more discriminatory about the store bought cleaners I do use. In almost all instances, I've been able to find a homemade cleaning formula that works well and is safer for us and for Lucy, too. We're saving money, exposing ourselves to way fewer chemicals, and saving space buy having multipurpose items under the sink!

Have you tried your own homemade cleaners, or found any "recipes" you really like? Any tips for easier cleaning using fewer chemicals? I'd love to know what you've tried! Please let me know in the comments section below.
Happy cleaning!

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