I’ll begin by stating the obvious which is that I have neither a degree in chemistry, nor a desire to wax poetic about the joys of house cleaning. I have a house that often needs cleaning and I like the stuff that we use to clean it to be, well, as clean as possible, too. I write quite a bit about simple cleaning habits in my book, so I won’t rehash all of that here, but it occurred to me that it’s been awhile since I talked about cleaning in this place. Here’s a current peek into my natural cleaning habit in case anyone else is inspired to make a shift.
When it comes to so-called natural household cleaners, I find that the conversation can evoke strong reactions (brb). There are those who embrace a simplified, DIY approach wholeheartedly and those who are unconvinced that anything whipped together in the ktichen instead of in a laboratory won’t be up to snuff. Whenever I’ve written about this before there’s always been a handful of folks who get huffy about the word natural, a handful of folks who don’t think I go far enough to rid my house of toxins, and a handful of people who seem baffled that anything beyond the most conventional grocery store aisle cleaning products could do any good.
No surprise! We’ve got generations of marketing to tell us that we need specialized cleaning products to make our counters gleam, our toilets glisten, and our floors shine. And we have a new deluge of awareness about harmful chemicals that has us worried that anything that’s not crystal clear spring water might have hidden dangers and troublesome side effects. Fear mongers and skeptics abound and sometimes they live inside the very same person.
There’s nothing wrong with some healthy skepticism about cleaning products. There are chemicals in many products that are not terrific for indoor air quality, not great for our bodies, and plain old bad for our ecosystems. The good news is that it’s also possible to find or make perfectly satisfactory products with ingredients that I don’t have to worry about. This is not to say that there’s not a place for science and surfactants and experts in the field working to make better products—just the opposite! But it’s to offer a boost of confidence that homes can be cleaned sufficiently well with very little. Besides, it’s kind of nice to develop a frugal and homegrown approach to keeping your place clean.
For my part, I’m always interested in storing as few products as possible. When I have the time or the need, I use old standbys like lemon juice and vinegar and baking soda for scrubbing and scouring. I keep a bar of Savon de Marseille on my counter for regular kitchen cleanup. For the last few years, I’ve also been mixing up my own all-purpose cleaner in a spray bottle. With little guys around, our need for a quick clean up solution tripled and even though this favorite cleaner is available for refilling at our local grocery store, I was finding it hard to keep up with the frequent refills we needed in a house with tiny guys. Instead, I mix my own simple spray at home: a combination of a teaspoon or so of Castile soap + a pint or so of water + a few drops of essential oil (I usually use lavender and sweet orange oil). Lately I’ve been replacing the Castile soap with Dr. Bonner’s Sal Suds. When I went out to Oregon in August, my sister introduced me to the pine-scented detergent. It’s more clean-rinsing than Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap and can be used in about a hundred different ways around the house. I’ve been loving it and thought you guys might too. (You can read more about it here and here.)
+ For the all-purpose spray I make a very rough estimate of approximately 1 teaspoon of soap or “suds” to 1 pint of water. (At this rate, this 32-ounce bottle is gonna last us a good long while.)
+ After sending our second glass bottle crashing onto the tiles in our tiny kitchen, I invested in a stainless steel bottle with sprayer nozzle, which was a good idea gone wrong. It leaked. Everywhere. Instead, I’ve attached our old sprayer to a plastic 16-ounce soap bottle. Inoffensive, and more importantly, unbreakable.
+ On the subject of cleaning, it seems fair to mention that since Silas was born we’ve enlisted the occasional help of a professional to help us to maintain a clean home in a household with two parents who work full time. Si Se Puede is a New York City based women-owned and women-run cooperative, committed to paying their workers a living wage, in case you’re local and in need of support.