Cleaning House

Cleaning the house certainly isn’t the most popular job here on the Farmlet. This would be obvious to anyone who sees the cobweb collection around our windows. Yes, Kevin and I both have a soft spot for spiders, but that’s not the only reason why this place is starting to look like the haunted house. The cobweb situation has been getting out of control. (Actually, Kevin had a “pet” spider called Igor for a while — a fabulously fat black arachnid, who lived outside the front door and had a hearty appetite for fly carcases. He/she seems to have moved on, now.)

Although some of the house-cleaning tasks are not our favourites, I can say that I take a real satisfaction in finding ways to clean the house that are kind to the environment and to our wallets. Annie Berthold-Bond’s Better Basics for the Home, and Karen Logan’s Clean House Clean Planet have lots of fantastic ideas along these lines.

Today, as the rain poured down, I dusted and washed the insides of some of our windows. Then it was time to clean the bathroom. I imagine that a lot of people will already be familiar with these tricks for eliminating the use of expensive/toxic cleaning products, but felt inspired to share a few of them, in case they are of interest to someone.

Washing windows? Use hot water with some white vinegar and a tiny bit of liquid soap in it. Dry and polish with screwed/up pieces of newsprint paper. You can use newspaper for this, but I don’t like the black smudges it puts on hands — and windowsills and walls if you are not careful. We save any plain newsprint we find (in packaging and so forth) for this purpose.

Cleaning tubs and tiles? Scoop a bit of baking soda onto the dirty surface, add a squirt of liquid soap, mix them together, and you’ve got a cream cleaner that will bring a shine to the grubbiest bathroom sink. Baking soda cuts through grease, is a mild abrasive, deodorant, and disinfectant. Pretty neat stuff.

Removing coffee and tea stains from mugs and other kitchen items? Another job for the baking soda. Baking soda also helps clean grease and baked-on grime from baking pans and other kitchen utensils.

Cleaning the toilet? Drop 1/2 cup of baking soda into the toilet bowl, and scrub thoroughly. Now add 1/2 cup of white distilled vinegar. It will fizz like mad. Leave to sit for a while before flushing. Of course, we can’t use this method on our composting toilet! Unfortunately, our flush toilet gets pretty crusty, even if we hardly ever use it, because of out water supply. The water comes from a spring, and leaves discolouring and mineral residues in the toilet bowl. We’d have to use something stronger than baking soda and vinegar to solve this problem. Maybe borax? But I haven’t found any borax in the Kaitaia shops. . . and we are happy enough to put up with a bit of discolouration, as long as the bathroom is clean and fresh.

Note: We’d love to have a go at making our own soap at some stage. When I looked at the cost of buying materials to make soap, however, it started to look like an expensive project. We are lucky to have access to good quality and affordable liquid and bar soap (made using vegetable oils, and free of toxic chemicals) in the ready-made form, for the time being. We buy these in bulk. Even better than buying oil and lye for soap-making, would be to make our own oil and lye. . . but I think we’ve got a few other projects to tackle before we go there!

12 Responses to “Cleaning House”

  1. Rebecca KS says:

    My aunt Susie had spiders named Hansie and Fritzie for awhile, in her basement. If they don’t give you the willies, spiders are nice to have around.

    Your cleaning methods sound like mine–there’s not much that won’t come clean between baking soda and vinegar. I’ve even used baking soda on the kitchen floor, when spots wouldn’t come off with regular mopping! The vinegar reminds me of our yearly spring cleaning, washing all the windows in the house… as a kid, I really hated the smell and getting the black print on my fingers.

    I hadn’t heard of cleaning the toilet with baking soda before. Sounds like it could be fun, especially after adding the vinegar!

    Another thing that baking soda is good for is cleaning stovetops. My roommates had announced to me once that the brown stains on the range were permanent, but a little scrubbing with baking soda took them right off. (Unfortunately, they tend to come right back, too, with three of us sharing the stove) I’ve seen people scrub their stovetops with steel wool to get them clean, and end up scratching the paint!

    If you have carpets that are a little funky, sprinkling some baking soda on them before vaccuuming can help absorb the smell. Some added to the wash can help freshen laundry, too.

  2. Rebecca KS says:

    Also, vinegar is good for helping showerheads blocked by deposits from hard water–either unscrew the showerhead and soak it in a bowl of water and vinegar, or else just tie a bag of water and vinegar up around the showerhead without removing it. If you choose the latter, I highly recommend warning your roommates what you’re up to–we had some excitement once in my house when someone turned on the water with the bag still over the showerhead.

  3. Rebecca says:

    Hi Rebecca,
    Thanks for more neat baking soda and vinegar ideas. I remember that you know a thing or two about cunning ways to fix showerheads. A couple of years ago, I was about to buy a replacement until you suggested soaking the old one. It came out as good as new. Actually, your comment has made me wonder if our showerhead here could do with a bit of a soak. There’s all kinds of stuff in our water, and the shower is rather sluggish these days!

  4. Nicole says:

    I clean most everything with vinegar, borax and baking soda. There’s little that won’t succumb. What doesn’t, gets a dose of Bar Keeper’s Friend (oxalic acid)… which even removes rust form old tools without scratching.

    For rings in the toilet, get a pumice stone. If your toilet is porcelain, it won’t hurt it, instead the stone will slowing wear away as you use it. Alternately, drain the toilet and let a vinegar solution stand in the toilet for several hours.

  5. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the ideas, Nicole. We actually have a pumice stone sitting around somewhere, so could easily try it out on the stains in the toiled — alas, the problem is a bit more widespread than just a ring around the water line!

  6. lisette says:

    hi read about you wanting to make soap in the future and that it’s so expensive…….one bottle of oil and some lye will get you a whole load of soap…….I’ve made soap last year 2 bottles of oil and still trying to wash trough the pile and we use it every day PLUS I do laundry with occasionally 😀

    total cost somewhere round 10 euro’s for 20 bars of soap and lye for more

    good luck with the pregnancy


  7. Rebecca says:

    Hi Lisette,
    I can see why my complaints about the expense of making soap might seem strange, since oil and lye are such basic items. Lye is the problem, not the oil, and perhaps I am not looking in the right places. So far, the only New Zealand source I could find online for small quantities of lye was a website for home/hobby soap-makers, and the prices for lye (and all kinds of other unnecessary rubbish!) seemed ridiculous. Finding some basics (like borax, lye, hydrogen peroxide) in an area like the one we live in has proved to be difficult or impossible at times. I may have more luck finding a source of lye if I have a chance to look around in Auckland. Sometimes these things turn up locally, too, (as the hydrogen peroxide did) proving that I was simply looking in the wrong place. I’m keeping my eyes open, in any case.
    Thanks for your comment, and your good wishes for the pregnancy!

  8. Nicole says:

    I just learned that those 6 trees on my property I couldn’t identify are Sapindus drummondii — Western Soapberry. And if you think that means you can use the berries for soap and laundry detergent, you’re right! The berries contain saponin. I lost my fruit set this spring due to the big Easter freeze, but I’ll try these guys out next year. Why make soap when you can pick it off a tree?

    Although this tree is a North American native and probably isn’t available in New Zealand, gave me a lot of results for plants to use for soap that might be worth a try.

  9. Rebecca says:

    Hi Nicole,
    That sounds fascinating. I can’t wait to hear about you results next year on your blog. Maybe some of those plants are available in New Zealand. I’ll have to check that out. Thanks for sharing that information!

  10. qd says:

    Don’t know if this helps, but:

    Still seems dangerous!

  11. Helen says:

    I came across your website by chance when looking for information about liquid soap, however I see you have difficulty in purchasing Lye. Lye is caustic soda, and although I don’t know where in NZ you are, if you have a detergent manufacturing company in your area, they’ll more than likely sell you a reasonably small quantity. I’m sure Hi-Tech Detergents Ltd, 3 Kells Place, Hamilton 2001, Phone: (07) 847-9904, would help you out. We used to own the company.

    And a tip for anyone who has a major problem with condensation on their windows, wipe the dry window over with a dry, soft cloth on which you have a good squirt of liquid hand wash. I’m experimenting with it at the moment, and am surprised to find it actually does work to a large degree. There is certainly considerable improvement.

  12. Rebecca says:

    Hi Helen,
    Thanks for the neat tip about the windows. We do have a problem with the condensation during the winter, so I’ll be keen to try that. Do you think it would work with any kind of liquid soap, or do you think there is something different about handwash that makes it work?
    Thanks also for the info about getting the lye. I’m pretty sure there are not any detergent manufacturers up here near Kaitaia, but I’ll ask around just in case.