When it’s time to open the windows to get some fresh air this spring, you want just that: fresh air. Not the smell of bleach and other chemicals when you go about your spring cleaning. Familiar cleaning products often contain toxic ingredients that may have unknown side effects, create health problems, and lower indoor air quality. Using environmentally safe cleaning supplies will leave your house just as clean and save you quite a few dollars.
But there is more to spring cleaning than just making wise product choices. When you try some of these green cleaning tips, also think about waste. Instead of using paper towels, use sponges or cloths (which can be rejuvenated by soaking them in white vinegar, killing mold, bacteria, and germs).
Decluttering: As you go through your home to declutter, find places to donate used clothes, toys, books, and household items and recycle used electronics, batteries, and that container in the back of the fridge whose contents you just can’t be sure of. Start by getting rid of the sweater your great-aunt gave you for your birthday six years ago that you never wore. Reuse old t-shirts as cleaning rags and donate the rest.
Laundry: When you do your laundry, use cold water whenever possible to save on the fuel costs of heating water. Fill your washing machine to the top and do fewer loads. Another great way to green your laundry process is to hang-dry your clothes. Set up a clothesline in the laundry room or outside. Even if you like using the dryer to soften up your clothes and remove wrinkles, you can still hang dry and then pop them in the dryer for about ten minutes to suck out the dampness.
Fridge: Take the time to clean out the fridge. After composting old food and recycling containers, use a vinegar and warm water solution to wipe down shelves. Then try to get behind the fridge to clean the fan blades and coils. Removing this dust and dirt buildup improves the efficiency of the fridge, reducing your electric bill and prolonging the life of the fridge.
Kitchen: While you’re in the kitchen, it can’t hurt to clean all your appliances. Mix half a cup of white vinegar with half a cup of water in a microwave-safe bowl and bring to a boil in the microwave. The vinegar will remove odors and loosen food particles inside, making it easy to wipe down. For nasty spots of rust on the toaster oven, tin foil is your new best friend! To begin, wipe away any dirt or residue from the area. Sprinkle the shiny side of the aluminum foil with water, then simply rub away the rusty spots. Because aluminum is softer than steel, it won’t leave any scratches and will even polish the surface. For the dishwasher, pour a cup of white vinegar into the empty machine and run a cycle.
Vinegar is also great for getting rid of mineral deposits in tea kettles and coffee makers. Let vinegar sit in the tea kettle overnight and then rinse with plain water, and run a cup of vinegar through the coffee maker. Run plain water through the machine once or twice to rinse it clean.
Like vinegar, the acidic properties of citrus fruits cut grease. For cleaning the kitchen sink or the inside of greasy pots, use the juice from half a lemon or simply cut a lime in half and rub the fruit along the surface. Allow the juice to sit for a little while to soak in and remove stains, but make sure to rinse thoroughly to remove the acids.
Foodstuffs: Vinegar is so safe, you can even clean your vegetables with it! For fruits and veggies that you and your neighbor farmer did not grow, rinse in a solution of one tablespoon vinegar and one gallon of water. Rinse with cold water, then munch away.
Fruit flies lingering by the compost pile and ants on the kitchen floor? No problem. Set out a small dish of white vinegar to collect the fruit flies. Sprinkle Borax in problem areas to get rid of ants. Then invest in sealable containers for your kitchen compost and food that attracts these critters.
Floors and countertops: For kitchen and bathroom floors, use a simple solution of half a cup of distilled white vinegar and a gallon of warm water and start mopping. You can add dish soap or essential oils like lemongrass, peppermint, and grapefruit for scent. For carpet, sprinkle baking soda, let sit overnight, and then vacuum in the morning.
Soak orange or lemon peels in vinegar in a sealed mason jar for two weeks, then remove the peels and pour the vinegar into a spray bottle to use on counters and other surfaces. Turn baking soda into a paste with water to remove stains such as grease, dirty fingerprints on walls, and smudges on appliances. Make a solution of equal parts white vinegar and vegetable oil to remove water ring stains from wood. Rub with the grain. Just make sure you never use white vinegar on marble; the acid will damage the surface.
Windows: Create a simple solution of two tablespoons of vinegar and a gallon of water, then spray on windows. Use a balled-up piece of newspaper (after you’ve read it) and some elbow grease, rubbing the newspaper in a circular motion to really get the windows clean. Newspaper doesn’t leave streaks on the surface like paper towels do. Use a clean sheet of newspaper when you’re done to go over the surface once more, removing any traces of vinegar left behind. For outdoor windows, use a soft brush to knock off dirt and cobwebs before using the newspaper. Avoid newspaper pages that are filled with colored ink.
Bathroom: Guess what? Our old friends vinegar and baking soda are great for cleaning the toilet, too. Mix the two together to scrub the toilet and let it sit for half an hour before flushing. You can also add essential oils that have antibacterial properties, such as tea tree and thyme, which can be used as disinfectants. To remove mold from the shower, use two parts water, one part white vinegar, and one part hydrogen peroxide and Borax and scrub away. To clear the drain, pour half a cup of salt, then half a cup of baking soda, then six cups of boiling water in the drain and allow it to sit overnight.
Air: With everything sparkling, there is only one step left: freshen the air. Fill a spray bottle with a solution of one teaspoon baking soda, one tablespoon white vinegar, and one cup water, or sprinkle an essential oil such as lavender, cinnamon, clove, peppermint, or citrus on a cotton ball in the corner of a room. One of the best ways to keep indoor air clean, however, is to have house plants. Some efficient live air filters include spider plants, English ivy, bamboo palm, asparagus fern, and peace lilies. For one last trick to bring spring into your home, snip budded branches of early blossoming plants, such as flowering quince, forsythia, pussy willow, dogwood, and honeysuckle, put them in a vase of water, and watch them bloom.