Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring, Yay! Spring cleaning...not so much.

A suburban greenmom longs for a spring-scrubbed home but dreads the process of getting there...

Okay, I have to be perfectly honest here. Reading posts from all my garden-greeny friends who are already harvesting stuff from their gardens is making me want to throw lingering icicles at y’all. Because I live just outside Chicago, in a part of the country where it is not generally considered advisable to plant anything in the ground till, oh, say, Mother’s Day.

But today…today it was 70 degrees out and for the first time we got to open all our windows. First the first time we let the stale winter air out of our house, let some new spring air in. It felt amazing.

Unfortunately, right on the heels of this lovely airing-out—the realization that spring cleaning is going to have to happen soon.

My husband and I are not great housekeepers. Pretty bad, actually. We both have this tendency to procrastinate and procrastinate until the job is much worse than it otherwise would have been. In general, I’m the one who keeps the daily clutter as manageable as possible, and when it’s time for the serious every-other-week cleanings (er…okay, I’ll be honest, we don’t do the serious cleanings every other week, more like every other month) he’s best at stuff like floors and tubs and stuff like that. And we do our weekly “clean before the sitter comes so she won’t think we live like pigs” blow-through before choir practice on Wednesday nights.

But. We’re going to have to take a whole weekend, and fairly soon, to really clean this house. To move every blessed thing off the kitchen surfaces and scrub the heck out of them. To attack the creeping tub-grime. To empty and scrub the refrigerator, and refill it again with the actual food and compost or throw out the science projects. To move the actual furniture and vacuum the living room. And bedrooms. The shelves. The books. The surfaces.

This will be our first year trying to do this since my discovering natural cleaning products—by which I mean, vinegar and baking soda. Unfortunately my husband does not share my admiration for the stuff, and his idea of “green” cleaners are anything with the word “natural” in the name. And he genuinely believes that having separate bottled purchases for the toilet, the counter, even the kitchen versus the bathroom, will make things get cleaner. Which all results in a combination of way more bottles and containers than we have room for, many of which contain a bunch of chemical nasties. (This is not me complaining, by the way—I have a husband who shares the cleaning with me, and I fully realize he’s worth his weight in gold.)

I on the other hand have a spray bottle full of a mixture of white vinegar and water, with a few drops each of lemon and lavender essential oils to help with cleaning and reduce the smell (which I don’t mind but which hubby hates). I use it for pretty much everything.

Still, I’m fairly new at this, and I get the sense that a lot of Booth readers have more tricks up your sleeves than I do. I was just shy of giddy to discover this site with 1001 uses for distilled white vinegar, and even giddier to realize that I already know several hundred of them. (Now to be clear, I haven’t taken a count to see if they actually come up to 1001…y’all knock yourselves out if you wish, and report back. J)

So vinegar, or baking soda, or that wonderful bubbly mixture of vinegar and baking soda, will form the backbone of my cleaning supplies. Addition of good antifungal and antibacterial essential oils (like tea tree, lemon, eucalyptus, and maybe lavender because it smells so yummy) to boost their effectiveness. But beyond that I’m not sure where to go, or if I’ll even need to go anywhere.

Crunchy Betty, my heroine of the blogoverse, has been on this whole soap nut kick lately. And like so many things Betty, she’s presented it in a way that has me both cowering a little in intimidation (as in, “what, just toss them in the laundry? It can’t possibly be that easy, I’m sure I’d screw it up”) and dying to give them a try…but I haven’t gone there yet. It’s next on my list, though—I love her idea of cooking the saponins out of the nuts and then freezing the soapnut-liquid in ice cube trays; that’s just brilliant. One would have to keep it separate from the frozen concentrated chicken broth cubes, I guess, but labeling would take care of that, right?

She also mentions coconut oil as a good household cleaner, for things like furniture and bronze polish.

There’s a motherlode of natural cleaning products found here, too, at Eco-cycle, including one for non-toxic silver polish. Which means I might actually get Great-Aunt Mary’s gorgeous but horribly tarnished silver coffee service looking pretty again…and honestly, I’m going to need to start now to convince the family (especially my kids) that once the current box of Swiffers (bought a couple of years ago, before greenlightenment) runs out, we don’t need to buy more of them and can use other kinds of dustrags.

Of course, finding the time to actually do all this will be much harder than finding the cleaning supplies, especially now that the cleaning supplies are so much easier to come by. But does anyone have any large and fabulous ideas (or small gnarly ones) I haven’t thought of yet? Anything that would give this over-busy two-jobs-adults short-attention-span-theater children family an easier time of spring cleaning?

--Jenn the Greenmom


knutty knitter said...

Soap nuts are great - and easy! I just got my first bunch and they are definitely less intimidating than making stuff with baking soda etc. and way less than contemplating making soap (last of the great procrastinators here).

Oh and my idea of cleaning is sort of irregular - let it build up until some emergency is about to occur and then scramble round madly in order to pretend it always looks like this :)

viv in nz

Helena said...

I'm spring cleaning a little at a time. It's pretty much up to me, and with a two-year-old at home I don't have a couple of days to devote to solid cleaning. So, I made a list of all the chores that need to be done, broken down by room, and as I get time I'm doing them and crossing them off. (For example, scrub bathroom, except for tub, while my daughter's taking a bath, or take a morning to polish furniture in the living room while she plays nearby.) The nice thing about using natural cleaners like vinegar is that I can clean while my daughter is nearby and not worry about what she's breathing in.

CallieK said...

You pretty much described the way our household operates too(for kids substitute cats-they're not quite as messy but then they can't be made to pick up after themselves either so I call it a tie). I am slowly weaning us off commercial cleaning products too but there are some things that vinegar an baking soda just doesn't work on. Suggestions for hardwood floors anyone?

DramaMama said...

I too bought into the swiffer thingy before realizing I needed to buy those darn cloths over and over again. But then I discovered that you can make and re-use something to fit! I just bought some fleece (you know how hair and anything seems magnetized to it?) and cut it to fit my swiffer wand thingy. Now the kids can run aroudnd w/it and collect all sorts of stuff! I simply shake it out or wash as needed...AND RE-USE IT! =) It's awesome. Since I got the fleece at a really cheap price, I have a bunch of them now. No need to keep scrounging for swiffer coupons...

Michelle said...

You might think I'm crazy, but natural cleaning has become something of a hobby for me! :) I love trying new mixtures and adding smells (lemon is my favorite) and I have some recipes in the cleaning section of my blog ( that might help you out. I like to keep natural cleaning simple so there's nothing too complicated. Best of luck! :)

Daisy said...

I hear you! I was still chopping ice yesterday. Today I found a "lost" litter box that must have been left out in the rain for a rinse- and got snowed in for the winter. I'm about 200 miles north of Chicagoland, and my garden is half snow, half mud. I guess I'll clean instead.

Kate said...

As a Clevelander, I have to echo your feelings of jealousy over other people's lovely weather. Enjoy the other side! We'll get there soon enough, I hope.

TheoJess said...

Here's a tip I learned on my own...when cleaning the tub with baking soda, things will be A LOT easier if you use some general purpose spray or dish detergent to create sudsing action. The suds, along with the baking soda, will help you get the grime off with a lot less elbow grease than otherwise. Good luck!

Jenn the Greenmom said...

TheoJess, that's a great idea--the soda-vinegar chemistry project does a good job at first, but it's still a huge amount of work to get the feet-grime off the bottom of the tub; we'll totally try that!

And I am ABSOLUTELY going to get some soap nuts.


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