Saturday, March 5, 2011

Less is More: How We Clean 'Round Here

Miss E, unloading the dishwasher by herself
A few years ago, I started caring a whole lot more than I ever did about what my family was putting on, in, and around our bodies. Learning I had type I diabetes, becoming a mother, and owning a home were all major changes that had me thinking, reading, and changing. Soon enough "going green" was part of my vocabulary.

I'm often asked what I clean with, what our diet is like, etc., mostly because I'm vocal and active in the diabetes and adoption communities (online and IRL). I don't push my views onto others, but when asked, I happily share.

For cleaning: I use distilled white vinegar for nearly everything. "Everything" includes carpet cleaner, dishwasher cleaner (run a cycle 2x a month), counter cleaner, mirror cleaner, toilet cleaner, floor cleaner, window cleaner. One gallon of vinegar costs just $3-$4 at Wal-Mart. It's non-toxic (well, in a sane dose) and acts as a disinfectant. I don't love the smell, but for most jobs, you can use 1/2 water, 1/2 vinegar, and if desired, you can add a few drops of the essential oil of your choice. I love orange or tangerine essential oil.

My oldest daughter loves to clean, loves using the potty, and loves to lick surfaces (she's definitely a mouth-baby)---so vinegar is a precious commodity around here. I don't panic when she touches or licks a surface in my home, simply because I know it hasn't been cleaned with harsh, toxic, dangerous, cancer-causing chemicals.

Another great cleaning agent is baking soda. I sprinkle this onto my shower/tub with a little water and scrub away. Baking soda is inexpensive.

I use a mop that holds my own cleaning agent of choice (you guessed it: vinegar) and features washable, reusable cloths on the end. I have cleaning towels (bought in green for distinction).

For laundry: I make my own detergent because it saves money (a lot of money!) and is generally healthier. I won't launch into how incredibly unhealthy and unsafe traditional detergents and dryer sheets are...and don't get me started on bleach. Here's my current laundry detergent recipe that was passed on to me from a friend (original source unknown to me):

Mix 3 cups of Borax, 3 cups of washing soda, and 1 bar of grated soap (I used the vegan mint soap our nanny makes). Store in a kid-safe container. Use 1 T per load of laundry.

I do not use dryer sheets. Instead, I use those dryer balls (found at Wal-Mart). Clean your lint-trap often for safety, and don't store clean laundry on top of the dryer which makes it less energy-efficient.

Be aware that many "green" laundry detergents (and all products, for that matter) still contain unsafe ingredients. Just because something is labeled "green" or "natural" doesn't mean it's safe or healthy. You need to know how to read an ingredients list. The cleaning industry is highly unregulated---so don't be fooled by pretty words or pictures of a field full of lush trees on a package label.

I wash almost everything in cold water. The exceptions: sheets and towels.

For Dishes: Run a cycle of vinegar through your dishwasher 2x a month. Place a glass baking dish with 1/2 inch of vinegar in it on the bottom rack and run a regular cycle.

I don't run the dryer cycle to save energy. Instead, I open my dishwasher and allow my dishes to air dry. Keep in mind that if you have little ones, you'll want to remove any unsafe dishes (like knives) before leaving the dishwasher open to air dry.

Generally, people use way to much detergent. Find the safest and most effective detergent for your dishwasher, and learn what amount to use.

Learn how to properly and efficiently load your dishwasher. Over-rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher reduces effectiveness. I used to over stuff my washer, but a technician showed me that placing dishes in select places was blocking certain water jets.

Other Tips:

  • Remove your shoes as much as possible before entering your home. Shoes carry allergens, germs, and disgusting things like gym gunk, school gunk, grocery store gunk, yard gunk. I have crawling, licking babies who don't need to ingest that stuff.

  • If you are overwhelmed by cleaning house, create a schedule where you do one or two chores per day. I prefer to wash sheets and towels one day, clothing laundry another day, and clean house on one day. I alternate every other week cleaning showers/tubs and mopping floors. I usually vacuum two to three times a week.

  • If you choose to hire someone to clean, be specific about what products and procedures you want. Even if someone claims to be a "green" cleaning service, you'll want to make sure that his/her idea of "green" matches yours.

  • Get little ones involved. My daughter is two and loves to help put away dishes, put laundry in the dryer, dust, and wipe the toilet lid. Because I use safe cleaning agents, I have no problem with her helping me.

  • READ READ READ READ. And then implement what you've learned. I have a slew of resources I love. Check them out at my Amazon store.


  1. be careful letting your girls move laundry from washer to dryer- make sure they wash their hands afterwards. We used to let L help with this chore, but I have read several reports that wet laundry is the most germ-infested part of almost any household, and contains more bacteria than toilets in many circumstances!

  2. Great ideas! I'll have to write some of these down.

  3. Do you know if a spray bottle with 1/2 vinegar, 1/2 water can go bad if it sits for a while?


Comments are moderated and published upon approval. Your thoughts and questions are also welcome via e-mail at whitebrownsugar AT hotmail DOT com.