Yesterday it felt like spring. Sunshine, meltwater, birds singin' away, and people strolling downtown. The anticipation was amazing; it's been a long winter!
Spring cleaning is one of those things that I actually don't mind; once spring comes the feeling of freshness, bright air and energy propels me through this task (mostly).
For this week's sustainable living story, I compiled all of the recipes for refillery cleaners for anyone hoping to switch to DIY, refill, and leave the plastic and chemical-based detergents and solvents behind.
Over the last couple of years, I've had some customers come into the shop and ask for pre-mixed cleaners, refillery-style. Things like window cleaner or bathroom cleaners - things that have a lot of water mixed in with them and are potentially not very effective. Once we get into adding water where we can really just add it at home ourselves, it increases the plastic involved (to contain and move that water) and the carbon footprint of an item (because pulling water at the production site to make these premixed solutions and then shipping it around is heavy and costly in terms of fossil fuels utilized and the impact). Sure, we need to do this for some of our refillery goods, but when it comes to cleaners, there's a few other reasons why we don't have that type of premixed situation available, too.
Truth be told, I've just not had a lot of luck with pre-mixed natural cleaners, and they tended to be mostly water, which I could just throw in there myself. I couldn't adjust a premixed cleaner and they usually were "supposed" to be for one type of cleaning task or area of the home. I could not list how many "green" cleaners I bought that were absolute garbage when it came to their quality of clean, and then they just became more waste as I went back to the blue goos of my childhood and frustrated with the whole cycle of spending and getting nothing much. Often, they were a "special line" by a cleaning company that just made a similar formula with a few exchanges on the ingredients and a little green or a leaf added to the bottle. The overall business model wasn't something I supported, and after several sad findings that these brands still had ridiculous ingredients in there (and were leaning their marketing hard on their few good ingredients/choices), I was done.
The terrible thing is, I was not alone in this frustrating situation. Last year I polled our audience and more than 68% had this same thing happen when they tried to work on simplifying and decreasing waste in this area of their lives.
It was time to go back to basics. I had to learn things that my grandparents did that were second nature for them, and reclaim a bit of self sufficiency and know-how. Luckily, there are a few modern options that can be added or worked with to make it just that much better. And so began the stage of finding base ingredients and finding something that actually worked - and here it all is in a longish blog post to help you see how you can add just a few ingredients and do a whole lot.
The Weekly Cleaning Crew: all you need is 3
Here's my list for our home to ensure we are using products that are approved by the Environmental Working Group. I also use products that I could refill in order to remove the single use plastic waste.
I used to have a massive cleaning closet full of bottles; now I have a cleaning caddy with these guys in it and a larger stash of the ingredients in our basement (if you're hoping to do DIY refill style).
1. Bathroom Spray/Heavy Duty Cleaning Spray
In a spray bottle, mix 1 part Sal's Suds, 1 part cleaning vinegar (I used infused cleaning vinegar if I have it to ease the vinegar scent), 2-3 parts water
This cleaning spray cleans my whole washroom: I walk in and spray the shower down, the sink, the toilet and inside the toilet bowl. I then get to wiping it down with a cloth rag, and you can add water to your cloth as needed during the wiping process. The Sal's Suds was the missing ingredient in a lot of basic bathroom cleaners I had tried; it is technically a 'detergent' so it really foams up and degreases as you go. Inside the toilet, I use a wood and sisal toilet brush by first wetting it in the toilet water and then scrubbing the bowl where the cleaner has been sprayed and allowed to sit while I clean the rest of the washroom. This is much more effective than any toilet bombs or citric acid/vinegar solutions I tried in the toilet bowl, because the liquid can run down the sides of the bowl and get foamy when I add the toilet brush with water on it.
2. Glass + Surface Spray/All Purpose Spray
In a spray bottle, mix 1 part cleaning vinegar (I like to use infused vinegar for this) and 3 parts water
I use this to clean my windows with a cloth rag, and anything that needs a simple spray and wipe down: countertops, a sticky floor spot, cupboards, our kitchen chairs and bar stools, window sides/edges where fly poop accumulates, the fridge, toys, etc. I would not recommend using this cleaner on raw granite without testing a spot first.
3. Wood Spray
In a 500mL spray bottle, mix about 1/2 cup cleaning vinegar (lemon infused works so well), 1-2 Tbsp olive oil, 10 drops of orange or lemon essential oil, 1 cup water
We have a lot of wood in our home and this spray adds a bit of life to the wood that the vinegar spray does not in order to protect it and nourish it. Using a lemon infused vinegar works so well for creating a lemony, nourishing spray.
The Spring Cleaning Edition: double duty on the same ingredients + a couple more
We also have a few other recipes/routines that we use during the spring to fully clear things out. This includes the washing machine, dishwasher, fridge, mattresses, furniture, rugs, and wiping down walls and the insides of drawers/furniture.
On top of the vinegar and Sal's that make up the majority of the cleaners we noted above, our family's cleaning for the whole home (and beyond) includes a bottle of Castile soap (eucalyptus is my fave), baking soda, and oxygen bleach/whitener.
The Sal's or Castile Soap Bucket
We use Sal's for quite a lot of things in our spring clean, as it tends to be the time we want a bit more of a heavy duty wash down. You can use Castile in the place of Sals' if you'd prefer more of a gentler clean. Either option can be added to a bucket of water (just add a squirt of the soap and fill) and that can clean almost every surface. If you prefer a spray option instead of the bucket, you can use the heavy duty spray or just a bit of Sal's in a spray bottle.
We tend to mix up a bucket and then wash down cupboards, baseboards, walls, the insides of drawers and cupboards, the fridge, the inside of the fridge and the freezer, the wood boxes we use to organize our cupboards, dresser drawers and sides (using the wood spray if they are exposed wood), and more. We also use the same method to wash our floor. I would suggest checking your machine first, but we also use Sal's in a upholstery cleaning machine to wash vehicle seats, car seats, and our armchairs.
Baking Soda: the freshener
We love to use basking soda to freshen areas that get a little bit stagnant; it can be sprinkled onto upholstery, mattresses and rugs (do you remember that Arm + Hammer baking soda shaker box fresheners from years ago?). We allow it to sit and deodorize awhile, and then vacuum off. We also like to add some baking soda and essential oils (just drip on top of the baking soda) into little open containers (a small 250mL mason works well) and leave them in the fridge, the basement, and near our potato bin. You can stir the baking soda every now and then to refresh it.
Oxygen Bleach/Oxygen Whitener: the big gun
Oxygen bleach is the best. We use it frequently to whiten things, and the ingredients break down into oxygen, rather than chlorine, so it is easier on the environment and your home's air quality. The oxygen bleach or whitener in our home also comes in a granulated format, so it can be made into a paste quite easily, or a liquid (another plus for the carbon footprint of this item). I used to use hydrogen peroxide for these tasks, as it is another natural brightener, but being a liquid, I could only ever find it in little plastic bottles, so this is definitely a plus there.
We use this to mix with water and wash down our washing machine, allowing the filter to soak in a small dish of it, using a rag to wipe down the drum well, and for washing the parts/dispenser drawer. We also use it to run a cleaning cycle in the machine. We do the same with our dishwasher, albeit it happens a little more frequently with that guy, as we tend to use an oxygen bleach paste a little more frequently in the kitchen (see the paste section below).
Because I am not that great at brightening white clothing/fabrics on a regular basis, I also use the spring time to collect these fabrics and fill our tub with water and some oxygen bleach for a good soak. Then I can wipe down the tub afterward and any other areas in the washroom that might need a little extra cleaning love (like around our toilet base - I save an old toothbrush to get that job done!).
Pastes are just great
We also love to mix up a cleaning paste for a few other jobs where we want to let a cleaner sit a little longer. I often use baking soda or oxygen bleach powder (or oxygen whitener) and mix it with either Sal's Suds, a bit of water, or a bit of Castile, depending on how heavy duty I want it (Sal's and baking soda or bleach powder and Castile seem to be my tougher blends, and I choose the bleach option if I am hoping to whiten). All you need to do is add a bit of the liquid to the solid until you get the consistency you want. We use these pastes in the sink (we have a white enamel farm sink), on the stove top, and anywhere that needs a whitening (I've used the oxygen bleach paste on our shower caulking for example).
Outdoors: More of the Same
Once we head outdoors, we use a lot of the same. The bucket for window washing is just a bigger version of the spray we make: vinegar and water. The bucket that we use to wash down outdoor furniture is usually Castile and water, and then we switch it up to Sal's if we are washing away mildew or pollen or a lot of dirt.
When it comes to the spring car clean out, I grab a bucket and add just a little tiny bit of Sal's (less than I would for washing my floor or something else I really needed to get soapy with) and wipe down the interior of my car. I wash the car seats with the same mix. I wash our vehicle windows with my vinegar spray and then use my Sal's bucket to wash down the exterior of my vehicle. Once bug season hits and I get a lot of bug buildup on the front of my mirrors and car, I make up a baking soda and Castile or water paste and just give her a nice little scrub. I don't worry about any of these ingredients going out into the air or washing onto the ground, and still get everything clean and fresh.
Did I miss anything? Leave me a comment below - and have an amazing spring!