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Let's Talk CleaningJanuary 28, 2012

No, really, let's. I've been meaning to get to the post for a long time. In fact, sometimes when I can't sleep, I lie in bed and think about cleaning products, and I think, I've got to tell the blog this! They'll love it! And then I realize that normal people sleep when they're in bed; they don't fantasize about scrubbing the tub.

Back when Harriet (RIP, best dog in the world) was, shall we say, on the somewhat graceless but cute nonetheless slide downhill, she became incontinent. Well, it wasn't as much incontinent as she made very clear decisions that yes, she had to pee, so that must mean she was outside! Let's pee outside in the living room! Doggie woot! It was fun for her, I think. Not so much for us, but it was one of those things you work around. You know. Love is love, and pee isn't a very big deal.

But it still needs to be cleaned up. (Pictured: Harriet in the living room.)

We don't have much carpet, only in the bedrooms, so during the better part of every day she was on either tile or hardwood (thank god). I was like most people, and had always loved my paper towels even though I knew they were dead trees. But when you suddenly transition to using SO many paper towels (seriously, a roll a day some days), and going through bottles and bottles of Nature's Miracle and 409, it starts to take a moral toll on your faintly green soul.

So I poked around on the internet and found an idea as old as the hills: Towels.

Towels? Hell yes, we had tons of them, and they were beaters already. Somehow, though, it grossed me out. I was used to cleaning messes and then throwing the whole mess in the trash.

Turned out it was awesome. And MILES easier. A large puddle takes lots of paper towels, but just one real towel.

I was on to something. Surely there had to be something cheaper and better than buying bottles of 409 all the time.

I'm pleased to tell you that I found and still use THE PERFECT RECIPE for household cleaner. It cleans everything, hardwood, tile, counters, bathrooms, and even mirrors. Even the greasy stove! The only thing you might find a little unpleasant about it at first is the smell of vinegar, but that dissipates to nothing as it dries (really!) and now, years later, I find that faint smell of vinegar to mean The House Is Clean.


My favorite cleaning things.

Rachael's Household Clean It Up Recipe

1. Get a great spray bottle. This is harder than it sounds! Know the best place to look? Your local nursery or the plant section of your hardware store. The plant spray bottles are built to last -- don't ask me why.

2. Fill the bottle 1/3 of the way with white vinegar. I get mine at our local CVS in the gallon size.

3. Add a good dollop (about a tablespoon, if I were to measure it, which I don't) of Dr. Bronner's liquid castille soap in your favorite flavor (I like lavender, but Trader Joe's only carried the big size in peppermint, which is a nice cheery clean scent). It will go cloudy when it hits the vinegar -- don't worry, it should.

4. (Optional) Add a few drops of tea tree oil. I like it for its disinfectant qualities, and I like the smell, but your taste may vary.

5. Fill the rest of the bottle up with water, and Bob's your clean uncle.


What I like about this stuff:

You can spray it on everything, everywhere, and not worry about a thing. Spray the table and hit the fruit bowl lightly on accident? Who cares?

And this: It flipping WORKS. It gets everything soooo clean and shiny. I use rags for cleaning now, big ones for floors and little ones for counters (and knitted dishrags for dishes! Nothing better!). I love taking a clean rag and making it dirty and then throwing it in the washer (it strikes me that this cleaning method wouldn't work that well if you had to throw the dirty things into a clothes basket if you don't have in-house laundry and I'm sorry about that). And then, when you do your regular laundry, just throw it on top and wash it all together (unless you've got seriously grungy greasy rags, which deserve a wash on their own).

Other Favorite Cleaning Tricks

Bathtub: Oh, my gosh, did I come up with a good recipe for this. This is cobbled together out of things I've found on the internet over the years, refined by something I read recently on Crunchy Betty's site (if you enjoy this kind of thing, hop over there and lose a few wonderful hours).

This is great for a grimy tub. I hate our bathtub (it's rusted on the bottom and is an awkward shape so I tend to ignore it until I can't live with the grime anymore).

1. Fill tub with the hottest water you can run. Add a pot of boiling water for extra oomph. Add a cup (or two!) of white vinegar.

2. Let it sit for a while, until the water is cool enough again for you to pull the plug (but still warm).

3. While tub drains, mix together: 1/2 cup of baking soda, one large squirt of Dr. Bronner's liquid soap, a little tea tree oil, and enough water to make a good thick paste.

4. Use a rag or your favorite plastic scrubby (I have one a friend knitted me out of plastic twine that I LOVE), and liberally apply the paste. Swirl, and BAM. That grime is lifted away. It's awesome. (Obviously, check somewhere to make sure this doesn't ruin your tub's coating. It makes mine shiny and clean again, but I don't worry about ruining mine very much.)

Floors: I recently got one of those steam machines (a Monster -- that thing cleans HOT) and I love it. But for a quick floor clean? Nothing beats walking around, spraying the heck out of your Clean It Up bottle, followed up by standing on a large towel and dancing around, using the weight of your body to clean. Fast! Easy! Remarkably satisfying! Towel gets dirty? Throw it in the washer and start with another one!

(There is something in me that thinks this is, somehow, cheating, and that I should be ashamed of it. I'm not sure why. A cleaning cheat that works can't be wrong, and I'm proud to share.)


Using fabric instead of paper is the BOMB. Making your own cleaning products is dead easy, and dead cheap. And cleaning is, truly, satisfying.


You mentioned your vinegar cleaning habits awhile ago (years ago maybe? who knows), and I've been using vinegar to clean everything ever since! It works so well and I love that I'm not covering everything gross in chemicals. Thank you!!!

You are my hero. Thank you SO much for posting this!!!

I love your do it all product I may have to give it a try as I hate the smell of many chemical cleaning products. Thanks for sharing this.

Also awesome for cleaning? Cloth diapers...the good kind, 100% cotton (hemp ok) prefolds. We used them for babies, and now use them all the time for soaking up spills, scrubbing floors, etc. They have been washed about a zillion times and are still going strong. I also buy cheap white washcloths in large packs, then cut them in half and zig zag the edges. We keep a big stack in a kitchen drawer for doing dishes, wiping up counters, cleaning up various kid messes. I toss the dirty ones in a bucket, then do a soak in oxyclean before adding them to the wash.

Great ideas!!! I started making a shower cleaner with Dawn dish soap and vinegar! (equal parts & heat the vinegar) put it in a spray bottle shake it up..amazing for soap scum!!

I already use vinegar for a ton of stuff! I actually like the smell!

And Pinterst is also awesome for lots of great homemade cleansers. I'm debating on trying homemade laundry detergent!

The BATHTUB! That is genius, lady! Why did I never think to actually soak mine? Thank you!

Thanks for the cleaning tips. I just bought a steam floor cleaner and it is fantastic, how did I live without it. I have now purchased a hand held steam cleaner for all the rest of the cleaning, I know it will be great, don't have to use chemicals, and how great is that for my critters. My floors shine now. I love vinegar for cleaning.

Extra-great post! Thanks!! I've thought about the green balance of paper towels vs. the water, energy, and soap for washing the towels. Hmm......but I do use cloth as much as possible. (And there are a few messes that I could NOT deal with getting out of the towel before I could wash it....doggie diarrhea or upchuck...)
Always used white vinegar and baking soda right on the carpet when the doggies were being pottie-trained, and we had wall-to-wall.(No more!) I'd soak up the pee with the towel and stand on it, as you mentioned; pour a little water with white vinegar on the spot and sop that up with another dry towel; then sprinkle baking soda on the whole damp area, let it dry, then vacuum it all up. No odor, no return visits to that spot, and the vinegar and soda never damaged the carpet or left a spot of its own.

Off to make some now! Have you encountered Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds? It's detergent rather than soap and is flippin' awesome. Smells lovely and piney, too.

...and I have to believe that making your own laundry detergent is right around the corner, yes?


One question - Why does the photo of the ingredients for your clean it up recipe include baking soda, but not the recipe? Am i missing something or just reading too much itno it? Thanks.

good question -- the baking soda is in the bathtub recipe. :) I just took a shot of everything I love to use.....

I love what you said about Harriett, love is love and pee isn't a big deal.

This is so well said, I've taken care of my 17 year old dog with the same problems, until she had to be put down (not because of accidents) she fell and couldn't get up. I also foster lots of dogs/puppies with problems (12 in 2011), I've probably used 3 lifetime supplies of paper towels, real towels are a great idea. I'll have to hit the thrift stores. Great suggestions!

Love all these homemade recipes and tips, and wanted to share one of my favorite ones: baking soda, all by itself.

You can clean whole walls with it, it will take off any kind of mark (crayon, marker, grime). Just put a little pile on a plate and dab some onto a sponge or wash cloth and scrub away. It's amazing.

Crunchy Betty is the shizzat. True story!

Excellent. I have a giant bin of torn up t shirts and microfiber auto detailing cloths, and I use those. Have not bought a paper towel since about 2005 and the only time i miss them is when I am cooking bacon (i use cardboard or brown paper bags from the recycling bin instead. Or a clean dishtowel - i have one that I have sacrificed to the grease gods.

I want the steamer now though. Can you use your solution in that too?

I actually took a day off from work today to clean (which considering my incredibly high tolerance for clutter and Dust Dragons tells you the current state here). I picked up some Dr. Bronner's at the store yesterday and I'm going in....

Guess I need to replace some towels. :) I took a big stack of old towels to the vet. Now, anybody know what gets the cat food coloring out of carpet after the kitties puke? I recently bought some "all organic" stuff that does NOT work. It's going back.

Yay! We have been using vinegar for cleaning for more than a year now and I love it. It's cheap! and ti works on everything and I don't worry if the cat or dog get into it.

I got a load of old flour sack towels that had been my grandmother's. My husband loves them and says they are way better than modern towels.

Our super secret hint, we use white vinegar as fabric softener. There's a light smell of vinegar when laundry comes out of the load but it fades quickly. It's cheap, it deodorizes, it doesn't coat your towels in residue that makes them less absorbent and it's good for wool!

Oh my. Well, I tried it, but the smell is just too much for me. The castille combined with the vinegar was just urpy...lol! Call me weird, I guess.

Thanks for sharing these household hints! I will start using them...I also love to use a hydrogen peroxide mix in the kitchen for disinfecting.

Do you have any hints on toilet bowl cleaning? I hate that I'm just dumping chemicals into the environment whenever I use a commercial cleaner.

Wow! I just tried your bathtub recipe, and that tub is cleaner than it's been in years - thank you!! I don't have any Dr. Bronner's in the house, so I just used a few squirts of liquid hand soap, and it worked amazingly well.

An added benefit of using vinegar and baking soda to clean is that it also disolves buildup in your drains and pipes! Gotta love a two-fer. Salt can also be used as a scrub by itself or mixed with Dr. Bonners.

Salt and vinegar mix make a great copper polish.

If you need a commericial scrub, check out Bon Ami. It's an old product making a comeback - read the label.

White vinegar also makes a great conditioner rinse for your hair. Mix 1/4 cup in a quart of water.

I usually use my Clean It All cleaner, and feel pretty good about it, although about once a year, I buy a green toilet bowl cleaner (from Seventh Generation) that's all non-toxic.....

I used your recipe today! Although I added cold water to the bottle after I put the Dr Bronner's in, and the soap hardened up. No worries. When it got back up to room temp, it was all liquid again. But it works amazingly, even more so with a big old towel!! My house is getting there!!

To clean stainless steel use half a lemon that you have previously used for another purpose and dip it in salt, scrub over your stainless and rinse. This will get rid of rust etc smells great and you can use the same thing for copper pans.

Here's another tub-cleaner - make a baking soda + (baby) shampoo paste, use the 'scrubbing' side of a sponge and some elbow grease - works pretty well. Thanks for the recipes and ideas!

I get packs of white utility towels at Costco. They are about the size of a hand towel but because they are white, I can just throw them all in the washer together and wash them with a little bleach to really clean them well.

Also, folded in half, they are a good size for the regular swiffer. That way I can mop up pee or throw up easily, replace soiled towel with clean one that has been run under hot water or dipped in bucket of water and cleaner and just mop it up. I actually knit white cotten Swiffer cozies for this very purpose.

Dogs make us very inventive with the clean up don't they?

Ooh, thank you for the vinegar/Dr. Bronners recipe. I've been trying some other things & discovered the baking soda trick with the tub, although I didn't vinegar first. A straight up baking soda paste worked better than all those stupid soap-scum-begone squirt bottles I had ever tried (no scrubbing required? LIES ALL LIES). Magic!

If you don't want the vinegar smell, you could try using citric acid instead. I get mine by the big bag from Dharma Trading because I dye, but you can also get it from homebrew supply places. It's powdered and odorless, and should act about the same as vinegar.

I really don't think that there could be anyone smarter than you, if you feel like moving to New Hampshire, I will look for a place in my neighborhood. EWW! That's a little stalkerish, sorry about that . . .

I would like to recommend a great book: "Slug Bread and Beheaded Thistles: Amusing and Useful Techniques for Nontoxic Housekeeping and Gardening" by Ellen Sandbeck. I very much recommend her floor cleaning recipe, and the slow drain remedy. Also lots of other useful info in this book!

Rachael, you inspired me: http://www.younghouselove.com/2009/10/clean-up-your-act-all-natural-homemade-cleaners/

<3 LB

oops, i posted the wrong link :-(



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