Wednesday, 9 September 2009

It's Only Natural

Rachel at That Little Bit Greener asks us this week "How concerned are you about the impact all our cleaning products have on the environment? Do you use any eco-friendly cleaning products? How do they perform? What about home-made products? Is this something you want to find out more about?"

So here's what I know …

The household cleaning market is dominated by two companies, Unilever and Proctor & Gamble. Between them, they make most of the cleaning products on our supermarket shelves, from washing powder to toothpaste and dishwasher tablets. These two companies are not endorsed by bodies like Naturewatch and Friends of the Earth because not only do they use manufacturing techniques that involve gross pollution and animal testing but they also contain substances which are classified from toxic to corrosive to poisonous. Manufacturers are not required to list specific ingredients on labels, so you don't necessarily know what you're getting and this makes it very difficult to protect yourself, your family and the environment from poisons. In addition, some ingredients used in washing powders contain petrochemical surfectants and optical brightening agents to make whites look white. These harm fish and other aquatic life.

Ofcourse, we all like to live in clean and comfortable homes. Every night as we sit in front of the television, we are bombarded with advertisements on the best washing up liquid, the fastest drain cleaner, the most effective antibacterial spray, the most convenient bathroom cleaner. There are so many amazing cleaning products available at the supermarket, that with only a tiny amount of effort, we should be able to clean our lives away!

In my early 20's when Mr Marmalade and I bought our first house and money was tight, I used to despair at my monthly shopping bill - it was costing us more to keep the house clean than it was to feed ourselves! I started to think about what was really necessary to keep our home dirt free - in fact, just how dirt free does it actually need to be? And what is in all of these products which keep our homes sterile but dirty the world around us, because as synthetic chemicals and materials are not easily broken down, the ecosystem can become toxic. As you know, I am an anti-consumer and I just don't believe the marketing twaddle we are hypnotised with by these companies who are making the most obscene profits at our expense.

And so I re-evaluated the contents of my under-the-sink cupboard, and now instead of a jumble of squirty bottles and sprays filled with chemicals designed for every type of dirt, I have two or three items which help keep the place clean, the cupboard tidy, and my wallet healthy. The rest is in my larder.

I don't have a dishwasher - I use Ecover washing up liquid. I clean my bathroom with a substance called "spotless" which is made with just 5 natural ingredients and which is a trillion times more effective than anything labelled with the word "Flash", and in place of Mr Muscle, I have vinegar. Dusting is done with a dry or damp cloth and I polish my wood once a year (if I remember!) with a natural beeswax polish.

That's it apart from the water in my tap and a couple of "E-Coths" … I don't use the branded e-cloths, they are rather expensive for what they are. I have cheap brand 'industrial' e-cloths which are used mainly in the hospitality trade. I find them much more effective, and I've been using the same ones for about 4 years now. You could probably find them in a Cash and Carry.

There are lots of natural cleaners which all of us probably have lurking about somewhere in the home. A quick google search for "natural cleaning" or some such phrase, would reveal a whole cornucopia of chemical free, yet effective, recipes. Here are a few guidelines of my own:

Bicarbonate of Soda (baking soda)

  • naturally abrasive (without scratching)
  • absorbs smells
  • clearns limescale
  • cleans silver without scratching
  • deodorises

Top tips:

To clean fiddly silver items, line an empty plastic ice-cream carton with aluminium foil (shiny side up), add a cup of warm water and a teaspoon of bicarb of soda. Drop the silver items in the solution. After a few seconds your dirty silver will be gleaming!

To remove odours from the fridge, place a dish of bicarb in there - it will absorb the smell. This also works with shoes.

Distilled White Vinegar

  • fantastic for removing limescale
  • cleans windows a treat 50/50 with water
  • cleans brass, bronze and chrome

Top tips:

If your shower head is all limed up, take it off the hose, put it headfirst into a pint glass or vase and pour vinegar in to cover the head. Leave for a few hours. The lime scale will have softened and can be washed off effortlessly with water.

If you have limescale round your taps, soak kitchen towels or rags in white vinegar and wrap round your taps covering the offending lime-scale completely and making sure that the area is saturated. Cover with a plastic bag in order that the rags stay wet. After a few hours, you will be able to wash the limescale off.

To clean windows, make a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water. Wash windows with this solution, dry, and then buff with scrunched up newspaper. Your windows will never have been shinier!

To clean brass and bronze, mix half teaspoon of salt and half a cup of white vinegar, then use flour to make a paste. Apply thickly, leave for 30 mins, rinse off.

To clean chrome, wipe with vinegar, rinse with water.

Lemon Juice

  • removes lime scale
  • polishes copper

Top tips:

To clean lime scale from cups and glasses, cut a lemon in half, cover the cut half with salt and rub this into the lime scale. Rinse the glass and the lime scale will have vanished.

To clean limescale stained glass (i.e. what you get after too many dishwasher attacks), sprinkle salt on a slice of lemon and rub the stained area.

To clean copper, polish with a lemon juice and salt paste.


  • anit-bacterial
  • cleansing and stain removing
  • fungicidal
  • bleaching
  • deodorant

Top tips:

Mold and mildew can be tackled with a mix of borax and water - simply spray on and wipe off. If your shower is prone to mold, wash down with borax and do not rinse. The borax residue will fight mold growth. (note to self: must get some borax!).

Make your own spot remover with 1/4 cup of borax dissolved in 2 cups of water. Sponge on stain and let dry, or pre-treat before washing. Good for blood, chocolate, mud, coffee, mildew and urine stains.

Add half a cup of borax to your wash load with the usual amount of washing powder to boost its cleaning power and deodorise the wash.

Dissolve 1 tablespoon of Borax in a litre of warm water and use to wipe the fridge clean and deodorise it at the same time.

Mix borax into a paste and rub into carpet stains. Allow to dry and then vacuum the powder. For wine and other liquid stains dissolve half a cup of Borax in half a litre of warm water, leave for 30 minutes and sponge off. For odours, dampen the area sprinkle with Borax and vacuum when it has dried.

Tea Tree Oil

  • antibacterial
  • antiseptic
  • anti-fungal
  • healing

Top tips:

Use tea tree oil in a spray bottle (with distilled water) as a disinfectant for anything at all that needs disinfecting. (I like this for toilets).

Use tea tree oil in a nappy bucket instead of “napisan” to soak nappies or re-usable sanitary or menstrual products.

Use neat tea tree oil on insect stings – it will clean them and stop irritation (actually I prefer neat lavender for this).

Use tea tree oil in a spray bottle to fight mould.


Emma & Rachel said...

Another fabulous post! Some really good tips there, I already use vinegar and bicarb but I'm going to get some borax too and give that a try.
Thanks again for taking part!
Rachel x

dottycookie said...

Tea tree and rosemary oil dropped into cooled boiled water makes a good spray to put on small heads to help ward off nits - it's not 100% effectove but it does seem to help reduce the number of outbreaks we have to deal with (and having claimed that they'll come home with visitors tomorrow, won't they?!)

Pomona said...

Have you ever read What's In This Stuff by Pat Thomas - very illuminating? Must be careful with borax as it is toxic at high levels, and also shouldn't be inhaled. And, of course, one of the best cleaners is elbow grease, pure and simple!

Pomona x

lisa ridgeon said...

E-Cloths are just the best invention ever aren't they!

Pink Feather Paradise said...

Thanks for all the info, I am severly lacking in thsi department... but I am off to buy lemons and more bicarb and dig out my tea tree oil...

thank you

pebbledash said...

Great post! I make up my own laundry a treat and so cheap, too.

Diane said...

Tea Tree oil is a wonderful product and I use it loads - especially when camping, but the smell does remind me of the time my daughter caught nits!!!! That was a terrible weekend, but all gone by Monday - thanks to the Tea tree oil (and conditioner!). Great post

Anonymous said...

Since I started on the green path my other half thinks I have gone mad as I pretty much clean everything with bicarb and vinegar - including my hair, although I am just down to the vinegar now. I cant believe the difference it makes to the shopping bill not buying any chemicals and the time it saves skipping whole aisles in the supermarket. Just need to make washing powder now.

Moogsmum said...

Great post Julia - especially the borax tips. I have a box in the cupboard and now I know how to use it!

Going to print this off and put it on the fridge right now :)


Gina said...

Another thought provoking and interesting post Julia. Thank you!

The Coffee Lady said...

I'm not going to come off all smug and pretend to know as much as you, but I do use borax, white vinegar, tea tree, soda crystals and baking soda and very little else.

Apart from laundry, where I buy Big and Cheap. Sorry.

But having it all in one place in one post is fab. I shall be bookmarking this post.

Anonymous said...

great post... i have linked to you on this...
also i collected some seeds.

angharad handmade said...

Great post! I'm a big fan of e cloths and ecover products. Our local health food shops even refills the ecover bottles which is the ultimate recycling!

Tracy said...

Wonderful post, Julia! I've been cleaning green for years now too, and making my own cleaners. It's hard where I'm living to just go to a shop for eco cleaners, so I make my own. They last longer and more effective--and cost effective too. I love finding new ways to use essential oils for household care an cleaning. Tea Tree and Lavender are my favorites. And nothing like vinegar, lemon and bicarb. soda...Pure, simple, clean and green--I love it! Happy weekend ((HUGS))

Petit Filoux said...

Hi! Hopefully you can help with a couple of questions, you seem so well informed! I've actually copied all the stuff you wrote and going to pring a smaller version and stick in on my fridge! Right, so here it is: 1/ what do i use to degrease things? would vinagar work and 2/ is distilled malt vinegar the same thing as distilled white vinegar? that's the only thing they seem to have in my local supermarket... Thanks in advance for getting back to me!