Spring Cleaning: Bedrooms

With inspiration from the book I mentioned in the last post (Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House), wonderful housekeepers I’ve met throughout my life and other wonderful blogs and articles, I devised the following plan for spring cleaning the bedrooms in our house.  I understand that there are times and phases of life for all of us, so you may be in a phase where you can do all these things – and you may not.  So, give yourself grace and do what you’re able to do this spring and leave the rest for a better time/phase.  I’m going to give you the exhaustive list I aim for when I have lots of time, energy, and/or help!  🙂

Beds and Bedding

Open the windows (if possible).

Launder all the bedding and air dry (if possible because air dried bedding is simply a luxury and the sun is one of the best kept secrets of all natural stain removal as well as of sterilization).

Launder the pillows and dry thoroughly (or else they will smell funky).

Remove the mattress, vacuum, and air it outside (preferably, but you may also air it inside with the windows open).

Vacuum the bed frame.

Vacuum the carpet and base moulding underneath the bed.

Clean the entire bed frame with wood or all purpose cleaner.

Replace the mattress and rotate and/or flip.

Make the bed.

End Tables

Remove everything from the top and inside of the table.

Clean the table inside and out with wood or all purpose cleaner.

Vacuum under the table; clean the base moulding behind the table with all purpose cleaner.

Make piles of things to keep, throw away, store, and/or donate.

ONLY replace the things on and in the table you’ve decided to keep.

Place the things to store in a labeled box.

Place the things to donate in another labeled box.

Dressers

Remove everything from the top and inside of the dresser.

Clean the dresser inside and out with wood or all purpose cleaner.

Vacuum under the table; clean the base moulding behind the table with all purpose cleaner.

Make piles of things to keep, throw away, store, and/or donate.

ONLY replace the things on and in the table you’ve decided to keep.

  • Do not keep things like socks with holes.  You’re cleaning, let’s use this time to get rid of those things.
  • Also, consider how many things you need to keep in a prime location like a dresser or closet.  Do you need 10 pairs of pajamas?  Can you donate or store a few pairs and keep a smaller number in your dresser?  Do you actually wear all 10 pairs or have you become impartial to a few?
  • Think about when the last time you wore the items you’re going through.  If it was a long time ago, consider donating them (or storing them if you must).
  • When going through things my children have outgrown, whether toys or clothes, I sometimes have a hard time getting rid of them.  In order to keep things moving as I clean (and prevent myself from falling into a heap on the floor crying about times passed), I allow myself to keep a few things from their childhood.  Everyone is different and what’s special to you will be different.  But, for a fun digression from out talk on cleaning, here are few things I’ve chosen to keep for my someday grandchildren or just for myself:  our crib, our high chair, my favorite outfits for each child, my boys’ train set, their favorite cars/stuffed animals/books/games (if they are still in tact when the time comes), building blocks, and Gwyn’s dolls.  I’m sure I’ll add to the list as time goes on, but that’s what I’m thinking for now.
  • Lastly, this is a great time to take inventory of what you have and don’t need any more of as well as what is worn out and needs to be replaced.

Place the things to store in a labeled box.

Place the things to donate in another labeled box.

Closets

Remove everything from the closet.

Vacuum the closet.

Clean the base moulding and shelves with wood or all purpose cleaner.

Make piles of things to keep, throw away, store, and/or donate.

ONLY replace the things in the closet you’ve decided to keep.

  • Re-visit the bulleted list above under “dressers” as you consider what to keep, throw away, store, and donate.

Place the things to store in a labeled box.

Place the things to donate in another labeled box.

General

Vacuum the entire room.

Clean the base moulding with wood or all purpose cleaner.

Clean the windows with window cleaner.

Vacuum or launder the curtains.

Clean the curtain rods with all purpose cleaner.

Vacuum the lamp shades and clean the light fixtures with all purpose cleaner or soap/water.

Vacuum chairs and any other furniture in the room.

Launder accent pillows and/or throw blankets and dry thoroughly (or else they will smell funky).

Dust and clean clocks, picture frames, and other decor with all purpose cleaner.

Carefully clean the light switches with all purpose cleaner or soap/water.

And, if you’re really ambitious, clean the walls with soap/water.

Optionally, diffuse some lovely essential oils in the amazingly clean room; my favorites area a mix of lavender/lemon or the stress away blend.

Last, but not least, enjoy your hard work!

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DIY Window Cleaner

Well, it’s springtime now.  For many of us (particularly those of us who are “nesting” this spring), that means a little more rigorous cleaning around the house.  Several months ago, I did a cleaning series on this blog featuring my favorite homemade cleaning solutions (DIY all purpose cleaner, DIY Dishwashing Salts, DIY Powdered Laundry Soap, DIY Laundry/Carpet Stain Remover, DIY Color Safe “Bleach”, DIY Foaming Hand Soap).  I use the DIY all purpose cleaner for almost all hard surfaces, including countertops, tables, windows, and mirrors.  However, if I’m honest, it is a little streaky and sometimes (like when we’re having guests), the streaky surfaces bother me.  So, I tried out the DIY Window Cleaner recipe presented below and found it so much more effective for creating clean, streak-free windows and mirrors.

Ingredients

2 Cups Water

¼ Cup Isopropyl Alcohol

¼ Cup White Vinegar

2 Tbsp. Citric Acid or Lemon Juice

1 Tbsp. Cornstarch

Essential Oils (optional)

Preparation and Use

Gather all the ingredients as well as some measuring cups, measuring spoons, a funnel, and an empty spray bottle.  Place the funnel in the empty spray bottle and add all the ingredients (water, isopropyl alcohol, white vinegar, citric acid/lemon juice, cornstarch, and essential oils, if using).  Mix all the ingredients together until well combined.  Label the bottle and then use to clean windows and mirrors as you usually would.

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Science

Isopropyl alcohol dissolves a wide range of non-polar compounds (like grease and oil), is an anti-septic, evaporates quickly, and is relatively non-toxic.  Since vinegar is acidic, it can dissolve mineral deposits from glass and other smooth surfaces.  In fact, malt vinegar sprinkled onto crumpled newspaper is still a popular method of cleaning grease-smeared windows and mirrors in the UK.  Vinegar is also antibacterial and, according to Wikipedia, one test by Good Housekeeping’s microbiologist found that 5% vinegar is 90% effective against mold and 99.9% effective against bacteria.  Citric acid (either as an isolated compound of its own or as part of citrus juices, like lemon juice) competes with the metals in hard water, making the cleaning solution more effective. Citric acid will also remove hard water stains from surfaces without scrubbing.  Cornstarch acts as an abrasive, helping to remove stubborn spots and smudges.  It also helps to absorb grease on the surface to be cleaned.  Essential oils have a wide variety of cleaning properties depending on the specific oil used, but a few properties of a few of the more popular oils include cutting grease, deodorizing, and killing bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Budget

The cheapest window cleaners in my area cost about $2-3 for 24-32 ounces ($0.06-0.13 per ounce).  The cheapest organic or “all natural” window cleaners will cost more.  The all natural, window cleaner presented here costs about $0.43 for 22 ounces ($0.02 per ounce).  The cost breakdown was $0.06 for 2 ounces of alcohol, $0.05 for 2 ounces of vinegar, and $0.31 for 1 ounce of citric acid (which I bought in bulk from Amazon.com, citric acid from the grocery store would have cost much more), and $0.01 for 1/2 ounce of cornstarch.  Essential oils will add a little to the cost of the cleaner, but will boost its cleaning power and, for may of us, make cleaning more pleasurable to the senses (particularly, since this recipe contains potent-smelling vinegar).  The savings on this cleaner is about a fourth of the cheapest store bought varieties AND this cleaner is all natural and you know all of the ingredients.

I hope you love it as much as we do!  Happy Spring Cleaning!

DIY Foaming Hand Soap

This is the last post in my cleaning series…for a while, at least.  As I promised in an earlier post, my next series will be on a completely different topic.  Drum-roll please.  It’s going to be on fun crafts for kids!  I’m so excited.  I have a few really fun things to show you in that series.  But, for now, the last post in my cleaning series is about making your own foaming hand soap.

I have three little boys who use A LOT of soap.  Needless to say, discovering this recipe really helped my budget!  The beauty of this recipe is that you tailor the recipe to your individual needs/preferences…use a dish-washing soap with your (or your children’s) favorite essential oils, use the least expensive soap (if budget is a big concern), use an antibacterial formulation (if your husband is a plumber), and/or use it in the bathtub if your kids tend to dump the whole bottle of soap/shampoo in the bathtub when you’re not looking (I’m sure it’s no surprise that I’m speaking from experience here).  Anyway, I’m sure you get the point.  What I love most about this recipe is that you can be creative and have fun…and that it’s SOOO easy!

Ingredients

2 tablespoons (1 fluid ounce) dish-washing soap or hand soap

1 cup (8 ounces) water

essential oil (optional)

Preparation and Use

Place the dish-washing (or hand) soap in a foaming soap dispenser.  Then, add the water (and oils, if using) to the dispenser.  Tip:  when adding the water to the soap, pour it slowly down the side of the dispenser to keep the soap from making lots of bubbles.  Swirl all the ingredients together until well combined.

Science

If you’ve been reading my cleaning series, I know you have this memorized by now, but, in the event that you’ve missed the other posts.  I want to make sure you to know that…  Soap traps and suspends dirt, grease and oils inside the soap molecules during washing, allowing the dirt, grease and oils to be rinsed away.  The soap that goes down the drain during washing is bio-degradable.  Soaps have an alkaline pH (between 9 and 10), which increases its cleansing power as well as providing antimicrobial properties.  True soaps can be solid or liquid and are made from animal or vegetable based fats and lye.

Budget

The cheapest “all natural” foaming hand soap I could find at my local X-Mart was Method and costs $2.50 for 10 ounces.  The foaming hand soap recipe presented here costs about $2.50 for 306 ounces ($0.08 for 10 ounces).  And, yes, I checked and double-checked and triple-checked…this is NOT a miscalculation!  The savings on this recipe is huge, particularly if you have small children!  I have a feeling some of you may be skeptical, so let me elaborate on the math here.  A 10 ounce container of Method brand foaming hand soap costs $2.50.  An 18 ounce container of Method brand dishwashing soap also costs $2.50, but can be used to make 288 ounces of foaming hand soap (18 ounces of dishwashing soap + 288 ounces of water = 306 ounces of foaming hand soap…this is the recipe above multiplied by 36).  At our current rate of soap usage, 306 ounces of foaming hand soap will last our family of five well over two years (even with a few batches getting emptied into the sink by curious little boys)!

DIY Color SAFE “Bleach” (aka DIY Clorox 2)

If you’ve ready my introduction/welcome page, you know that I have 3 little boys.  And, if you know even a little about little boys, you know that I am sharing this cleaning series with you FROM THE TRENCHES of laundering and cleaning house!  Now that we’ve all been reminded that I do a lot of laundry, it goes without saying that I use a lot of laundry soap, spray cleaner, and color safe bleach.  A few months ago, I ran out of color safe bleach and went to the store to buy more.  I was shocked to find that it was $4-7 a bottle (depending on the brand).   At this point, I was making most of my other cleaning solutions, so I scoured the labels on the different brands of color safe bleach, looking for any clues I could find about its ingredients.  Then, I came home and looked up color safe bleach recipes online.  To my surprise, color safe bleach is simply diluted hydrogen peroxide with fragrance added to it…and, perhaps, a little dish soap (which the label will call “surfactants”)!  Do you know how inexpensive this stuff is?!  I’ve been using this for about 6 months now and I don’t notice any difference between this homemade color safe bleach and store-bought varieties.

Ingredients

3 cups water

3 cups hydrogen peroxide

a little (1-2 Tbsp.) dishwashing liquid (like Dawn, which is my preference), optional

Preparation and Use

Mix the ingredients together in a dark, opaque bottle.  Remember that using a dark, opaque bottle is important because hydrogen peroxide is sensitive to temperature and light.  And, the hydrogen peroxide will break down into water and oxygen if it’s exposed to too much heat or light.  Use your homemade color safe bleach the same way you would the store bought variety (this translates to about 1/3 cup per load in my machine).

Science

Dishwashing detergent and soaps are used for cleaning because pure water can’t remove oily, organic soiling. Soap cleans by acting as an emulsifier, allowing oil and water to mix so that oily grime can be removed during rinsing.  Detergents are primarily surfactants, which lower the surface tension of water, making it ‘wetter’ so that it is less likely to stick to itself and more likely to interact with oil and grease. Hydrogen peroxide is a strong oxidizer, making it useful as a color safe bleach or cleaning agent.  Hydrogen peroxide is also safe for the environment because it simply breaks down into water and oxygen!  Hydrogen peroxide is a great natural cleaning agent due to its anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-mold and anti-mildew properties.

Budget

The cheapest store-bought color safe bleach costs about $4-6 for 45 ounces ($0.09-0.13 per ounce).  The stain remover presented here costs about $0.81 for 48 ounces ($0.017 per ounce…$0.75 for 24 ounces of hydrogen peroxide, $0.06 for 1 ounce of dishwashing liquid)!  And, it doesn’t contain any mystery “fragrances”!

DIY Laundry/Carpet Stain Remover

As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I started making cleaning solutions for my home about 3 years ago.  Most of the recipes worked on the first or second try, so there wasn’t a lot of experimenting.  However, I have to admit that I had a really hard time finding a homemade laundry/carpet stain remover that actually worked for me.  I tried several different recipes and methods before finding this one.  I love the fact that it’s simple (two easy, all natural ingredients) and that it works for me every time!  I hope it works for you, too!

Ingredients

1 cup dishwashing liquid (like Dawn, which is my preference)

2 cups hydrogen peroxide

Preparation and Use

Mix both ingredients together in a dark, opaque spray bottle until well combined.  Spray or pour the stain remover directly on the stain (whether it’s on laundry, carpet, tabletop, …) and then wash as usual.  If it’s a big stain, add the stain remover to a bucket of hot water and soak the stained item/s in the bucket for a few hours before washing.  If you plan on storing the stain remover, be SURE to store it in a dark, opaque bottle because hydrogen peroxide is sensitive to temperature and light.  Otherwise, the hydrogen peroxide will break down into water and oxygen (which are more stable than hydrogen peroxide itself but not as useful for removing stains).  Here’s a tip, since you’re using a lot of hydrogen peroxide for this recipe, you can use the dark brown bottle the hydrogen peroxide comes in to hold your stain remover.  Simply, take the sprayer off of another spray bottle and screw it onto your dark brown peroxide bottle.

Science

Dishwashing detergent and soaps are used for cleaning because pure water can’t remove oily, organic soiling. Soap cleans by acting as an emulsifier, allowing oil and water to mix so that oily grime can be removed during rinsing.  Detergents are primarily surfactants, which lower the surface tension of water, making it ‘wetter’ so that it is less likely to stick to itself and more likely to interact with oil and grease. Hydrogen peroxide is a strong oxidizer, making it useful as a color safe bleach or cleaning agent.  Hydrogen peroxide is also safe for the environment because it simply breaks down into water and oxygen!  Hydrogen peroxide is a great natural cleaning agent due to its anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-mold and anti-mildew properties.

Budget

The cheapest laundry stain removers cost about $2-2.50 for 30 ounces ($0.07-0.08 per ounce).  The cheapest “all natural” stain removers will cost more.  The stain remover presented here costs about $2-2.50 for 48 ounces ($0.04-0.05 per ounce…$1 for 32 ounces of hydrogen peroxide, $1-1.50 for 16 ounces of dishwashing liquid).  The savings on this one doesn’t seem as big as some of the other recipes I have talked about; however, it’s still about half the price.  Not to mention that I go through a lot of this AND, as always, I like knowing what the ingredients are!

DIY Dishwashing Salts

Let me begin with a promise…I promise that when this cleaning series is over, I will post on something other than cleaning…no spoilers for now, but I will aim for something VERY different.  🙂  However, in my defense, these are the a few of the recipes I am asked for most often, so I thought I would get them out of the way first.

That said, the third recipe in my cleaning series is for dishwashing salts.  The dishwashing salts presented here are similar in purpose and function to commercial dishwasher detergent, but more natural, as you will read in the “science” section below.  We have been using these dishwashing salts for 2 years or so and have been very happy with the results.  In the interest of full disclosure, occasionally (once every few months or so), I will start seeing a white residue on my glassware.  My non-all-natural, but oh-so-easy way of removing the film from my glassware is to load my dishwasher from top to bottom ONLY with my glassware, run a cycle with Finish Quantum Dishwasher Detergent Tablets, and that’s it.  The film is gone for another few months.  Like I said, I usually only do that every few months though, so the un-natural-ness of the Finish Quantum is overshadowed by the simplicity of using it and my desire for crisp, clear, non-filmy glassware.  My all-natural way of removing the film from my glassware is to do a 1:1 vinegar:water soak, followed by some hearty scrubbing.  If I’m in the mood for a workout and less chemicals in my home, that’s the way I go.  Now, let’s make some dishwashing salts.

Ingredients

1 cup Borax (sodium borate)

1 cup washing soda (sodium carbonate) or baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)

1 cup citric acid (if you have soft water, use ½ cup citric acid)

½ cup salt

Preparation and Use

Gather your ingredients, an air-tight container for storing your dishwashing salts, and some measuring cups.

Add 1 cup of borax to your container.

Then, add 1 cup of washing soda or baking soda to your container.

If you have soft water, add 1/2 cup of citric acid to the container.  If you have hard water, add 1 cup of citric acid to your container.

Lastly, add 1/2 cup of (any kind of) salt to your container.

Mix all ingredients together until well combined (sometimes I stir with a spoon…sometimes, I’m feeling a little more aggressive and I put the lid on and shake).

Label the container.  Use 1 Tbsp. per load.  For the best results, also use full strength vinegar in your rinse cycle.  Occasionally, the citric acid in the dishwashing salts will absorb moisture from the air, causing the dishwashing salts to “clump up.”  You can prevent this by making sure you use an “AIR TIGHT” container.  Or, you can just work around it and pound the container against the side of your countertop to break it up (which is what I do because the yogurt container shown in the pictures is not air tight)…or break it up with your fingers or with a cooking utensil.  The clumped up salts will perform just as well as the powdery ones (after all, it’s just a little water that they’ve absorbed), they just don’t always fit in the dishwasher compartment designed to hold the detergent.

Science

Borax (sodium borate) produces a basic (alkaline) solution in water thereby increasing the cleaning and bleaching power of the other cleansing components. Washing soda (sodium carbonate) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) act as a water softeners as well as removing odors and food particles from dishes.  Washing soda also competes with the magnesium and calcium in hard water, preventing them from inactivating the dishwashing soap and thereby allowing you to use less soap per load. Salt is a natural preservative, abrasive cleanser, and deodorizer.  Citric acid competes with the metals in hard water, preventing them from inactivating the laundry soap thereby allowing you to use less soap per load.  Citric acid will also remove hard water stains from glass without scrubbing.  Vinegar is also acidic and can dissolve mineral deposits from glass and other smooth surfaces.  Vinegar is also anti-bacterial.

Traditional dishwashing detergents are just that, detergents.  Detergents are made from petroleum products and primarily consist of surfactants, foaming agents, and alcohols.  Since these chemicals smell bad, detergents are usually heavily scented with artificial fragrances.  Detergents also contain preservatives and antimicrobials to prevent spoilage.  All of these chemicals are common allergens and skin irritants.  In contrast, all the ingredients in this recipe are salts and work as described to naturally clean dishes.

Budget

Depending on how much you pay for dishwasher detergent, rinse aid, etc. and how much of these you use will determine how much you are paying per wash for clean dishes.  The dishwasher salt recipe presented here costs about $0.05 per load or $3 for 28 ounces ($0.24 for 8 ounces of Borax, $0.32 for 8 ounces of washing soda, $0.13 for 4 ounces of salt, $2 for 8 ounces of bulk citric acid, and $0.01 for vinegar).

DIY Laundry Soap (Powdered)

The second recipe in my cleaning series is for an all natural, powdered laundry soap.  The recipe for this DIY laundry soap and its cost-effectiveness can be found numerous places on the web.  However, I have yet to come across an explanation that satisfies my scientific curiosity about each ingredient’s purpose in the laundering process.  So, I’ve decided to re-post the recipe here with a little more information about what each ingredient does in the washing machine.

On a personal note, I have been using this laundry soap for a few years now (in our high-efficiency, aka “HE”, washing machine) and have been amazed with how well it cleans our laundry.  We use cloth diapers and even they get completely clean using this laundry soap.  I have used a variety of bar soaps in the recipe, including Zote, Ivory, Dr. Bronner’s Baby Mild Castile Soap, Kiss Me Bar Soap, and Kirk’s Natural Fragrance Free Castile Soap.  All have produced similar results in my laundry, but my personal favorites are the fragrance free castile (vegetable based) soaps.

Ingredients

2 cups fragrance free soap, finely grated

1 cup Borax (sodium borate)

1 cup Washing Soda (sodium carbonate) or Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate)

Preparation and Use

Gather the ingredients as well as a cheese grater, measuring cups and a container for storing your laundry soap.

Finely grate the bar soap using a handheld fine cheese grater or a food processor fitter with the finest cheese grating blade you have.

If you chose to use a food processor, you may want to dump the soap out, insert the standard steel blade in your food processor, dump the soap back in, and process a little longer (10 seconds or so).  This will break the soap up a little more and make for a more uniform laundry soap in the end.

Add 2 cups of finely grated bar soap to your container.

Then, add 1 cup of borax to your container.

Lastly, add 1 cup of washing soda to your container.

Mix all ingredients together until well combined.

Use 1-2 Tbsp. per load.  High Efficiency (HE) washing machine safe.

Science

Soaps are used for cleaning because pure water can’t remove oily, organic soiling. Soap cleans by acting as an emulsifier, allowing oil and water to mix.  The soap traps and suspends grease and oils inside the soap molecules during the wash, allowing the grease and oils to be rinsed away.  Borax (sodium borate) produces a basic (alkaline) solution in water thereby increasing the cleaning and (color safe) bleaching power of the other cleansing components.  Washing soda (sodium carbonate) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) act as a water softeners as well as removing odors and stains from clothing.  Washing soda also competes with the magnesium and calcium in hard water, preventing them from inactivating the laundry soap and thereby allowing you to use less soap per load.

HE washing machines require a laundry soap that does not produce a lot of suds.  Castile soap, borax, and washing soda are all naturally low in soap bubble production.

Traditional laundry detergents are just that, detergents.  Detergents are primarily surfactants, which lower the surface tension of water, making it ‘wetter’ so that it is less likely to stick to itself and more likely to interact with oil and grease.  Detergents are made from petroleum products and primarily consist of surfactants, foaming agents, and alcohols.  Since these chemicals smell bad, detergents are also usually heavily scented with synthetic and artificial fragrances.  Detergents also contain preservatives and anti-microbials to prevent spoilage.  All of these chemicals are common allergens and skin irritants.

In contrast, true soaps are made with natural products (fat and lye).  Ecologically, it is possible to produce soap without any by-products.  Additionally, the soap that goes down the drain during washing is bio-degradable.  Soaps have an alkaline pH (between 9 and 10), which (as mentioned above for borax) increases their cleansing power as well as acting as a natural preservative and providing antimicrobial properties.  True soaps can be made from animal or vegetable based fats.  Zote and Ivory are both soaps made with animal based fats, which are by-products of the meat packing industry.  So, the factors that might concern you about meat (the treatment of animals, the use of synthetic hormones, antibiotics, herbicides, pesticides, etc.) may also concern you about animal based soaps.  Vegetable based soaps can be made from coconut, palm, castor, or olive oils.  And, again, the factors that might concern you about your vegetables (herbicides, pesticides, etc.) may also concern you about vegetable based soaps.  So, you’ll have to do some research to make an informed decision about your soap.

Budget

The cheapest laundry detergents cost about $0.20 per load.  The cheapest “all natural” laundry detergents cost even more.  The laundry soap recipe presented here costs about $3 for 32 ounces ($0.05 per load)!