Cleaning isn’t something I came into the world wired to enjoy. I don’t feel more relaxed and efficient when I’m organized. I don’t think a messy desk is the sign of a cluttered mind; I think it’s an indicator of brilliance. But I do believe that there’s a distinct difference between a space that’s disheveled and one that’s unsanitary. Because what I am also is something of a germaphobe. And as I’ve become older and have also become a mortgage holder, I’ve “taken ownership,” as they say in the business world, of what “cleaning” means to me. So while I don’t often—ok, ever—have the tidiest house, our clothes, dishes, and bathrooms are always clean. The other thing that’s become important to me is cleaning things “green,” which is to say without both excessive waste and excessively harmful and potentially dangerous chemicals. In my lifetime of avoiding straightening up, I’ve actually learned how to clean green. There’s no one secret, but there are three products I absolutely can’t live without. Find out which ones, and how best to use them:
1. Vinegar: Yes, plain white distilled vinegar. The cheap stuff in the gallon tub, not the kind you use to make vinaigrette. The stuff absorbs gross odors, cleans windows better than Windex, and deodorizes the garbage disposal. It’s safe, it’s cheap, and it’s environmentally friendly. The very best use for it: on your wood floors. I mop mine with a combination of vinegar and water. I lift off water stains and rings by applying the same solution with a soft cloth. I swear by it. (And if you want to know about a million other household uses for vinegar, check out Melodie Moore’s book Vim & Vinegar (HarperCollins, 1997), which is both hilarious and extremely useful.
2. Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Pure Castile Soap: Seldom have I seen a product that anyone could feel so good about buying as this one: This is a family-owned soap-making business that adheres to the strictest self-imposed standards of fair trade and maintains an admirable cruelty-free, no-animal-testing policy. The ingredients of this cleaning solution are all natural—coconut oil, jojoba oil, peppermint oil, hemp oil etc—and the packaging borders on religious zealotry when it comes to singing the product’s natural wonders (use it as soap! shampoo! toothpaste!), but it’s really good for just about any cleaning job you’ve got. I have washed my dog with it (excellent results), I have washed my kids with it (they love that it “tingles,” but be careful on their privates), and, triumphantly, I poured a diluted solution of it into a wet vac, which made my family think I’d gone nuts, but it worked like a charm—my carpet looked great and my house smelled incredible. (Note: The documentary Dr. Bonner’s Magic Soapbox, released in 2006 and shown on the Sundance channel, is a fascinating look behind the scenes.)
3. Baking soda: “Can somebody get me the baking soda?” This is a frequent refrain in my house whenever anything spills, which is often. I sprinkle baking soda in my laundry, in my toilet bowls, and on the carpet before I vacuum. But my favorite: I make a paste out of baking soda and water to remove pen, crayon, and marker stains from my walls. Then I’m done, and done. (I’m also not the only baking soda devotee; check the “green living” website for 30-odd uses for it.) -Kelly Alexander