Archive for the ‘cleaning’ Category

So What Exactly Is Toilet Bowl Cleaner Supposed to DO?   Leave a comment

It’s not a rhetorical question, but something that I really want to figure out. Why? So that I can replace store-bought cleaner with something homemade and get the same results. My success at homemade cleaners over the last 15 years has been entirely hit-or-miss. Well, the only real success has been glass cleaner, actually.

As a kid I would have answered that the job of the toilet bowl cleaner is disinfection, duh. But that seems silly now. Why would I want to disinfect the toilet bowl? No one drinks or even touches the water, and I’m not about to advocate scrubbing the bowl after every use.  If/when Conan were to/does reach into the toilet water he’d get a good washing after regardless of whether it was dirty or freshly cleaned. So, disinfection isn’t the answer.

How about gunk removal? But isn’t that the job of the scrub brush? As an experiment, for a few weeks I’ve tried using nothing but the scrub brush. One thing that I’ve learned is that there is a reason toilet bowl cleaners are so heavily scented. (I HATE scented cleaners and soaps.) It’s not that there’s an offensive smell, it’s really just kind of watery smelling, but in our perfumed world I can see others disliking it. But the other thing is that the brush alone just doesn’t cut it. The brush does a fine job of gunk removal, but apparently toilet bowl cleaner does actually do something.

So now I’m on to film removal on the theory that toilet bowl cleaner is really just fancy scented-up soap. I think I’ll try a few different things for a while and see what I like. This week I started with a sprinkling of washing soda. I’ll try that for a bit, then maybe I’ll try baking soda, vinegar, or a simple squirt of plan liquid soap. So far, based on one trial, washing soda seems better than nothing, which lends credence to the idea that toilet bowl cleaner really doesn’t have to be some magical brew of ingredients concocted for an impossible task.

I have looked around the internet a bit at alternative cleaners. Can’t say I’m impressed. Partly because I’m an engineer so I want to know how/why they work. That’s why I washed dishes with nothing but baking soda before I washed my hair with baking soda. I needed to actually see that baking soda cuts grease. But also the most popular alternative seems to be baking soda and vinegar and then let it sit. Um, explain to me how a little fizz around the water line will do anything to help clean the rest of the bowl. Individually these are great cleaning agents, but together won’t the chemical reaction eliminate the individual cleaning powers? It also seems that there lots of people who are obsessed with needing to disinfect the toilet bowl, but as previously discussed, that seems silly to me.

My follow-up question in case it turns out that commercial toilet bowl cleaner can actually be replaced with a single simple household ingredient (ok, two for those who need to add a drop or two of essential oils for scenting purposes): If you can clean your toilet bowl just as well with a scrub brush and a squirt of the hand soap on the sink next to the toilet, then how did we let marketing people convince us that a cocktail of fancy-named compounds is necessary?

Posted April 12, 2015 by mayakey in cleaning, frugal living, home, unshopping

Tagged with , ,

Singing Some of the Praises of Baking Soda   Leave a comment

Last weekend was the start of spring cleaning, starting in the kitchen, and my super weapon was baking soda! I found a couple more uses to add to my list. Here it is so far:

  • Baking soda is a good mild abrasive, although it does require thorough rinsing afterwards. Salt also works as an abrasive, but in my experience it is much easier to accidentally scratch something with salt than baking soda. I wiped down just about everything from countertops to fridge shelves to the blender base and kettle with baking soda. It left the fridge shelves free of those annoying rings that some jars leave behind but that soap and water can’t remove, and gave me a shiny non-spattered blender base and kettle.
  • Baking soda is a miracle worker when it comes to removing baked/cooked-on grease and food residue. To some degree this is due to the abrasive action, but I also think that there must be some chemical reaction in play. If you sprinkle the pot or pan with baking soda and then swipe it around with a sponge some stuff will come off immediately, but then if you leave it on for a minute more will come off easily without the need for hard scrubbing. Use hot water with the baking soda and it’ll work even better.
  • Not only does baking soda remove baked on grease, but char as well. Accidentally burn something in your favorite pot? Cover the char with damp baking soda and let it sit overnight; you’ll be able to wipe off most of the char with one swipe. If you’ve got a thick layer of char it might take a couple applications. Iodine works for this as well, but don’t ask me why.
  • Speaking of char, there’s one chore that I’ve always heard horror stories about but not had a problem with myself: oven cleaning. On a very dirty oven: step 1-sprinkle liberally with baking soda and dampen, step 2-come back in a little while and wipe up, step 3-there is no step three. On a relatively clean oven: step 1-sprinkle a little bit of baking soda and wipe up with a damp sponge/rag, step 2-oh wait there’s no step two. It took me about 5 minutes to clean the walls, base, rack, door and window of the oven this year. No elbow grease, no fumes, no pain.
  • Somehow baking soda cuts grease. I discovered this when I went shampoo-free using the baking soda/apple cider vinegar strategy. I was skeptical about using baking soda as the grease cutting step so I cleaned an oily skillet with no soap, just baking soda. Again, I have no idea why it works, I just know that in my experience it does. And since I’ve been using a baking soda solution to clean my hair for about two years now, I can absolutely say that it does work on hair (with the caveat that if you are used to super dry straw hair it will feel oily).
  • I have no idea how this works, but baking soda bleaches coffee/tea cups. I have a mug that has many many years of tea stains on the inside. All it took was a swipe with a baking soda covered sponge and they were completely gone.
  • Everyone knows that baking soda is a deodorizer, but I’ve also found it to work as deodorant. That story is part of a year-long deodorant search saga that I’ll write up soon, but I can say that baking soda outlasted the State Fair…and stripped a layer of skin off. So while it works, don’t take this as a recommendation.
  • Baking soda has long been used as/in toothpaste. In is better than as. I think there’s a reason toothpaste was developed and we’re not still using tooth powder.

I’m sure I’m missing a few uses. Isn’t there something laundry-related?

Posted April 20, 2012 by mayakey in cleaning, personal care

Tagged with , ,

Dealing with Greenwashing in the Dry Cleaner Industry   2 comments

After his short trip to Las Vegas, Mike had a few items of clothes labeled “dry clean only” that needed to be cleaned to get out the cigarette smoke smell. I hadn’t yet gotten around to researching a local dry cleaner near our house, so there was a flurry as I quickly attempted to do my research before he just went to the nearest one. Unfortunately I didn’t find one I could recommend, just one that I wasn’t completely opposed to. Especially in California greenwashing is rampant in the dry cleaner industry. The use of the very hazardous chemical perchloroethene (perc or PCE) is being phased out in California, and many dry cleaners have made the switch to other cleaning methods already. However, some of those alternative methods aren’t exactly “green” or healthy, so the “green cleaning” ads that many of those companies use are considered greenwashing in my book. GreenAmerica did an article on dry cleaning alternatives back in 2007 (when they were still called Co-op America and the monthly newsletter was called Real Money) that I used for my research last week.

Now for me, I just handwash anything “dry clean only” and have been for years. I figure that people were wearing wool, silk, linen, and cotton for millennia before dry cleaning was invented, so obviously they can be washed in water. And since I avoid synthetic fabrics that means my entire wardrobe can be wet cleaned. Yes, I handwashed my hemp-silk wedding dress, and hung it up to dry.

I started with dry cleaner that is about a block from where our workplaces. My research consisted of asking what process they used to clean the clothing. At that first place (which uses plant leaves in the logo, subtly implying that they are a green cleaner) the lady had no idea what process is used to clean the clothes. My question completely baffled her. Scratch that place from the list; for all I know they could still be using perc, which is not at all an option especially since we’re trying to get pregnant.

So I searched for other dry cleaners near us and found a couple more. The second place that I called at least knew what process they use: hydrocarbons. He assured me that it is not perc, and that it is “organic”. Unfortunately for him I’m an environmental engineer who took organic chemistry. When talking about agriculture “organic” means raised/grown without synthetic pesticides, when talking about chemicals “organic” means containing carbon atoms. Perc is organic, it is also carcinogenic and toxic. So are many, many, many other organic chemicals. Basically they just use a petroleum-based solvent instead of a chlorinated organic solvent. Again, not an option when we’re trying to get pregnant since I don’t know what will be off-gassing from the “clean” clothes.

The third place that I called very directly advertises as a “green cleaner”. They use the GreenEarth process, which uses a silicone-based solvent. On the plus side there is no risk of off-gassing from the clean clothes, and it degrades into sand, water, and carbon dioxide. On the negative side, according to the GreenAmerica article, the solvent may be a carcinogen and the manufacturing process generates a known carcinogen. Since I was short on time, though, this is the cleaner that won out. At least our exposure to anything hazardous is nothing or next to nothing, even if the workers at the dry cleaner have an exposure risk and there are problems up the supply chain.

Ideally I would have found a cleaner that uses a wet cleaning technique or a liquid carbon dioxide process (other than Solvair). Since we hardly ever take clothes to a dry cleaner, I don’t know if or when I’ll continue this research. Maybe I’ll do another flurry the next time the need arises.

Do Environmentalists Wash Their Cars At Home?   Leave a comment

According to most of the propaganda: no. And yet, weekend before last I was outside washing my car at home. In fact, I wash my car at home as often as I can. Eco-sin? No, I don’t think so.

Water conservation and pollution is the major reason that commercial car washes are touted as the more environmentally friendly option. Commercial car washes can filter and reuse water so that they use less water per wash than if you’re using potable water from you hose. A car does not need to be washed with potable (drinkable) water, and not doing so reduces the energy required to treat water to drinking water standards. Additionally, car wash waste water is discharged to the sewer where it goes to a wastewater treatment plant for treatment before discharge to whatever water body. The wastewater from a typical home car wash runs into the street into a storm drain where it discharges directly into whatever water body, without any treatment to remove oils, metals, or particulate matter. So from a water perspective the commercial car wash wins out compared to a typical home car wash.

But what if you don’t discharge into the storm drain at home? When I wash my car I pull it onto the lawn first. This way the lawn soaks up the waste water, preventing non-storm water discharge to the storm drain. The oils, soap, and any other organic compounds will biodegrade in the ground. Any heavy metals will not degrade, but I figure that the trace amount of heavy metals in the waste water is probably comparable to what deposits from the air (from exhaust and dust raised by cars in the street).

And what if  you really restrict water use? Some people use a bucket method: one bucket for soapy water, one for clean water, and that’s it. You could use rainwater or gray water to avoid the energy cost of potable water. Since I don’t have my rain barrels hooked up yet, in the winter I use the hose with a spray nozzle so that the water is off when I don’t specifically need it. In the summer I let the hose run, but I don’t run the sprinklers that weekend and consider the car wash to also be watering the lawn (a two-birds-one-stone approach).

In my mind there are other environmental benefits to a home car wash. I use a mild vegetable soap, while I assume that most car washes use a petroleum based soap. Inside the car I either wipe down with just a damp rag, or a damp rag with the same mild vegetable soap. For the windows I use the same vinegar/water/castile soap glass cleaner that I use everywhere else in the house, as opposed to a commercial ammonia-based cleaner with synthetic fragrances and additives. Personally, I could care less about shiny tires so I don’t clean the tires with anything at all.

As far as electricity use goes, I have no idea which method wins out, although I’d guess it’s a bit of a wash. The car wash may get a per-car reduction in electricity when multiple cars are going through the tunnel together, and they may spend less time with the vacuum on then I do. But the car wash also has to keep the lights on in the attached building, run the register and the inevitable popcorn maker, and run the blower to start drying the cars. I use a chamois cloth to absorb most of the water instead of a blower or lots of towels, and I don’t think that my regular home electricity use counts in this calculation.

On a completely different level I really like washing my car at home because of the increased awareness it grants me about my car. When you are washing your own car you really notice new dings, scratches, paint transfers, etc on the outside, and you can focus your cleaning inside on the things that you care about. And for those of us who personify our cars, talk to them, and generally have a relationship with them, bathing them personally feels like a thank you treat for the friend who so reliably transports me wherever I want to go.

Posted February 27, 2012 by mayakey in cleaning, energy use, environment, frugal living, water use

Tagged with ,

Evolution of Spring Cleaning Products   Leave a comment

As I wrapped up my intensive final spring cleaning weekend yesterday, I was musing to myself about how the cleaners that I use for both weekly cleaning and spring/fall cleaning have evolved.

When I first started doing spring cleaning I was new to the world of citrus cleaners, and while I was just using a few drops of lemon oil for weekly cleaning, the commercial orange oil cleaner was my big gun for spring cleaning. Fast forward a few years and I learned that d-limonene, the active ingredient/extract from the orange rind to make the orange oil cleaners, is a sensitizer. That means that it is in a class of chemicals that are not toxic in and of themselves, but exposure to them can worsen the health effects from exposures to other agents like toxic chemicals or allergens. At first it didn’t really bother me. Since at that time I had also started using an orange oil cleaner for my weekly cleaning, I just switched to using a commercial “natural”, non-toxic multi-purpose cleaner for weekly cleaning and saved the orange oil cleaner for spring and fall cleaning projects. Then I started noticing that during both spring and fall cleaning I would have zero hayfever until I came home and started cleaning, and then I would spend the rest of the evening sneezing and blowing my nose. In order to avoid that rather unpleasant side-effect, my use of the orange oil cleaner significantly decreased.

Instead of the orange oil cleaner for spring cleaning I started using the same multi-purpose cleaner that I was using for my weekly cleaning. It sort of worked, except that it’s in a spray bottle and much of my thorough cleaning jobs are done using a bowl of water with the cleaner in it instead of spray-and-wipe. I find the bowl method much more psychologically pleasing since I get to watch the dirt go down the drain every time I empty and refill the bowl. So I started using castile soap instead for much of the cleaning.

Fast forward to today when almost all of the spring cleaning was done with castile soap in a bowl of water. The shower and sink tops were done with a lemon half dipped in salt. The oven was cleaned (very well and very easily) using a liberal dusting of baking soda and an occasional spritz of water over the course of an evening. That was the most impressive, watching the baking soda discolor as it did its magic and absorbed or reacted with the baked on crud (I don’t actually know how it works), and then with a wipe it was all gone with no annoying odors, elbow grease, toxins, or sensitizers. I realized that as far as the cost of the cleaners I’m now using the “big guns” for my weekly cleaners, since I’m still using commercial toilet bowl cleaner, scrub, and multi-purpose cleaner. I think it is time for a change. If I can do my thorough cleaning job with mostly water, castile soap, and baking soda, then why not my weekly cleaning?

Iiiiiit’s Purge Time   Leave a comment

This weekend kicked off my annual winter purge. Between Thanksgiving and Winter Solstice every year I go through the entire house searching for things that are no longer needed/wanted. This is a tradition that I started when I was first living out on my own, seeking to define my personal traditions. It started as a quest to give meaning to New Year’s, which wasn’t working for me deep inside. I’m not a fan of tradition for tradition’s sake, or doing something because that just what you do. New Year’s seemed arbitrary and meaningless in my life. Since I establish goals on my birthday/half-birthday (February and August), I can’t even remember the last time I did typical New Year’s resolutions. Also, I consider myself somewhat of an earth-child, so to me the new year starts on solstice when the days start getting longer. I studied lots of cultural traditions and decided that I like the Chinese and Jewish traditions of cleaning the entire house to start with a literally clean slate. But cleaning makes more sense to me in spring and fall, not when it is truly freezing outside. De-cluttering makes perfect sense to me, though, especially in light of the gift-giving that occurs a few days after the solstice on Christmas. Instead of getting rid of dirt, I am getting rid of clutter and excess so that I can make room to accept what comes my way in the new year (literally and figuratively).

One of my personal frustrations is STUFF. I feel like I just have to much stuff and clutter around, but can’t seem to just clear it all out. This exercise is very liberating for me where I make myself look at every single thing that I own and make a conscious decision to keep it. It’s amazing that after 8 years I can still walk into a room, look around and see something that makes me think, “Why do I still have this?” Even after last year’s extra-large pre-move purge, then the inevitable packing and unpacking purges, I have already found things in the bedroom and kitchen that can be given away.

It’s Saturday evening right now, and I’ve already gone through the easy rooms: bedroom/bathroom, living room, and kitchen/dining room. Those aren’t the rooms where stuff accumulates. I am very conscious of the negative feng shui of clutter and typically do a good job of keeping clean the room that I wake up in and the room where I spend my relaxing time. My curse: the office. I am a paper clutterer. I keep newspaper articles and magazines. I have piles of stuff on my desk that are paralyzing me right now and making it nearly impossible for me to manage our finances because of the resulting mental blockages. It will probably take me through December 19th to finish this one room.

Posted November 27, 2010 by mayakey in cleaning, conscious living, musings

Tagged with , ,

OK Fine, I’ll Do It The Electric Way   1 comment

Sweeping, that is.

When we moved into our new house with its variety of floor coverings (tile, cork, carpet, marmoleum), cleaning the floors became a lot more complicated and it is forcing me to modify some of my cleaning habits. One of the challenges is the tile. From our experience in my mom’s old house, tile can be hard to sweep since the surface elevation changes and debris gets trapped in between the tiles. I couldn’t remember the exact rationale for why we started using the vacuum cleaner to sweep her floors, and the circumstances are a little bit different, so I decided to try doing it manually for a while. One difference is the type of tile and the installation. In our main tile floor the tiles are (almost) set right up against each other, eliminating the grout space. I say almost because some edges have no space, while some have a millimeter or two. The result is an uneven floor with sharp edges. At first I thought that I wouldn’t have to worry about debris getting trapped between the tiles, but the problem is actually worse since the edges of the tile aren’t rounded down to a wide grout space. The second difference is method. I don’t actually sweep with a broom, I use a microfiber dry mop (think reusable Swiffer with loopies around the edge to catch more debris and hair). I find it works infinitely better and faster than a broom. At least ordinarily. On this floor, though, the edges of the tile essentially scrape the bottom of the dry mop, depositing the dirt in the little gaps.

So after several weeks of frustration, I have finally come to the conclusion that I need to use the vacuum cleaner to effectively sweep the tile. Oh well, I tried.

Giving it a try is really the important thing, though. When there are multiple ways to get a job done, I challenge people to not automatically select the method that uses electricity (or gas or water). Try doing it manually and see how that works for you. You may be surprised, and then you’ve reduced your energy consumption. If the manual method doesn’t work, at least you know and you have a defensible reason for the electricity use.

Posted October 3, 2010 by mayakey in cleaning, conscious living, energy use, home