Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cleaning Up!

As part of the Frugal Blog Tour (Hey all you visitors!) I am posting this week on frugal home cleaning. If you have ever stopped to really look at the aisle of cleaners at the grocery store, from laundry soap to dish washing soap, to carpet cleaner, there are a) a dizzying array of choices; b) some crazy money being spent there to be "clean" and c) some serious chemical overload going on.  The crazy thing is, it is so darn easy to just make your own cleaners at home. There are great "green" options out there to cut back on the chemicals, but they can be pricey unless you're good with coupons and sale watching (I fail here. I can clip the coupon, but rarely get around to checking sales ads). There currently is the Norwex fad, which I have not jumped on board with, but it does serve as an option for the thrifty minded from the sounds of it. I find around our house keeping just a few simple ingredients around, we can clean just about anything we want. I do buy our dish soap--in bulk from Costco--and our dishwasher detergent (though there are recipes for homemade/frugal soap here, too, they just don't seem to cut it in my dishwasher). Here is how we make things work on less (and healthier, too!).

Multipurpose cleaner~I use a spray bottle that I've either saved from something I've bought (and THOROUGHLY rinsed out) or picked up cheap (love Harbor Freight for this) and mix up in that. We use our multipurpose spray on just about everything. I love it. I clean counter tops, tables, around the toilet and quick spots on the floor with it. We also use it on windows and mirrors-and the way we keep it from streaking is with microfiber cloths. If you watch sales ads, these are so handy to have around. We use them to stuff cloth diapers, so we have a serious stash, but I recently scored some pretty cheap at Costco and have been using them for cleaning and loving. Clutter control is high on our list, and that includes things like cleaners. I love opening the sink doors and seeing just a couple bottles that do all my work for me. With the use of a microfiber towel, I eliminated mixing up a bottle of cleaner just for windows. I hadn't enjoyed rubbing newspaper all over my glass, but it worked until I found these guys. Love it. I use this recipe:
Multi-Purpose Cleaner
600 mL water
100 mL castile soap (we buy Dr. B's in bulk through various co-ops and buying clubs. A little goes a loooong way, so it is worth it, plus we use it on a lot of stuff)
10 drops grapefruit seed extract (this is an anti-nasty stuff agent, working to help kill some of the beasties that can start to grow on your counters). If you do not have access to this, many people add about 1/2 c vinegar to their solution to add acidity which should help with cleaning. Definitely an option.
A few drops of your favorite essential oil. Lavender oil, tea tree oil and thyme oil all have anti-microbial properties which would serve well in this situation, but aren't necessary.
We also use the multipurpose as a spot/stain cleaner. The key here is getting to the spot as quickly as possible, and changing rags as you go, so you are not continually rubbing the stain back into itself, whether on clothes or carpet. For carpet stains that are really bad, my husband has been known to bring in a nasty, but handy in our household big gun-brake cleaner. It has taken nail polish, among other things, out of the carpet, as necessary. We try to not use it, but if it is something major, we do have it on stand by.

We have vinyl, tile and carpet flooring in our house, and had wood in the last. For the carpet, we do have a steam cleaner, which we were lucky enough to inherit from some family. I never use the carpet cleaner sold in it. It gives me headaches, and my kids play on the floor too much for me to feel comfortable using something I can't recognize the ingredients in to clean with. All the hoo-jazz about having to use *their* specific cleaners and additives, I have found, aren't necessary. I use castile soap. It is a serious multitasker in this house. To the clean solution tank, I fill the water to the fill line, then add about a third cup of castile soap (peppermint scented adds to the seasonal smells right now!) and then start cleaning. To the recovery tank I add a 1/2 c of vinegar. This aids in the smell control if someone (cough, me) forgets to empty the tank when they're done using the cleaner. If I seem to have a lot of soap left in the carpet, I will go back over it with just hot water in the cleaner.

For our hard floor surfaces I love Murphy's Wood Oil Soap. I never buy this stuff. Never. What I am able to do, instead, is get it for free at the Regional Hazardous Household Waste Recycling Center. (The one for the Greater Des Moines area and many surrounding counties is located just outside Bondurant on Hubbell Ave). That is also where we get paint whenever we need it-for free. Everything at the center is free, except for custom whites and tans they mix up in 5 gallon buckets, but even those are cheap. This is the place people go to drop off the items they aren't supposed to throw away in their regular trash. I find things we need there frequently-paint for indoors and outdoors, craft paints, stains for artsy projects and the outdoor decks and furniture, sealants, spray adhesive, plaster of paris, various cleaners and solvents, citrus paint stripper. All sorts of stuff. Even if I had to buy Murphy's, the stuff is cheap and made with honest ingredients that I know are okay for the family.

For tough scrubbing jobs, like the kitchen sink and the stove top, I love, love, love baking soda.

I use it in the tubs and showers, as well. Just soda. I buy giant bags of it-either from Costco (this kind I can use for baking with, as well) or Harbor Freight sells giant bags of it for media blasting that can be used for just cleaning. I simply lightly wet the surface of what I'm going to clean, and then sprinkle baking soda liberally all over that area.

It will adhere to shower walls and the sides of tubs when they are lightly moistened with water. Then I let it sit just a little while. After it has sat a while (maybe 10 minutes) I grab a wet rag, add a little more water so I have a paste and scrub away.
With no chemicals in my face, minimal cost and just a little effort I can make just about any surface in the house shine. It takes up most stains, as well. When I'm done, I just rinse it all off and go back over spots I may have missed.

Baking soda also works wonders in stinky trash cans (we always have a little in the bottom of our cans to help with smells) and baking soda and vinegar sent down a drain then flushed with hot water will often clear clogs.

Laundry around our house is easy, as well. We make our own detergent, as after looking at the cost of buying stuff that didn't contain a lot of icky stuff and at some natural options like soap nuts, the most cost effective option was just making it. We do a lot of laundry between my husband being a mechanic, running a small farm, letting the kids get dirty while playing, cloth diapering and using cloth instead of paper products in most towel instances. That means a lot of soap. We do not use fabric softener, unless it seems necessary, and in that case just add about a 1/2 c vinegar in the softener spot on the washing machine. No fabric softening sheets, which are actually dangerous in the residues they leave on lint catches, and add a lot of residue to clothes. Many people think clean clothes means perfumed clothing. In actuality all that perfume serves no purpose but to perfume, and often degrades clothing faster. We sort our clothes according to color groups-more than just light and dark-which aids in keeping colors in clothes looking better longer as there is less color transfer between clothes of differing groups. Our laundry soap recipe is contained here. We use both soaps from local soap artists and when we can get a discount on simple store-bought soaps. As far as some people's concern with borax, which I have heard about in other posts, we don't fret on it. Many items in the house can be toxic to children, even if natural. If the kids got a hold of lye based soaps, which are many of the artisan soaps you buy, they could seriously burn their eyes if not flushed properly. Ingesting too many essenital oils could fatally injure someone. The key is keeping an eye on the members of your household and being careful in how you handle things. We mix up our soap in the kitchen, but are careful to wipe the counter down fully before it used for food preparation and clean all utensils used in the process, as well as using the rag that cleaned up for everything but dishes until it has been cleaned. Really being an observant parent is key in all applications.

 Another easy cleaning trick a good friend told me about recently: pumice stones. She uses them to scrub sink surfaces instead of a scouring pad. I re-use the plastic webbed produce bags you sometimes get shallots or garlic in from the produce section and stuff my dish cloth in there. This works will instead of a scouring pad and can be reused over and over again, simply putting your soapy, wet dish cloth in and taking it out when you're done each time. Another thing I do is write on the container what my "recipe" is for the cleaner inside. I don't have to worry about losing that particular recipe and if someone needs to know right away what is in there, it is easily accessible.

One last biggie at our house is not having to buy paper towels, paper napkins, tissues and wet wipes. All of these items we use in cloth form so they can be used over and over again. We pick up napkins from garage sales and towels in bulk from Costco, Harbor Freight or othe rbig box stores. They are all also easy to sew from old clothes. Scrubbing rags that we may want to toss when we're done we make from (hee, hee) old underwear that was going to get tossed anyway, as well as old holey t-shirts. I haven't had to buy paper goods (save toilet paper, which can be cloth as well, but I think that deserves a different post :)  ) for a long time. Wet wipes we keep in either a wipes warmer we picked up at a garage sale or in little pul lined snack sacks or a ziploc, all with a homemade solution of castile or a natural baby soap and water. Just a few squirts in the water will make a nice solution that works wonders in place of the quick wipes for all applications.

There are all sorts of little tricks out there that make cleaning both more pocket book and family friendly. These are our main tactics, though I have numerous books and magazine articles for those times when you need something really specific. Just keep your eyes peeled. This is an excellent start, and our grocery bill has dropped substantially since implementing them. If you compare costs, it is crazy, even when adding in a one gallon bottle of castile soap-the most expensive thing on the list. Our bottle was about $36, and has lasted almost an entire year, and we are only half way through it. Washing soda and borax run around $3 a box, baking soda is terribly cheap, as is vinegar. Most of what you need is right there, as compared to one bottle of multipurpose spray running at least $3 a bottle and laundry soap being outrageous these days. Give a few of these suggestions a try and you'll be surprised at how simple and thrifty it all is!


  1. AWESOME!!!!!!!! I was just looking into trying some laundry soap @ the food coop tomorrow! do you have an HE washer? I am wondering how the homemade soaps do in them.... I also had a FAIL report on the homemade dishwasher soap I made :( doesn't the baking soda scratch the tub walls? I thought it would be too rough...THIS POST IS AWESOME!! thanks!!!

  2. I have an HE washer, and it works fine. The issue with using regular soap in HE is that it will make too many suds and flood the machine. Homemade soap doesn't do this because it doesn't sud as much. You don't need the amount of suds that store-bought soap likes to make. As far as the dishwasher soap, store-bought stuff barely gets the stuff I put in there off; the homemade stuff really doesn't. The soda could scratch the walls, but it should only be a little. The inside of ours is stainless, and I wash my stainless sink with baking soda without issue. You can most certainly try, it, though. It just doesn't cut it on how apparently soiled our dishes get.


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