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Old School Jams – Greening the clean

Growing up, my parents always bought that giant five gallon bucket of “Kirkland Signature Laundry Powder”, and the fabric softener sheets. Costco is a Washington invention, so they started here before expanding throughout the country. For those early Costco shoppers – we’re talking early. As in you remember there used to be two employees at the check stand. One to read a number from an item, and the other to key it in – you will remember that detergent. I feel like you almost had to use a razor blade to remove the tamper-proof seal from the outside of it? Anyway, laundry stuff  in my house was boring and never had any amazing scent that you could smell on yourself all day long. I always longed for my parents to buy that fabric softener that was marketed by that bear with the creepy sexy baby voice.

When I started buying my own laundry supplies, I thought that I had died and gone to heaven. Finally, I could buy fabric softener, and use it to my heart’s content.

When I began to move in a greener direction, I looked at what I was dumping in my washing machine. Looking at the basics of it, I was coating my clothes in chemicals. If skin is our biggest organ (typing that made me puke in my mouth a bit. I can only imagine how reading it felt for you), it has the greatest chance of absorbing things we don’t want it absorbing. So, with sadness in my heart, the Downy had to go.

Within about two months, I could smell fabric softener on other’s clothes, and it made my eyes water. A trip down the laundry aisle was no longer pleasant, but the start of an epic sneezefest. Not only was I saving money by not buying it, but I was no longer a walking allergy attack for myself and others. That first step in “greening” my clean has led to a years long journey that brings us where we are today.

I made our laundry detergent for years, and it worked well.  Then we got a a HE toploader, and I was not getting satisfactory results. I currently use Ecos from Costco (under $13 for 210 loads) and it works well. My friend Mary used to make a liquid detergent, and I keep telling myself I’m going to make it. Soon. Right?

When we cut out the fabric softener, we still lived in Los Angeles at the time, and the lack of humidity in the air was making our clothes crazy statisticy (spell check says that is not a word, but I refuse to bow down to the man). After searching around on the interwebs, I finally settled on simply using plain white vinegar in a Downy ball. It worked well, and no, your clothes don’t end up smelling like a vinaigrette. Or Summer’s Eve.

This is going to sound insane, but I do upwards of three loads of laundry a day. A day. I know it sounds crazypants. There are six people in our house, and I handle all the laundry 95% of the time. Of those loads, every two to three days it involves cloth diapers. Troy’s uniforms have to be washed separately, because let’s be clear, fire fighters have to do some grody things. There are some other items of my parent’s that need to be washed separately daily or every other day at least. I do a load of darks every other day, and lights maybe once a week. We wear a lot more dark clothing than lights, which means we’re constantly about 45 seconds away from running out of socks.

I adore hanging clothes to dry, and for about six months out of the year it works great. We have a retractable outdoors clothesline that gets heavy usage during nice weather, and folding drying racks for indoors. With three loads of a laundry a day, I could not dry everything inside. It’s just not possible. So, since I took over all the laundry, there has been more dryer usage going on during the winter. My theory with air drying one load a day is that something is better than nothing. Not using your dryer is a huge money saver, but it’s not always feasible. Don’t even get me started on neighborhoods that don’t allow clotheslines. 🙁

The grass was so muddy that I used a sled under the laundry basket.

After 10 plus years, I still use vinegar and baking soda for cleaning our toilets. I will also use Bac Out (if you have an Azure Standard route near you, Bac Out is cheaper via Azure) in the bowl from time to time, because it smells great, works awesome, and is a local company.

I still use my homemade cleaner for bathroom surfaces, and I love it. Pure and simple and works great.

Showers and tubs are easily cleaned with a squirt of dish soap, a sprinkle of baking soda, and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. One of my favorite shower cleaning tips is to hang the non-skid bath mat up after each shower. Every few months you can throw it in the washer with a load of towels, but hanging it prevents the gross mildew that often accumulates.

While it’s not for everyone, the best thing we ever did to keep our master bath shower clean was to remove the shower doors. They were old and original to the house (1970), and no amount of cleaning, scrubbing, or grout brushing could possibly keep that nasty thing clean. There were areas of the door track that I could not reach, and cleaning the shower was always a chore I dreaded. Troy simply removed them, plugged the six tiny holes from the screws, hung a curtain rod, and we now use a shower curtain. It has been so freeing for us, and while I still don’t enjoy cleaning the shower, I’m no longer angry that I have to do it.

I use homemade surface spray for the counters, table, and when I clean out the inside of the fridge. I have had horrible results with “crunchy” dishwasher detergent, so I use Cascade. You win some, you lose some. For liquid detergent, I use the Kirkland Signature eco-friendly stuff from Costco.

I use a dish scrub brush with a plastic handle and bristles. Before I start our dishwasher, I do a little swirl of dish soap in the sink, scrub it out, and throw the brush in the dishwasher to get cleaned. The dishwasher always gets set to “air dry” mode, and I open the doors and pull out the racks before bed to let our dishes dry overnight. It saves a buttload of energy by not drying the dishes.

I almost never dust. As in so very rarely. I hate dusting, and pretty much refuse to do it unless we have an event at the house and I feel like I probably should. Growing up, we used Pledge, and I still to this day associate the smell of polished wood (gross) with a lemony scent. Now, I use a little olive oil with a few drops of lemon essential oils. You can either dab it on a rag and polish it in to the furniture, or be insanely lazy like I am and use a spare Misto. You can see a photo of the before and after dusting of my $15 garage sale TV stand that later turned out to be worth $1k here.

I’ve yet to find a really effective homemade glass cleaner that doesn’t involve ammonia. So, I use the Method glass cleaner, and it works great. If you are doing an extensive window cleaning “party”, use newspaper because it doesn’t leave lint behind like paper towels. It rules.

We have gorgeous hardwood floors. And we love them. And the fight to pick them out, pay for them, and install them led us to the verge of marriage counseling. So, we want to keep those bitches beautiful. We have a Shark vacuum that has a hardwood floor attachment that not only sucks up debris, but also polishes the floor at the same time. For quick clean ups, I have a simple dust mop that I found at Costco. I also have a stick vacuum that has a detachable dust buster thingy that we love.

Vacuuming is great, but for a good deep clean and polish, I use the Boma mop system. I got the refill for it at Costco when they had an instant rebate promotion going. We’ve had the floors for over a year, and I haven’t even polished off the refill jug yet. Get it…”polished”? 🙂

My biggest tip for keeping your house clean is to keep it tidy. You cannot do a solid job of cleaning if there is junk everywhere. Get rid of the crap that doesn’t bring you joy, and open up your house to memories instead of stuff. Plus, without all the knick knacks, you have less to move around to dust. If you dust. I do not. See above.

A post from a few years ago on how I kept my house pretty damn clean, even while working and commuting 50 hours a week can be found here. Oddly enough, it is one of the posts that brings the most search traffic to my blog.

Life isn’t always about being the cleanest house in town, but it’s not a bad gig if you can get it. And if it doesn’t drive you batty in the process. Most importantly, it doesn’t have to cost a ton of money or take a lot of time, and it doesn’t have to always use toxic products.

What are your favorite cleaning tips?


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5 comments on “Old School Jams – Greening the clean”

  1. Haha I can only assume your clothes were full of static and not statistics 🙂

  2. I don’t like window cleaners with ammonia either. For many years now, I have used this recipe both at home and at our business. Works like a dream!!

    1 cup 91% rubbing alcohol
    1 cup water
    1 tablespoon vinegar

  3. This post came at the exact right time for me. I am trying to get more on top of my housework (which you wouldn’t think would be a massive problem as I live alone in 600 sq ft), but my commute schedule has me out of the house about 12 hours a day, leaving me only 1-2 usable hours at home that aren’t sleep or eating related, and cleaning is the last thing I want to do when I’m up at 4:30 or getting ready to hop into bed at 8. I also work Saturdays half days, and I’m trying to do a little bit each day to keep on top of it. It’s… not super going well. I’m going to be working harder at that (and whenever I see a post like this, it DOES help my motivation), but in conjunction I will be working on decluttering/minimizing my possessions so I just have less stuff to clean and clean around.

    My favorite tip for an all -ay project, since I often end up using my one work-free day as my all-day-get-it-done-day, is to use the Pomodoro Technique.

    I get that this does not work for everyone, because some folks are like sharks: if they stop cleaning for a breather, they’re just going to stop outright, so they just have to power through. For me, this helps me portion projects into more manageable chunks, it reduces my sense of being overwhelmed, and I think I do a better job than I would if I just kept going and going.

  4. Thank you for affirming the choice I made this week when the damn basement shower doors literally fell off when I tried -for the thousandth time-to reposition one back on the track. I took them out of the bathroom and hauled myself and kids to Bed, Bath and Beynd that evening after work. A shower rod, inner liner, outer curtain and a fancy set of two hook curtain rod clips later, we had an awesome new shower experience. My husband, the only one who liked the doors and swore they were easy to use, won’t admit that he likes the set up. But we all know how awesome it is for everyone, including guests who use that shower.

  5. I made my own detergent for a couple years when we cloth diapered but it was rough on my own clothes. We went back to Kirkland Signature’s liquid detergent once the diapers were over. I hang dry 90% of the clothes – we put up clotheslines in the basement since it’s below freezing so much of the year in Minnesota.

    I just use hot water for most heavy duty cleaning, like kitchen counters, tables, and stovetops. I also use plain water for cleaning mirrors and windows, and washable microfiber for dusting. And my favorite stain remover is equal parts blue dawn and hydrogen peroxide – it gets out pretty much everything, off every surface I’ve tried it on.