Cleaning Counters, Floors, Toilets, and Wood

I used commercial chemicals in cleaning my house for years. We have been using Mr. Clean on floors and in bathtubs, Nature’s Miracle to clean pet odours, bleach sprays to clean bathrooms and spots on floors, and so many more chemicals to condition leather furniture, polish wooden furniture, clean toilets, and more. I never once checked the ingredients list on any of the products we used.

Now that I know that isothiazolinones and many other hazardous chemicals and allergens are in so many liquid cleaning products I used, I feel rather silly. So many of these products, whether they’re hazardous or not, can be replaced by simple cleaners like vinegar and water or baking soda.  For the most part, spending money on commercial cleaners and even “natural” commercial cleaners is unnecessary.

Since coming to this realization, I have started to make a lot more products myself. I’ll be sharing many of the larger recipes one by one in the blog, but I thought I’d take today to cover some of the quick and easy ones.

Wood FlooringFloor and Hard Surface Cleaner

  •  1 bucket or sink full of water, preferably hot
  • 1/2 – 1 cup white vinegar

Vinegar not only deodorizes, it also helps remove soap scum and hard water buildup (better when warm or hot), and kills some bacteria.  You can even take a spray bottle of this when travelling to spray and wipe down hard surfaces where you sleep, work, and eat, to remove the chemicals already there.  If concerned about the surface, spot test in a small area before using everywhere.

Floors should be well swept or vacuumed before washing to avoid scratches.  Although a pH-neutral solution is best for hardwood floors and stone surfaces, making sure to dilute the vinegar properly, rinsing with clean water, and towel-drying afterward to prevent water from penetrating or seeping between floorboards should minimize any problems.

Vinegar is acidic (very low pH);  if you want to use a basic (pH>7) cleaner instead, try washing your hands with pure soap (or adding a tablespoon or two of liquid castile soap) into a sink of water and then using the soapy water to wash your surfaces.  This solution is gentler  because it is closer to neutral (pH 7).  The downside to this is that soap can leave scum and water marks.  Be sure to thoroughly rinse and towel dry.   Don’t use soap and vinegar together; if using both, use soap first, rinse with clean water, then use the diluted vinegar and rinse again.  This will prevent soap breakdown and deposits.

Clean ToiletToilet Bowl Cleaner

Vinegar, water, and a toilet brush will work most of the time for convenience.  The most popular commercial toilet bowl cleaners are basic because high pH is better at cleaning organic messes, so just plain baking soda works, too.  If you get hard buildup in the bowl, though, it’s time to pull out the tough cleaners.  Borax or baking soda are mild enough abrasives that they will not harm porcelain.  You’ll need:

  • 1 cup vinegar
  • An abrasive like borax or a pumice stone*

*A pumice stone is the most abrasive item on this list, and should be quite effective. Some companies sell pumice stones on sticks specifically for toilet bowl cleaning. If using a pumice stone, be sure the stone is thoroughly wet so that it is less likely to scratch the porcelain. Use at your own risk.

This will require you to get up close and personal with your toilet. Pour in about one cup of vinegar and (if using) 1/4 cup borax. Scrub with a plastic scrubby pad, sponge, cloth, or a pumice stone. When the bowl feels smooth, flush. You’re done!

Wood Furniture Polish

  • 1 part vinegar
  • 1 part jojoba oil

The purpose of commercial wood polish is to clean and moisturize the wood. Vinegar is an excellent cleaner, cutting through residues and killing bacteria. Oils are great moisturizers for both wood and skin. Some sites will say to use a large amount of vinegar and a small amount of oil or vice versa, but I have found that a 50/50 mix is the most effective and economical.  More oil leaves long-term greasiness, and less doesn’t leave enough on the wood.  I have tested this recipe on my 10-year-old coffee table, my 7-year-old bedroom furniture, and my 80-year-old dining room table (whose finish whitens if water is allowed to sit on the surface) with great results for all.  As with other hard surface cleaning, it is best to test in a small, inconspicuous area first, as vinegar contains water and is acidic.

Choice of Oil

One of the biggest concerns with polishing wood furniture using oils is the concern that the oils will go rancid and cause the wood to degrade. We can get around that concern by using petroleum-based oils like mineral oil, but some people are sensitive to mineral oil and its production is not the most environmentally friendly. Two excellent vegetable-based fats that stay good for a long time are fractionated coconut oil and jojoba oil. Both are expected to stay fresh for two to five years or longer, which is a very long time compared to other vegetable-based oils.

Fractionated coconut oil is coconut oil with the longer chain molecules removed. This allows it to stay fresh for longer and makes it a liquid at room temperature. It makes an excellent massage oil, and is used to make soaps and cosmetics.  Fractionated coconut oil, though it works, can leave the surface oily for weeks.  An especially poor choice for your headboard.

Jojoba oil is technically considered a wax and comes from the seed of the jojoba shrub/tree. It can be found in cosmetics and is a close match to human sebum, making it a great skin moisturizer. Having tried them both, jojoba is by far the better choice.  Jojoba oil absorbs at a closer rate to commercial polishes.

Wood FurnitureTo Use

To use this recipe, add all ingredients to a glass container or bottle (some plastics can degrade if left in contact with an acid like vinegar). If the surface is very dirty or has a lot of debris buildup, wash before polishing. Shake polish and apply to surface with dropper, sprayer, or cloth. Wipe immediately.  The oils will displace most of the vinegar and start to penetrate the surface, while much of the vinegar will be absorbed by the cloth as you wipe.  Buff with a clean cloth after 5-10 minutes. Shake the bottle frequently while applying.

If using on an unfinished or lightly-finished surface, you can mix the polish with about one part jojoba and one part vinegar to six parts water, and apply to the surface sparingly.

There are lots more recipes to come, but these ones should give you a great start.  In the meantime, check the ingredient lists on your products and be safe.

I am switching to a Monday/Wednesday/Friday posting schedule.  Come back later this week for information about fragrances and fragrance sensitivity, and expectations when switching away from commercial cleaners.

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