Spring Cleaning the Easy Way

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This time of year, if you’re like me, as soon as you see and feel the first warm rays of sunshine, the urge to clean the house, top to bottom, hits. You want to make everything fresh and clean again. You want to open all the windows and let the stale winter air out, exchanging it for clean, fresh air. In my opinion, nothing says spring like a clean house and open windows.

Following are tips for using three staple products most of us always have on hand — baking soda, lemons or lemon juice, and plain white vinegar — to clean a variety of things, as well as a few simple recipes for homemade cleaners that have a permanent place in my cleaning cabinet.

Words of Caution

If you search the web for recipes for homemade cleaners, you’ll find that nearly all of them call for some sort of essential oil — not only for smell, but also for their antiseptic and antibacterial properties. If you do a little more research, you’ll discover several online sources stating that certain essential oils can be harmful or even fatal to pets. Since I have dogs in the house, I’m not willing to chance it, so I never use essential oils. If you don’t have pets, feel free to add a few drops of pine, tea tree, orange, or lemon essential oil to any of the cleaner recipes for a fresh smell and added cleaning benefits.

Also, since it’s always better to be safe than sorry, before you use any homemade cleaners on your floors, counters, walls, etc., be sure to test them on a small, inconspicuous area to be sure they’re safe to use on your specific surfaces.

Baking Soda

While some people use baking soda just for baking, it does so much more. For starters, it has odor-absorbing properties, which makes it a great deodorizer for the refrigerator, carpets, laundry, and more. It’s also mildly abrasive, so it does a fantastic job of cleaning and removing tough stains from floors, countertops, sinks, etc.

Stain Remover and Odor Eliminator

• Eliminate stains from coffee and tea mugs by filling mugs with 1 part baking soda and 2 parts water, letting it sit overnight, and scrubbing and rinsing in the morning.

• To keep garbage disposals fresh and free of clogs, put the stopper in the disposal, add 3 inches of warm water and a handful of baking soda, turn on the disposal, and let the water run out.

• Rid food containers of odors by mixing equal parts of baking soda and water in container, setting aside, and soaking for at least 30 minutes, or overnight for tough odors.

• Remove perspiration stains from clothing by applying a paste of baking soda and water to the affected areas, and letting them sit for 30 minutes prior to laundering.

• Mix 1 gallon of warm water with 1/4 cup of baking soda in the sink, add clothing, and allow to soak for at least 30 minutes before washing to remove stubborn odors.

• Deodorize your floor rugs by sprinkling them with baking soda, letting them stand for at least 15 minutes, and then vacuuming.

• Eliminate odors from upholstered furniture by sprinkling the fabric with baking soda, letting it sit for a few minutes, and then vacuuming.

• To eliminate odor from litter boxes, add a thin layer of baking soda to the litter box before adding the litter.

Basic Cleanser

• To clean grout, mix 3 cups of baking soda with 1 cup of warm water, scrub grout with a brush until clean, and then rinse.

• As a bathroom cleaner, sprinkle baking soda in the tub or sink, and use a wet rag to wipe clean. Rinse with water.

• To clean vinyl or tile floors, mix 1/2 cup baking soda in a bucket of warm water, and mop the floor.

• To clean carpets, sprinkle liberally with baking soda, let sit for 20 to 30 minutes, and then vacuum.

• Make a paste of baking soda and water, and rub on wallpaper with a rag to rid them of smudges, then wipe clean.

• To remove heel marks from hard floors, sprinkle a damp cloth with a little bit of baking soda, and rub on the marks until they disappear, then wipe clean.

• To rid crayon and stains from hard surfaces, such as walls, make a paste using 1 part water and 3 parts baking soda, dab paste on a damp rag, and wipe wall. (Warning: This works flawlessly on white walls. However, if the wall is painted, using this method could quite possibly cause some paint discoloration.)

• Mix 1/4 cup baking soda with 1 quart warm water, and use mixture to wipe down outdoor lawn furniture.

Miscellaneous Baking Soda Uses

• To remove burnt or stuck-on food from casseroles dishes, fill dish with hot water, add 1 tablespoon baking soda, and allow to soak for 30 minutes, then scrub clean.

• To rid pots and pans of burnt or stuck-on food, sprinkle baking soda over the affected areas, add hot water, let sit overnight, and scrub the next morning.

• To polish silver, make a paste using 3 tablespoons baking soda and 1 tablespoon water, rub paste on silver with a soft cloth or sponge, and rinse with water.

• For use as a bug killer for aphids, mix 1-1/2 teaspoons of baking soda per pint of water, and apply every 7 days.

Lemon Juice

Because of its acidity, lemon juice is a natural stain remover and disinfectant. Lemons also have a pleasing scent, which is why so many cleaning products — both commercial and homemade — feature lemon in some form.

It should be noted, however, that lemons and lemon juice should never be used on granite or marble, as the acidity from the juice can cause damage to such surfaces.

Stain Remover and Odor Eliminator

• To disinfect laminate countertops and cutting boards, squeeze the juice of a lemon onto the counter or cutting board, rub the lemon into the stains, let sit until the stains disappear, and then rinse.

• Remove stains from food storage containers by squeezing the juice of a lemon into the container, sprinkling in a little baking soda, and using the lemon to rub the mixture into the stains. Let stand for 1 hour, or overnight if necessary, and then rinse out.

• Remove stains from grout by making a paste from lemon juice and 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, applying the paste to the stained area, scrubbing with a toothbrush, and then rinsing with water.

• To remove rust stains from clothes, apply lemon juice, undiluted, to the stained area, lay the article of clothing in the sun, and the stain will disappear.

• For use as a bleach alternative, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice and 1/4 cup white vinegar with 1 gallon of warm water in the sink, add clothes, and soak for 15 to 20 minutes prior to washing.

• Rub your hands with cut lemons to remove odors, such as onion and garlic, from them.

Basic Lemon Juice Cleanser

• Clean the microwave easily by slicing a lemon, putting it in a bowl of water, and microwaving for 45 seconds to 1 minute, then removing the bowl, and wiping out the microwave with a clean cloth.

• To give the blender a thorough cleaning, blend a lemon, a drop of dishwashing soap, and 1 cup of water, then rinse out with hot water.

Miscellaneous Lemon Juice Uses

• As a way to prevent lime scale on faucets, occasionally rub the fixtures with lemon juice, let sit overnight, and rinse in the morning.

• To clean brass and copper, sprinkle salt on a lemon that’s been cut in half, rub the salted flesh of the lemon on the brass or copper, and then rinse thoroughly.

• To make chrome shine, apply a little bit of lemon juice to it, and buff.

White Vinegar

White vinegar is a natural disinfectant that can clean a number of items in and around the house. It even kills salmonella and E. coli, two bacteria that can be deadly. Best of all, it’s inexpensive, easy to find, and simple to use. This simple ingredient, which is strong and powerful to the nose, is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to cleaning, freshening, and disinfecting.

Like lemon juice, vinegar is also acidic and should not be used on marble or granite surfaces.

White Vinegar Stain Remover and Odor Eliminator

• To deodorize the dishwasher and make glasses sparkle at the same time, pour 1 cup of vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher before turning it on.

• Deodorize and minimize stains on clothing by spraying vinegar on stained clothes, and allowing them to soak for 15 to 30 minutes in the washing machine before running the cycle.

• To neutralize pet urine odor in carpets, combine 1/4 cup vinegar and 3/4 cup water in a spray bottle, shake well to blend, spray on affected areas of carpet, let stand for 5 to 10 minutes, then blot with a towel and let the area dry.

Basic White Vinegar Cleanser

• Clean the coffeemaker by running equal parts of water and vinegar through it, turning it off about halfway through the cycle and letting it sit for 1 hour, then turning it back on and allowing the cycle to finish running. (To make sure your next pot of coffee doesn’t take like vinegar, it’s a good idea to run the coffeemaker again with just water.)

• To clean the microwave, mix 1 cup of vinegar and 1 cup of water in a glass bowl, microwave on high for 10 minutes, remove bowl, and wipe away dried food and stains with a clean rag.

• To cut grease on dishes and crystal, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of white vinegar to the dishwater, along with your regular dishwashing liquid.

• To disinfect vinyl floors, combine 1/2 cup white vinegar with 1 gallon of warm water, and mop.

• Make stainless steel sinks glisten by cleaning them with a paste made of baking soda and vinegar.

• Clean the toilet by pouring 1 cup of vinegar into the toilet bowl, followed by 1 cup of borax, and letting the mixture stand for 2 to 3 hours before scrubbing with a toilet brush and flushing a few times.

• To easily remove soap scum and mildew from plastic shower curtains and liners, fill the washing machine with warm water, add laundry detergent and 1 cup of white vinegar, put the curtain and/or liner, along with a few old towels, into the washer, close the lid and let the cycle run, then remove and immediately rehang the curtain and/or liner.

• To remove soap scum and mineral deposits from showers, tubs, and sinks, heat 1 cup of white vinegar in the microwave until warm, pour into a spray bottle, spray on surface, let stand for 10 to 15 minutes, and scrub with a non-abrasive sponge.

• To rid drains of soap scum and mineral deposits, close the drain, pour in enough vinegar to cover the drain and surrounding area, let it sit overnight, then scrub with a sponge and rinse the next morning.

• To clean showerheads of soap scum and mineral deposits, pour some white vinegar in a plastic bag, submerge the showerhead in the vinegar, tie the bag around it, let it soak overnight, then scrub with a sponge and rinse in the morning. (If the mineral deposits didn’t come out of the holes in the showerhead, use a toothpick to get them out.)

• To clean spills on carpets, first remove as much liquid as possible, then spray the stain with a solution made of equal parts of white vinegar and water, let the solution sit for 2 minutes, then blot with a towel.

Miscellaneous White Vinegar Uses

• To unclog drains, pour 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain, let it sit for at least 30 minutes, then flush with warm water. (If the drain is still clogged, repeat the process, letting it sit for 1 to 2 hours before rinsing.)

• As a way to keep drains from clogging, pour 1/2 cup baking soda and 1/2 cup white vinegar down the shower, tub, and sink drains once a month, cover the drains and let the mixture foam for 15 to 20 minutes, then rinse with hot water.

• To soften clothes and help rid dark items of lint, add 1/4 cup of white vinegar to the washing machine during the final rinse cycle.

• To deter bugs, apply undiluted vinegar to the skin with a cotton ball. (The smell will quickly disappear from the skin, but it will leave behind a taste that bugs despise.)

Favorite Homemade Cleaners

Glass Cleaner. In a spray bottle, combine 1 cup rubbing alcohol, 1 cup water, and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Shake before each use. To use, spray on glass surface or mirror, and wipe with a clean cloth. If you’d rather not use rubbing alcohol, just leave it out.

All-Purpose Cleaner. In a spray bottle, combine 2 cups water, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap, 1 tablespoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon borax. Shake well before using to clean any hard surface, including granite and marble.

Air Freshener. In a spray bottle, combine 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon white vinegar, and 2 cups water. Set aside until fi zzing stops, then put on the lid and swirl gently to mix. Shake before each use. To use, spray into the air. If desired, add the juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon for an even fresher smell.

Furniture Polish. In a spray bottle, mix 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons vegetable or mineral oil. To use, spray on a soft rag, and rub on wood furniture. Shake before each use.