house cleaning1 webIt’s that time again – time to refresh our homes, bodies and minds by doing spring cleaning! It’s a world-wide tradition that’s centuries old!In the days before electricity and clean heating methods, everything in the house was covered with soot from coal heaters, oil lamps and candles by the end of winter. It would have been unthinkable not to open up the doors and windows to air the house, wipe down the furniture and walls, and take the linens and carpets outside to freshen.


The Pennsylvania Dutch are well-steeped in these practices. Their standard for cleanliness came from their German ancestors, who are said to be the cleanest people in the world. In some parts of Germany, spring cleaning is known as “Kehrwoche” (sweeping week). (See

Cleaning through the centuries
The use of cleaning agents goes back two thousand years before the invention of modern products that we use today. In the 1960’s, the green movement took root and people started to become conscious of the effects of harsh chemicals on our environment. Over the past 60 years, more and more cleaning products have been produced with natural ingredients. I see a trend here. Do you? We’re abandoning our modern, environmentally unfriendly cleaning agents for methods from the past. We’re going back to the way Mom and Grandma did it.

The best old-fashioned cleaning agents
Vinegar is my all-time, go-to cleaning liquid. I discovered vinegar for cleaning when I was a sophomore in college. I would wake up in my dorm on Saturday mornings to the unmistakable odor of vinegar coming from the room next door. My next-door neighbor was cleaning her room with a solution of apple cider vinegar and water.

The daughter of first-generation German immigrants, she used a bucket-full of it to thoroughly wipe down the walls, furniture and floor. A couple of hours later the acrid smell, combined with the Virginia mountain air coming through an open window, morphed into a fresh scent that filled the hall with an unmatched clean feeling.
My second favorite cleaning product is coconut oil (solid or liquid); I discovered its many uses quite by accident. Having run out of spray-on furniture polish, I smeared some coconut oil on a damp cloth and dusted with it. The furniture looked great and the whole house smelled like the tropics!

Below is a list of some of my other favorite natural cleaning agents. Basically, you just need to have some vinegar, coconut oil, baking soda, salt, lemon juice, and mayonnaise on hand. I’m no expert, and by no means is cleaning one of my favorite activities. But having raised two kids – one was a soccer player with smelly cleats and sweaty, grass-stained jerseys -- and four dogs, I feel that I have enough experience to offer a few helpful hints.

Cleans coffee pots and Keurig-type machines (Solution: 1:1 - Use 1-part white vinegar with 1-part water.) Pour the maximum level into your coffee maker and run it through. Then run at least 1 cycle of water
Spray on kitchen counter tops (4:1 – 4-parts water to 1-part vinegar) as an antibacterial.
Soaks baked-on foods from pots, pans and dishes. Combine with a little baking soda for an even faster, more effective removal
Added to the dishwasher, leaves dishes and stainless-steel sparkling clean
Wipes fingerprints and smudges from stainless steel appliances (4:1)
Cleans red wine spills off cabinets (4:1). We know this from experience in our family.

Baking soda:
Scrub stainless steel pots and pans and copper bottom pots with baking soda
Put an open container in your refrigerator to absorb odors
Add to water to soak food (tomato, etc.) stains out of plastic containers
Remove cooking oil stains from clothing. Pat some on the stain and let it sit for 30 minutes or longer before washing

Like baking soda, salt is a good scrubbing agent for sinks, pots and pans.

Works as a fabric softener and odor remover when added to your washing machine
Is a stain remover – spray on clothing to break down stains before washing.
Lemon juice: Removes perspiration stains from t-shirts and others
Salt: Removes blood stains from clothing by soaking it in saltwater.

Damp-mop hardwood floors as well as linoleum or tile with a solution of 1-part cider vinegar to 4 parts water for a fresh, all-over clean smelling house. Wipe down the baseboards while you’re at it.
Clean windows with a solution of white vinegar and water. Spray on and wipe off with a newspaper.
Baking soda: sprinkle lightly on carpet to absorb odors before vacuuming.
An old-fashioned dust mop saves electricity, plus it’s much quicker than vacuuming a small area.

Vinegar: Kills mold in the shower. It’s actually more effective than products containing chlorine bleach and also removes rings from toilet bowls.
Put 2 or 3 drops of peppermint oil in the toilet bowl to remove and prevent odors.

The rest of the house
Coconut oil: Dust with coconut oil on a on a damp cloth. The house will smell like the tropics and coconut oil repels dust, so you won’t have to do it as often! Wipe fingerprints and smudge marks off painted surfaces (cabinets and door facings)
Dust with a cider vinegar and water solution (4:1) to leave the house smelling fresh and the furniture super clean.
Rubbing alcohol, used on a lint free cloth, cleans computer screens and removes sticky adhesive labels from glass.
Mayonnaise will make water marks disappear from wood furniture. Smear a good coating on the rings and leave for at least 30 minutes. Then wipe with a clean cloth.
Sprinkle few drops of essential oil (lavender, peppermint or lemongrass) on a damp cloth and dust all the furniture. Your house will smell like a spa or a yoga studio!

Pets and Skunks
Hopefully hope your dog (or cat) never gets sprayed by a skunk, but it happens! Combine ¼ cup of baking soda, 1-2 teaspoons of mild dishwashing detergent like Ivory, and 1 quart of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide solution. Rub thoroughly into the pet’s coat and leave for at least 5 minutes. Rinse well. Repeat if necessary. Yes, there’s some detergent in this one, but sometimes Mother Nature needs a little extra help.

Get started with these old-fashioned products and you’re likely to find more uses for them, plus invent your own methods! Using natural, common household products not only lets you clean like Grandma did; it saves you a lot of money. Happy spring cleaning!

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