The Greenest Clean

The Cleaning is going quite well, thanks for asking. I’m 90% done, at the point where I would normally call it good e-damn-nough and stop. But I told you I was on a terror.

Today in fact is my day to finish. After a morning in my garden, and an afternoon of writing, of course. All in good time, my little pushkins, all in good time.

Since I have had my nose in a bucket of dirty water all week, I thought it might be the perfect moment for me to put my two cents in to the ever-so-fadish world of Green Cleaning.

Because although I do make my own bar soap and laundry detergent, and stock the requisite spray bottle of vinegar and little shakers of baking soda, I want to champion my favorite cleaning products. These are the ones I use every day, and love the best-est. You don’t need to go to the store to get ’em, you don’t need to wonder how they were mined or produced, and the carbon footprint is negligible. These three products are shockingly effective, and far greener than all of the other “green cleaning products,” unchallengeably the greenest clean of all.

  1. Hot water.
  2. Old rag.
  3. Elbow grease.

It’s true these won’t clean everything, but they really do a fine job on most things. For some reason we’ve gotten the idea that there has to be some kind of magic involved in cleaning, some kind of “product.” I’m afraid to say that I think it’s often just a placebo. If you use store bought cleaning products, or a heavy hand with soda and vinegar, do me a favor and tonight when you clean your kitchen, try using plain old hot water. Just try it– no loss. See what you think.

A very convincing case is my dishwasher. I know y’all have been waiting for a report, and here it is. It doesn’t work for shit. I mean, if you clean the dishes before you put them in, or if they just aren’t very dirty in the first place, then yes, they will come out clean. Otherwise, not so much. I still use it, because I am so strapped for time, and already tired of cleaning everything else, but the result is that when you open our cabinet you see a bunch of half filmy, not very appealing for a drink of water, glasses.

Apparently this is partly to do with the detergent. Some states still sell the phosphate detergent that other states have outlawed. My MIL smuggles some back from Montana every time she goes, and cuts it half-and-half with the legal stuff to achieve clean dishes. When she uses just the legal stuff straight up, she says her dishes are almost as filmy as mine, and she’s got a top of the line dishwasher!

And don’t think I’m trying to use green detergent, nope, it’s just the regular stuff (though not the illegal stuff). And I did try using more, the dishes were even filmier.

I find the whole thing funny, since last spring I discovered I could get most of my dishes clean washing them by hand with plain (soap-less) lukewarm water! Much cleaner than all the 40 minutes of whirring and spraying and shushing of my dishwasher. Just goes to show ya what old-fashioned, under-valued elbow grease will do. Wonders, my friend, wonders. (Read more about this base-est of dishwashing in the post Germaphobes and Clean Freaks Look Away Now.)

Very oily messes of course do require soap. And when you’re actually trying to kill something, like mildew or bacteria, a strong vinegar solution makes sense. Baking soda neutralizes odor, I’ve smelled that one at work on stinky water bottles.

So what does this all add up to? I don’t have very set cleaning rituals, as I’ve said, cleaning is just not my gig. And as stated, I’m a filthy beast. But that’s really more to do with lack of cleaning altogether, not a lack of products.

I use baking soda to clean the toilet, vinegar on the shower mildew, and plain old hot water on almost everything else. I did use some vinegar in my mop bucket this past week, because once a year- what the hell. I wipe my kitchen down with plain old water, or the leftovers from a load of dishes. I even wipe my stove down with plain water, unless it’s really greasy, then I use a little dish soap. I have tried baking soda on the stove, it worked fine, but did it work better than water?

In fact half the times I use soda or vinegar, I can’t tell if it’s helping or not. It seems I just do it because I want to be part of the crowd. It’s what all the cool people do. And lord knows, I wanna be cool.


7 thoughts on “The Greenest Clean

  1. real quick – I’ve found and been told that most newer dishwashers actually clean much better with less soap rather than more. they are designed to use much less water than the old ones, and most newer soap is more concentrated anyway, so the combo makes for really filmy, sticky dishes unless you cut way back.

    as for hot water, elbow grease, etc – i’d like to add that an old toothbrush to that list.

  2. i think the baking soda has an effect like dirt or coffee grounds – it’s an abrasive, and that’s sometimes helpful or useful. and like dirt and coffee grounds, it absorbs grease (although sometimes not as well…).

    horses for courses. i’m a huge fan of your top three, but even i had to be nudged to think about doing the no-soap dishes, and when i thought, it was obvious, but the hoodwinking does take some work to weasel out of…

    <3, btw. haven't chatted in a while, but still reading avidly. so glad you're finding/making time to write.

  3. Excellent, excellent points! I cannot IMAGINE using an illegal (high phosphate) soap for cleaning. Granted I’m a conservation biologist, so that’d be beyond unethical for me, but what part of this-planet-is-for-all-of-us and it’s-not-all-about-you don’t people get? Actions have consequences. Jeepers. (don’t mean to harsh on your friend, really, I just am mystified by the decisions some people are able to rationalize)

    An unofficial expert on cleaning (Martha Stewart’s daughter Alexis) says she washes her floor on her hands and knees using a sponge (what I do, with one scrubby side), ’cause all these different types of mops and swiffers just don’t’ really do it. And, yes, hot water does wonders. =) I was doing some quick emergency pre-party cleaning of my kitchen floor with just hot water and a rag, and lo and behold, that’s all that was needed!

    You’ve inspired me to use LESS soap. Thank you. =)
    P.S. I halved the amount of soap I use in the automatic dishwasher and clothes washer and things are WAY more clean, now, so I agree with meily.

    1. almost posted an addendum to this as a separate post, because i am afraid maybe i gave the wrong impression, like made folks feel judged for using soap. hell no! i still use soap in my dish water often, sometimes purely because it makes the experience of washing dishes more enjoyable, and if you gotta wash the damn dishes, whatever it takes, man! i just think it’s good to step back once in awhile and asses things to see what’s really necessary.
      and oh man, the mopping! i had really meant to write about that in this post, but just forgot. my posting is usually pretty rushed, unfortunately. i didn’t know i had professional backing, i thought i was the only jack ass on my hands and knees! i gave up on mops years ago. maybe there are good ones in the world, but i’ve never used ’em. always ends up being just five damn feet between me and the business end, and that’s plain ineffective. i’d rather get down on all fours and get the job done already.

  4. I use seventh Generation free and clear and add vinegar to the rinse cycle. I am looking for a good recipe for homemade automatic dish washer soap.I feel guilty enough using a dish washer, I would like to minimize it’s impact. As for the vinegar and baking soda, I agree it’s usually great, except for my stove top, which is a continual greasy mess, until I decide to clean it off usually involving Sun and earth all purpose spray.

    1. ive been trying to figure out how to add vinegar to the rinse. i tried putting it in the “rinse aid” part, but don’t know haw that really works, it was still there when the load was over. what do you do? just hang out in the kitchen till the rinse cycle, then stop it and add the vin? set a timer? i also tried borax just dumped in the bottom, like it recommends on the borax box (for “filmy dishes!”) but it didn’t work….

  5. another thought… i experienced some scumminess on Things From The Dishwasher a long time ago, and it seemed to be related to traces of dish soap that lingered on things. like if my dishpan had soapy water and i just lifted things out of the soak and put them in the dishwasher, those would be gross after i ran the dishwasher, but actually dirty or otherwise free from any trace of dishsoap items were fine.

    as far as what to use as a diy dishwasher detergent – if you look here ( under tips and instructions and then Kitchen and then Washing Up, it suggests borax and baking soda, but i suspect borax and washing soda is closer to what you get in the box at the supermarket, as it says not to use with alumin(i)um, and i’ve seen what happens with aluminum things in the dishwasher… vinegar in the rinse should be brilliant, as vinegar is everywhere. sigh. i heart vinegar.

    biobabbler, you seem to be me. i like that in people.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s