Okay...if you bothered to read the Overview, it's taken you some time to organize and decorate. The key to keeping it looking great is to have a system of regular cleaning. This doesn't have to be tedious or take too many hours out of your day...hours better spent on projects you enjoy and spending real time with the family. If you have children they should have their chore list. A child needs to pull his/her own weight in the family...it reinforces their family tie and teaches social responsibility. It's true that they'll kick and scream and generally throw their few pounds of weight around and make everyone miserable, but as my Mom used to say "there's plenty of things in life we don't like doing, but they have to be done...get used to it."
My own method of keeping up with household maintenance is to notice what needs to be done on a daily basis and then make a note of it on my desk calender. A typical list for tomorrow might read: vaccuum, chicken for dinner, send card for aunt's b'day, make bread, harvest dandelion roots (did I mention I was an herbalist?). If a surprise visitor shows up or an unwelcomed emergency, or if someone calls wanting company for a shopping trip...well...I just make arrows to the next day on the things I can't do today. A system shouldn't be rigid, but you should stay well enough within its guidelines to make it all work. Done a little bit each day, household maintenance is not taxing. It is, after all, the career you've chosen...it just remains to become so efficient at it that it barely seems like work. As you walk around the house each day you'll notice some small thing that needs doing. Develop the habit of keeping a notepad in your pocket or close by and write it down immediately. In the words of the I Ching, the way of success is "in the preponderance of the small".
Below you will find a menu of cleaning products you can formulate at home.
If you need to fix it, repair it or perhaps remove some weird stain, or just plain have one of life's miserable catastrophes, follow this link for help. Do It Yourself
Household cleaning should utilize the safest products possible. We still don't know the accumlated effects of this last century's large scale use of chemicals.
Making your own cleaning products actually takes less time than standing in the supermarket aisles comparing chemicals on the labels and trying to decide if its "safe" for your family and for you. It also saves you substantial amounts of money. The simple act of ridding our homes of chemicals adds an invaluable sense of peaceful mindnessness, not only in regards to our personal and family's welfare, but expands our conscience to our global neighbors and the integrity of the health of planet Earth. Think in terms of chemicals running off into the groundwater and polluting your neighbors' wells or the town drinking water supply. If you happen to buy the wrong house in the wrong place, you and your family could end up inheriting a very nasty problem. There are times when chemicals are needful and appropriate, but for 99% of home cleaning, they aren't required. If we can reduce household pollution by 99%, then we're well on our way to cleaning up the planet and the career homemaker is at the heart of this matter.
The most important thing to know and remember about household cleaning is this...Never! Never! combine chlorine bleach, oven cleaners, dishwasher detergent or toilet-bowl cleaners with ammonia, lye, rust remover, or vinegar. Such a combination can create a deadly poisonous gas. In her later years, my own grandmother became confused at times and forgot this important rule. She nearly died as a result.
Liquid Vegetable-oil based soap
An interesting fact is that before World War II we relied mainly on coconut oil based soaps for cleaning just about everything. when the war interrupted the flow of coconut oil, we turned to chemical cleaners which were petroleum based. The war has been over for a long time now and we have begun to see the results of the health of an entire generation living in a chemical world. Cancer rates have escalated and respiratory difficulties...especially among young children...has reached terrible proportions. These are just two things we can point to and say to ourselves "something isn't right". We have no control over the larger issues, but around our homes we can make sane choices.
Scouring: For greasy dirt usually encountered in the kitchen and on the walls where young (or maybe not so young) hands have trod, wash surfaces with a small amount of Washing Soda in water. Use rubber gloves when putting hands directly into a Washing Soda solution since it's very strong and can irritate the skin. For stubborn grease you can make your own SCOURING POWDER by combining 1 cup of baking soda and 1/4 cup of washing soda. Sprinkle and use like any scouring powder.
All-purpose Spray Cleaner: Combine in a spray bottle: 1/2 tsp Washing Soda, 1/2 tsp Borax, 1/2 tsp vegetable oil-based soap, 2 Tbsp vinegar and 2 cups of hot water. Shake well until all the solid bits have dissolved. For extra cleaning power increase Borax to 1 tsp. Spray and wipe clean with a damp cloth or sponge.
Mold: To kill mold use full-strength vinegar. To keep mold under control spray with diluted vinegar on a regular basis.
Musty Smells: Combine 1 tsp of tea tree oil and 1 cup of water in a spritzer bottle. Spray the area, but don't wipe it off. In a couple of days the smell should be gone and the tea tree oil will have dissipated. If not...repeat for a couple of more days.
Moisture Problems: Mold and mildew thrive in moist, warm areas. To keep these areas under control place out bowls of unscented kitty litter to absorb the moisture. Replace these once a week.
Mildew in books: Place some cornstarch in a sprinkle container and sprinkle the cornstarch onto the pages lightly. Let it sit for a few hours and then wipe and shake clean.
Cutting Boards: To get rid of strong odors on cutting boards, wipe them with vinegar or baking soda or lemon slices or celery. This also works on countertops. For countertops only, a few drops of essential oil of lemon thyme in a cup of water and spritzed on the surface and then wiped, works well too.
Sinks, Tubs, Toilets
Use Bon Ami or baking soda to scrub surfaces. For stained areas use Barkeeper's Friend. To disinfect choose from essential oils of lavender, thyme, eucalyptus or tea tree. Mix 1/2 tsp together with 1 cup distlled water in a spritzer bottle. Shake well, then spritz and wipe down the areas you wish to disinfect. If you would like a bit more "punch" to the mix, add one tsp of vodka or rubbing alcohol.
To clean mineral stains from toilets, tubs and sinks use Dishwasher Glisten. This product is made from natural citrus acids and is used to clean the inside of your dishwasher. However, the side panel gives directions for cleaning those ugly stains from your toilet and tub as well as other heavy duty cleaning jobs around the house. You can also pour vinegar into the toilet bowl and leave it to soak for a half hour. DO NOT ADD VINEGAR TO THE TOILET BOWL IF YOU ARE USING A BLEACH TAB OR SOME OTHER BLEACH PRODUCT THAT IS RELEASED WHEN YOU FLUSH. THE COMBINATION IS DEADLY!!
To keep drains running clear - each week pour 1/2 cup of baking soda down each drain and pour about 1 cup of white vinegar (a bit at a time) down after it. The kids love to help with this job as the combination makes lots of fizzy noises and foam to entertain them. If the drain is running slow, then repeat the process. You can stop adding vinegar when you don't hear any "fizzing" going on in the pipes. Follow this treatment with your hottest tapwater and allow it to flow down the drain for a couple of minutes. Regular treatment will keep your drains and pipes running free.
Linoleum and Wood Floors
The method used is the key to eliminating much of the drudgery of this job. The product should be an all-purpose liquid vegetable oil based cleaner available at health food outlets and mail order houses. OR a mild dish liquid (don't use one with degreasers as they can strip some no-wax finishes...Ivory or regular Palmolive are good)
The most valuable tool I have for the job of scrubbing floors, is a scrub brush attached to a long broom handle. This allows me to scrub from a standing position. Allow the soap and water to work FOR you by letting it stand on the surface for a few minutes...work in sections. This will soften and lift the dirt. In the meantime you can be wetting another area and then return to the first area for simple scrub and mop up. This won't make the job any less attractive, but in terms of human suffering it beats wearing pantyhose after the age of 50. Some things are just plain rotten.
UPDATE 2007: I have since invested in a Hoover floor machine and use 1/2 tsp of Ecover All-purpose Cleaner to 1 quart of hottest water available from the tap. Works great on my tile and wood floors.
Wood Floor/Furniture Waxes and Polishes
The smell of beeswax is so lovely that there's really no need to add fragrance. However, if you love an underlying aroma of a particular scent in your home, just add 5 drops or more of essential oil of lavender, lemon, pine or whatever to the following recipes.
A polish is a liquid that will clean and feed the wood and a wax is a semi-solid which will feed and seal it. For best results make sure the wood is absolutely dry.
The purpose of the basic ingredients
Oil feeds the wood
Vinegar cleans the wood
Vodka or Mineral spirits makes it possible for the wood to absorb the oil
Waxes solidify the liquids and seal the wood
The first two recipes use a Base Oil which can be made up and kept on the shelf to be used as needed for wood floors and furniture. (It can also be used on your aching joints when you finish!). OR you may use food grade linseed oil instead.
For equipment you will need the top portion of a stainless steel or glass double boiler, an electric skillet and a cooking thermometer.
Into the top of the double boiler place a handful of lavender buds (you may also use lemon balm leaves for a lemon fragrance) and just cover the buds with olive oil. Clip the thermometer to the inside of the pan for measuring the temperature of the oil. In the electric skillet place 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch of water to protect the finish of the skillet. Place the double boiler in the center of the skillet. Rotate the temperature control on the skillet to about half way to the "warm" setting and wait to see what the temperature of the oil will become. Fidget with the control a bit at a time until you have a steady temperature of the oil between 95 and 100 degrees F. Allow the mixture to steep at this temperature for twelve to fourteen hours or until the lavender looks "used up". If the fragrance is not strong enough, strain the oil and place another handful of flowers back into the same oil and repeat the process. You can do this a number of times if you like. The alternative is to simply add some drops of essential oil of lavender to the first batch of the base oil to intensify its fragrance or wait until just ready to use it and do it then. Start with this small batch to get the feel of it and store in a labeled jar.
NOTE OF CAUTION!
Do not get impatient with homemade product formation. Some of the ingredients are flammable and only a low heat and a double boiler will do the job safely.
Wood Floor Wax:
1 cup base oil, 1/2 cup vodka, 1 to 1-1/2 oz grated beeswax, 1-1/2 to 2 oz carnauba wax (depends on hardness desired), 20 drops of essential oil of lavender.
NOTE: Carnauba wax is brittle and can be quickly pulverized by placing in a plastic bag and gently tapping with a hammer or other suitable tool.
Put the base oil and the waxes into the top of the double boiler and place over the bottom portion of the double boiler to which water is already added and is at a simmer. At "low heat" stir gently until all waxes are dissolved. Remove from heat and add vodka and essential oil and blend well. Pour into a clean, recycled nut can or other similar size heat-resistant container. Allow to harden. Use a rag to rub into the wood. If the rag "drags" too much, dip it into a tiny bit of the base oil.
Wood Floor or Furniture Polish:
I have found this recipe to work equally well on "pseudo-wood"...you know...those inexpensive, laminated, wood-look desks and bookcases we picked up along the way when our wallets were thinner than our needs. The vinegar smell disappears quickly leaving the clean smell of lavender behind.
This is a tiny recipe, but a little of it goes a long way and there's no point in mixing and storing a large batch unless you use it quite frequently. My experience with this particular recipe is that dust does not build up very quickly after applying. I surmise that static is reduced, thus dust is not attracted like a magnet. To apply, I prefer a 4 oz. squirt-top bottle (available through herbalware suppliers).
You will need
1/8 cup lavender base oil
(or plain olive or other vegetable oil if you don't have the base oil handy)
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp vodka
10 drops oil of lavender
Mix all together well and rub into the wood with a clean soft rag.
Lavender Furniture Wax: 2 oz grated beeswax, 1 tbsp carnauba wax, 1-1/2 cup mineral spirits, 20 drops oil of lavender.
Melt waxes in top of double boiler. Let cool 30 seconds or so, then add mineral spirits and oil. Stir well then place in suitable container.
Window Cleaner: Place the following in a spritzer bottle and shake well. Use as you would any window cleaner product.
1/3 tsp liquid castile or other liquid vegetable based soap
3 tbsp cider vinegar or white vinegar
2 cups water
You will need a one-quart yogurt container or something similiar that you can keep around just for this purpose. You will also need some old sprinkle containers (or any type container with large holes for sprinking such as spice jars) saved from the supermarket.
BASIC RECIPE = 1½ cups baking soda mixed together with 20 drops of essential or fragrance oil(s) of choice
1½ cups baking soda mixed together with 1/2 cup of old potpourri powdered in a coffee mill or blender.
TIP!: You can also use about 1/2 cup of cornstarch in place of some of the baking soda if you wish a different consistency of sprinkle.
Place the baking soda in your mixing container and distribute the drops of oil, one at a time, here and there, throughout the powder. Don't just lay them on top of the powder in what could only be called a "glumpy clump". With the back of a spoon or other appropriate tool, blend the oil(s) well into the baking soda. Pour some of the powder out onto a piece of paper and use this as a funnel to pour into a sprinkle container. Continue til the container is filled. I like to make up enough at one time to fill three or four containers. The longer it stays in the container, the more fragrant it becomes.
VARIATIONS: During flea or bug season, use 1/2 cup borax and 1-1/2 cup baking soda. OR... use 1 cup diatomaceous earth (NOT the kind used for pool filters...check the organic gardening resources in your area), plus 1 cup baking soda. Diatomaceous earth (aka D.E.) is a superb natural product with many household and garden uses.
The fragrance choice for oils is personal. In spring and summer we prefer the clean smell of lavender which is also somewhat of a bug repellent. Recent studies indicate that the essential oils of lemon thyme, sweet marjoram, rosemary, basil and thyme look very promising for insect repelling properties. One great combination is citronella and patchouli oils. These can also be made into a soap with which to wash before heading outside during mosquito season.
Our spring and summer combination is 15 drops lavender oil, 5 drops rose oil, 2 or 3 drops musk oil.
When the bugs decide they prefer the accomodations of our home to the great outdoors, we combine 15 drops of lavender with 5 drops of citronella oil. You might wish to try equal amounts of both.
In either case we always add 2 or 3 drops of a floral musk fragrance oil to provide an overlying sweet floral scent.
Strictly for the bugs is a Super Zapper combination of oils of citronella, pennyroyal and eucalyptus.
The use of penyroyal requires certain cautions to be taken - it should be avoided by pregnant women and should not be used around very small children that will be spending time on the carpeting.
During winter, the smells of pine and cedar or the Christmas smells of cinnamon and cloves invoke feelings of warm/fuzzy holiday cheer. Use fragrance oils to create these moods. These oils seem pricey, but one tiny vial goes a very long way.
Cleaning carpets used to be very difficult before I searched around for a good quality carpet shampooer. Recently, when I needed a new one, I settled on the Hoover "Ultra" model Steam-vac carpet cleaner and I'm pleased with the choice. It's simple to use and clean and store. It also has an upholstery attachment with 3 brushes that works very well. Do some research before making a purchase to determine which make and model will work for you.
It is NOT necessary to use the chemicals designed for these cleaners. I use all purpose Citrus Organic Cleanser or Infinity Horsetail Cleaner, but any concentrated vegetable oil based, heavy duty, cleaning liquid will work. Mine is quite concentrated so I use 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of the liquid per 6 cups of hottest tap water. (UPdate 2007: I currently use Ecover All-Purpose Cleaner, about 1/2 tsp per quart) Depending on which cleanser you use, your mileage may vary, so start off with a small amount and adjust if necessary. First fill the tank with the water and THEN put in the cleaner. You need to avoid creating a lot of suds so simply swirl the liquid around in the water until it's distributed. Then shampoo. By the way...you shouldn't need to, but if you ever feel the need to rinse your rugs...wait until the next day when everything is dry (the underpadding will sometimes hang onto the moisture if you've used too much water so be sure to wait 24 hours).
Fireplaces and Other Masonry
This is a situation that does require the use of a chemical. All that remains is to choose the safest method. Oven cleaner will take off that old baked on soot (the usual method is the use of harsh acids). Spray the brick (or stone) and leave for 5 to 10 min. Test a spot to see if its ready to be wiped off. Leave a bit longer if not. Wipe it off, then wash down with hot sudsy water and allow to dry.
On the other hand, although I've never had a chance to try it, Dishwasher Glisten (the product mentioned under Big Jobs above) could possibly do the job too.
Air Freshners: To sweeten the air add a little water to a potpourri burner and place 2 drops of essential or fragance oil on the water and then light your warming candle. Or.. add the oil to the water kettle on the top of the woodstove. As the water and oil warm the oil is released into the air making this the simplest of all air fresheners.
Gel Fragrance in a jar: Make your own gel air freshner with a few simple ingredients. 1 cup water (divided), 1 envelope Knox gelatin, 1/8 tsp rubbing alcohol or vodka, 1/2 tsp essential oil or fragrance oil. Boil 1/2 cup water, then dissolve the Knox gel in it. Add the other half of the water (cold) and stir until blended. Add the alcohol and essential oil and stir until well blended. Pour into jars of your choice. Set out to fragrance a room. Don't place on a very warm spot like the top of the TV or it will liquify some. If this happens, you can restore it by popping it into the refrigerator for awhile.
If you have silk flower arrangments in the house, then you can "hide" a drop of fragrant oil somewhere in the centers of the silk flowers. This will effectively scent a room for a long time. The same can be done with straw wreaths and dried arrangements. Refresh as necessary. This works especially well in the bathroom and it's worth keeping a small decorative arrangement in there.
Another method is to place a drop or two of essential or frgrance oil on a cotton ball and tuck it in back of the radiator or under the end flaps of a baseboard heater. This needs to be repeated more often.
A really lovely air freshener is to place a few slices of some citrus fruit like lemon, orange or grapefruit into a pot of water on the stove. Simmer gently till you're satisfied with the fragrance. (This is a good use for the leftover rinds after eating).
Yet another method is to combine 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp lemon juice (or a few drops of essential oil of orange or lemon) and 2 cups of hot water in a spray bottle then shake and use like any other air freshener.
To elminate odors in the air (including tobacco odors), set out a bowl of vinegar.
Stuffy Winter Air: The herb Elecampane is particularly useful for getting rid of the winter "stuffies". Place 2 tbsp of elecampane root in 2 pints of water, and with the pan uncovered, bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and allow to barely simmer for an average of 20 to 30 minutes. A small house might require only 10 minutes to improve the quality of the air. It also helps to relieve any stuffiness or congestion much like eucalyptus, but has a sweet delicate fragrance nicely suited for scenting the air. Small amounts of the strained liquid can also be used in the humidifer.
Laundry: You need not invest in expensive fabric softeners. Add one-half to 1 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle of your machine. This is especially valuable when laundering cloth diapers as it will remove the problems usually causing diaper rash. It effectively rids the laundry of soap residue and allows the fabric to be naturally soft as well as balancing the pH which will extend the life of the fabrics. The smell of vinegar dissipates upon drying and leaves the laundry smelling fresh.
If you wish to add fragrance to the laundry apply 2 or 3 drops of essential oil to a damp washcloth and place in the clothes dryer along with the wet laundry. I prefer lavender for its nice clean smell and disinfecting properties.
If you are thinking about making your own laundry soap follow the link to the recipe. It uses Fels-Naptha soap which is not entirely organic and might cause skin irritation on susceptible individuals, but the method could be used to experiment with organic bar soaps. If you succeed, I'd like to hear about it.
Sweet Linens: Grind lavender buds or dried scented geranium leaves or dried lemon verbena leaves in a coffee mill or blender. When changing the linens on the beds, sprinkle a small amount of this powder on the mattress (or matress pad), then place the bottom sheet over and on the mattress. Since lavender has bug repelling properties, sleep time is not only sweet and relaxing, but reassuring as well. After placing fresh pillowcases on the pillows, sprinkle a small amount of this herbal powder inside the cases.
Another good combination is a small amount of mint added to the lavender. Or, you might wish to make some sleep pillows.