cleaning with lemon, vinegar, baking soda and borax A\J AlternativesJournal.ca Photo © geografika \ Fotolia.com

Aaaah spring. Time to open the windows and get that stagnant winter air out of our homes. We make lists and lofty goals to get our windows cleaned, baseboards washed and ceiling fans dusted. Spring cleaning is a labour of love for many of us with a fresh start to entering a season of balmy, breezy days. This is the time to rid our homes of the allergens and toxins that have accumulated over the winter – not put them back in with commercial cleaning products.

Household cleaning products are chemicals formulated to make our lives easier and give us the impression that things are getting extra clean due to their industrial-strength, germ-fighting abilities. The advertising targets soccer moms who are given the message that in order to keep their family safe from bacteria, they must spray, scrub and scour with products that have warning labels such as “will penetrate skin and attack underlying tissues and bones” or “can severely burn eye and skin and cause blindness or even death.” They contain chemicals with long, unpronounceable names such as nonylphenol ethoxylate and methoxydiglycol.

Related: How to control insect infestations without chemicals.

Some of these chemicals have been banned in the European Union due to health concerns for both humans and aquatic life but remain on our shelves in North America. There are known carcinogens, hormone disruptors and substances that contribute to asthma and lung inflammation contained in the most popular household products. So, time to don the rubber gloves and gas mask and get to work. Or is there another way?

People often talk about what their parents or grandparents did to keep their houses clean when I bring up the subject of green cleaning. It’s usually a combination of water, vinegar, lemon and baking soda. It was a way to save money and keep things simple. So, were our ancestors living in bacteria-infested homes? No, their homes were just as clean, without the toxic bombardment of dangerous chemicals. There are natural solutions to every household task from cleaning your toilet to scrubbing your oven. You will save money, cut the wasteful packaging and keep everyone in your house (including your pets) safe from toxins.

Related: A\J takes up Earth Day Canada’s Act for the Planet challenge.

Here's what you'll need:

Vinegar – Cuts grease and soap scum. Dissolves mineral deposits. Reported to kill 99 per cent of bacteria, 82 per cent of mold and percent of viruses.

Baking Soda – Cleans, deodorizes, scours.

Borax – Cleans, deodorizes, disinfects. Available in the laundry section of grocery stores.

Olive oil – Conditions woodwork.

Essential Oils (optional) – One thing that our parents and grandparents didn’t have as much access to was essential oils (EO). There are so many reasons to use these concentrated aromatic plant substances around your house. For one thing, they have extraordinary antibacterial capabilities against many unwanted microbes – E.coli, listeria, salmonella, mold and some can even inhibit the spread of human pathogens such as influenza and pneumonia. Think of the implications of this in your household for the prevention of illnesses. My favorite oils to use for cleaning the house are cheap and widely available – lavender, rosemary, tea tree, lemon, orange and peppermint. You can buy them at health food stores, grocery stores and pharmacies. Keep them out of reach of children. They’re natural but very concentrated and you must be cautious about getting them on your skin or in your eyes.

Mix up these simple recipes in seconds:

All-Purpose Cleaning Spray – 1 tsp of baking soda, 2 tbsp of vinegar, 20 drops of lavender EO, 20 drops of orange EO, 5 drops of rosemary, 1 cup of warm water. Mix in spray bottle and use to clean surfaces in kitchen. For a bathroom version, use 20 drops of tea tree EO and 20 drops of peppermint EO.

Glass Cleaner – ¼ cup of vinegar, 4 cups of water, 1 tsp of lemon EO. Add to spray bottle and shake well before use.

Stovetop Cleaner – 1/3 cup of baking soda, enough water to create a paste, 5 drops of lemon EO, 5 drops of rosemary EO.

Oven Cleaner – 1 ½ cups of baking soda, ¼ cup of vinegar, 20 drops of lemon EO. Removes racks and clean separately in the sink. Apply paste on surfaces of oven with pastry or paint brush. Let stand overnight. Remove with wet cloth.

Wood Floor Cleaner and Furniture Polish – 1 gallon of hot water, ¾ cup of olive oil, 1 tbsp of lemon EO.

Disinfecting Floor Cleaner – 1 gallon of hot water, ¼ cup of borax, 1 tsp of orange EO, 1 tsp of lavender EO.

Bathroom Scrubbing Powder – 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup borax, 1 cup salt, 20 drops of tea tree EO, 20 drops of peppermint EO. Mix well and sprinkle on bathroom surfaces to scour and disinfect.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner – ¼ cup of baking soda, 1 cup of vinegar, 20 drops of tea tree EO. Pour around sides of bowl and let sit for 15 minutes. Scrub and flush.

Room and Furniture Spray – Add 40 drops of your favorite essential oils to water in a spray bottle.

Removing Lime and Mineral Deposits from Taps – soak a cloth in vinegar and leave wrapped around tap overnight.

Eliminating Cat Urine or Spray – orange EO is nothing short of miraculous for this. Add about 1 tsp to a litre of hot water and ¼ cup of vinegar. Wash entire area. The smell will be undetectable even to cats.

There are also safe, eco-friendly cleaning products available but be careful because where there is green, there is greenwashing. For a list of safe cleaners and their ratings, visit Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning.

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