With winter over and warmer weather on the way, spring cleaning is high on many housekeeping agendas. Don't run out to buy loads of special cleaning sprays or soaps, though -- chances are, all the necessary items are right at your fingertips. And with many cleaning products sold laden with toxic ingredients that could sicken users in the long run, common household products can be the safest spring cleaning supplies in addition to the most effective. Here's how to spring clean a house that might not just save money, but also serve as a bit of preventative health.
Vinegar's traditional popularity as a natural cleaning solution reflects its antibacterial and deodorizing properties and low price. Mix one part vinegar with one part water to create an all-purpose cleaner that works wonders from countertops to windows to grimy microwaves. In the bathroom, the vinegar-water mixture is remarkably effective at shining up a shower head caked with grime, as well as mirrors and bathroom fixtures. Vinegar is an alternative to pricey store-bought cleaners that may contain harsh chemicals. Not only is it harmless, but it doesn't leave a residue on surfaces that could contaminate hands.
For a great-smelling, natural disinfectant, squeeze a lemon. You can use undiluted lemon juice or mix it with water to make a natural cleaning product that dissolves soap scum and mineral deposits. Like vinegar, lemon juice provides a naturally safe and effective soap scum fighter.
Banish stains and odors with baking soda. Although its effectiveness as toothpaste is well known, this versatile product also cleans everything from clothing to cookware. Get rid of burned, stuck-on food by boiling a mix of equal parts vinegar, baking soda, and water; scrub and rinse clean. Many consumers like the idea of using baking soda on pots and pans to avoid chemical cleaners, eliminating worry about ingesting chemical residue.
Run white vinegar through an empty cycle of the dishwasher and coffee maker to freshen and brighten.
A vinegar wash will also get rid of telltale signs of coffee and tea in mugs when mixed in equal parts with salt. Don't worry about the tangy smell -- it disappears after the vinegar dries.
Pour white vinegar into a glass bowl and heat it to boiling in the microwave to eliminate lingering food odors, or boil it in a pot on the stove while cooking to keep food odors from lingering.
Give natural cleaning products a fresh scent with essential oils. Although a tiny bottle of fragrant oil may seem expensive up front, a little goes a long way: A few drops are enough to scent a bucket of water. Many essential oils also have antibacterial or other helpful qualities, so use them for their fragrance and cleaning power. Tea tree oil and lemon oil, for example, are antibacterial and antifungal, and fresh-smelling lemongrass oil can repel insects. Cleaning with essential oils leaves the house smelling pleasant.
Get the damp, mildewy smell from out of a basement or garage by placing a sliced onion on a plate in the middle of the floor for up to 24 hours.
Commonly used to disinfect minor scrapes and scratches, hydrogen peroxide also makes a great household cleaner. The blog One Good Thing by Jillee offers up a huge list of in-home uses for 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, including many spring-cleaning targets: cutting boards, dishwasher, and refrigerator, for example. Kids' toys and lunchboxes can also be wiped down with hydrogen peroxide.
Grind up lemon and orange peels in the garbage disposal to rid it of lingering food or mildew odors.
A paste of 2 tablespoons white vinegar and one-quarter cup salt or baking soda can loosen carpet stains as effectively as commercial carpet cleaners containing lots of chemicals. This option appeals to pet owners and parents of young kids who spend a lot of time on the floor.
Boiled vinegar can remove tough stains on clothes, including socks and sweaty shirts. Rub with the vinegar, wipe with a cloth, and put in the wash. Some white vinegar can also be run through a cycle of the washing machine to clean and disinfect it.
Shine and polish metal with a paste made from half a lemon and 2 teaspoons of baking soda.
Borax is a cheap and effective natural cleaner used in many homemade laundry detergents. If you don't want to make your own detergent (the blog DIY Natural has instructions), sprinkle borax in with the laundry to boost regular detergent's cleaning power. It can eliminate molds and fungus that leave towels smelling musty.
Mixing 2 tablespoons white vinegar with a quarter-cup baking soda or salt makes a powerful paste that can clean grout and banish mildew wherever it's lurking.
Mix equal parts water and baking soda to use as a mild abrasive for cleaning bathrooms and kitchens. Try it on the inside of the oven and on stainless steel and chrome appliances. Wipe off with a damp cloth.
Dish soap that triumphs over grease on dirty dishes does the same for grease and grime in other areas of the house. Use it to spring clean shower and sink scum, carpet stains, and automotive tools. For grease stains on clothing, dab on some dish soap, let sit a few hours, and wash as usual.
Clean the toilet bowl and shower grout in the bathroom with hydrogen peroxide. It works wonders on tile and brightens floors considerably.
Place an open box of baking soda in the refrigerator or deep freezer to absorb rancid smells, and in the bottom of smelly trash cans. Sprinkle some on carpets and upholstered furniture, let it sit for an hour or so, and vacuum it up to wipe out pet and other smells. Baking soda also gets rid of odors emitted by vacuum cleaners.
Freshen up toothbrushes by soaking them in straight hydrogen peroxide between uses every day or a few times a week. This is especially helpful if someone has been sick recently.
As with laundry, Borax can improve the smell in the dishwasher. Sprinkle some in the bottom of the dishwasher and let it sit a few hours, then wipe down and run the next cycle as usual. Borax also does a number on pots, pans, and tough tea and coffee cup stains.
A powerful combo of one part vinegar to one part baking soda can get slow or completely clogged drains running again. Follow up with hot water to flush out the residue.
For a natural clean and a springtime smell, try line-drying laundry. As a natural disinfectant, the sun's UV rays kill germs and remove allergens such as dust mites. Sunlight can also lighten linens without bleach: Hang them on the line to dry on a bright day, and they'll look whiter by the time you bring them in. To freshen everything from towels and bed sheets to pillows and upholstered furniture, set them outside for 30 minutes.
Skip dryer sheets (some people worry about their chemicals) but still avoid static cling by adding a damp washcloth for the final few minutes of a dryer cycle or wetting your hands with water when pulling the dry clothes out. Shake them out and fold them as normal.
A simple spray of straight white vinegar can remove crayon marks, clean the grates on an outdoor grill, unstick stickers, and freshen fabrics such as carpets, curtains, shoes, and most any surface.
Candles from the winter months can leave behind annoying wax residue. To remove dripped wax, use a mix of one part vinegar to one part water.
Presoak the laundry in some hydrogen peroxide to get rid of armpit stains and other hard-to-remove blotches. One cup added to a load of whites brightens the laundry, and one part hydrogen peroxide to one part vinegar removes the mildew smell from towels.
Old rags and socks that are missing mates find a second life as dusters and scrubbers, while old winter gloves can spring-clean blinds and hard-to-reach crevices. Microfiber cloths used for cleaning the car can pull double duty as dusters and window and mirror cloths.