12 September, 2007

Vinegar for all Reasons

Are you the kind of person who really likes Tide Laundry detergent, Javex bleach, and Lemon-fresh Joy dish detergent? Do you just feel better knowing that your laundry and home is clean and bright? Do you really enjoy the convenience of stopping off at Wall-mart or the Grocery for a whole range of cleaners that you don't mind paying a bundle for and need at least a bag or two to carry home, because you know they just "work"? You're busy after all, and don't want to think that hard about cleaning products. There are better things to do in life. And the price is really reasonable when you consider all the tough cleaning in your house.

I used to be that kind of person. I never met a cleaner that I wouldn't try. I believed all those promises of easier ways to get more shine. Easier was the key word with me. I didn't really like housework all that much, so the sooner I got it over with the better. I was pretty much a sucker for the promises of the Big Business of Cleaners. The perfect customer.

It's a little different these days. I don't use tile and tub cleaner. I don't use chlorine bleach. I don't use fabric softener in the laundry. I don't use special de-greasers, oven cleaners, stove cleaners, cupboard cleaners, counter top-cleaners, living room and all-purpose cleaners, furniture polish, glass cleaners, fridge cleaners or pet shampoos. Okay, maybe the last one is cheating. I have a cat and she cleans herself.

And I certainly don't use those aerosal sprays that are supposed to "freshen" the air and smell like the devil's version of what he imagines a pine forest that he's never visited smells like. I hate car deodorizers, almost ubiquitous in Japan. I read somewhere that the air in a car is 5 times more polluted than the air outside it. Makes "car sickness" a little more understandable, doesn't it? For me, opening a window is much better than putting some artificial smell in there that is almost guaranteed to make you gag before you get round the first corner. But for those addicted to them, like some of my students, I have taught them to put a few drops of natural essence on a cotton ball and put it in an opened baggie or jar somewhere in the car. Smells better and costs only a few yen.

What I'm getting at, the long way around, is that we really don't need all the chemicals in cleaning products and smell-pretties in our lives. They just add to air pollution and get in our lungs. What we need is some old-fashioned clean, which really smells the best of all. And that can be provided by a few simple products that are usually quite cheap and very effective.

What are those products? Baking soda, washing soda, simple detergent or soap, and vinegar. That's about it.

Like people have noticed on No Impact Man, baking soda can be a very good underarm deodorant/antiperspirant. A little bit works as well or better than any of the commercial ones. And commercial cosmetics are full of dozens of chemicals with no purpose except to fool our noses into thinking they are smelling something pretty. All made in laboratories, nothing much natural in them at all. Read Fast Food Nation if you don't believe me. The chapter on how additive companies manufacture taste and smell out of chemicals will open your eyes, wide.

For the last year I've opted out of most of the commercial cleaners. I do use a bio-degradable natural laundry detergent and dish soap, because I've found those two to be the hardest to make. Believe me, I tried. It was hard to get the consistency right. Although the laundry detergent worked fairly well, it was too runny and I ended up using too much. The dish detergent I buy is organic from the Anew store, and is used to wash the kitchen counters, cutting boards and floors, in combination with my secret ingredient-- plain white vinegar. I get it fairly cheaply from The Flying Pig in the big big size, so I don't have to order often, and I buy two at once. Saves on the shipping, which I do feel a bit guilty about. It's possible that some Japanese brand might be able to substitute, but Japanese vinegar is different, not so acidic. If anyone has tried it for cleaning and has a comment about it's usefulness, I'd be happy to hear it.

Vinegar has the very useful property of killing mold. It is also very acidic so it is good for killing bacteria. I use it straight to clean my cutting boards occasionally, after I have first washed them with a bit of the dish detergent and then rinsed them well.

Vinegar kills odour. You can put it in a spray bottle, recycled, with a bit of essence if you like. I use the natural peppermint essence I get from Tengu natural foods. But you could use a little real vanilla if you have it. I use this one as a room spray when I want to freshen up, and I keep a bottle in the bathroom during the winter when I don't want to leave the window open so much.

A bit of vinegar in the dish washing water, cleans off the grease and leaves dishes sparkling clean.

Vinegar is the only thing I know of that will completely remove the moldy, musty smell from anything washable. It's almost a miracle, because often you think you will have to toss out things which have been in storage and gotten musty. And it might be something you really like too. I took a beautiful Noren (the curtains that hang over doorways here) back to Canada. It was sitting in a drawer and not used for awhile. When I found it again it was completely musty. It was made of the traditional hand-dyed Indigo cloth that is characteristic of this area of Japan with white hand stitched patterns. Not to be bleached. What to do? I searched on the Internet and saw somewhere that vinegar might work. I put it in the wash with a cup or so of white vinegar. The musty smell was completely gone and there was no damage to the fabric. I hung it out to dry with a big smile.

Vinegar will also remove odour in clothes. If you have socks, underwear or anything sweaty put a cup of vinegar in the wash water. It will help remove the smell. Any residual vinegar smell evaporates when the clothes are dry.

I have used vinegar in water with a bit of detergent on a sponge to get rid of the musty smell on stored furniture. Sponge down and rinse. Let dry, outside if possible. No more bad smell.

I guess I don't have to say that vinegar is much better for the environment, and you, than chlorine bleach, but I will anyway. Do yourself a favour and get a bottle and get rid of all those cleaners that are clogging up the space under your sink, out-gassing into your living space, and going into your lungs every time you use them. Not only will you free up some space, and get a naturally clean cooking area, but you'll save yourself quite a bundle at the check-out counter too and maybe a hernia carrying them all home. And you'll be saving the green spaces for your grand-children.


Sea said...

I love your no-impact man posts. :) I've been trying to cut down on using bags at the grocery store and farmer's market.

DH likes hard core cleaners, but I've been weeding them out of our cleaning regimen- now we use a variety of natural non-toxics. I made a really yummy carpet deodorizer with cornstarch, baking soda and drops of lavender essential oil- it was wonderful. Vinegar is good stuff- I also like baking soda. :)

-It's a bird! It's a plane! It's... SS

looking... for... your email... now...

Martin J Frid said...

Great post about a very important topic.

Another good trick is to use the charcoal bamboo as for cleaner air. It is pretty common here in Japan, and not very expensive. I especially like to keep some charcoal in my fridge.

vegetablej said...

Good idea, Martin. I'm going to try it!

vegetablej said...

Glad to hear you are "going green". Keep up the good work!

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Lem said...

Great post. I used to use vinegar for cleaning everything - floors, cutting boards, windows, etc. in the US, but here in Japan plain white vinegar seems to be really hard to find. Living in Chiba near the Kaihim Makuari area, I've checked the local department stores, groceries, and even the DIY shops. Where can I find it?

vegetablej said...

Hi lem:

Good for you!

You can get big jugs of white vinegar (I usually order two to save on the shipping but they are really big, so gauge accordingly) from Costco through theflyingpig.com. They also have monster-sized baking soda in a re-sealable bag. They will deliver to your door in a few days c.o.d. or you can pay at the nearest post office. You can find a link in my shopping section. It's in English, too, so it's easy. :)