Homemade cleaners that really work

13 Oct

By Geoff Meeker

October 13, 2014 – Regular readers of this column must think I’m a rampant consumer, on a perpetual buying binge for the latest appliance or technology bling.

And there may be some truth to that.

Not always, though. I’m also about finding the bargain and spending sensibly. So today’s column is about buying less, saving money and minimizing our impact on the environment. Because too often, we purchase household products that we could easily make ourselves; things that work as effectively as commercial preparations but with fewer, cheaper ingredients and virtually no toxic chemicals.

I have been reading stories on the Internet lately about these homemade concoctions. The younger folk call them “life hacks” while those of a more seasoned age might know them as Hints From Heloise.

This week I tried some of those hacks for myself – using only ingredients that are commonly found in the cupboard or pantry – beginning with an incredibly effective bug killer.

Wasp Whacker

When a wasp finds its way inside the home or office, my first course of action is to open a door and try to coax it back out. When that doesn’t work, extermination is usually Plan B. But any commercial bug killer that I’ve ever used doesn’t knock down the wasp right away – it just infuriates the insect, which then flies around in a blind rage before dying a slow death 10 minutes later. Years ago, I discovered a bug killer recipe that actually works better, costs less and doesn’t leave a cloud of noxious chemicals drifting about the house. In a spray bottle, combine two parts white vinegar with one part liquid dish detergent, then shake to mix. Wait for wasp to land on your window (to avoid getting the stuff on your food or upholstery) and hit it with one good spray. It will drop instantly and die within 20 seconds. This blend works equally well on other insects, including earwigs and house flies.

Drain cleaner

Have you ever noticed an objectionable odour rising from the sink, or water draining too slowly? Don’t reach for those brand names, with their powerful and highly toxic chemicals (which a plumber friend told me can actually corrode your plumbing). Instead, pour a cupful of baking soda down the drain, followed immediately with a cup of white vinegar. Plug the drain to force the bubbling action downward. Let the solution bubble away down there for at least 30 minutes. If the smell is particularly bad or the drain severely blocked, let it sit overnight. Then open the drain and let hot water flow for one full minute. Do this procedure once every two weeks to keep it clean and clear. This really worked for me – odours were eliminated and water drained more quickly.

No, this is not a solar eclipse (above). It’s an apple placed on the glass shelf of my fridge, to block the point source of light and better reveal the accumulated sludge. In the photo below, the shelf is completely clean thanks to a homemade solution of baking soda and water.

No, this is not a solar eclipse (above). It’s an apple placed on the glass shelf of my fridge, to block the point source of light and better reveal the accumulated sludge. In the photo below, the shelf is completely clean thanks to a homemade solution of baking soda and water.

ConsumerTech #179-pic 2

Kitchen cleaner

To clean counter tops, appliances and inside the refrigerator, combine four tbsp. of baking soda with four cups of warm water. (Actually, I used five tbsp. because the box had been open for a while.) This solution did a surprisingly good job cleaning inside the fridge, where the glass shelves were coated in a veneer of unidentified food spatters (check photos to see what I mean). They came clean in just a few wipes; much more quickly and effectively than water alone could achieve. I then used the solution on the sidewall beside the dishwasher door, where water doesn’t reach and food droppings are dried on like glue. Again, the guck was gone in just a few wipes. This stuff really does the job. However, I recommend buffing all cleaned areas with a damp paper towel to remove any baking soda residue.

Window cleaner

In a spray bottle, add four parts water and one part white vinegar, with 3 drops of liquid dish soap per cup of liquid. Shake, then use. I tried this on the kitchen window above the sink – a location that attracts spots the way my dog attracts sticky burrs – and it worked like a charm. Highly recommended.

Water flowed with greater force through this showerhead, thanks to a soak in pure vinegar. I had to improvise a means to keep the bag tight against the showerhead, because of its 9" diameter.

Water flowed with greater force through this showerhead, thanks to a soak in pure vinegar. I had to improvise a means to keep the bag tight against the showerhead, because of its 9″ diameter.

Shower head cleaner

Is your showerhead starting to plug up with hard water deposits? If so, place a cup or more of vinegar in a plastic bag and secure it around the head with an elastic band. Let it soak for an hour or so, making sure that the little holes are fully submerged. The vinegar will dissolve the deposits and get the shower flowing at full force. I own a Thunderhead showerhead which is as wide as a small plate so I improvised a method to secure the bag in place using a sheet of cardboard and four elastic bands. It did seem to work nicely for me, with a noticeably stronger flow of water on my next shower.

In a future column, I will research other household cleaners that call for slightly more exotic ingredients, the kind that require a trip to the hardware or natural products store. In the meantime, do you have any homemade concoctions that work exceptionally well? If so, please drop me a note (geoffmeeker(at)bellaliant.net) and I will compile some in a future column.

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