Monday, 1 October 2012

Just Plain Old Vinegar

A few weeks ago, after accidentally smashing the glass on my cook top, we had a service agent install a new one in our kitchen. As he was cleaning up, he asked for a cleaner to wipe the marks off the surface. My husband gave him our squirt bottle with a mixture of vinegar and water, to which he responded that he wanted something that would clean properly.

I understand why people do not think that vinegar cannot do the same job as more harsh commercial cleaners. Corporations spend millions and millions of dollars on advertising aimed at making us think we will be cleaner, healthier, and therefore happier if we use their products. They will kill 99% of germs and make our home smell wonderful in the process. And don't forget that we require special, specific products for each cleaning task; a toilet bowl cleaner, a tile cleaner, a window cleaner, a floor cleaner, a surface cleaner, and on. Buy this, buy that, spend the money and your life will be somehow perfect, or at least it's what the commercials would have us believe. The ads are very convincing.
Windex, for windows!

When my oldest daughter was an infant, I believed that I was a good mother because I routinely cleaned every surface she might touch. I didn't want her fragile immune system to be compromised by those evil everyday germs all around us. Television shows alert the public to the bacteria count on everyday surfaces like toilets and cell phones, or on the cleanliness of hotel rooms, which all increase the public's fear of dirt. Of course advertisements confirm this belief, touting products to clean a child's environment. I think my mother chuckles at some memories of being in restaurants with me with my first born, scrubbing the table with either baby wipes or hand sanitizer because I could imagine the germs that were inhabiting the cloth the server used to clean the table.

As we mature and learn we know better. And as we know better, we do better. Of course I now know the dangers of a sanitized environment scrubbed of any and all germs. Some are beneficial and we need them. Some help build up our immunity as protection from the nastier bugs. In fact, the hygiene hypothesis states that we are creating allergies and possibly asthma with hyper clean environments that limit our exposure to germs that may increase our immunity. As well, the cleaning products we have been using to scrub our homes and bodies may be irritants, allergens and carcinogenic. What a double whammy - expose ourselves to harmful chemicals in an effort to clean our homes of germs that we need to be build our immunity. Please go to this link to see the harmful chemicals in the products we buy. I am not a scientist so I will not attempt to synthesize information about the toxicity of cleaning products, but please read some of the links I have included throughout this post, do your own research and learn about what corporations are getting away with; it isn't just in developing countries that known harmful agents are sold to consumers. The products are not regulated by the government  and it is buyer beware.
What to do with all these toxic products that were left in our home when we moved in? 
Can't throw them out, so they sit high in a cupboard.

With the rise of awareness about harsh cleaners and the dangers they pose to us, we have seen the increase in availability of eco or green cleaners on our grocery store shelves. Some are good, but companies are not alway forthcoming about how green they actually are. It takes a great deal of effort for the average consumer to research the safety of ingredients in products, and we often mistakenly assume that if it is being sold in a store it must be safe. Fortunately there are individuals and organizations like the David Suzuki Foundation working to educate the public about safe, non-toxic household cleaners (this link is a good start). There are companies, like Norwex, who sell microfibre cloths and non-toxic products as well.
My microfibre cloth, similar to Norwex

My choice is to use vinegar because I do not need multiple products to clean my home. It is edible, biodegradable, non-toxic, safe on skin, inexpensive (especially when purchased in bulk) and easy to use. Just google "vinegar cleaning properties" and you will have link after link touting the wonders of vinegar. It can be used to clean all kitchen and bathroom surfaces, deodorize, remove stains, clean glass and mirrors, remove soap buildup in washing machines, showers, and bathtubs, and on and on.  The only caveat is that it cannot be used on marble due to its acidic content. Combined with baking soda and a clean cloth (and old fashioned soap), I clean any and every surface in my home. People like to have their home smell clean, and some may find the smell of vinegar overwhelming at first. However, now when my family comes in the home they know I have been cleaning because of the vinegar smell (a friend suggested putting cloves in the vacuum cleaner to freshen the air when cleaning). For tough jobs I add baking soda (don't get me started on this wonder product!), use a stronger solution and a little elbow grease. My only complaint is that it comes in a plastic container which must either be recycled or reused (note to self, create a Pinterest board of plastic vinegar bottle crafts and reusing ideas).
My giant bottle of vinegar. 
Any ideas for what to do with it when it is empty?

I keep several squirt bottles of a vinegar solution around my home for easy access and I use them on a daily basis. Yes, plastic does not last forever and the squirt bottles eventually wear out, but this is a much better solution to having to recycle multiple plastic bottles of cleaning products, or even worse, having to throw them away because that type of plastic is not recyclable.

Since sharing this, I have had some feedback about using vinegar as an effective disinfectant. Sometimes, isn't bleach just needed? I have been there, especially after a particularly bad bout of stomach flu that rolled through my entire family like a bulldozer. I felt the need to scrub every surface of my home. However, for most household disinfecting needs, vinegar really is enough (see link). As well, we do need to remember that we shouldn't be killing all germs in our environment. We are not a restaurant following strict health codes, and we need to make sure that we are exposing ourselves to good dirt.

Just plain old vinegar truly is enough.


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