When my husband Patrick sneezes, the house rattles. And it's rarely just one sneeze; three seems to be the minimum. His attempts at sneeze control are all in vain, and his schnozz is getting more sensitive with age. Dust explodes the grenade in his nose, as does a freshly mopped floor. I decided to step up the dusting and look for cleaners that might go easier on his tender sinuses.
My sister-in-law raves about the FlyLady (www.flylady.
net), saying that her suggestions for cleaning techniques and routines have done wonders to reorganize her life and unclutter her home. So I called her.
"My favorite tool in the whole wide world is the feather duster," she said. "I use it for dusting all around the house, for dust bunnies, and for getting cobwebs out of corners. I can dust my whole house in two minutes; I've been timed. We designed our own dusters for FlyLady. We have the 16-inch [$14.95] and the 26-inch [$23.75]. They are the most luxurious, voluptuous feather dusters you have ever used. We cornered the market on the feathers that the Las Vegas showgirls use; they're the feathers from the armpit of the ostrich. They're very fluffy, and they're magnets for dust. They attract it instead of pushing it around. You don't have to swish really hard; you just move the feathers around things in a graceful manner. Once you're done dusting, you take it outside and shake it out."
As for cleansers, she said, "it's not about the potion; it's about the motion in your hand. My grandmother just used a dishcloth to clean. She would wipe things down with a cloth; water and a rag does a lot of stuff. You don't need a lot of chemicals when you're wiping continually. You know what I use in my toilet bowl? Some shampoo that I didn't like. I diluted it, poured it into a little crock, and stuck my toilet brush in it. I just swish my toilet every day; when you swish every day, stuff doesn't grow in it.
"Soap is soap," she concluded. "I tell people to clean their shower or tub while they bathe, with whatever they're using to wash their body, or a shampoo they don't like. You clean it while you're in there, and you don't have to worry about harsh chemicals on your delicate skin."
Next I spoke with Carrie Cortazzo, owner of Ecoclean Services (619-985-9052, www.ecohouseservices.com). Ecoclean offers chemical-free cleaning. "We offer housecleaning, carpet cleaning, plant service, pet-sitting, and laundry service for people whose houses we clean," said Cortazzo. "We choose to do this because of the high level of pollutants in people's homes. Pollutants can lead to uncommon allergies, skin irritation, and breathing problems. We go back to the basics -- vinegar and hydrogen peroxide -- as disinfectants instead of bleach.
"Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide can be used for window cleaner, laundry detergent, and for floors and bathrooms. How strong it is depends on how much you dilute it with water. Hydrogen peroxide makes a great grout cleaner; it bubbles when you pour it on a counter, just as it would on a sore. If you mix in a little bit of citrus -- an orange-essential oil -- with it, it gives a nice scent. And it also degreases. I let the mixture sit on the grout for about 15 minutes and then scrub it with a very thin brush."
I had a hard time imagining laundry without bleach. "If someone really wants to use bleach," said Cortazzo, "we suggest they use a non-chlorinated bleach. The base of bleach is hydrogen peroxide. Ecover makes a non-chlorinated bleach that comes in jugs [$5.99 for 64 ounces at Whole Foods]. You can mix it with baking soda to help whiten, and it also softens the water. Use a quarter-cup of baking soda instead of fabric softener."
Vinegar gets floor duty. "For kitchen or bathroom floors, we use a mixture of vinegar and water, and add a little lavender oil to it so that you don't smell the vinegar. Lavender is antibacterial and antifungal, so it's a really good oil to put in any of your cleaners. However," she noted, "I would not use a vinegar mixture for a wood floor. I use water, five to ten drops of lavender oil and citrus oil, and a small amount of vegetable oil. The oil gives the floors a nice finish -- like Murphy Oil Soap."
Sometimes she skips the citrus oil and goes straight for the juice. "Take a lemon, cut it in half, put some salt on a rust spot and rub the lemon on it. It's a great remedy for that rust ring you get when you leave your shaving cream can on the bathtub."
Stainless steel and windows both get treated with club soda. "For windows, we use club soda or vinegar and water. If a window is really bad, we won't dilute the club soda. You can put the mixture in a spray bottle, or use a squeegee and bucket. Mint is a wonderful scent to add to windows. Also, if you want, you can add a little soap to the mixture. It will leave a thin layer of residue, which acts like oil. When the rain comes, it will kind of drip right off. I like to use Seventh Generation apple-scented soap -- two drops to a gallon."
For soap scum, "I use a cream scrub by Ecover [$2.99, plus shipping, for 16 ounces, available through Ecoclean Services] and a natural fiber bristle brush. The natural fiber brushes are more pliable, and they don't scratch."
Cortazzo doesn't think that going back to basics makes cleaning harder. "I don't find it any different. For me, no matter what you clean, you have to use elbow grease. We find that people think that disinfecting just means spraying something on and wiping it off. To really disinfect anything, you have to put it on soaking wet and leave it for five to ten minutes to air-dry before it goes through the process of disinfecting." Ecoclean Services also offers housecleaning starter kits [$24.99-$59.99], which include natural cleaning products, tools, and tips for making your own cleaners.
1. Carrie Cortazzo
2. Ostrich feather dusters