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Originally published January 29, 2014 at 11:25 PM | Page modified January 29, 2014 at 11:55 PM

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Old-fashioned cleaning a healthy choice | HomeWork

Many are turning back the clock when it comes to cleaning and rediscovering old-time cleaning recipes — many of them used before the advent of the synthetic formulas widely available after World War II.


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Q: What home-cleaning products are safe for the environment?

A: There is a greater awareness among homeowners that chemicals in commercial home-cleaning products can have negative effects on personal health — not to mention the environment.

Many are turning back the clock when it comes to cleaning and rediscovering old-time cleaning recipes — many of them used before the advent of the synthetic formulas widely available after World War II.

Believe it or not, you can handle nearly all of your day-to-day cleaning with just seven easily available, inexpensive, environmentally benign ingredients: baking soda, washing soda, soap flakes, oil soap, vinegar, borax and ammonia. And of those, only ammonia is potentially hazardous in its concentrated form. Just use it carefully, and store it out of the reach of children and pets.

Kitchens and baths

Instead of using commercial products to clear your kitchen sinks, faucets and drains, give baking soda a try. Just dampen with water and apply it the same way you would with scouring products. Unlike bleach and phosphates, which are common ingredients in commercial cleaning products, baking soda isn’t toxic to the environment and won’t kill the bacteria that sewage and septic systems need to work properly.

When baking soda is combined with vinegar, it produces an impressive foaming reaction. Pour a cup or more of vinegar into the toilet bowl, and then toss in a handful of baking soda. The combination will strip off hard-water lime deposits if you leave it for a while.

Vinegar and baking soda are also effective for cleaning drains. Dump a handful of baking soda into the drain, then pour in a big shot of vinegar and put the plug in to drive the carbon dioxide down the pipe. Keep the plug in until the fizzing stops, and then run hot water down the drain. Not only does it clean and clear pipes, it also eliminates the need for corrosive cleaners.

Vinegar by itself is terrific for cleaning faucets. And mixed with warm water, it’s your secret weapon if you have to deal with the occasional pet stain on carpeting. Combine equal parts vinegar and water and wipe pet stains away. It also works on linoleum that isn’t heavily soiled.

Laundry rooms

A mixture of one part borax, one part washing soda and one part soap flakes (about three-fourths of a cup of the mix per normal load) will work as well as any detergent. It is especially effective and kind to natural fabrics. Be sure to start by running all of your clothes through a cycle with washing soda only, which removes detergent residue. Otherwise, your whites could look yellowed.

White clothes that contain synthetic materials can yellow slightly over time with this formula, but you can counteract that by line-drying your whites in the sun now and then. Sunshine is the oldest and best bleach and disinfectant of them all.

Mother, grandmother and great-granny really did know best.

HomeWork is the weekly column by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties’ Remodelers Council about home care, repair and improvements. If you have questions about home improvement, send them to homework@mbaks.com.



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