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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Non-Nuclear Spring Clean

Hannah Bullivant delves into the environmental hazzards of home cleaning products

Written by Hannah Bullivant


All illustrations by Andrea Kearney.

It is March and the daffodils are in full bloom. London is drunk on sunshine. There is talk of vest tops and the unbearably exciting prospect of leaving the house without a coat. March also means that the light has started illuminating my smudgy windows and the dust that had collected under my radiators over winter. Yes. It’s probably time to think about Spring cleaning. For someone who is slightly anal (ok, click very anal), information pills you’d think I would find the prospect of a spring clean satisfying and wholesome. This would be wrong. I do it as little as I can get away with and secretly long for a cleaner (my bookshelves though, are neurotically ordered according to colour).

My aversion to cleaning doesn’t mean that I don’t think about it. During my unemployment 18 months ago, a particularly low point came when I had exhausted Homes Under the Hammer and resorted to How Clean Is Your House. Kim and Aggy were all vinegar and lemon juice and elbow grease and baking soda and impossibly blonde chignons; and I was converted. As I sat on the sofa in my pyjamas, I thought to myself, if it’s good enough for Kim and Aggy, its good enough for me. It would take me another year and a half to act on this (ahem); fast forward to New Years Eve 2009. Maybe it was something to do with spending the last day of 2009 up to my elbows in ‘tetrasodium pyrophosphate’ (bleach, apparently) but that night I drunkenly resolved that 2010 would finally be the year that I would reduce the chemicals in my home.

A look in my cleaning cupboard, and in fact in most average cleaning cupboards, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were entering a nuclear zone. ‘Irritating to skin, toxic, risk of serious damage to eyes, harmful, keep locked up and out of the reach of children, if swallowed, seek medical attention immediately and show this container.” Yikes. I realised that there was something wrong with sloshing substances around my home that could literally burn my hands off.

The first hurdle in my new year’s resolution was not being able to find big enough quantities of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. My initial web searches yielded nothing, but just before I was about to spend £14 buying 6 tiny boxes of bicarb, I came across the wonderful Summer Naturals* web shop which stocks industrial quantities of everything you’d need to make your own cleaning supplies.

I began with surface spray. Mine had run out so I washed out the bottle and gathered my supplies around me. An air of anticipation settled in the kitchen. I’m not going to lie, it began dreadfully. Like an excited 9 year old I decided to slosh a bit of everything in there and make a ‘potion’. I must have been otherwise engaged during my school science lessons (vinegar + bicarb = volcano!) because attempt number one ended with a frothy white layer of goo covering my kitchen surfaces. Attempt number 2 was slightly more restrained but still an unmitigated fail. Putting any sort of powder in to a bottle with a nozzle will just clog it. I went back to the Summer Naturals website with my tail between my legs and found a much more functioning recipe for a surface cleaner (vinegar, water, Dr Bronmers castile soap and orange essential oil, if you were wondering) and the rest has sort of snowballed from there.

The Benefits:

• At the risk of sounding like a sad housewife, you can do most, if not all, household tasks with a few chemical free ingredients. This includes drains, toilets, floors, dishwasher powder and washing powder.
• I have saved a fortune. Domestos Grotbuster Bleach Gel will set you back £1.97! Cillit bang Degeaser Power Cleaner will cost you £3.07! Cif Power Cream Bathroom Spray; £3.66! My Summer Naturals stash cost about £20 and will last me years.
• It’s safe. If I spill a bit of my floor cleaner on my hands (borax, water, scented oil) the worst that will happen is that I will smell pleasantly of lavender.
• It works. I live in a ‘hard water’ area so I know that I need to add more vinegar than usual to help the lime scale breakdown, which it does
• My home smells amazing. Essential oils are needed to mask the vinegar smell, or your home will smell like a chip shop. French Lavender and juniper berry scented floors? Peppermint and rose scented surfaces? Oh yes please. The oils add an antiseptic quality too.
• Cleaning has become (dare I say it?) more enjoyable for both me and my mister, and it’s even slightly more regular too. Boom. Give it a go. And give it some time. It’s not quite as quick as squirting some Domestos Grotbuster Bleach Gel down your loo, but the process is much more satisfying and the results are pretty darn good too.

You can read more of my blogs here.

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7 Responses to “Non-Nuclear Spring Clean”

  1. Lisa-Marie says:

    I tend to use Ecover products, as husband is allergic to synthetic fragrance, and it is relatively good to the planet. I think you way may be alot cheaper (Ecover is not cheap), and also I could have smells in the house! I shall be trying as of next pay day.

  2. Becky says:

    Really keen to try some of this stuff out – always descale my kettle with vinager but the smell has always put me off doing any more cleaning that that with it – essential oils sound like the perfect solution, much nicer than the horrid, fake smelling ‘sea breeze’ or ‘pine forest’ that you get with chemical based products, though I too do try to use Ecover (but yes Lisa-Marie, it is expensive!).

  3. Becky says:

    Great article Hannah!

    Really keen to try some of this stuff out – always descale my kettle with vinager but the smell has always put me off doing any more cleaning that that with it – essential oils sound like the perfect solution, much nicer than the horrid, fake smelling ‘sea breeze’ or ‘pine forest’ that you get with chemical based products, though I too do try to use Ecover (but yes Lisa-Marie, it is expensive!).

  4. Becky says:

    Oh dear, computer playing up, didn’t mean to post that twice!

  5. Patricia says:

    Interesting stuff. This will appeal to both the eco-conscious buyer and those on a budget. I’ve always felt a little guilty for all the chemical laden products I use around the house – and all the plastic packaging that goes with it. You have to wonder, before we got obsessed with anti-bacterial lotions and potions there were a lot less allergies around. Also – people have been managing just fine for years using a bit of vinegar and lemon juice. We’ve just got lazy!

  6. Catherine says:

    Totally with you on this – I make all my homemade cleaners, and use Summernaturals too. You think you’re sad, I’ve even started printing out nicely designed labels for my stuff, or writing on bottles in the same ‘font’, or coming up with names for them like ‘Zing-fresh Toilet Slosh”…! I do need to get out more, yes.
    My bible for recipes by the way is http://www.amazon.co.uk/Natural-Stain-Remover-Without-Chemicals/dp/1840924195/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272372937&sr=1-1

  7. Hi, I just want to add one usefull cleaning tip here. For more effective dishwashing, add a few tablespoons of vinegar along with the dishwashing detergent when washing dishes. The vinegar cuts the grease and leaves dishes sparkling. Happy Cleaning )

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