By Sherry Swensk

Some of the most effective grime fighters for your home can be found in the most unassuming places

When’s the last time you took an inventory of your cleaning supply cabinet? Chances are it’s full of pricey potions, powders, and sprays that are loaded with chemicals that can cause asthma, allergies, headaches, and sinus problems. Not to mention, some can be downright lethal for people and pets. And if they’re hazardous for you, you can bet they’re dangerous for the environment, too.

You can stop spending good money on high-priced poisons to polish your sink, scrub your toilets, and get greasy stains out of carpets and clothing. Many of the best grime fighters not on the market are the ones sitting right in your pantry or in the medicine cabinet. Some you can even cook with, so you know they’re not harmful. Others you wouldn’t want to sniff or swallow, but are definitely more palatable cleaners than chemically made products.

A few you’ll probably find right next to the stove are baking soda, cornstarch and white vinegar. These staples in the kitchen serve great double duty as cleaning agents. Lemons, olive oil and tea are also yummy, natural cleaners that are inexpensive dirt busters.

Take cornstarch: a 100 percent pure by-product of plant photosynthesis. It’s a good stain lifter on carpets, rugs and clothing. Try a paste of cornstarch and cold water on bloodstains. Rub it on the stain and lay it in the sun to dry. The sun actually helps the cornstarch absorb the blood. Crazy, huh? What good grime fighter doesn’t need to wipe up some blood now and then?

We all know vinegar makes a great salad dressing, but it also wears a lot of capes when it comes to cleaning up. Its secret weapon is acetic acid, or oxidized alcohol, which works as a disinfectant and odor neutralizer. White vinegar is the most useful and most versatile, plus it won’t leave a stain. Chances are if there’s a funk in your house, white vinegar can take care of it! It can zap the stink out of your disposal, rub out hard water spots from your stemware and knockout urine smells from mattresses or pet beds. Use it to undo mildew or ease off sticky labels from picture frames. The vinegar cleans the gunk and leaves the glass clean and shiny.

Then there’s baking soda. It can clean, deodorize and softly scrub just about anything. This sodium bicarbonate can neutralize the pH—or acidity—in things like your mouth as a toothpaste and breath freshener, deodorize your smelly laundry, sink or diaper pail, and makes a great gentle scrub for your hands and kitchen appliances. The powdery soda absorbs oil and grease, and even helps take the sting out of insect bites when applied as a watery paste. There are so many amazing uses for baking soda that I could write an entire article just on it alone! Consider the nifty price at around 50 cents a box and you’ve got one great super-hero cleaner.

Don’t underestimate the mighty power of the little lemon. It’s got cleaning strength beyond your wildest imagination. The juice, the rind, the pulp—it all works hard. Full of citric acid, lemons are fortified with nature’s best anti-bacterial properties. Use it to kill germs on cutting boards and food prep surfaces. A few drops of juice added to your dish soap helps cut grease. Pour a cup of lemon juice in your toilet and swish with a brush to clean and freshen the bowl. Lemon cuts soap residue, polishes furniture and chrome and even shines your hair. But mixed with a little salt, it turns tough enough to scrub copper pots and even your grill. Then throw the rind down the garbage disposal to grind up a fresh lemony smell.

spring cleaningHere’s one that may surprise you. Need a good tarnish polisher for pots and pans or silver serving dishes? Try a little ketchup. That’s right, the next time you come home with a burger and fries, squirt a little of the tomatoey condiment on a rag and buff your flatware while you nosh. Then use it to shine your stainless steel sink when you clean up. The acid in the ketchup can really cut through tarnish and even take the green out of chlorine-soaked hair. Who knew?

Don’t have time to do a load of wash? Try spritzing your garments with a little vodka. You heard right. The potato-made booze actually kills odor-causing bacteria and doesn’t leave a scent when dry. Cheers to that!

The next time you have a squeaky door or a stuck zipper; try swabbing on a little olive oil as a lubricant. Slide some EVOO along the teeth of the zipper with a cotton swab or dab some on the door hinge to get back in the swing, quietly. Actually, just the “OO” will do fine.

And if you think you’ve seen all that tea can do by peering into the bottom of your cup, think again. The tannic acid in black tea diluted in water is great for cleaning hardwood floors, plus it leaves a terrific shine to boot. Green tea leaves can absorb pungent odors like onions and garlic in your frig or from smelly hands after chopping up for dinner.

Mother Nature’s avengers don’t all reside in your kitchen. Your medicine cabinet also shelves some natural secret-cleaning agents. Hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol are two top choices. Try mixing one part hydrogen peroxide with two parts water in a spray bottle for moldy tile and grout. Spritz, wait an hour, and scrub. Since you use hydrogen peroxide to clean cuts and wounds, it only makes sense that it’s a natural germ fighter, right? Its anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-mildew properties make it a useful household cleaner for so many things. And it keeps your sponges and mops disinfected, too.

Isopropyl or rubbing alcohol—not the kind you can drink—is a simple cleaner with a lot of muscle. One whiff and you’ll know it also fights germs. Use it to wipe dirty doorknobs and light switches, plus knock out bathtub and toilet bowl rings. It can remove grime from metal, porcelain, and plastics and leave a nice shine. Try lifting fresh ink or marker stains by blotting with rubbing alcohol; rubbing will smear it. But remember, it’s flammable until it evaporates.

Super cleaners don’t have to cost a lot to pack a big punch on dirt and grime. Nature provides some terrific alternatives to the chemical-laden choices we’ve become so used to. After all, they were there first and will still be standing long after the commercial products disappear.

Sherry SwenskSherry Swensk produces the daily segment “Living Green in Las Vegas” for 8 News Now and shares her passion for green with us. “Some people think it’s silly to practice green living when you live in a dry, dusty climate. But our desert and mountains are full of amazing plants and wildlife you can’t fi nd anywhere else in the country or the world. Our community is a transient melting pot of cultures, where people bring their expectations, habits and ideas of living from many other places. That can be a challenge in preserving our fragile desert environment. No matter how long you make Southern Nevada your home, it’s our responsibility to care for it while we’re here.”

You can see Sherry’s Living Green segments weekdays on 8 News Now This Morning, starting at 4 a.m. View her segments and read her blog at: green.lasvegasnow.com.

Stay up to date with Sherry on Facebook and Twitter facebook.com/SherrySwensk and twitter.com/sherryswensk

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