Harsh chemicals and plastic have always been an ubiquitous association with household cleaning. The continued use of bleach, chemical detergents, insecticides, plastic containers and synthetic cloths for cleaning and pest control reflects on a larger environmental problem; chemical waste and plastic pollution that’s irreversibly damaging to our planet.
But how did Mankind live without all these chemicals and pollutants in the past? Historically, Mankind had a rather close knit relationship with Nature, riding horses instead of cars, and wood from trees for tools. Luckily, some of these traditions never died out, and if we change our habits, there might still be a chance to fix what’s been damaged.
Well, here’s a list of 10 common local items you can easily find at any supermarket which you might consider stocking at home to start a natural cleaning and bug repelling routine.
1. Baking soda
Baking soda deserves an entire article or maybe two because there are more than 100 uses for this item. Civilizations have been using baking soda for cleaning since Ancient Egypt when sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) were mixed with oil and used to cleanse teeth and used for wounds and cuts. It was even used as a bleach for clothing.
For starters, I used baking soda to remove baked-on or burnt pots and pans. Just fill the pot with water, making sure the water covers the burnt areas then add 1/4 cup of baking soda and cook on high for 45 minutes to an hour. The heated mixture will soften up any crusty residue. Next, pour the water out, then lightly dust the inside of the pot with baking soda and scrub well. With a clean sponge cloth, rinse and wipe the pot out.
2. White distilled vinegar
Another common household item with a multitude of uses is vinegar. Not only can this be used for cooking and baking, this item can also be used for cleaning and disinfecting because it’s made from acetic acid.
Acetic acid is a colorless organic compound that gives vinegar its sour taste and pungent smell. The acidic nature of vinegar is so powerful it can dissolve mineral deposit, dirt, grease, and grime. It’s also strong enough to kill bacteria.
There are many types of vinegar, but the best for cleaning is white distilled vinegar. I used it to clean my shower heads and faucets. Combine 2 teaspoons of vinegar and 1 teaspoon of salt to remove calcium deposits on faucets and fixtures. This solution can also remove hard water stains from shower heads. Use a sponge cloth to polish and wipe dry.
3. Cream of tartar
Cream of tartar is an acidic byproduct of the wine-making process. Like other tasteless baking tools, its main role in cooking is to create chemical reactions like stabilizing egg whites and activating baking soda.
My family bakes only once or twice a year, thus leaving a large amount of cream of tartar leftovers which I use to do spot cleaning for my pots and pans. Use the acidic-yet-gentle scrub to your advantage: Dip a sponge cloth in water, wring it dry, and sprinkle a little cream of tartar onto the sponge cloth. Use it to spot-clean and polish stainless steel, aluminum and copper surfaces like small appliances, pans, or pots.
High in citric acid, lemon is one of the best natural cleaners due to its low pH and antibacterial properties. Lemons also smell great and aren’t likely to cause damage to materials around what you are cleaning such as fabric or wood.
Run the cut side of a lemon over your chopping board or grill to remove food stains and smells. For extra cleaning power, sprinkle it with salt or baking soda first. If your stains are particularly stubborn, let everything sit overnight before you rinse with water.
A word of caution when cleaning with lemons, test a small spot first. Always rinse with warm soapy water and dry with a clean sponge cloth afterwards. Take note, there are 2 things you cannot clean with lemon juice, they are: 1) natural stone (countertops, flooring, etc. and 2) anything that is brass plated, as the juice will damage them.
Orange juice is for drinking and peels are for cleaning. So don’t toss those peels just yet. You can use them to make a zero waste all-purpose cleaner.
Firstly, get a jar or two with lids and fill it with your orange peels. Then, pour in enough distilled white vinegar to cover the orange peels and put your lid on. Let the solution sit in a cool, dark place for two to eight weeks. The longer you let it sit, the lore effective the cleaning solution becomes. Strain out the orange peels, making sure to keep the liquid. Lastly, mix the vinegar/orange peel concentrate with an equal amount of water in a spray bottle. Spray and wipe with a sponge cloth.
If you have a bathtub and you are thinking of a chemical-free tub cleaning process, this one is just for you. A citrus salt scrub makes cleaning the bathtub a cinch, thanks to the abrasive nature of salt and mild acid in grapefruit. Just splash some water in the tub and sprinkle a layer of kosher salt on the bottom. Cut a large grapefruit in half, and use the cut side to scrub your tub. Rinse with warm water.
7. Peppermint/mint leaves
Peppermint oil is cool, refreshing, and invigorating. It’s antibacterial and antifungal, and it’s also a natural rodent and pest repellant. Mixing a few drops of peppermint oil with warm water in a spray bottle and then spraying the mixture on countertops, furniture, curtains and blinds and hard-to-reach areas of the home where insects are often present kills bacteria and prevents pests from hanging out in your home. A few pots of fresh mint plants will also reduce the risk of many pests entering your beautiful home; simply place them strategically in pests' point of entry such as windows and doorways.
8. Bay leaves
Bay leaves repel pantry insects. From beetles to weevils, moths, cockroaches, ants, and flies are said to hate the herb’s fragrance. The leaves can be placed in containers of flour, rice, and other dry goods, or taped inside cupboards and shelves. Of course, this should not preclude other bug deterring efforts like regular cleaning and storing of foods in airtight containers.
You may know cloves for their sweet and spicy aroma. These dried flower buds are from the evergreen Syzygium aromaticum tree which can be found in Brazil, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Cloves were spread throughout the world in ancient days via trade routes. Along with cinnamon, pepper, and hazelnut, cloves were highly sought after in Europe and the Americas by the wealthy. Together these four spices became known as the “Big Four” because of their rarity and high value.
Besides spicing up your food, cloves can also eliminate cooking odors in the kitchen. Simply place some whole cloves in water on the stove and simmer. The odors will quickly dissipate. Just add more water as it evaporates or if needed.
Cucumbers can cool and soothe burned skin. Besides removing dark eye rings, a fresh cucumber slice is surprisingly effective at lifting tarnish off stainless steel as well. Cucumbers go well with watermelon as a perfect vegan cooler drink, and can also be used as bug repellants. Simply by placing a few slices of raw cucumber in areas where you have minor pest control problems is an eco-friendly and inexpensive way to rid your home of slugs, moths, wasps and ants!
To set the record straight, we are not promoting any of the items that’s mentioned above for Cold Storage or NTUC, and we do not earn any commissions for doing so. And there’s no need to stock all 10 items to start a green cleaning regime, because they might just be something you already have at home. A gentle reminder, always check if your pets are sensitive to the abovementioned items as not all animals do well with certain natural products.
Photo by cottonbro studio.