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The Lazy Lady’s Guide to Green Cleaning, Part 2: Vinegar

Join me as I continue my journey to find ways to make my home less dirty and gross while being friendly to the environment (and while also being kind of poor). Previously, I gave up floor cleaners and switched to a steam mop. Today, I try using plain white vinegar in place of many of my regular cleaning solutions and methods.

When looking up “green cleaning” methods, every single article, website, and forum makes mention of white vinegar. According to The Internets, this stuff is the holy grail of cleaning solutions. It’s cheap (I picked up a gallon jug at Target for $2.49), it’s non-toxic, which is good since you can, you know, eat it, and according to vinegar enthusiasts, it’s super effective. Yeah, I said “vinegar enthusiasts.” They exist. This is the world we live in.

I filled a spray bottle with undiluted white vinegar, grabbed a few old rags, and went to town.

  • Test #1: The stovetop

Regular cleaning method: Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and/or Clorox Clean-up bleach spray

I have a gas stove with iron burner grates that lift off for cleaning. My ever-so-healthy diet of lots of pasta and lots of rice means that I get quite a lot of boil-overs, so my stovetop is generally kind of a mess. I removed the burner grates, and sprayed the cooktop surface with vinegar, making sure to saturate the really scuzzy areas. I let it sit for about ten minutes, then wiped everything up with a damp rag.

Results: Sparkling clean stovetop. Using the rag, I had to use a bit more effort than when I use my beloved Magic Eraser, but every bit of crap came off, and the surface was much shinier than when I use bleach or the Magic Eraser.

  • Test #2: The oven

Regular cleaning method: Easy-Off oven cleaner; willful ignorance

OK, I don’t clean my oven very often. It’s gross, the Easy-Off burns my nose, and I’m always afraid I’m going to Sylvia Plath myself by accident. I had a spillover situation a few weekends ago, however, that resulted in a smoky house and a really dirty oven. I haven’t used the oven since then, because I know the minute I turned it on to preheat, it was going to get smokier than a Vegas casino floor, and fast. I sprayed the oven floor, walls, and the inside of the door with vinegar, making sure the oven floor was really well saturated, closed the oven door, and then walked away. I returned an hour later with a bunch of damp paper towels. (I KNOW, but have you ever tried putting really awful greasy rags in your washing machine? It never ends well.)

Results: I had to exert a little more energy than with the spray-and-wipe Easy-Off, but I didn’t feel like I was poisoning myself through my nostrils like I usually do. All of the baked-on gross stuff came right off. I don’t feel like it got quite as clean as it does with the Easy-Off (that always seems to return the inner surfaces to brand-new), and there are still a few dark spots, but I’m confident that the oven will not start smoking the next time I turn it on. Whenever that happens to be.

  • Test #3: Laundry

Regular cleaning method: laundry detergent and fabric softener sheets

So I read somewhere/heard/possibly made up the fact that using fabric softener actually makes your towels less absorbent. This makes sense, I suppose. (WARNING: FAKE SCIENCE AHEAD.) Since fabric softener “sticks” to the fibers of the fabric, it would make sense that this would interfere with the towel’s ability to absorb moisture. Whatever, it’s my fake science and it makes sense to me. I also read somewhere/heard/possibly made up that washing your towels with a small amount of detergent and a cup of white vinegar will remove some of the fabric softener residue and make your towels towel better.

Results: The first thing I noticed had nothing to do with absorbency. The first thing I noticed was that my towels smelled really good. I use unscented everything because of allergies, and on occasion, my towels still retain a little bit of mustiness. The towels that I washed with vinegar, though, smelled like absolutely nothing, which, to me, is the best smell of all. I don’t have any sort of precision moisture-absorbing measuring apparatus, but I can say that the towels felt a little rougher, maybe? Like they didn’t have that sort of coated feeling that they usually do. I’m going to choose to believe that they’re now super absorbers and, frankly, because of the smell thing, I might add vinegar to all my loads of towels.

  • Test #4: The bathroom

Regular cleaning method: Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, Lysol wipes, bleach (not at the same time as the Lysol wipes)

In the bathroom, I used the vinegar for a bunch of stuff. I dumped some into the toilet, let it sit for a few minutes, then scrubbed with my toilet brush. I used it to wipe down the counter and faucet handles. I sprayed the sink, bathtub, and shower walls with it and wiped with a damp rag.

Results: Everything was clean and shiny. There was no residue or gunk left over (especially around the sink and tub drains), and everything had a squeaky clean finish. Once again, I had to use a little more elbow grease than usual, but I’m overall very happy with the level of clean, especially when combined with the sanitizing power of my steam mop.

Overall findings: Vinegar is a pretty handy and effective cleaning solution. One thing, though: all of the places that I read about it assured me that my house would not smell like pickles as I was cleaning. LIES. There was a very distinctive vinegar smell, but it dissipated in a reasonable amount of time. My hands smelled like salad dressing, but that’s kind of my own fault for not wearing gloves. And given how cheap it is, I’ll definitely be using vinegar more often as I try to keep my habitat less gross while using fewer chemical cleaning solutions.

OK, folks, I’ve exhausted my “green cleaning” ideas. What would you like me to try next? Anyone have a great “green” alternative that will still allow me to be incredibly lazy?


14 replies on “The Lazy Lady’s Guide to Green Cleaning, Part 2: Vinegar”

I’m in charge of the laundry at a destination resort tucked away in the Adirondacks. Over the three summers that I’ve been here, I’ve been working to reduce the amount of chemicals that we use — especially bleach. I use Borax, vinegar, and a free & clear detergent in every load, and all the sheets are line-dried. Guests often comment on how wonderful everything smells. Borax also works well as an abrasive for bathroom fixtures and gives faucets a nice sparkle. Fels-Naptha laundry bar is a wonder on the cloth napkins and vintage tablecloths, especially for greasy/oily stains and lipstick. Lemon juice and sunlight work great for fading stains on whites. The linens all smell better and last longer now that we are using less bleach, and I’m glad I’m not dumping so many toxins into the environment.

I use vinegar in place of fabric softener rather than in the detergent cycle. We have hard water, and the vinegar softens the water somewhat, so that more of the detergent rinses out. Same effect as adding baking soda or citric acid to the rinse (fake science: it’s about chelating minerals or ion exchange or something).

Yeah, they can have my Magic Eraser when they pry it out of my cold, dead hands. That thing is amazing. I really, truly do not want to know if it’s bad for me because it is too wonderful. Kind of like why I won’t watch Super Size Me. I love my McDonald’s fries sometimes!

clean jewelry- Part 1: is optional because it may scratch softer metals or extremely smooth surfaces– make a paste of baking powder and water, apply using a toothbrush to scrub out nooks and crannies. Coat the whole piece with a paste layer. Part 2: place in a cup or bowl of white vinegar. Watch the awesome cleaning bubbles break down and fizz away the evil crud that forms under settings, etc. Rinse once more with vinegar to remove all residue and make extra shiny!
*I’ve done this with: sterling, yellow gold, white gold and the common precious stones. I can’t vouch for anything with enamel, jade or turquoise stones, or anything else that might break down in acid.

I love cleaning with vinegar and baking soda (“love” being a relative term, of course). My other favorite is washing windows/mirrors with newspaper. No lint at all, and it’s just sort of satisfying to crumple up a big sheet and rub away. Supposedly, there’s something in the ink that makes the glass cleaner, too, but I mostly appreciate the non-lintiness.

Vinegar also works shockingly well as hair conditioner.

POM, I went out and bought a steam mop after your post about them and I AM IN LOVE! I have laminate floors that always have a weird, streaky film on them no matter what I use, but with the steam mop? Nothing. It is quite possibly my most favorite thing ever.

When I was at Target getting the mop, I noticed that they had set up a Natural Cleaning section, which had the Method and Simple Green type stuff, but also a giant box of baking soda and gallon jugs of vinegar. Kind of cool, I thought. I used the baking soda as a makeshift carpet refresher, dusting it over the area before vacuuming. It is much better than some of the really overpowering carpet powders.

Here are my favorites:
1. Half of a lemon dipped in baking soda to clean the tub and sinks. You’ll hear it fizzing and it makes things smell like lemon.
2. Vinegar is also a deodorizer. Yes, it smells like salad dressing to begin with, but leaving a bowl out in a kitchen after a bout with onion-cooking will work wonders.
3. You can dilute the vinegar with water for lighter jobs.
4. A drain deodorizer/decloger is to pour baking soda followed by vinegar. Let it fizz, then follow with boiling water. The combo does something to the grease chemically, but it’s also fun and makes you feel like you’re making a volcano like in elementary school.
5. Cornstarch for cleaning up major spills on the carpet/mattress. If you have something staining/smelly/awful, cover it with cornstarch, which soaks it up, then vacuum up the dried cornstarch.

But honestly, white vinegar is good for almost anything. There’s bon-ami, too, which is a pre-made scrubber that’s non-toxic if you need something for serious scrubbing.

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