On a budget? Go back to basics with grandma’s favorite cleaning tool. It’s cheap, eco-friendly, and surprisingly useful around the house, says green living expert Bea Johnson in Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste.
Over the years, powerful marketing campaigns have complicated our routines and led us to believe that different applications require different products. Over the generations, we have filled our gardening sheds, under-kitchen-sink cabinets, and laundry rooms with expensive and toxic products, forgetting our grandmothers’ most powerful cleaning weapon. As inexpensive and nontoxic as their solution was, it can clean most surfaces, disinfect, and cut odors and grease around the home; it can dissolve lime, soap scum, and mold in the bathroom but also fight stains and sticky residues and even soften our laundry; in the yard, it gets rid of pests and weeds. I am referring to…
THE MAGIC OF VINEGAR
Although I have not been able to find vinegar in bulk (I purchase it in a glass bottle), I believe it to be an essential for the home and the garden. I use the following mix for most applications.
Fill a spray bottle with 1 cup water and 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar.
Note: For added scent, you can infuse the vinegar with citrus peels in a jar for a couple of weeks, prior to diluting it.
Here are examples of cleaning, laundry, pest, and gardening products that you can eliminate from your home by using vinegar instead:
• Adhesive remover: Remove stickers by soaking them with warm vinegar. For gum, use an ice cube to remove the bulk of it, then warm vinegar to clean off residues.
• Bathroom cleaner: Use the Basic Mix to dissolve soap scum and hardwater stains and simultaneously shine counters, floors, sinks, showers, mirrors, and fixtures. You can also dip a toothbrush in the cleaner to scrub grout joints and soak your showerhead in a bowl of vinegar overnight to remove lime buildup.
• Color set: If a garment has proved to bleed in the wash, let it soak in vinegar before laundering.
• Drain cleaner: Use a drain snake and plunger to clear pipes, then pour 1/4 cup baking soda followed by 1/2 cup white vinegar. Cover until bubbling stops and flush with boiling water.
• Eraser sponge (also known as Magic Eraser): Remove pen, pencil, or crayon marks from walls using a cloth or toothbrush dipped in straight vinegar.
• Flower food: To extend the life of cut flowers, add a tablespoon of both vinegar and sugar to their water. You can also remove the white buildup on your vases by soaking them in undiluted vinegar.
• Glass cleaner: Use a microfiber cloth if you have one—it does not require any other product but water. As a default, you can spray the Basic Mix onto windows, mirrors, and glass surfaces, then polish with cloth rags.
• Herbicide (also known as weed killer): Simply kill weeds by spraying full-strength
vinegar onto them.
• Insect repellent: Spray where you do not want ants to come into your house (windowsills or door thresholds, for example). Versatilevinegar.org also recommends adding a teaspoon of white distilled vinegar for each quart bowl of your pet’s drinking water to keep it free of fleas and ticks. The ratio of one teaspoon to one quart is for a forty-pound animal.
• Jewelry/metal cleaner: To clean tarnished bronze, brass, and copper, apply a mixture of 1 tablespoon salt and 1/4 cup vinegar, rinse with warm water, and polish with a soft cloth. For silver, soak the piece in 1/4 cup white vinegar and 1 tablespoon baking soda, then rinse and polish with a soft cloth. For gold, simply cover with vinegar for one hour and rinse. Do not use on pearls.
• Kitchen cleaner: Use full-strength vinegar to disinfect cutting boards. Use in lieu of your stainless cleaner or dishwasher rinse aid (simply substitute it in the dishwasher rinsing compartment). Use the Basic Mix to clean the sink, counter, and refrigerator (use a toothbrush to clean moldy joints). To clean the microwave, pour some Basic Mix into a cup and bring to a boil to cut odors and loosen food bits. To clean the oven, generously spray with vinegar, then sprinkle with baking soda and let sit overnight, scrape with a spatula, and wipe clean. To remove lime buildups in the coffeemaker, fill its water reservoir with water and 1/4 cup vinegar, run it through, empty, and rinse. To remove unpleasant odors from the garbage disposal, your hands, or food jars, use straight vinegar. To remove tea or coffee stains from ceramic cups, soak in vinegar for a few hours, then scrub stubborn stains with baking soda.
• Laundry booster: Adding 1/2 cup of undiluted vinegar to your rinse cycle will prevent soap buildup and yellowing, act as a fabric softener and a color booster, and reduce static cling.
• Mildew remover and prevention: Use full-strength vinegar to remove mildew off most surfaces. To prevent mildew on a shower curtain, spray vinegar on the problem areas or add vinegar to your rinse cycle when you wash it.
• Nicotine stain remover: Clean walls stained by nicotine with straight vinegar.
• Odor neutralizer: Instead of covering up an unpleasant smell with toxic fragrances, address the source and air the space out. Then place a bowl of vinegar in the room to absorb persistent odors (e.g., in a newly painted room to remove paint odors, in a car to remove vomit stench, or in a kitchen to remove smoke odors).
• Pet repellent: Spray vinegar where you do not want your dog or cat to chew, scratch, or urinate.
• Quick mop: No need for disposable floor wipes; simply spray a microfiber mop with the Basic Mix and mop.
• Rust remover: To remove rust from small items, soak them in undiluted vinegar for a few hours, scrub with a toothbrush, and rinse thoroughly. Rub steel wool on stubborn residues.
• Stain remover: Pour vinegar on mustard, pen, pencil, or crayon marks, then scrub with a toothbrush to remove the stain and launder as usual.
• Toilet cleaner: Spray vinegar, then scrub. For tough jobs, you can spray vinegar, sprinkle with baking soda, let sit, and then scrub.
• Upholstery freshener: Lightly spray the Basic Mix on a cloth and wipe upholstery to neutralize odors, remove surface dirt, and boost color (first test in an inconspicuous area). The vinegar smell will subside, leaving a fresh scent. Wiping with a microfiber helps pick up pet hair.
• Vinyl cleaner: Clean and shine no‑wax vinyl linoleum floors with 1 gallon of water supplemented with 1 cup of vinegar.
• Wood renewer: Mix equal parts vinegar and oil, and rub in the direction of the grain to remove water rings and scratches. You can also use the Multipurpose Balm (see page 102) as wood polish!
• XYZ: eXamine Your Zipper. If a zipper does not run smoothly, spray vinegar onto it and run the zipper a few times to clear any blocking gunk.
Get fit. Find nutrition facts. Live a healthy lifestyle. Sign up for our newsletter!