The kitchen presents a baffling array of surfaces to scrub and germs to vanquish. But most conventional kitchen cleaners contain substances like chlorine, ammonia, lye and pesticides that can be harmful or even deadly to children if inhaled or swallowed.
Plus, you don't need all that firepower. As Tom Natan, lead researcher of the National Environmental Trust in Washington, D.C., told us, “Germs wash off.” Warm, soapy water is an effective cleaner. You don’t need separate products for every surface, either. Tom says, “There are very few things you can’t clean with hot water, borax, citrus oil, and salt, if you need to scrub something.”
Such elegant simplicity! Such thriftiness! We've cooked up a few d.i.y. cleaning mixes in our test kitchens, and are making our fabulous potions publicly available for the first time right here. We like to add liquid soaps to the mix, like natural oil-based dishwashing liquid or castile -- Dr. Bronner's smells great -- plus baking soda, and vinegar, a fantastic grease cutter. Here you go:
Countertops: Mix two tablespoons of a gentle liquid soap, even a dish detergent, with two cups of water. If your surfaces are really greasy, add maybe ¼ cup of vinegar and a few tablespoons of borax (a powder available at any grocery store; we like 20 Mule Team) in a spray bottle. If you like a fresh smell, add a bit of lemon juice.
Cutting board: If you’ve used it for meat, wash it with dish soap and hot water, then spray it with a solution of one part vinegar and one part hydrogen peroxide to two parts water to further sanitize it. Otherwise, a sprinkle of lemon juice and olive oil cleans and deodorizes well. And yes, wood is better than plastic; it absorbs microbes and bacteria when dry, unlike plastic, which is more likely to
shed those critters back on to your knife.
Rags and sponges: Bacteria love to hang out in damp sponges. Throw these in the dishwasher and wash rags and dishcloths after a day’s use. Or microwave them: 30 seconds for a dry cellulose sponge or a minute for a wet one.
Floors: A capful of mild liquid soap and water works on just about any surface. For laminate floors, you can add a cup of vinegar to a gallon of water, plus a nice-smelling oil-based soap. For wood, simply dust mop and spot clean, or use the liquid soap plus water for tough grime.
Stainless steel: A sprinkle of baking soda and vinegar cleans and shines nicely, even on rust. Use a synthetic scrubbing pad and rub well. Baking soda and hot water works great for cast iron, too.
The oven: If you have a self-cleaning oven, make use of it. Though it uses more energy, it’s generally the safest alternative. There will likely still be some gunk left behind, and for that make a fizzy paste of borax or baking soda, a splash of vinegar, and kosher salt and scrub away with a steel scouring pad.
Rinse and repeat if necessary, but by all means stay away from commercial oven cleaners, which have seriously corrosive properties on skin as well as on grime. Arm & Hammer Oven Cleaner is a non-toxic brand buy.
Drains: Dump 1/2 cup of baking soda in the drain and chase it with 1/2 cup of vinegar. If that doesn't work, try using a plunger or a snake, an implement that digs in and pulls the clog out.
Dishes: By hand, use a mild oil-based soap. Tougher grime may warrant a powdering of baking soda followed by a spray of vinegar, and a scrub with non-metal sponge. For the dishwasher, seek out phosphate-free brands, which are easily available and are gentle on the environment. Phosphates are minerals that simulate the growth of algae, which can destroy fish habitats. A bit of Borax in
the powder cup and a pre-wash splash of vinegar over the dishes work beautifully, too.
Metals: Remove stains and tarnish with a polish paste of lemon juice, kosher salt and baking soda. Your cleaning won’t last long for longer than a few days on real silver, but commercial cleaners are nastily corrosive.