"There was a blizzard on. The cold was something frightful. Made one quite thankful to get back to the fug, though as a rule I think the way these trains are overheated is something scandalous.” M. Bouc sighed. “It is very difficult to please everybody,” he said. “The English they open everything—then others they come along and shut everything. It is very difficult.” Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express
There are several subjects that I could talk about for days, and cleaning is one of them. (Agatha Christie, Murder She Wrote, and chickens are a few of the others.) So I thought I would write up a few posts about how I keep our house clean, in the hopes that you might find some inspiration. Of course, do your research and figure out what works for you.
Since air takes up most of the space in our homes and we're breathing it as we're awake and asleep, I thought it would be a good place to start. It's been about a decade since I started questioning conventional 'wisdom' (i.e. marketing) about what makes a home clean, and I have some definite opinions. The long and the short of it is: don't believe people who are trying to get your money by convincing you that you and your housekeeping skills are inadequate.
These aren't particularly glamorous insights, but practical and true. And I think that's far more important. A few things of which I am firmly convinced:
- Clean does not have a scent.
- Cleaning does not need to involve separate purchased products for ever possible eventuality.
- Perfectly simple and effective ingredients that you probably already have on hand in your kitchen can clean your whole house effectively.
- Reusable is better than disposable.
- Soap and hot water will take care of pretty much everything.
There are plenty of sources of indoor air pollution. (You could spend days reading about all of the things that contribute; I find that focusing on those things gets tiresome. But if you're interested, there is plenty of information out there. Cleaners, candles, air 'fresheners', burning wood, pets, off-gassing of glues in pressed wood, flooring, and furniture, etc. ) Here in Nova Scotia, we're fortunate to have clean air and a fresh sea breeze pretty much all of the time. So my number one way to improve the air quality in our house is about as simple as it gets - I open the windows. If it were up to me, they would all be open, all year. (Adam takes issue with having the furnace running and windows cracked open in January. But I'll still sneak one open even for a few minutes to freshen things up. Stale air is my arch-nemesis.)
Keeping dust in check also improves air quality. We're fortunate to have all wood floors, which are simple to keep clean. I love the Bona mop and hardwood floor kit - simple, inexpensive, effective, scent-free, and reusable; the cleaning pads just go in the wash. (No one's compensating me for any products I mention!) The boys actually enjoy helping with that chore. For dusting other surfaces, I use water and a microfibre cloth or mitt. I bought a few Norwex cloths several years ago (the travel size; I find the others way too large), and they look as good and work as well as the day I bought them. Again, they just get tossed in the washer. For windows, I use the microfibre cloth and a diluted vinegar spray. (1 part vinegar to 2 parts water in a spray bottle.) If you don't care for the smell of vinegar, the scent dissipates quickly. Especially when the windows are open.
I do love a beautiful natural scent, and essential oils are a lovely alternative to artificially scented air "fresheners", and I use them in many ways. They're concentrated plant oils, and are completely different from artificial fragrance oils. I also use them when I make soap, so I have plenty on hand. They are pricey, but a few drops go a loooong way and can be used for many different things. I will often put a few drops of an essential oil (usually lemon or orange) on a cotton ball and put that into the vacuum canister for a little hit of fresh scent as I vacuum the area rugs. (Which I always do with the windows open, just because I can.) I also have a diffuser that I use primarily when someone is congested, but which is lovely any time. I add a few drops to the unscented dish detergent that I use (made by Down East), which is also what I use with hot water and a dish cloth to wipe down counters and the stove top in the kitchen. I also dilute it (3 parts water to one part soap) in a reused foaming pump for hand soap. I also have a diffuser in the car that I put a few drops of peppermint essential oil on as I drive.
Another lovely way to scent the air is baking, as is simmering thyme, vanilla, and citrus peels on the stovetop for a little while. Cooking a batch of apple sauce or butter in the slow cooker smells particularly delightful and fall-ish.
Plants also help to filter the air, and I obviously have a plant problem. Making our own cleaners saves money, time, packaging, waste, and avoids rinsing questionable ingredients down the drain. And it is not complicated! You could read books and blogs and spend weeks learning everything that there is to know, but I can sum it up for you: diluted vinegar and water for cleaning glass, hot soap and water for just about everything else. Baking soda if you need scrubbiness. (I have mine in a shaker jar from a restaurant supply store.) Spray 5% hydrogen peroxide (sometimes sold as 'oxygen bleach', but completely different from chlorine bleach) then vinegar on a surface to disinfect; let sit for 5 minutes after the first, then spray the second. (This is not effective in the same way as chlorine bleach, which wipes out just about everything, but it's suitable for general household purposes and I could talk to you all day about that, too.)
Ooooh, I could go on for days! Actually, I could write a lengthy post about each thing I mentioned in this one. But I'll stop there for today. I hope I've inspired you to think about the air in your home and to open a window or two.
In other house news, Phillip woke up at 5:00 this morning (thanks, time change!) and spent 2 1/2 hours sorting, itemizing, listing and placing today's allotment of candy in order. He volunteered to give half of his candy to Thomas, who has had a high fever for several days and couldn't go out trick-or-treating last night. Thankfully, Thomas is much perkier this morning and his temperature is finally normal! I'm hoping that's the end of it.
In other miscellany, a great horned owl broke through our coop window and killed seven chickens last week. (I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.) Three were roosters, so I suppose the owl saved me a bit of trouble in the long run. It also killed my blue-egg laying Easter Egger and three ISA browns. Par for the course, I suppose - the owl was just doing its thing. I was away for work and Adam had to deal with the mess, which I felt kind of bad (and kind of thankful) for.
Happy November! I hope the month is good to you.