Natural Cleaning Solutions
Leafing through my 1861 copy of ‘Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management’, it becomes apparent that during the Victorian age the chore of household cleaning was tackled with a range of natural ingredients. Nowadays, when looking to eradicate dirt and grime from our homes we are presented with a dazzling array of chemical-based proprietary cleaners. Because of the ease and availability of commercial preparations, with their claims of super-charged stain removing and germ eradicating properties it is easy to forget that there are plenty of natural cleaning methods that have proven throughout time to be just as effective as their chemical counterparts, but without the packaging waste, harm to the environment or hazard to our health. Home-made, natural cleaning products are also kinder to our pocket, as a basic natural cleaning kit requires no fancy bottles of wonder product, just simple household ingredients and a bit of know-how.
The world we live in is full of man-made chemicals and the biggest organ of our bodies, the skin, is often subjected to contact with chemicals every day, whether immersing bare hands into cleaning products, (such as washing up liquid) skin contact with clothes washed in detergents or touching surfaces and implements that have a chemical residue on them. Then of course we also breathe in chemicals; if you use flammable spray furniture polish that is petroleum based these can lead to headaches, lack of concentration and can even depress the central nervous system. Whereas, chemical disinfectants often contain triclosan which for decades has been considered the easiest, cheapest and safest way to kill bacteria and is found in anti-bacterial soaps, deodorants, toothpastes, mouthwashes, first-aid creams, cleaning supplies, clothes, and even toys. There have been many studies that have researched the effects of triclosan and fears have been voiced about the over-use of disinfectants leading to bacteria building up resistance to them. It seems that the proverb, ‘We must eat a peck of dirt before we die’, is indeed true. In studies of what is called the ‘ hygiene hypothesis’, many researchers have concluded that organisms like the millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body along with ‘dirt’ spur the development of a healthy immune system. It has been suggested that children raised in an ultraclean environment, filled with chemical cleaners are more prone to allergies and illness as they are not being exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune systems.
Although I’m not overly keen on housework and I admit to sharing the sentiment of Agatha Christie when she said, ‘’the best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes’’, I’m not advocating that we never clean, just that we adopt a natural approach. I also advise abandoning the purchase of those pretty bottles of nice smelling ‘eco’ products as many of them just don’t have the oomph needed to lift grime and they tend to be an expensive and unnecessary purchase. I live in a household that includes animals, children and their muck-magnet friends all of which results in a constant need to lift grubby fingerprints off paintwork and other surfaces. Whilst leafing through a handwritten household manual dating from the 1700’s in amongst recipes for blacking, horse powders, fever balls and patent polish, I happened upon a perfect and yet simple recipe for surface cleaning. The recipe simply entitled, ‘Household Astringent’, has been put to good use in my household and is my new favourite wonder cleaner.
Household Astringent Recipe, redacted from 1700’s Household Manual
Place 6 springs of fresh rosemary in a saucepan and cover with enough white distilled vinegar to cover the herbs. Bring to the boil and then remove from the heat and place the vinegar and herbs into a clean jam jar. Allow to steep overnight. Strain the vinegar into a clean spray bottle and use as a surface spray or keep it in a jar and dip a cleaning cloth into the rosemary vinegar to use for rubbing down dirty paintwork, tiles and varnished or laminated surfaces.
I have long raved about the power of vinegar in cleaning, but my husband has always groaned about the smell, usually muttering comments about chip shops and pickling factories. The aromatic rosemary in this recipe neutralises the smell of the pungent vinegar and it’s cheap, effective with no headachy chemical smells to contend with.
My mother-in-law once said that, ‘beeswax makes a home’, and she has a valid point, for the smell of beeswax polish does lend a homely and well cared for feel to a room. Due to the cost of commercially bought beeswax polish I have been making my own for years and a little goes a long way. Over time I have tried various recipes, but the recipe below is my favourite and the one I even had the opportunity to show the late Lynda Bellingham how to make on ‘Country House Sunday’.
Trusty Beeswax Polish
- 50 g pure soap flakes ( Castile Soap)
- 100 g beeswax (grated)
- 500 ml turpentine (this must be pure turpentine, available from artists shops)
- 250 ml warm water
- 10 drops of pure essential lavender oil
In a saucepan dissolve the soap flakes in the warm water over a moderate heat
In a double boiler or in a bowl over a pan of hot water, put the shaved wax into the turpentine and warm gently until the wax is thoroughly melted and dissolved. Don’t be tempted to put the wax and turpentine just in a saucepan over a direct flame as it is highly flammable.
When the wax is melted, add the soap mixture to it and stir with a wooden spoon. It will be a milky white colour and should be completely liquid. Remove from the heat and stir in 10 drops of pure essential lavender oil. Pour into clean storage jars.
If you fancy a change from the smell of lavender oil, this polish can either be left natural or you can add 10 drops of pure essential sweet orange oil for a fresh and warming smell.
When it comes to streak free windows it seems that the simple remedies are the best. I found that combining 150ml white vinegar with the juice of a lemon and 1tsp corn flour worked wonders. The ingredients must be combined well and put into a spray bottle that gets a good shake before use. Applied with a lint free cloth and buffed with newspaper my windows came up beautifully.
With a few basic ingredients it is possible to make natural cleaners for every room in the home. Armed with bicarbonate of soda, lemon juice, vinegar and essential oils you can have cheap and effective solutions without having to rely on expensive and chemical laden products.
So dusters at the ready for some good clean fun!