Don’t Buy It: Cleaning Supplies (+ free stuff!)

1 04 2009

So, can you imagine a worse bzzagent than someone whose blog is called “Don’t Buy It”? But the irony must be lost on them, because they do send us products to test. The latest receipt was a giant box of Nature’s Source cleaners by S.C. Johnson, including toilet bowl cleaner, window cleaner, Scrubbing Bubbles bathroom cleaner, and all purpose surface cleaner, all packed into the biggest Ziploc bag the world has ever known. Now, I have problems seeing S.C. Johnson as an environmentally responsible company. They make things like plastic bags, air freshener and bug killers — items with questionable value and clear environmental costs. But apparently they have a long record of being more environmentally responsible than other companies that make the same crap. I’m glad they disclose their ingredients and have voluntarily removed the ones that are actually known to be poisonous, but I’m not sure that counts for much.

The ingredients in this new line of cleaners are “green” in the most tone-deaf way. The window cleaner contains “corn-based ethanol.” OK, granted, ethanol is a natural product. But I don’t really want to clean my home with gasoline all the same. Both the toilet bowl cleaner and the bathroom cleaner are labeled as eye irritants, and state that they cannot be mixed with bleach without creating hazardous fumes (even though they contain no ammonia). All products state “keep out of reach of children and pets.” They contain synthetic dyes and fragrances. This is green? I believe that they are genuinely more environmentally friendly than other synthetic alternatives, but after all that, who cares?

In general we’ve found that cleaning “products” are unbelievably expensive and unnecessary. Homemade alternatives are much cheaper and work just as well. Here’s what we use for general household cleaning:

  • Furniture polish: One part olive oil and one part lemon juice, stored in the refrigerator, shaken vigorously before use to polish wood furniture with a dry cloth. Mayo also works. Use either sparingly. A plain dry cloth and/or damp cloth works for other dusting.
  • Linoleum or tile floors: Weekly sweeping and mopping with equal parts baking soda and white vinegar diluted in warm water. Can add a drop or two of lavender essential oil for antibacterial and enjoyment properties, but it isn’t necessary.
  • Carpet cleaner: Weekly vacuuming. Occasional cleaning with a dusting powder made of baking soda scented with a few drops of essential oil (sprinkle it on, vacuum it up). Stains treated with hydrogen peroxide and a scrub brush. I hate carpet and wish we didn’t have any. Who needs a floor surface that requires an electric appliance for care and *never* gets really clean?
  • Wood and marble floors: Weekly vacuuming. Occasional dusting. Damp cloth for spot cleaning as needed.
  • Toilet: Daily swish and scrub with a toilet brush and a squirt of cleaning solution made by mixing about one part dish soap and/or shampoo with water. Occasional scrub with a pumice stone for mineral deposits.
  • All purpose and glass cleaner: Plain white vinegar with whole spices (cinnamon, star anise, cloves) in the bottle for scent if you like. Plain white vinegar will leave streaks the first few times you use it, if you’ve been using commercial glass cleaner, because commercial glass cleaner has surfactants and other crap added to it. If it bothers you, a drop of detergent in your spray bottle with the vinegar will stop it. But I prefer to just stop the whole vicious cycle and live with the initial streaks when I move to new house. I clean the bathroom surfaces and mirror daily, and all other glass in the house once a week.

Mostly, it’s not the product that causes the cleaning, it’s the cleaning that causes the cleaning. If you do it daily and weekly, you don’t have to use anything harsher than water most of the time. On the other hand, I haven’t yet found good alternatives to Comet scouring powder for bathtub and shower cleaning (I’m too lazy for daily shower cleaning, but if I wasn’t vinegar would probably work) or dish detergent (M.F.K. Fisher famously washed her dishes in hot water alone). I also haven’t found a good alternative to silver polish: the nontoxic alternatives just don’t work as well, though I keep trying, because silver polish is nasty stuff.

In terms of how these alternatives stack up to Nature’s Source: well, you can see for yourself:

Nature's Source Window Cleaner vs. Vinegar

Nature's Source Window Cleaner vs. Vinegar

The mirror panel on the left is cleaned with Nature’s Source and a terry cloth rag. The mirror panel in the middle is cleaned with vinegar and spices on a terry cloth rag. I can’t tell the difference after they’re dry. But when I use Nature’s Source, a streaky, chemically film shows up on the glass, and when I use vinegar, I don’t freak out when I get some on my hands or up my nose.

Green cleaner or not: My vote is for vinegar.

But, you can try the comparison and vote for yourself. The first eight people (not spambots) to comment on this post and include an email addy so I can contact you will get a coupon for a free Nature’s Source cleaner of your choice. Bonus points if you come back and post your own cleaning comparison photo.




21 responses

6 04 2009
Paul Chillman

Do you use a sprayer? We like to use vinegar too, but our spray bottles always crap out on us, whether it’s a used Windex bottle or specially-purchased mister. I don’t know if vinegar has a different density or what. I wind up just pouring a bunch on a rag, but that never works as well.

12 04 2009

We do use a sprayer — an empty Clean Note Countertop Spray container from Target, which has served us well for more than a year. I wonder if maybe the chemicals in regular cleaners gum up in the vinegar and wreck the sprayer? Because we used to have your problem, I remember …. and then we just didn’t.

12 04 2009
cindy kish

You are a brave and honest product tester. I like that.

My parents have been cleaning offices and homes for a very long time and they always use vinegar to clean glass. The aroma is a bit much when they first use it, but is the best product they have found.

If you have any coupons left, I would really like one.

Thank you

12 04 2009
reva skie

Baking soda makes a pretty good stand in for Comet, you get a good abrasive effect out of it.

12 04 2009

I could never get baking soda to really work as an abrasive, although I have tried. It melts away too quickly for me to get tile or other mildewy places actually clean. I’m still working out the kinks! Any tips?

12 04 2009
mandi Robison

I would love to try it

12 04 2009

Emails asking for your addresses to send coupons are on their way to you!

12 04 2009

We do use a sprayer all the time to clean everything.

12 04 2009

We use their regular brand of scrubbing bubbles…I would love to try their green brand to see if there’s a difference. I would love a coupon, if you have any left. Thanks.

12 04 2009
Mary Jo Albert

I haven’t cleaned the windows in my house since I’ve lived here since they have storm windows on the outside & I can’t get to the old windows. But my landlord just had a new front door put in with a storm door!!!! & a new kitchen window. Already my cats have smudged the new glass looking in & out. I would love one of the coupons if you have any left. Thanks much!

12 04 2009
Jean Panasik

It is amazing what things are available to people. Thanks for sharing
because I didn’t know about this.

12 04 2009

Thanks for all the comments! The free product coupons are all claimed now, but thanks for stopping by, and please come back if you liked what you read here. Cheers!

12 04 2009
ed setser

I’m amazed at how simple the homemade stuff is. I’m 43 years old and you’ve succeeded in teaching an old dog new tricks. thanks.

12 04 2009

I know what you mean! There’s always a new (usually very old) way of doing things to be learned, and for me, it’s exciting to see how well the old ideas often work!

12 04 2009

I totally agree with you about carpets. DIRTY DIRTY DIRTY. I finally got sick of mine and tore them out. I have 7 cats and you can never get the hair off. I found spraying static spray 1st helped a lot. Using a rubber broom worked well also, but getting rid of them was the best. Of course now the cat hair sticks to the furniture and people 😉 and I never realized that cats just love to slide on slippery surfaces just to hear the noise it makes, but what are you going to do. I love my kitties.

13 04 2009

The one cleaning item I must have is microfiber cloths. You can get a big bag full of them at sam’s for around $10. I think there are 24/pkg. They clean and absorb so well. One major thing to remember is to never use fabric softener when laundering, as that will cause streaky cleaning and absorbancy is lessened.

16 06 2009

I also use baking soda instead of Comet, especially in my bathtub and to make my kitchen sink shiny. It works best for me if I use as little water as possible. For example, to remove my bathtub ring, I just sprinkle the baking soda around the edge of the tub and only wet the bristles of my scrub brush. They have to be re-wet every so often, but it keeps most of the rest of the baking soda from melting away until I actually want to rinse the tub.

12 07 2009

This comment is probably very late, but as I just discovered your blog from the MSN article that mentioned, I’m just now going back and enjoying previous entries. This is a good one! I just wanted to say that for me, the trick with scrubbing with baking soda is that I first spray the surface down with my vinegar spray (I do half vinegar half water in a spray bottle and use it on pretty much everything!) then sprinkle it fairly copiously with baking soda. Then the trick is to let it sit for a while; this is essential. At least 5 minutes. Then, like the lady said above, use a scrub brush or something like that and as little water as you can manage. Scrub and then rinse it all off well! This makes my bath and sinks shiny and clean! Of course, yours may be a different material. I think ours is just porcelain. I also just use straight vinegar in the toilet bowl to clean, but I’ve never tried the dish soap and shampoo trick! I’ll have to try it and see how I like it! As our shampoo is slightly expensive, all-natural stuff, it is probably more cost effective to just stick to the vinegar! Thanks for all these great posts!

22 07 2009

One thing about the vinegar. Make sure you’re using food quality. Otherwise, it can be made from petroleum . I do find the ecowashing to be a bit annoying as well, since it’s not more friendly. In the case of carpets, I like the throw rugs that are large. You wash them once a year and vacuum if you have allergies in between. People have gotten my mother and I the “green” products since they know about my allergies to synthetic cleaners. Sadly, there is still fragrance, which means hives… XD The warning on things are overkill, since there are some rather slow children/more their parents, who honestly don’t think to explain to children that they will get very sick if they drink the pretty colored cleaning fluid.

25 01 2010

I did some Earth Day posts last year, about how I only use vinegar, lemon juice, and vodka to clean my house, and I was literally bobarded with offers from unilever and p&g, who were convinced they could show me that they were better. They aren’t. And I wouldn’t let them try to prove it to me just so I could talk about them on the internet because they were sure I’d have rave reviews. Sorry, I don’t get paid in poisons!!

Your blog is amazing!

25 01 2010

oh, and salt on a lemon makes a great abrasive. Just dip the lemon in the salt and use it as a scouring pad. Also, those mesh bags that oranges and onions come in scour things wonderfully!

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