D.I.Y. Cleaners: For the Kitchen

Goodlifer: D.I.Y. Cleaners: For the Kitchen

Very few of those who like to cook actually enjoy cleaning their kitchen, but a way to make it a bit more pleasant, and a bit more like cooking, is to make your own cleaning products, using what you already have within arms reach. Also, many conventional cleaning products contain chemicals that should never come in contact with food, some are even outright detrimental to our health. According to Treehugger, only 30% of the 17,000 different petrochemicals available for home use have been tested for exposure to human health and the environment.

The key to keeping a clean kitchen is maintenance, never letting it get too grubby. Every time you cook, make it a habit to wipe down the stove and countertops, wash pots and pans and put dishes away in the dishwasher (or do them by hand if you are that kind of brave pioneer) before you even sit down to eat. Cockroaches and other unpleasant creatures just love when you leave stuff out, another good reason to not procrastinate.

If you are anything like me, though, you may not always follow your own advice, so maybe there is quite a bit of work to do. One thing that is particularly important with surfaces that come in contact with food is that harmful bacteria are removed. But, there is no need to resort to toxic chemicals to achieve that, instead stock up on baking soda, vinegar, lemons and tea tree oil. Here is a list of ingredients useful for making your own cleaning products.

Baking Soda: cleanses, deodorizes, scours and softens water.
all-purpose. The unscented kind — liquid, flakes, powders or bars — is biodegradable. Castile Soap is a good option. (Avoid those that contain petroleum distillates.)
acidic, anti-bacterializes, deodorizes.
Salt: absorbing, mildly abrasive.
Vinegar: degreasing, mildew, odor and stain removing. Can also help get rid of wax build-up.
Tea Tree Oil:
anti-bacterializes, deodorizes, conditions.
Alcohol: disinfecting. Great to clean sponges etc. one you’re done cleaning.

Also refer to the list compiled by Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI), for reference. And, remember, warm water and vigorous scrubbing can work wonders if used consistently.

Part of my cleaning arsenal, it's good to get the cheap stuff, but I happened to have some old vinegar in the house, and thought it better to use that than buy new stuff.

Part of my cleaning arsenal, vinegar, salt & baking soda. It’s good to get the cheap stuff, but I happened to have some old vinegar in the house, and thought it better to use that than buy a new bottle.

So, let’s start with making an All-purpose Spray Cleaner:
Good to use inside cupboards, on countertops and other flat surfaces. Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle. If the surface you’re about to attack is really dirty, you can heat up the solution in the microwave for a few seconds to amp up the cleaning power (remove the sprayer part first). Spray on the surface and let it sit for about 15 minutes. This helps soften dishsoap scum and other gunk, making it easier to clean up.

There’s really no need to buy fancy cleaning supplies, just use stuff you have around the house. Old T-shirts, socks and towels (cut bigger ones into smaller pieces) make great rags. You know those mesh bags that you buy onions and potatoes in at the store, save them, cut into pieces and tie together for a scrubber sponge, great for cleaning pots and pans, grimy sinks etc. Speaking of sponges, don’t throw it out once you think it’s a bit too gross, put some alcohol on it, throw it in the dishwasher, or boil it with some baking soda. If you are going to buy one thing, make it a microfiber cloth, they are great to wipe vertical and shiny surfaces, such as refrigerators.

It’s always good to start on the insides. If they are very dirty, spray cabinet shelves with the All-Purpose Cleaner you just made, scrub and wipe. If they’re only dusty, a wet rag will do. Clean cabinet doors, and make them smell nice, by using ¼ cup lemon juice mixed with 1 quart of hot water to wipe them down. I once saw a picture of a kitchen where all the shelves were alphabetized and labeled according to what was supposed to be on them. Freakishly anal perhaps, but not a bad idea if used in moderation. Maybe you make a sweet and a savory section, so you know what side of the pantry to look for those garbanzo beans, or make a good side and an evil side, where one holds such healthy things as lentils and rice and the other candy and microwave popcorn. You choose which is the more accessible. Being organized in some way is key, though, and if you live with someone, make sure you decide the order of the house together. It drives me nuts when my co-habitor puts the big plates on the side of the cupboard where the small plates are supposed to go, but who decided that? I did, just by doing it, and it’s probably too much to ask for him to telepathically share my random rationale.

Baking soda will clean almost anything. Also keep an open container in the fridge to get rid of odor.

Baking soda will clean almost anything. Keep an open container in the fridge to get rid of unpleasant odors.

The Kitchen Sink:
My main sink problem is food scraps that get stuck. Many of us don’t have garbage disposals, which may result in cloggage. Annoying, yes, but do not reach for that nasty commercial drain cleaner. Even if it works it will eventually eat away at your pipes. To clear a nasty clog mix 1/2 cup salt and 1/2 cup baking soda together, pour the mixture down the drain, follow with 1/2 cup of vinegar and let the mixture sit (for 15 or so minutes) while you boil water on the stove to flush it down with. Of course, the best way to prevent clogs is to make sure no solids go down there. Keep a small compost bucket next to the sink and scrape off plates before putting them in the sink or dishwasher. If you still get frequent clogs, try pouring 1/4 cup of baking soda and 1/2 cup of vinegar down the drain, let it sit for 15 minutes and then wash it down with boiling water. To scrub the sink shiny clean, pour some baking soda on a sponge and scrub, its abrasive qualities will get rid of grime and dirt without scratching the metal. For faucets and other shiny details, try using toothpaste to polish them to a shine. Just put some on a rag or and old toothbrush, polish, and wipe off with water.

The Oven:
This one can be quite unpleasant if you’ve let it get out of hand, and again, the key is maintenance (boring, I know), like scrubbing off spills before they dry to a crust. Besides being toxic and bad for the environment, conventional cleaning chemicals can also infuse your food with unpleasantness when the residue left is heated up. Not so tasty. So, instead, cover the bottom of your oven with a layer of baking soda and spray it with water until damp, not wet. Dampen the baking soda two times more after it dries and leave it sitting overnight. The next morning, you can scrape off the baking soda and it will take all the grime along with it. Clean off the white residue and finish by wiping the whole interior with your All-Purpose Cleaner, the vinegar will prevent future grease build-up.

Dirty Oven. Clean Oven.

Dirty Oven. Clean Oven. Photos by LuMag00, Creative Commons.

The Stove:
Your stovetop can also be cleaned using baking soda, you can either mix it into a solution by adding water or just sprinkle it right on the sponge. Use a toothbrush to get into crevices. Unless you have a ceramic top, spills can easily be cleaned if you sprinkle them with salt (if the spill has dried, moisten it a bit), which is absorbing and provides mild abrasiveness that won’t scratch the surface.

The Microwave:
If not properly maintained, microwaves can become little ecosystems, smelly and full of mystery stains. An easy trick to get rid of splatters and grease is to mix 1/4 cup of vinegar with 1 cup of water in microwave-safe container and cook it for three minutes. This also works with a bowl of lemon slices, heated for about a minute, which also neutralizes musty food odor. Leave it in there for about ten minutes so the fumes can work their magic, then open the door and wipe clean with a damp rag, starting at the top. Put those scraps in the compost and be done with it.

These are going in the microwave. I happened to have some grapefruit that had passed its use-by date, so I used that instead of lemons, works just as well.

These are going in the microwave. I happened to have some grapefruit that had passed its use-by date, so I used that instead of lemons, works just as well.

Cutting Boards :
This is probably the most bacteria-prone part of your kitchen. Keeping separate cutting boards for poultry, meat, seafood and veggies is one good way to prevent germs from socializing. Cleaning them thoroughly is very important, but don’t reach for that creepy anti-bacterial (unless you feel like it would be a good idea to put toxins in contact with your food and potentially breed super-resistant mutant bacteria). If you have small cutting boards, run them in the dishwasher, they may get a bit warped in the bottom rack, so try and put them on the top one. A simple trick is to put lemon juice on your cutting boards, let it sit overnight and rinse off in the morning, this anti-bacterializes the surface and gives it that oh-so-fresh lemony scent. One of the best bacteria killers out there is regular soap and water. Use a brush to scrub thoroughly and get into any nooks and crannies there may be. If you have a wooden cutting board, wipe it off with a bit of salt too, this will absorb odor and make the wood look nicer. Finish by wiping it with a bit of vinegar, this is good for any type of wood surface since it removes stains and grease and reduces odor. Some tea tree or lemon oil is also a good way to moisten the wood and keep it from cracking (and it smells good too).

Clean cutting boards thoroughly with soap and water, put some power and baking soda into it to get rid of grime.

Clean cutting boards thoroughly with soap and water, put some power and baking soda into it to get rid of grime.

This is the final stretch of your kitchen cleaning journey. Use a baking soda paste to scrub off any dirt or grimy buildup. You can also rub the surface with some lemon juice for added anti-bacterialization and odor control. Finish by spraying the countertops with the All-Purpose Cleaner (this is a good thing to do daily), which will further neutralize odor and help keep them clean, fresh and sparkly longer.

Having a clean kitchen is good for the soul. Open up a bottle of wine and take a moment to admire the work you’ve done, all without harming the health of the planet or yourself. Resist that urge to order take-out just because the kitchen is clean, cooking is what it’s for and if you can just learn to maintain it, it’s all good clean fun.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
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