14 July 2011

Non-chemical cleaning and brushes

I had an email from a reader the other day asking about non-chemical cleaning. She has severe allergies and breaks out in a rash and gets itchy skin when she touches any commercial cleaning product. She's at her wit's end trying to find something she can use to clean her kitchen. Luckily, she recently made some of my olive oil and coconut oil soap and she seems fine with that so she wrote asking if I had hints for cleaning with only this homemade soap.

I use my homemade soap, brushes and cotton dishcloths to clean my kitchen. I do use a small amount of bleach (50 mls/2 ozs) occasionally to clean my brushes, tea balls and sink and I use bicarb or salt to clean stained coffee and tea cups. Bicarb, wet on a dishcloth, will remove tea and coffee stains without using any harmful chemicals. Salt will also work for this - wet, on a cloth. To clean the tea balls, I pour 50 mls/2ozs liquid bleach into a small container and fill with water. I soak the tea balls in this for about an hour, then scrub them with a brush. Just before I tip out the bleach solution into the sink, I scrub the sink and around the taps with a soapy brush, or wet bicarb on a brush, then I rinse it off. When everything is clean and shiny, I put the plug in, cover the bottom of the sink with water, then pour in the bleach solution. It sits there for about 30 minutes, then I take the plug out and let the water run out. This cleans and disinfects the sink and pipes. I am very mindful of the amount of bleach I use and always keep it to a minimum.

The best tools I have for cleaning are my brushes. I have several. The one I love the most is a camel hair round brush which is pictured below on the right. It fits my hand perfectly and it cleans really well. The bristles a softish so it gets into all the nooks and crannies, but firm enough to be efficient. It's an Crabtree and Evelyn body brush that I bought for $16.95 about a year ago.

The brush above in the centre is a German stiff bristle brush. It's invaluable for doing those scrubbing jobs like the kitchen sink and around the sink hole. The camel brush is better around the taps. I bought that German brush in the Blue Mountains when I was staying with Tricia.

The great thing about cleaning brushes is that they will remove most stains and clean effectively without using too much besides water and sometimes homemade soap or bicarb. They will get into areas around taps and plug holes much better than a cloth will. 

You have to remember to clean your brushes properly when you've finished using them by cleaning with soap and water, or just rising off with water. Make sure they don't sit in water too long or the wood will split. To disinfect your brushes, just sit them in a weak bleach solution similar to the one above, for 15 minutes, then rinse and let dry. Don't waste this bleach solution. Even when you've used it to soak something in, it's still an effective cleaner. Pour it down a sink to keep the pipes clean or pour it into a half bucket of water and soak your mop in it.

So for my reader who can't use anything too harsh, and for all of you who are trying to cut down on the chemicals in your home, look out for good brushes, use a bit of elbow grease, pure soap or bicarb, and you and your brush will really clean up.



  1. another salt cleaner i can share with people via here rhonda....is...making a paste with salt, flour and vinegar to clean copper pots, brings them up shiney and new looking and isnt harsh on skin...i think, i dont have sensitive skin. of course wearing gloves can help too. love those brushes!!

  2. I am similarly allergy challenged, so I haven't used commercial cleaning products in years. I generally just use baking soda for the kitchen and bath, with a little bit of bleach and/or tea tree oil as a disinfectant for the toilet and other gross stuff.

    Recently someone (who shall not be named) put a cookie down on my stuffed ottoman and it left a horrible grease stain on the upholstery. I thought the thing was gonna be ruined, but I actually got the grease out with plain old soap and water. It also cleaned a bunch of other grime that had accumulated... I was amazed!

  3. Might I also suggest the disinfecting power of diluted eucylyptus oil. I am a huge fan. It makes your kitchen smell really clean. I just fill the sink with hot water, add a few drops of the oil and wipe down my benches.

  4. I save the used toothbrushes (which I replace every couple of months)and run them through the dishwasher and soak in a tablespoon of bleach (diluted) for all the little awkward cleaning jobs like the sliding door frames, around the taps and the gas jets on the cooker. It's amazing how much easier these are to clean with a small disposable brush. And I'm getting more use out of something I already own and that would otherwise be thrown away!

  5. Don't forget the vinegar.
    Vinegar and bi-carb are great for cleaning toilets and the bathroom.

  6. Those are great tips. My dad and I use homemade cleanin g products to keep our home clean. We haven't used bleach in awhile. One product we do buy in the store that is an absolutely divine scrub powder is Bon Ami. Yes, elbow grease is also important :) Love and hugs from Oregon, Heather :)

  7. You can also use salt sprinkled on a half cut lemon (skin on) - we saw this on one of those tv shows where they come into someone's horribly filthy home and show them how to clean it - we gave it a go here and it seemed to work well in the bath tub.

  8. Lemon juice is also a good natural cleaner. I often put half a lemon in the microwave and heat it for 30 seconds or so. The microwave is much easier to clean, and you can use the warm lemon (check it's cool enough to handle) to wipe down the bench, cooktop or sink before wiping clean.

  9. It's amazing what natural cleaners can do!
    Our bath was very overdue for a big scrub so yesterday I got on my hands and knees and with a scourer and bicarb all the grime came off effortlessly. Even my 2 year old was helping me dust while I scrubbed! (Start them early I say!) :)

  10. I love wooden brushes but they are so hard to find around these parts, though I do think they're becoming popular again. I do most of my cleaning in the kitchen with an eco dishwashing detergent squirted on a dishcloth. The simple metal scourers come in handy too.

  11. Tania, I like the metal scourers too. I use them on my stainless steel pots and pans.

  12. Bicarb, wet on a dishcloth, will remove tea and coffee stains? This is fantastic news! I don't have kitchen benchtops; rather, my kitchen is made up of flat-pack cupboards, all in white, which until I get a new kitchen I have to live with and made do. Well, *everything* leaves a stain, with tea slops being the WORST. I'm going to get out the bicard when I get home this evening, and I've my fingers crossed for success, because I've tried just about everything else... :/

  13. Rhonda,
    I'm a bit surprised at the soaking of your T-balls in bleach.
    I clean the inside of my kettle by occassionally soaking it overnight with 1/2 cup vinegar after emptying all the water out.
    Maybe this would be good for the T-balls?

  14. Tea Tree Oil 1tsp to 500-750g of water is a fabulous alternative to bleach, if you'd like to try it for your brushes and tea balls! I can't use Bleach even in that small amount as the fumes give me asthma.

  15. I'm a true believer in the tooth brush for cleaning when it comes to nooks and crannies. I also think in most cases that water and elbow grease does a great job. It's the regularity rather than chemicals that makes the old fashioned ways effective. Of course cleaning tools need to be kept clean themselves so I use the odd spot of bleach but not too much as I also have reactions to chemicals. Congratulations on the newest member of your family. Cherrie

  16. Being chemical sensitive I look for non-toxic cleaners. Borax and boiling water will clean your tea balls and inside a teapot if left to soak overnight.

  17. Rhonda, when cleaning tea stains from cups (coffee stains too) I first spray the cup with white vinegar, then use baking soda to rub gently. The stains come off with almost no effort.

    We have very hard water in our area so to clean the shower and bathtub I first spray them down with white vinegar and let it set a couple minutes. Then spray with a three to one mix of water and liquid dish washing soap. It takes just a gentle scrubbing and rinse to leave it sparkling clean.

    As for bleaching tea balls, I never use bleach on anything used for food or drinks. Even if it's diluted and rinsed well afterward. I just don't trust it. I will use a bit in cleaning the toilet if needed, but that's rare.

    I've been cleaning without chemicals for almost 20 years due to first my Dad's COPD, and now I have asthma. Can't breath around most chemicals so I know they are not good for anyone!!!
    Thanks for the all the cleaning tips. Marsha

  18. Thanks Rhonda.I love those natural bristle brushes. Must get some!

  19. I also find Eucalyptus oil and lavender oil invaluable as we all have asthma.

  20. A damp cloth dipped into wood ash will remove the tarnish from copper items - and the added bonus is that your fingers don't go black like they do with the chemical cleaner :)

  21. Hi Rhonda i love those brushes they are gorgeous. I have just started cleaning for an environmentally friendly cleaning business in Melbourne and we don't use any chemicals to clean. At home i use cloudy ammonia as a disinfectant, which is great, and white vinegar. BTW I do love your blog!

  22. My favourite magic cleaning trick is throwing half a lemon in the kettle, boiling it up and let it sit overnight...in the morning all the discouration/scale build-up is gone. Probably would work on the tea balls, too.
    Thanks Rhonda and all for your great tips. Jenni

  23. Hi Rhonda, Love your blog. I got this recipe from simplesavings.com.au (i am a member) and shared with so many people. It was originally contributed by someone with lupus. It performs better than chemicals. I found hat just vinegar and bicarb wasn't doing the trick. I highly recommend trying it. So many other simple savers love it too.

    Household Cleaner

    1 litre water
    200ml vinegar
    40ml detergent
    40ml eucalyptus oil
    2 dessertspoons of washing soda

    Mix all ingredients together, and it's ready to use. It makes approximately two litres. Use 60ml of solution in warm water to wash your floors. Fill a spray bottle and use it to clean your table, benches and bathroom.

  24. A really good way to clean jewellery is with a bit of toothpaste and toothbrush. Just scrub for a minute in palm of hand.
    Works very well:)


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