If you ask me what led me to all my green pursuits, I can put my finger on this one colourless liquid without thinking twice: white vinegar (food grade).
Back in 2003 when we were living in the US, I first started using white vinegar as a rinsing agent in the dishwasher to remove those ugly white spots from the dishes. I didn’t know much about it then or else, I would have spent a lot less on those hazardous chemicals to clean glass and toilets and sent a lot less destructive agents down the drain to pollute the soil and water bodies eventually.
In 2004, I read about vinegar’s effectiveness on glass and mirror. When tested, it lived up to its reputation and that’s when liquid cleaning agents like Colin slid off my list without much ado. What struck me was how easy, simple and cost-effective home cleaning can get if we opt for environmentally safe choices. Vinegar only reaffirmed my faith in this philosophy. If we truly take care of these small things, we take care of our surroundings too, including domestic helps, children and innocent pets who suffer silently otherwise. These days, supermarkets are stuffed with as many cleaning agents as food items, if not less. The entire load of chemicals we bring home fill our lungs with toxic substances and store it in fat tissues which find their way out during health crises.
I always buy food grade white vinegar for household cleaning. Years down the line, I started added baking soda and washing soda to it only to see its effectiveness soar to higher level. Interestingly, I had all these items in my shelf sitting pretty but it took years to figure out their combined magical effect. However, I will stick to only vinegar and soda here and write about the rest of the ingredients/recipes in the following posts.
But firstly, let’s discuss where to buy it from. The edible vinegar available in store/supermarkets is usually a 7-8% solution. That’s what several wholesale dealers/storekeepers have told me. I am not sure if they are right but what I know is this vinegar works well only for cleaning glass and mirror even if you dilute it further: 1 part vinegar: 1 part water. I mean, it’s not meant for tough stains. That’s when my exploration to get concentrated vinegar began because I found all the highly advertised Ciff, Mr Muscle, etc., utterly useless even when used in full strength. The kind of chemicals used in making them and the smell they left behind always had me on the edge.
After several calls through Just Dial, I came to know that concentrated vinegar is sold in chemicals shops, mainly in Chikpet. I zeroed in on one store. Of all the awfully smelling chemicals meant for countless purposes in that store, vinegar is one of the few sanest ones. You can find many such stores. Just make an effort to find one on your own. The journey can be interesting.
The concentrated vinegar is 99% strong. So you will need not more than 5 ml added to one litre of water for regular cleaning. For tougher stains, you can increase it to 10-15%. Once the first-time cleaning is done, you will need a much milder concentration for regular cleaning. Please note that at 99%, it’s a strong acetic acid and caution should be exercised while handling it. I have not used straight vinegar for anything. Some websites advise using straight vinegar for toilet cleaning. I have not tried that.
The following are the few hacks I can’t do without. Most of these tricks and a lot more can be found on the internet but I am listing the ones that have worked well for me. If this interests you, please read on.
- As said already, nothing cleans glass like vinegar and a pinch of washing soda. If you are up to it, put a few drops of any essential oil of your choice (tea tree is a known safe disinfectant) if you don’t like the vinegar smell. Currently, I am using lemon grass and simply loving the aroma. Put all these ingredients together in a spraying can. It remains effective for a long time.
- All the glass articles, crockery items can be wiped clean with only diluted vinegar just before using. You may avoid essential oils for this purpose if you so prefer.
- Mirrors shine so beautifully when you spray this solution and wipe it with a clean cloth (thick quality cotton ones which don’t leave behind lint when wiped).
- We will discuss the first-time tough saltwater stains removal techniques in the upcoming post. But for regular maintenance, sprinkle the same solution on a daily basis on all steel taps, sinks and bathroom fittings to keep them sparkling clean.
- Use this solution to wipe kitchen countertops for regular maintenance. You will see that ants disappear with consistent use.
- Fridge exterior can be wiped clean using this solution. For the interiors, heat this solution and wipe the surfaces using a clean cloth. If you prefer, use edible baking soda instead and you will have a solution made out of all the edible items. Cleaning the fridge using these instead of soaps or detergents is a great feel-good experience. And, keeping this solution in the fridge in a bottle with a hole in its lid can keep the odours away.
- So taken to these hacks, a friend of mine recently started keeping one such bottle with a few extra drops of essential oils in her wardrobes, too. I am yet to try this trick. As we all know, all the commercial air fresheners merely mask the odour while filling the indoor air with toxic chemicals.
- All the kitchen containers which get sticky on the exterior can be cleaned without much effort using this solution. Just heat it to remove the grease easily.
- My favourite: Avoid baking soda and oils, use only vinegar for cleaning water bottles (steel or plastic). Just put some diluted vinegar and close the lid for 10-15 minutes. Then wash it with a bottle brush. Just smell to feel the difference! This trick works for all types of lunch boxes, especially plastic.
- Put a few spoons of vinegar into a bucket filled with sufficient water and soak the veggies and fruits for a few minutes before washing. It will remove most of the visible dirt quickly. I am not sure how effectively it can take out pesticide residue from the surface, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone does prove it scientifically.
- Vinegar works well on ceramic surfaces as well. Use it for cleaning tea/coffee-stained ceramic mugs. It does an equally great job on aluminum too, but this metal doesn’t look all that happy, unlike steel and glass. I use it anyway.
- Use a cup of vinegar for floor cleaning. Add essential oils if you so prefer. Avoid using it on marble and wooden flooring.
- Rinse the smelly dustbins, lunch boxes using this solution. Just sprinkle a stronger solution with washing soda and leave it for sometime before washing it the usual way.
- Vinegar is an effective fabric softener and helps take out dirt quite easily when used with baking/washing soda. It works particularly well on synthetic shower curtains. Takes out the soap scum easily.
- Once you wash the lining plastic mats placed inside the kitchen cabinets, sprinkle vinegar and let it dry before placing all the items back into the shelves and cabinets. Keeps it clean and odour-free.
- Occasionally, when I run out of high-quality oil-based natural cabinet surface cleaners, I use this mild solution to clean the exteriors. Takes out even tough stains quite easily. Just heat it a bit if the surface is too greasy and immediately wipe it with a clean wet cloth. Please exercise caution. It may work differently on different laminated surfaces. But avoid it completely if the cabinets are made out of solid wood.
- Mixer grinder jars, juicer, exterior surface of water purifiers, etc., can all be safely cleaned with this solution. Leaving the jars/juicer parts in a bucket filled with hot water, vinegar and washing soda can help clean the areas, nooks and corners that can’t be reached using a brush. Trust me, they come out shining. You just need to rinse them in plain water. No need to use dishwasher soap again. Makes the job easy, isn’t it?
- Any pickle bottle/jar which is not smelling fresh after washing can be dealt with using hot water, vinegar and washing soda.
- Vinegar and soda combination works like magic on all rusty surfaces. More on that later.
- All the kitchen napkins, bath rugs, mats can be cleaned using the same combination, plus borax. More on that later.
- Put simply, all plastic, steel, glass and ceramic items can be disinfected to a great extent using this solution. We don’t have to go 99% germ-free as they show in the ads. This much of cleaning is good for our immunity as well.
- If the steel utensils aren’t shining enough, see how they transform themselves if you wipe the surface using vinegar!
- Bathroom buckets, mugs and stools can be cleaned with a stronger solution. Using a steel scrub helps.
- If the kitchen countertop is oily, take out the oil using a spoonful of gram flour first. Then follow the same trick.
- My most favourite hack: To remove burnt leftovers from utensils, fill the charred container with boiling hot water, add 10-15% strong vinegar and washing soda. Leave for some hours and then wipe it clean. Most often, it doesn’t even need scrubbing.
I don’t know if it’s because of all these measures, ours is a completely cockroach and rodent-free home. I hardly see any ants or termites. In fact, only recently did I see some fruit flies hovering over the fruits baskets when Bangalore received unprecedented rains. Once the sunny days were back, they disappeared.
I may have missed out on some hacks as the list is long. I will update this post as and when needed. If you have any queries, I would be grateful if you enter your comments in the blog itself. Thank you.
Many readers asked for the contact details of the shop from where I source the stuff, so here it goes: Ramdev Chemicals, Chikpet, Bangalore. Ph: 080-2238 1580. Please note that almost all chemical stores also have these items in stock.