A natural Spring clean

I wrote this article for the April issue of the West Cork People newspaper. Find it here.

Spring has finally sprung, and with it comes the urge to get the house in order. Starting a big Spring clean can feel like a big task, so I tend to focus on doing only one room, or one shelving unit at a time. ‘Slow and steady wins the race’ as they say!

You really don’t need that many tools and products to give your home a sparkle. A dustpan and brush, a mop and a bucket, a rag, and an old toothbrush are all you’ll ever need. When it comes to cleaning products, those readily available in supermarkets are loaded with hazardous chemicals and indoor pollutants that can cause all sorts of irritations as well as headaches and nausea. I steer well clear of those because not only do they come in plastic bottles, but they are bad for the environment. Instead, I get refills of eco-friendly products in the local health food shop – things like washing-up liquid and laundry detergent, and I make the cleaning products myself using natural, food-grade ingredients. White vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, unflavoured vodka, the rind of a few lemons, and some drops of essential oil for fragrance, it’s easy to make homemade products that contain the same active ingredients than in commercial cleaners, but without the dangerous additives.

Take white vinegar, for example. It has been proven to be just as effective as commercial cleaning products, and because it has strong antibacterial properties it’s a great base for non-toxic cleaning. It removes odours and can cut through grease, grime, and stains - just fill a spray bottle with one part vinegar, one part washing-up liquid, and two parts water, and spray onto dirty surfaces, allowing the mixture to sit for 5 minutes. Then you can scrub the surface with a scourer or wipe it clean with a cloth.

Vinegar is highly effective at unclogging sink drains too. In a bowl, combine one part vinegar with one part baking soda and one part hot water, and pour the fizzy mixture down the drain, letting it work its magic for at least 5 minutes. Then just flush the drain with boiling water.

Since vinegar can damage electronic screens and natural surfaces like granite, marble, and limestone, you can instead head over to your nearby off-licence and pick a bottle of unflavoured vodka with the highest possible alcohol concentration. Together with unwaxed lemons (pick organic lemons to be sure), this homemade spray can help protect your household from germs. What you do is: wash and peel 4-6 lemons, place the rinds in a jar and fill it to the top with vodka. Let the mixture infuse in a dark place for 1-6 weeks (the longer the better), and then remove the rinds and filter the liquid though a muslin cloth. Pour into a spray bottle and use the lemon cleaner undiluted to clean cutting boards, countertops, toilet seats, and floors, making sure to leave it on the surfaces for at least 10 seconds and allow it to kill all the germs. Then just wipe the surface dry with a clean cloth.

For the bath, toilet bowl, and the walls in the shower, I like to use a coconut fibre scourer because I can throw it on the compost pile when I’m done using it. You can use dry bicarbonate of soda as an abrasive, or mix it with water into a paste, and then rinse clean. To clean the windows and mirrors, I scrub the dirt with washing-up liquid, rinse, and then dry vigorously with scrunched up newspaper. It works a treat!

Hydrogen peroxide is a great alternative for bleach, which you shouldn’t use anyway if you have a septic tank as it kills the bacteria that’s needed to break down and treat waste. Mixed with a few drops of lemon essential oil, hydrogen peroxide diluted in water will remove stains as it has mild bleaching properties.


But what about outside?

I never advise the use of weedkiller to get rid of mosses and weeds growing between paving slabs. Not only is that stuff toxic for all living creatures including humans and pets, but the burned remnants leach into the soil as they break down. The best way to remove them is by hand, or you can burn them with a torch, or as a last resort borrow a power washer from a neighbour, starting at low setting to reduce the risk of damaging the paving.


Vinegar can break down the mould and mildew that grows on outdoor furniture. To clean the floor, mix vinegar with water in equal parts and spread the solution on the patio, allowing it to soak the surface for 20-25 minutes, and then scrub with a brush. Once rinsed, you can put all your garden furniture back where it belongs and start enjoying a well-deserved Spring!

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