The Calm, Clean Kitchen - Part 2
Updated: Aug 31, 2019
This week in my Slow and Simple Living Series I share useful cleaning tips. I have read whole books on cleaning like some people read a good novel. And enjoyed them! But unfortunately I forget a lot of what I read. There’s some great reading on this topic to be found in your local library if this subject floats your boat. A lot of people blog or YouTube their solutions as well. I cannot cover the whole topic of cleaning in one short blog so I will just give an overview of what I do in the kitchen.
Before I launch into my kitchen cleaning routine, I want to say something a little left field. When people start to embrace the slow and simple lifestyle, they soon find that it frees up both time and money. "Slow and simple" is not about living a poorer, more boring life. It is about freeing up time and money for things we consider really important - like relationships, the elusive "free time" and getting to those things we wanted to do but kept putting off. This is sometimes referred to as "Intentional Living". In my family now, instead of giving physical gifts, we are moving towards giving "experiences".
I remember how as a gift, my husband had the house cleaned professionally while we had been away on holidays - a zero waste gift that I loved! Such a boost to come home and find everything neat and tidy. An exhausted new mum could suggest to family and friends they could contribute towards a house cleaner rather than showering the kid with plastic toys...helping her to stay sane through this often tiring period of family life. Slow and simple is about building some reserve into our lives. None of us knows when life is going throw us a curve ball.
I have found it most helpful to store cleaning equipment in the kitchen because this is the place that creates the most mess in my home and we spend a lot of time in it. I have a funky red broom that hangs on the side of my pantry to entice us to give the kitchen floor a quick sweep. But I also have a cordless Dyson vacuum cleaner which I love. It can be converted into a handheld upholstery cleaner. And I have found I can squeeze an old cardboard toilet roll holder into the nozzle and clean the tracks of my sliding windows and doors quickly. I have 2 dustpans and brushes. Yep 2! A large and a small dustpan and brush. The large one for the floor and the mini one is for sweeping out kitchen drawers and food prep surfaces.
I mix up doughs straight onto my kitchen bench which is covered with stone floor tiles and sweep up leftover flour easily with this small gadget. It makes short work of a potentially messy business. Sticky flour that stubbornly remains, is sprayed with water rendering it pasty and easy to wipe off with a cleaning cloth. Old tooth brushes are great for cleaning grout, the silicone seal around the sink and around taps.
I have a hardwood floor. For this, at the moment, I do use a store bought Earth Choice Floor and Surface Cleaner https://naturesorganics.com.au/product/earth-choice-natural-floor-surface-cleaner/ because there are so many online controversies about how to naturally clean hardwood floors I have thrown my hands up in despair and just bought it. If any professional, eco cleaner happens to be reading this and can enlighten me I would be most grateful. Sometimes I just use water and a little eucalyptus or orange essential oil because they smell good. I used a company called “Envirofloors” http://envirofloors.com.au/ to seal my hard wood floors. Their floor sealants are Australian made and environmentally friendly, solvent-free coatings. They are water-borne products that contain lower quantities of toxic, organic volatile compounds. I am supposed to use the company’s dedicated cleaner but ran out of it years ago. The Earth Choice one seems to work ok. I only use a capful in half a bucket of water to clean the whole top floor of our house. So I sweep the floor first and then use a moistened mop. When the kids were young I would sit them one at a time on the end of an old beach towel and drag them sliding through the house to polish the floor. They had a ball, I got a workout, and the floor shone! As they grew older they were able to take it in turns doing this themselves. At 22 and 19 they are getting a bit old for it now.
I haven’t always enjoyed cleaning. I think though that being more mindful not only about what we do but how we do it can transform what we would normally consider an unpleasant task into a pleasant one. I find a good playlist to listen to. A soundtrack that is uplifting and energizing or nostalgic. I love Putamayo World Music.
Or I listen to a fascinating podcast. If I could drink alcohol I would have a glass of wine as I clean. I found the Pavlovian linking of something enjoyable with something like ironing that I used to find a tedious chore transforms the experience. Being mindful does help too. Enjoying the rhythm, the smell and the result of cleaning. Even the feeling of warm water as you rinse out a cleaning cloth. Visualizing happy times with the family and friends enjoying company in a clean space. Even choosing attractive cleaning tools. It all helps. Enlist the kids help so they learn early the feeling of satisfaction that comes from tidying their own home. And find some natural products that get the job done but smell good and are safe for you and your kids to use. A frilly apron for you. Good quality, long lasting cleaning tools like these. Make it a little event.
I make my own cleaning fluid that I use throughout the house by tossing the skins from oranges and lemons into cheap cleaning white vinegar. This is worth giving a go if you suffer from asthma, allergies or skin reactions. It is a safer option for many people rather than use a concoction of commercial products that are hazardous to the environment, use a lot of plastic packaging, have a lot of potentially toxic chemicals, cost a lot more and have to be continually replaced.
This homemade brew can be diluted half/half with water or used full strength but I spot test it first some inconspicuous paint if I want to use it full strength. I sometimes fill a large container up 2/3 with vinegar and then the rest of the way with water and let it sit for a week or so. It will ferment and become 100% vinegar. I pour it into a squirt bottle (like an old dish-washing liquid bottle). I’ve not had much success with spray bottles. They always eventually get blocked even when they have a filter and I strain the cleaning fluid before pouring it in and take the whole mechanism apart and clean it. So I use a squirt bottle instead. This simple cleaning fluid is quick, cheap and shaves another item off the seemingly endless shopping list.
My ceramic cook-top is easy to clean by sprinkling liberally with sodium bicarbonate and covering with a tea towel soaked in hot dish-washing liquid. I leave it for 20 mins and wipe clean. Any remaining bits can scraped off with a metal scraper. The grill is lined under the rack with eco baking paper rather than the less environmental alfoil although I notice recycled aluminium foil is now available. It saves the bigger cleaning job of scraping off caked oily grime each week. I also line the bottom of the oven with it but to be honest nothing works better in the bottom of the oven than a large aluminium baking tray that catches all the drips and spills. I am now trialing a large roasting tray but will have to clean it every week to avoid caked on dramas.
Sodium Bicarbonate and vinegar does a good job of the oven too, but there is a knack. I mix a cup of bicarb in 1/3 cup hot water. I smear this on using my hands because I am a grub but you could use a sponge. Obviously the oven needs to be cool to do this! Then I let it sit all day, all night. Or I do it in the evening and wipe it clean the next day. Good idea to wait till available sunlight is strongest shining at it so you can see well. I sit on a bamboo stool. Each side of me I have a big bowl. In one I have my homemade cleaner hot water mix. In the other I have rinsing water. I wet the surface with the cloth moistened from the cleaning liquid moving from top to bottom. This is important because if you go for the base first you just have to start again after the sides because big globs of goo will plop down and defile all the hard work you’ve just done. After wiping out the whole oven I dry it with a tea towel because it does the job well. Then I screw off the glass window in the door of the oven with a dinner knife and wash it the sink in warm, sudsy dish-washing water. I use the same tea towel to wipe this clean and then screw the glass back in place. I place eco baking paper in the base and unhook the guard at the base of the oven. It may be just my weird household but there is somehow always a veritable forest of decaying old food that has managed to escape through the base of the oven door to nest like some brooding beast in this crevice.
The best way I’ve found to clean racks is to soak them in hot water, bicarb and a strong brew of dishwasher powder in a bathtub overnight. A wire brush or copper dishcloth helps get the stubborn baked on grunge off. I have also used the ceramic stove top metal scraper. I don’t have a bathtub so I use the sink or laundry tub. The soaking time is important if you want to make the job easy.
A simple, fun way to clean your sink if you have been using lemons is to slice the skins into quarters and sprinkle their moist interior with salt. Apply this straight to the sink surface and watch the result - very satisfying. Make sure you wipe off the residue with a cloth or tea towel. Our kitchen has no space for a dishwasher which sanitizes dirty dishes much more effectively than hand washing so when it is sunny I place the loaded dish rack in the sun on my verandah to sterilize items. But homes don’t need to be sterile. In fact research shows that taking in a certain amount of microbes is good for our health and can decrease the prevalence of asthma. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4710578/ Usually I air our towels too so I only wash them 1/fortnight. I figure we are toweling dry clean bodies so this is sufficient. Toothbrushes can carry e-coli (a bug that lives happily in our gut but is not so friendly if we ingest a lot of it). Intermittently, when the mood takes me, I wash them in eco-dishwashing liquid, rinse and prop them up in the cutlery basket on my dish rack in the sun along along with cleaned, washed hairbrushes.
I use the all purpose diluted citrus/vinegar cleaner for my windows and glass doors too. Wiping on with a soft cloth and wiping off with water-moistened, crumpled old newspaper. Ammonia is more effective but requires me to buy another product and I don’t think its good for the environment.
Lining drawers and shelves makes them easier to clean because you can just pull out the lining and empty dirt and crumbs straight into the bin and then wipe it down rather than pull out the whole drawer which I used to do in order to access tricky awkward back corners. They also protect surfaces from stains, dints and scrapes. There is an art to the liner though. I have tried many different materials. The best solution I have found is free - Lino offcuts from my local flooring store. They are thick, light, and provide cushioning. They don’t slide or crumple, are easy to remove, wipe down and dry. Seriously, liners make cleaning drawers fun.
My covered frying pan and saucepan are a worthwhile investment because they are each oven and stove top compatible. This cuts down on the number of pans I need to cook a dish (include photo: orange Dutch oven and frying pan) which also means less to wash up.
These days I use washable, long lasting eco dishcloths that are now readily available online or in my local health food store but I opt for dark colours because the light colours stain quickly and I try to avoid bleach for environmental reasons. These cloths are made from cotton with a non-toxic covering that renders them hard and spiky making them great as a gentle scourer even for Teflon coated pots and pans. Homemade cleaning cloths like these are incredibly hardy, get the job done and are so cute looking you want to use them. They look good on display because I keep the business side out of sight when I hang them and choose dark shades. These are made from recycled second hand shop towels and clothing. I picked them up at an eco fair years ago and they are still going strong. I steer away from microfibre cleaning cloths now as I have learned that they shed particles into our waterways when we wash them and this is becoming an unseen but serious pollutant. Of course recycled, reusable material washcloths and cleaning cloths are a lot kinder on the environment than disposable options and cut yet another regular item off my shopping list. I find it helpful to have at least 3 to get me through a week to maintain the hygiene of the kitchen sink.
Storing like items in open containers in the fridge or pantry makes cleaning a breeze. Instead of removing ingredients one by one, cleaning and then laboriously replacing I just remove the whole basket of ingredients and clean the much larger area it uncovers. They also help prolong the life of kitchen surfaces. I have found that now I know the pantry clean is going to be a fast, simple task I do it more often.
I paint my lemon cleaning mixture on to kitchen and shower grout tiles. I let it sit then give it a scrub with a toothbrush and wipe clean with a cloth. It’s not the best result but I’ve not found a better natural solution although I have experimented a lot with various essential oils that are meant to kill mould like tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, orange oil, and oil of cloves. Some discolour the grout. Does anybody out there in great cyber ether know a good natural solution for mouldy grout?
I have a fetish for cleaning tips so if you know some cheap, simple eco way of getting something, anything in the house clean I would really love to hear. Please share in the comments below. Next week I talk about minimizing waste and disposing of waste generated in the kitchen.