Topic of the Month: Archive

Topic of the Month: Cleaning your home with minimal impact on the environment.


Everyone contributed an enormous amount of information on this topic and, indeed there is a lot of information on the Internet- a quick search will bring up all sorts of interesting suggestions. Therefore I have limited this topic report to solutions for common problems and to those which I have tried and seem to work.

 Lime scale

 I have tried all sorts of commercial products to try and solve the problem of lime scale accumulations in the kettle, down the toilet, around sinks and in shower heads. However, in my tests, plain old cheap-as-chips (cheaper, actually!) brown vinegar works better than any of them. Once you begin to associate the smell of vinegar with cleanliness rather than chips- and, let’s face it, the smell of vinegar is no worse than some of the particularly noxious descaling potions- you will find that vinegar is an essential part of any green cleaning routine.

Toilets- most of the staining on toilets is actually stained lime scale. To remove it pour a cup of vinegar down the toilet and leave overnight, scrub and flush. Repeat if necessary. Vinegar also kills bacteria (hence its ability to preserve pickled onions) so your toilet is hygienically cleaner too.

Shower heads- plunge into a hot solution of equal parts water and vinegar and leave overnight.

Sinks- use vinegar and eco washing up liquid on a sponge. The washing up liquid works on greasy deposits and makes a foam to keep the vinegar in contact with vertical surfaces for longer. Leave for 5 minutes then wipe off. If the scum and lime scale are particularly bad, then sprinkle a little salt on the sponge to give it some abrasion.

Other lime scale problems- the stains in your tea pot are also a hard water deposit and can be removed by filling the teapot with half and half vinegar and water and leaving it to soak overnight. Obviously rinse thoroughly, but I found there was no problem with lingering vinegars smell or taste.

Lemon juice probably works well too, but it costs a lot more.

Polished surfaces

Purpose made micro fibre cloths tackle these surfaces very well with only water. Even so, I have found that vinegar gives particularly good results. Vinegar, eco-washing up liquid and water on a cloth leave the shiny black paint, smoky glass hood and stainless steel of my cooker shining and grease and smear free. The combination also works well on tiles- I use a bit more washing up liquid to deal with grease on kitchen tiles and a bit more vinegar to deal with lime scale on bath room tiles.

Sheila’s recipe for Surface Cleaner  is rather more complicated but might be even more effective (I’ve not tried it): 1 litre hot water + 2 tsps Borax + 1 tsp washing soda +1/2 tsp vegetable based soap + 4 tablespoons vinegar: all into a large spray bottle.

She says for shower spray use the same but add 8 tablespoons vinegar

Check the size of your table spoon using a 5ml medicine spoon. A table spoon should be 15ml.


Yet again, vinegar comes up trumps. Use 1 part vinegar to 9 parts water and rub off with news paper to avoid smearing. I have found that a micro fibre window cloth also does the job extremely well- so well that I use it on my spectacles where the results are truly eye-opening!

Oven Cleaning

Leaving burnt on roasting tins soaking in a solution of biological washing powder overnight works well.

Air freshening

Sheila suggests about 500 cm3 water, essential oil 5cm3 and veg based liquid soap (Ecover) 2 cm3 in an empty spray bottle. I find striking a match in a smelly toilet very effective. Also, bicarbonate of soda worked well in my experiments. A couple of teaspoons in an egg cup just sat in the drum of my washing machine got rid of its stagnant smell.

Brass and Silver

I managed to clean silver using lemon juice and salt on a soft cloth. Apparently it works on brass too.


I haven’t actually counted the bacteria and viruses that are killed, but tea tree oil smells like it’s disinfecting things and its reputation in this area is excellent. A few drops in a spray bottle can be used to wipe down surfaces etc.

Things that I found didn’t work:

Mildew: I couldn’t find anything that worked on mildew stains- no combination of vinegar, lemon juice, bicarb or salt made any difference to it at all.

Shoe cleaner: using the inside of a banana skin to polish my shoes did not work for me.

Bicarb in general cleaners: I found that it had to be rinsed off very thoroughly or it left a white residue. Vinegar does not have this problem so I found it more effective.

Lemon juice to remove stains: I didn’t find that lemon juice bleached my white dish cloth, nor did it remove the rust stains from it.

Oven cleaning: I found that a paste made of bicarb did not work very well. Eco washing up liquid on a wire pan scrub seemed to work OK but only conventional oven cleaners actually dissolve all that burnt on gunge.

If you would  still like to have someone demonstrate how to clean their shoes with a banana skin, or indeed see someone explain how to load a washing machine, then see