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Posts by Belle

A Clean(ish) House II: Homemade Cleaners



My "Lunatic Balls."

My “Lunatic Balls.”

Making my own cleaners has to be the biggest cost saving change I’ve made. Cleaners are expensive and the bulk of them don’t do a much better job than their simple home made counterparts. So what is under my sink? I’ll start with the things I make and then talk about the items I purchase and why.

Belle’s Lemon Rosemary All-Purpose Cleanser

I make this a gallon at a time. It smells so good and works so well. It leaves our granite countertops shiny and fresh. I clean our furniture with it (We have cheap Ikea. I don’t think I’d use this on your beautiful wood!) Pretty much any hard, durable surface gets cleaned with this. I save time and energy by mixing up a gallon at a time and refilling my little spray bottle as needed. I store the gallon in an old water jug.

1/2 cup basic distilled vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp “Dawn” dish soap (I prefer Dawn for this because of it’s grease cutting properties)
20 drops of lemon essential oil
15 drops of rosemary essential oil

Mix it up and pour it into your jug. Repeat until your jug is full, then store under your sink and refill your spray bottle as needed.

Belle’s Hardwood and Tile Cleaner

I clean the hardwoods and tile with the most complex homemade cleanser: water, vinegar and essential oil. That’s it! And I don’t even measure! I did GOBS of research into how to care for our wood floors in the new apartment. They are in good condition and I would like to keep them that way. All the fancy wood cleaners you buy seem to leave residue behind that will attract more dirt. They are also chemical-based and my child and cat lick everything. That just can’t be good for them. Eventually I tried just hot water, vinegar and orange essential oil in my mop bottle and it did a LOVELY job! Floors are clean, safe to lick and it cost me pennies! I use the same mop and solution on the tile floor as well. When I do a serious floor scrub (which is not nearly as often as it should be) I mix a bucket of vinegar and hot water and just scrub away with a sponge.

Belle’s Toilet & Drain Cleaner

Toilet bowl cleaner is FULL of toxic crap. Seriously, have you ever read those bottles? And all those warnings? I have not bought it since college and instead just dump a quarter cup of baking soda in the toilet and then slowly pour vinegar into the bowl, letting it foam away. Once the foaming subsides I scrub with the toilet brush, give it a good flush and I’m done.

I use the same vinegar and baking soda routine in the sinks to keep drain clogs to a minimum. Again, have you ever read the labels on drain-o? Holy hell! When the drains get too clogged for baking soda and vinegar we use one of these little sticks to clear it out. The Professor is pretty diligent with pulling out clogs before they get so bad that we would need heavy chemicals.

Belle’s Air Freshener

For everything except the bathroom I freshen rooms with a drop or two of essential oil on lightbulbs. Random, right? Same concept as those expensive defusers, though. The lightbulb warms the oil and releases the scent. It’s fast, it does not fill up my outlets and it costs basically nothing. I also pour baking soda into decorative bowls and place them around stinky things, like litter boxes.

Belle’s Simmering Air Freshener

Sometimes all three stinky cats take huge stinky shits within 10 minutes of one another. And sometimes I feed the Professor, Sabine and myself vegan chili for too many days in a row… and you know, the house stinks more than usual. For big stinks, I take an old lemon or orange or grapefruit (I save the ones that are past their prime for just this reason) and either some fresh rosemary if I have it or a cinnamon stick and a tablespoon of whole cloves and simmer it in water. I add more water as the level lowers and keep it going for as long as I want. The house smells amazing after this.

Belle’s “I look like a lunatic” Dryer Sheet Alternative

I recently read about how bad dryer sheets are for cats. And then started thinking about how bad they must be for humans. There are lots of dryer sheet alternatives for sale – balls of wool for example. They are lovely and not terribly expensive if you have a dryer in your house and only need one set, but we use a communal laundry room and I dry four loads at once in four commercial dryers. That means I need four sets of wool balls at once. Too expensive! Instead I use balls of aluminum foil and old washcloths that I scent with lavender essential oil. Yes, I look like a lunatic tossing foil balls into the dryer. No, I don’t care. The Professor explained scientifically why the foil balls work to remove static but I did not pay attention and can’t remember now. All that matters is that my towels don’t come out as one huge, shocking towel monster. The washcloths and essential oil make everything smell delightful. The balls get nice and smooth after their first spin around the dryer and won’t damage your clothing.

Belle’s Microwave Cleaner

This came from Pinterest and it is FABULOUS! When the microwave is gross I take a large Pyrex bowl, fill it about a 1/4 of the way with vinegar and the rest with water, and then microwave it for 7 minutes. The vinegar steam loosens everything up and the grime wipes right off! It is amazing and hands down my favorite way to clean a gross microwave.

Products I Purchase

Obviously I use a lot of baking soda and vinegar. I buy it in bulk from Costco to save money and make sure I always have enough. Other things I purchase are:

  • Bon Ami – when just a baking soda scrub won’t cut it I use Bon Ami. I scrub our tub with this stuff, I scrub my Le Crueset with it, I scrub the stick shit that collects in the fridge doors with it, etc. It’s great, non toxic and very cheap.
  • Cascade Dishwasher Detergent – I pick and choose my chemical battles. I can buy this in bulk at Costco for a good price and it does a good job.
  • “Kirkland” Environmentally Sensitive dish soap: Also from Costco, this is cheap and effective.
  • Dawn dish soap: I keep a tiny bottle of this for making my all-purpose cleaner and for scrubbing cat vomit out of the carpet squares because it will not leave a residue. I do not use it for my dishes because I really don’t like the smell.
  • Murphy’s Oil Soap: I use this to clean our kitchen cabinets regularly.
  • Mineral Oil: After cleaning the cabinets I apply a thin layer of this to the four that have water damage. I also use mineral oil to keep my cutting boards and bamboo kitchen utensils in tip-top shape.
  • Lysol: I used to be VERY against disinfectants, but then my entire family shat and puked their brains out and my tune changed. I now lysol Sabine’s changing table and diaper pail regularly. Anytime a bout of Norovirus hits my Mommy and Baby friends I run through my house like a crazy person Lysoling everything in my path.
  • Aura Cacia Electric Air Freshener: I use one of these in the bathroom. The refills are expensive but they smell so good. We only have one bathroom so… you know, things can get pretty funky. This helps tremendously.

I think that is about it! Laundry detergent I just use what ever free & clear brand is on sale. I don’t use fabric softener. For glass cleaning I use my all-purpose cleaner. Really, though, baking soda and vinegar do the bulk of the cleaning in our home.

I have to stress that having the right cleaner and the right cleaning tool has made a huge difference in my housekeeping abilities. For me, the right tool makes the chore easy, fast and fun. Having it stored in an easily accessible place also helps. I timed my and Sabine’s cleaning time yesterday and it comes in at about 90 minutes total – an hour in the morning and 30 minutes of fast pick-up in the late afternoon. Once Sabine has recovered from her nap strike I will do more when she is sleeping, but right now, we do it together. We talk about what we are doing, I sing little songs about cleaning away the stinky stinky stinky and let her participate when possible (for example, she gets to play with a clean dust rag while I run my flower duster).

What are your favorite cleaners? Do you make any of your own? Have you found a good, non toxic option for laundry detergent that does not cost a mint? No, I am not spending 15 dollars on detergent, thankyouverymuch. What about cleaning tools. Is there one that makes your chores easier or more fun?



A Clean(ish) House



The Expedit from Ikea houses Sabine's toys. One bin also houses cat supplies. Another bin holds Sabine's blankets. Another houses random stuff that we have not put away (everyone has one of those drawers!)

The Expedit from Ikea houses Sabine’s toys. One bin also houses the “cat station.” Another bin holds Sabine’s blankets. Another houses random stuff that we have not put away (everyone has one of those drawers!)

A reader asked me to share some of my cleaning techniques. I am no Martha Stewart, by any means, but am working on maintaining a cleaner, more clutter-free home especially now that Sabine is becoming mobile and into everything! Before I get started, I need to be clear that I stay at home with Sabine right now. I’m in school part-time, but for the most part am home daily with her. This makes a HUGE difference. We also live in a 900 square foot apartment and work hard to embrace what I call “livable minimalism.” There is very little clutter in our home and much of what we do have has a very well thought out place to live. Our furnishings are simple, inexpensive and functional. One day I’ll have beautiful things, but right now, Ikea suits us just fine! I’ll write more later on our form of “livable minimalism” if anyone is interested.

The average day in my house runs sort of like so: 

Crack of dawn (5-6 a.m.) Sabine wakes up. I have coffee and breakfast and play with her until about 8 a.m.

At 8 a.m. Sabine has breakfast in the kitchen while I unload the dishwasher (which we run at night after she goes to bed), load any new dishes, wipe the counters with my home made cleaner (I’ll do a post on my cleaners tomorrow), and do a quick sweep with our tiny broom and dust pan.

The Professor takes out trash and recycling on his way to work.

Next, Sabine plays in her Circle of Neglect (bouncer) while I scoop the cat boxes. I have a pretty meticulous cat box routine brewing that so far is working well. I switched to flushable litter two weeks ago and really like the convenience of it. It is one less thing I have to go out to the trash shoot with and it is ridiculously low dust – important when you and your cat are asthmatics. I keep a cat “station” by the living room litter box. In this bin we have disposable gloves (cause it is much faster to strip off gloves should there be a baby emergency than run and wash your hands), the litter scoop, a old plastic container to carry the poops/pee clumps to the toilet and our pink dustbuster. The dustbuster plug runs into the bin so it charges while put away.

I scoop the litter box in the living room, flush the turds and then carry my scoop and container to the second litter box in the bedroom and scoop those turds. Then I use the little dustbuster to quickly suck up the litter that was tracked out of the box and flush that down with the second load of turds. I top the litter off periodically with some fresh to keep it from getting too low. I also use litter box liners to make the monthly change easier. I toss the gloves, wash my hands and hug my kid.

Kitchen and litter boxes are done in under an hour.

About every three days or so I load Sabine up in the K’Tan after this and I do the floors of the main house. We vacuum the rug, vacuum the hardwoods with our amazing little hardwood vacuum (highly recommend) and then run a quick mop with home made cleaner over the hardwoods. I use this mop and love it.

Doing floors with Sabine in the K’Tan is a WORKOUT. Some days I count it as my “cardio.” :)

Sometimes she takes a nap after this. If she naps I use this time to tidy up the main areas. I pick up shoes, coats, sort and discard mail and run my happy duster over everything. I spray and wipe down the dining room table and end tables, which always have new coffee rings on them. (Hello no sleep for nine months).

If Sabine does not nap, I still manage everything but the dusting, but it takes a little longer. I let her play on the floor and talk to her as I go.

I wipe down the bathroom daily when I shower with my reusable makeup pads. I am still using the two packs of organic cotton reusable breast pads I bought before I got pregnant. They were WAY TOO BIG for my tiny boobs so I use one to remove my makeup and one to apply astringent each morning. I use pure olive oil to remove my makeup, and then use this pad to swipe the sink. The little oil left behind keeps soap scum from sticking to the sink bowl. I use the astringent pad to wipe the counters after I apply my makeup. Then I toss the used pads in one of those little laundry bags for delicates. Every week the bag is zipped closed and tossed in with our load of towels.

Then we are done with chores until about 4 p.m. when the Pre-Daddy Cleaning Frenzy goes down.

The 4 p.m. Frenzy

This is when we clean up the day’s disaster. Toys get put away in the bins (even though they just come back out), anything I was doing like studying, crafts, etc. gets put away. We make the beds if they were not made in the morning and straighten our bedrooms. Sabine plays on the floor and explores while I do this. Every few days I set her in the crib with some toys and quickly run the vacuum in the bedrooms and then run the duster over the furniture.

After our Norovirus bought in January, I also disinfect Sabine’s changing table and diaper pail once a week. Probably overkill but OMG, so much horror came out of us in a four day span that I will do anything to avoid a repeat. Every few days I take out the diaper trash. We ended up getting the really expensive but super awesome Ubbi diaper pail and it works great for containing odors AND uses regular old trash bags. I add a scoop of baking soda and a few drops of peppermint essential oil to the bottom every now and then to help keep it fresh.

At 5:00 we start dinner.

I get 30 minutes to prepare dinner each night so meals are carefully selected. Sabine sits in her high chair and eats Cheerios (we graduated from Puffs!) and watches a 30 minute Baby Einstein video. By the time her video is over dinner is usually on the stove/in the oven and she and I play on the floor in the living room while I occasionally pop into the kitchen to stir/check the food. While I cook I TRY to keep dishes washing as I go, but I am a notoriously messy chef and this does not always happen.

Weekly/Monthly Chores

Each Monday is laundry day. We do four loads each week of mine and Sabine’s clothes: one light, one dark, one sheets and towels and one random (blankets, slip covers others, etc.). The Professor does his own laundry. We fold laundry together in the afternoon, a task that takes 3 times as long when your “helper’s” form of entertainment is tossing your neatly folded piles around. But she has fun so what can I do?!

Recently I discovered that I can throw the non-slip tub liner in with the towels. I only buy white towels so they get bleached regularly. The bleach and hot water clean up the tub liner so nicely and is ridiculously easy for me. One less thing to scrub.

Every Thursday, which is the Nanny day, I clean the bathroom. I wipe the sink, mirror, shelves and toilet with home made cleansers. I sweep the floor and usually just “mop” it with some spray and a paper towel. Our bathroom is so small it just does not warrant dragging out the mop.

Our groceries are delivered each Sunday. I take this opportunity to clean out any spoiled food and quickly wipe down the fridge. Nothing elaborate, just a lick and a promise. I replace a little bowl of baking soda to help absorb any gross fridge odors then. The old baking soda is put in the sink and used to scrub it.

Once a month I empty the litter boxes completely, wipe them out, change the liner and fill them with fresh litter.

About once a month I oil the kitchen cabinets. Several have some water damage from the previous owners and oiling keeps them looking better and preserves them. I use Murphy’s oil soap for a good wash down and then apply a thin coat of mineral oil to the damaged cabinets. I also try to wipe the baseboards, straighten our drawers, restock diapers, etc. once a month.

Once a month I also do a very detailed clean of our bedrooms. This is when I mop these floors, move furniture and do serious dusting to help with my allergies and asthma. I also clean the tub and shower monthly.

That pretty much sums up the cleaning routine around here. I really think it is made infinitely easier by owning less. Everything we do own has a place and all the places are carefully thought out and easy for us to use. Tomorrow I will post my cleaner recipes and in a few weeks I will do a post on our storage and organization solutions. In the meantime, any questions? Any great cleaning tool recommendation? How do you keep your home tidy?


The nap strike ends



Daddy sent this to me tonight. (I am in class). Precious girl, why won’t you nap??



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