Use soap to save money and escape the Cleaning Industrial Complex!

February 22 | Guest post by Hannah Wernet
Swift's Washing Powder - Pure. Harmless. Economical. [front]
By: Boston Public LibraryCC BY 2.0
"Dust, dirt and stains remain inescapable foes for consumers worldwide," reads the hyperbole in the Nielsen Report on global cleaning trends. They go on to shriek about the "fight against grime" that has become a multi-billion dollar business. Un-winnable, endless, and requiring a vast arsenal of toxins and science.

Really? Now, I can imagine in a household with many children and large dogs, things can get a little bit messy. But to call dust an "inescapable foe" seems to me rather over-the-top. It's not Voldemort, It won't unleash the dementors if you ignore it. It'll just sit behind the back of the sofa, harming nobody, emphatically not plotting world domination.

But the fact is, there is a huge industry geared towards telling you that your home is not clean enough.

In the UK we have a pair called Kim Woodburn and Aggie MacKenzie who go round on television telling single mums just that. The resulting shame-fest was a huge ratings winner apparently. But their efforts were a drop in the ocean, when you consider that Procter and Gamble have an advertising budget of 2.95 billion. And then there's your mother-in-law…

Fight against the clean mania

Now, frankly, we have bigger things to worry about, and much better things to do with our time, so I'd like to propose a change. First of all, we have to stop giving these paranoia-merchants our money. The more money they have, the more money they will spend on infantilizing adverts featuring daft women going absolutely gaga with delight at the brilliance of their whites. And so the whole sorry cycle will continue. For Procter and Gamble, and all the other sharks that circle our insecurities, your home will never be clean enough, or sweet-smelling enough, or your knickers white enough. So just forget it.

You know how you go into the cleaning aisle at the supermarket and there are about a thousand different products? You have products for your dishes, products for your floors, different products for the kitchen and bathroom, because of course, there are different kinds of dirt there. Different products for bits of your house that you kids might lick, because you don't want to poison them, and a different products for your dog, because you don't want to poison him either. That's before you even get to the laundry aisle, when you need a different type of powder depending on what your clothes are made of, what colour they are, and who will be wearing them.

These products might be very good at getting rid of dirt, but what they are truly excellent at is cleaning out your wallet.

However, it remains that things do have to be a bit clean. You don't want to give up completely. Kids have accidents; work clothes must be washed if you plan on interacting with other human beings. So how can we do this without giving huge corporations money in exchange for chemicals and brainwashing? Well I'm writing this because I think I've found the answer…

The answer is soap

About a year ago, as an experiment, I bought some very cheap Castile soap. It was lurking forgotten on the bottom shelf in the supermarket. The place where they put the products that don't have billions of dollars to spend to make sure they get the ringside box at eye-level. I have not since then had to buy a single other kind of cleaning product. It will clean every surface in your house perfectly, plus the clothes, plus, in a pinch, your kids. The only thing it doesn't clean very well is glass — this is the only exception I have found so far.

Now, as you may tell from the rest of the post, I'm not someone who normally gives cleaning a lot of thought. However, I really felt I had to share my thoughts on this because we are being lied to. Dirt is all the same. Really. It doesn't matter whether it has set up home — on your shoe, on the chrome taps in your bathroom, or on your wooden floor — it is all the same.

So, here's a round-up of why we should say fuck it to all the sprays and potions on sale and just use soap:

  • It is very cheap, so not only do you have more money for chocolate and wine, which will make you much happier than a clean house will. Procter and Gamble will have less money to produce patronising adverts with.
  • You only need soap, a bucket and a rag, which instantly clears out the chaos under the sink. Plus you can put the soap and the rag in the bucket, streamlining still further.
  • Over-use of antibacterial products has been linked to the emergence of super-bugs, and a lowering of children's natural immune levels. Now, I don't think we should live in a germ-ridden pigsty, but do you really need to disinfect everything in your house? I've seen products that claim to disinfect shoes. SHOES for crying out loud! Just wash your socks.
  • And, my personal favourite reason, it is non-toxic, so when my two-year-old "helps" me clean, she can get as wet and bubbly as she likes.

Also, frankly, you know what? It's your house. Let it be as dirty as you want. As long as no-one is in danger of getting a tropical disease from the over-flowing sink, screw it. Being clean is not a moral imperative.

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  1. The suspense is killing me.
    In the US the "cheap soap" is over-scented and does a terrible job cleaning.
    Is there a brand or product name?
    I switched to Sal Suds, which is "soap" but I need to order online or go to the co-op to buy it.

    1 agrees
    • Oops. Its a "biodegradable cleaner" the other products the company makes are *actually* soap (as opposed to detergent).

    • It's the same in South Africa, I can't find cheap unscented soap anywhere except online.

  2. I totally agree that you don"t need so many products but I am also a bit confused about what you mean by soap.

    I'm in the UK too, so to me "soap" means bar of stuff you use to wash your body. Are you talking about using that to clean the house as well? I can see why that wouldn't work, as you say, for glass.

    Or do you mean clothes washing powder which is what ( I think) soap usually means in the US?

    Household cleaning wise, after trial and error we've got it down to the bare minimum for us which is a multi surface eco friendly cleaner (liquid form) which I make up with water and put in spray bottles and does everything in the kitchen and bathroom and anywhere else frankly, and then two exceptions; a floor cleaning liquid from the same people which doesn't need rinsing (the multi-surface stuff leaves a residue) and a glass/mirror cleaner also from the eco people because the multi-surface stuff streaks (annoyingly). If I had more time and energy I'd like to experiment with home made glass cleaners (like vinegar and water in a spray bottle and then buffing the glass with newspaper) but at the moment this is what's working.

    I'm also a big fan of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda but not baking powder which has other stuff added) for really nasty cleaning jobs like burnt on food and tannin stains from tea and coffee but also making metal sinks and fittings look shiny and fab. And who doesn't love a shiny fab sink!

    4 agree
    • Well, I live in Austria, so I buy a huge tub with "Seife" on the side (soap). Castile soap is what I'm talking about.

      2 agree
        • Yep. you can also get the same sort of thing in block form, but liquid is easier to use.

      • It also also far-from obvious to find just plain soap, with no scents and so on added, but it does still exist! I also started using baking soda to clean the oven, which was pretty bad. It worked much better than any of the chemicals i've ever tried, and I din't feel like Sylvia Plath, gassing myself with my head in the oven.

        4 agree
      • ok. You can find Castile soap in the US but it is rare. Most Americans think that detergent *is* soap, and use that stuff.
        I use Castile for body and face wash, but not household.
        (Dr. Bronners to be specific).

        1 agrees
        • Apparently you can use Dr. Bronner's for everything, including brushing your teeth and abortions. (Might be joking about that last part?) But seriously I've used this for everything from my body to everything in my house (except glass. The OP is correct, castille soap not great for glass).

          1 agrees
          • Dr Bronner's Baby Mild soap is unscented. Some stores will sell it more cheaply in gallon jugs. I've also found castille soap at QFC at slightly cheaper prices for smaller quantities. My experience is that it's usually pretty concentrated, so diluting a little in water can go a long way. Personally I have found it's ok for laundry and brushing teeth if needed, but I think laundry soap and toothpaste do more for your clothes and dental health. Please do not use soap to induce abortions. 🙂

            1 agrees
          • I just remembered that i used Dr. Bronners original (blue bottle/peppermint) to remove a Clorox 2 stain from a botched pre-treat on white clothes.
            Side note: original Clorox 2 has blue dye in it. On purpose. To keep you from noticing fading.

        • Castile soap that isn't Dr. Bronner's is rare. Dr. Bronner's, on the other hand, is everywhere.

          1 agrees
  3. Yes to this. I use Castile soap, vinegar, and baking soda to clean most everything. I do buy simply green cleaner though and I love it. Loving your posts on here!

    8 agree
  4. With 3 young kids, 2 cats, and a dog my house has that lived in look. My husband and I have the "a messy home is a happy home" mindset. Unfortunately we still need to keep the house some what clean to keep the pests away and to keep my mother in law happy. To keep our costs down I tent to make most of my cleaning products. Except laundry detergent. I buy fragrance free laundry detergent from the store. The DIY stuff seems to gunk up my washing machine and leave me cloths feeling a bit off.

    For the bathroom I keep a spray bottle of vinager, liquid soap, and water under the sink. The stuff is great at getting grime off the bathtub and tile. Just shake the bottle up, spray the tub and tile down, walk away for a while, come back and wipe up. Our bathtub was super nasty when we moved in and this cleaned it up without needing to much elbow grease.

    For counters I uselessly just use warm water on a rag. But I need to clean up after chopping raw chicken or spilled raw eggs I spray the counters down with hydrogen peroxide. Peroxide kills more bacteria then vinegar.

    For the toilet I usually wipe it down with a vinegar and water solution. Unless the pre-schooler brings home a stomach bug then it gets wiped down with peroxide.

    The hardwood floors usually gets swept and then mopped (with a clean rag) with just hot water. No soap or vinegar since they aren't good for hardowood. And no store bought hardwood cleaner since most just lay down a wax or polish that traps the dirt without cleaning the floor.

    6 agree
    • This! especially for the laundry detergent note.
      Modern washing machines do not have agressive enough agitation to properly rub soap in. Your clothes will likely be grimy, you could destroy your washer (and void your warranty).

      4 agree
    • OMG! Just used that tub cleaner yesterday and it worked!!! Like, outrageously well! I'm now mad about every other time I tried to clean the tub because it always left my arms dying.

  5. I actually clean my windows with just warm water and dry them with a squeegee, which works great.

    1 agrees
  6. Actually you need only two cleaners – something alkali-based for grease and something acid-based for stains (like, on glass and sinks). There are industrial cleaning product suppliers who sell such basic cleaners for cheap, but then you have to understand in what proportions to dilute them and be careful with handling.
    Alternative is vinegar (acid) and baking soda (alkali) but they might not be strong enough sometimes.

    3 agree
  7. A note on windows…. newspaper actually works fantastically well to clean windows/mirrors. We use old newspaper, water (or water with a little vinegar) and the windows are clear and streak free!

    2 agree
    • Yes, my mum swears by newspaper. She thinks that something in the ink must have magical properties, as no other paper works as well, but I'm not so sure about that.

  8. I have to get creative because I'm allergic to most commercial soaps. The best thing I've found for the most stubborn, baked in dirt is to make a baking soda and dish soap paste with a little water, lard it on, fool around with something else for awhile, come back, and hit it hard with a spray-bottle of white vinegar. "Scrubbing Bubbles" have nothing on this froth explosion! Then everything wipes away easily. I also unclog sinks by pouring baking soda down them and then a few glugs of vinegar–volcano time!

  9. Hear, hear! My go-to products are vinegar and baking soda, in various combinations. Baking soda and vinegar for scrubbing out the bathtub, vinegar in warm water for mopping the kitchen floor, a baking soda paste for cleaning the oven, etc.

    1 agrees
  10. Loved the point about the anti-bacterial nonsense. I have a younger cousin and I swear everything that the kid has ever touched in her life has been sanitized both before and after. She comes down with just about every bug that floats though the air and I swear it's because her immune system is underdeveloped due to living in such an overly sterilized environment.

    1 agrees
  11. I really like your writing style, you made me laugh! I agree that people put too much pressure into things like cleaning. They keep stressing themselves over what products to choose, which is the right way to use them, while the truth is that the simpliest solutions are usually the best.

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