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September 14, 2007

Friday "Clean Up" Q&A

Yesterday lots of excellent questions and comments popped up, thought I'd try to answer what I can...

Rhett asked:
"What do you use to dust? I would love to save the money and be a little greener too! but dusting is very important to me."

Answer: Hey there Rhett! To be honest, dust is a MAJOR problem in my house. I like to open the windows whenever it's not a thousand degrees outside to get fresh air circulating but living in Los Angeles with no rain there is a LOT of dust in the air.

Oh, and uh... yeah. The cat hair and the cat litter dust. Need I say more?

So my primary tool for dusting (when dusting must occur) is the vacuum cleaner. Now I would rather get a full-body wax than do dishes, I do hate dishwashing, but I could vacuum all day long. It's so therapeutic... goodbye dust! Au revoir kitty litter! Using the brush attachment is great for vacuuming the TV, all my electronics (major dustcatchers, gross), the slats on the window blinds, the toaster ... you name it. For small items (I don't have a lot of knickknacks, but a few small ones) I just dampen a paper towel or one of those lint-free cloths and go over the item quickly to remove the archaeological layer of dust. My housecleaning time is pretty limited so there's definitely always some dust on stuff. But I try to do one massive vacuum dusting about once a month.

One of the benefits to decluttering -- and frankly, one of my main motivators -- was that I got so damn tired of having to clean and dust all my stuff. I have about ten knickknacks in the whole house (like candle holders or vases or picture frames on tables.) I still have dust on everything, sadly, but at least now there's less stuff to be dusty. That's an improvement, right? Right?

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Readers Susan and Aileen wanted to know how you use Borax:

According to about.com's explanation of Borax, it is used as a natural laundry booster, multipurpose cleaner, fungicide, preservative, insecticide, herbicide, disinfectant and dessicant. Borax crystals are odorless, whitish and alkaline. Borax is not flammable and is not reactive. It can be mixed with most other cleaning agents, including chlorine bleach.

It is, however toxic and like any commercial cleanser it can be bad for you. As the article above mentioned, don't use borax around food, keep it out of reach of children and pets, and make sure you rinse borax out of clothes and off of surfaces before use.

You can buy it in the laundry detergent aisle at your store -- look for 20 Mule Team Borax, that's the brand I use. And yes, it can be toxic but I myself don't let my cleaning stuff lie around open and available to cats or guests, and I keep the bathroom door closed when I use Ajax with bleach or any commercial cleaner because I don't want the cats messing around with it. So with any cleaning product, heck... even with just lemon juice... I do the same thing. It's not like I'm slopping it on the floor and rolling nekkid it it. As always, your mileage may vary and use with common sense.

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A few readers mentioned concerns that Magic Erasers contain formaldehyde. You can read about the debunking of the myth here on snopes.com, or read the official word from the Mr. Clean team addressing this rumor.

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Marlyn asks, "Okay, where do you find this Ecover stuff? It sounds great. I'm trying to switch to greener cleaning supplies, too, though not moving as quickly as you are."

Hi Marlyn! I buy Ecover products at Whole Foods. I love Whole Foods... of course, it's so expensive to shop there that I have to restrain myself from going nuts! But being a one-person + cats household, a bottle of Ecover laundry detergent will last me a good long while. You can also find a list of products available on amazon.com to purchase.

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While we're at it, I have a question for you cat owners:

If you have a blanket or basket liner for your cats, how often do you wash it, especially if the cats sit or sleep on it daily? Once a week? Once a month? Anyone? I'm not sure how much is too much, but goodness those blankets get hairy fast.


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Barbara commented, "By the way, you do know that Al Gore is married, right? I'm just sayin'. But he would be proud."

Yes, I heard that rumor. He's so darn cute with his powerpoint, don't you think? (Sometimes I like to mention Al Gore and my love for him just because I know somewhere on the other side of the country my daddy is shaking his head and wondering if I need a brain transplant. Remind me to tell ya'll about the time I framed a picture of Al Gore and set it on his desk just for fun. Ah, good times.)

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I don't know if ya'll caught this exchange in the comments but it about had me laughing so hard. Ya'll are funny. I'm gonna be out of a job if you keep this up:

Megan said, "And I'm confused about what 'green' means to everyone - does it mean 'not harsh' or just 'natural'? Ammonia is certainly natural - we pee it every day! I bet rubbing a poison tree frog on your shower doors would work wonders for the soap scum."

Lyda replied, "But Megan, wouldn't the fumes be hallucinogenic?"

To which Megan replied, "...Hmm... Lyda wants to know if poison tree frogs emit hallucinogenic fumes when dragged across a shower door ... I say, we can only hope."

Heh. But in answer to Megan's original question ... I'm trying to move closer to non-toxic. Natural is great, but some "natural" items such as bleach are toxic so I'm going to try to cut back on them and re-think how much I rationally need to use for getting the house clean. In other words, "Would a cup of bleach work on the sink instead of half a gallon?" That sort of thing.

Also, if anyone knows where I can find a hallucinogenic shower-cleaning tree frog, please let me know.

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Oh -- and a few readers have mentioned to me in past columns the joys of placing clothes on a clothes line. It popped up again yesterday as we talked about green cleaning. Being a gal from the country I can attest to the good-smelling loveliness of line-dried laundry. Living where I live however, I can also attest to the fact that nothing would be left on that line when I return home.

City living is a wild and wonderful experience, isn't it?

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Reader Nancy writes, "...I'm a little concerned about your current cleaning/organizing frenzy..."

Well, Nancy. Thanks for the concern. Now, I would be more concerned if I had started maybe using heroin or picking up men at streetlights or hitting up the sun-in (do they still make sun-in, anyway?), but I can assure you I'm not in a frenzy of cleaning. I'm just trying to address the year of no-cleaning-whatsoever that occurred while I wrote and edited and re-wrote my book. I remember coming home once in the midst of all that and looking for a single pair of clean underwear and being too exhausted by the messy house to even sort the laundry. Sorting would have been an all-night affair (I think I ended up wearing some horrible butt-creeping panties of doom. Alas.) So, anyway, my house was in dire need of attention.

Besides, I think sometimes we all do what we can to feel more plugged into our own lives and this is my thing. While I myself wouldn't classify this as a frenzy I still think it's better than embarking on a life of crime or taking up a porn addiction.

I do have some friends that would disagree with me on that last point however! Tomato, tomahto!

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Don't be talking dirty about my cleaning bucket!

Denise commented: "What's the point of recycling all those plastic bags, and then buying plastic buckets and caddies?"

Ah, Denise. As it turns out I purchased one (1) bucket and one (1) caddy which fit neatly together as a single carry-all. In my way of thinking, I needed a bucket (for scrubbing those wood floors) and it was such a nice treat to find a portable cleaning toolbox that fit right inside it. I knew if I were ever going to really do any cleaning, I should be properly outfitted. This is how my mind works, see. I found it inspiring to do some preparatory pre-shopping.

(It's kind of hard for me to get excited about scrubbing, so a gal has to do what she can.)

Also, these are not one-time-use items and I use them all the time now, they especially come in handy because I tend to be a naturally very scattered person so having a single place for all my stuff -- in this case my cleaning stuff -- has worked wonders for my personal get-it-togetherness.

And just to be clear here -- my goal is to do a little better for the environment than I have been doing, but I will never meet anyone's standards of getting it all right. One of the things I find really off-putting in sometimes sharing with people that you're trying anything new is that once you admit to making little changes some folks seem to start yammering on about how you're not doing it right, or not doing enough, or you ought to do more, or shame on you for not doing more sooner.

Like a lot of people, I can only do the best I can with what I got. In my way of thinking it's best for me to make some small changes and let them build on each other. If I felt like I had to change EVERY THING IN MY WHOLE LIFE AT THIS VERY MINUTE, well, I wouldn't be bothered to change a damn thing. It's too hard, too overwhelming, too exhausting and doesn't work for most humans. And I'm sure if someone came knocking on my front door for an inspection and made up a list of every thing I do wrong they'd judge me just as harshly and I'd be sent right off to the Jail For Failed Homemakers.

On the plus side, I bet the company in my jail cell would be a hoot and a holler.

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Another question from yours truly here, is it normal to get cat hair tumbleweeds in the corners of the living room now that I have these wood floors? Is it just more noticeable now since the carpet is gone or do ya'll think the cats are having a party every day while I'm at work, inviting the neighborhood wild animals over to shed all over the floors? Because they are really not fooling around with the tumbleweeds.

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And finally, reader Melissa wrote: "I love Kim and Aggie too, but I'm also quickly becoming obsessed with "You Are What You Eat" which is on BBC America too at 4 and 4:30 (eastern time zone). You should check it out! It is...well, you just have to watch and see..."

Melissa! I am already on that bandwagon and I love that show too and cannot wait to see new episodes on my Tivo list. It's my new favorite thing ... I'm addicted! I was chitchatting with Brenda for an upcoming podcast and she lives in Wales so I made her tell me in great detail what a "fry-up" was, since I saw it on that show. A whole fried plate of food -- now, they could be Southern! Except for the beans of course, you'd have to put grits or hashbrowns in place of the beans. But it's another fabulous find on BBC. Curiously enough, I like to watch it while I'm walking on the treadmill, maybe it's an incentive!

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Ok, that's all for today. Have a great weekend and I'll see some of ya'll in Failed Homemaker Jail. We can talk all about the time we couldn't start cleaning yet because we had to run out and stock up on cleaning supplies (yes, I did that, I admit it.) I'll bring the wine!

Posted by laurie at September 14, 2007 7:41 AM