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Cleaners: What You Need to be Like the Pros

Written by Nicky Tomboulides .

Please STOP reading for just a moment, go under your kitchen sink and examine the amount of cleaning supplies you have. When was the last time you used any of them? Are they dusty?

This reminds me of the time I hired a personal chef several years ago. She checked my spice cabinet and asked when I last updated my spices. What a question, I thought, and said, “Honestly...mmm...let me see...never!” Now I’m going to ask you the same thing with regard to your cleaning solutions. If you’ve owned your household cleaners since 1890, now is the time to get rid of them. The first step in becoming a pro at cleaning is getting the right materials. In this article and the next we will delve into the cleaners and tools you should have in order to handle most of your cleaning needs.

One year is the average shelf life of your spices and your household cleaners. Here are my top five favorite cleaners. You may be pleasantly surprised to find most in your kitchen pantry!

Our Top 5 Cleaners:

  • White Vinegar
  • Window Cleaner
  • Bleach
  • Abrasive Cleaner
  • Surface Cleaner

1. WHITE VINEGAR - From your salad to the floor, white vinegar is the star! Distilled white vinegar is a very versatile non-toxic cleaning agent.  There are multiple uses of white vinegar as a cleaning agent---so many, in fact, that we will eventually write an article dedicated just to this topic.  For now, here are some uses:

To wash your floors, pour 1/4 cup of vinegar in one gallon of cold water in a bucket. Use a clean mop and make sure you squeeze it well as excess water can damage your floors. It will smell vinegary for ten minutes and after that the odor disappears. If you’d like to minimize the vinegar smell, you can use a few drops of your favorite essential oils such as lavender, or soak a few slices of lemon peel in your vinegar for a couple of weeks.

White vinegar is safe for you and your children, your pets and the environment. And you can get a gallon of this good stuff for a few dollars at your local supply store!  

2. WINDOW CLEANER - A well known worldwide household used product is a window cleaner, a must in every home. It shines up glass, mirrors and many other surfaces such as chrome, appliances and stainless steel.

Read the label to be sure it is safe for the particular surface you want to use it on. If you’re not sure, always try it in a small inconspicuous spot first.

Alternatively, you can make your very own glass cleaner with 3 tablespoons white vinegar, 2 cups of water, and ¼ teaspoon vegetable-oil based liquid soap!  Mix them in a spray bottle and you are ready to go.

3. BLEACH - Have you ever spilled bleach on your hands? That slimy feeling is bleach burning your skin. Bleach is a hazardous product containing toxic chemicals and is best handled with gloved hands!

What Kryptonite is to Superman, bleach is to bacteria---deadly! It is widely used to kill mold, bacteria and to disinfect. Never use it straight; dilute it first, a good ratio is 1 to 10, bleach to water. Always use it in a well-ventilated space. Don't mix your cleaners, and always use them with cold water. Why cold water? To avoid irritating fumes! Plus, you need to see what you are doing. Steaming your shower with all the windows closed, using bleach and hot water is not a wise cleaning strategy for you or your lungs.

To minimize the use of bleach, keep your bathroom and kitchen areas dry. Water is the enemy; a moist environment makes bacteria super happy and eager to multiply. STOP that activity! After you showered open a window, your shower door and turn the fan on.    

You can also use a much less toxic cleaning agent such as rubbing alcohol or vodka to wipe and disinfect light switches, phones, door handles or even a toilet seat on your plane ride to Hawaii.

4. ABRASIVE POWDER/BAKING SODA - You can mix baking soda with white vinegar or lemon juice to clean inside your porcelain bowls in the bathroom and the kitchen. You can
also use Comet or Bon Ami cleanser in powder form. I like the powder, as it handles well and it rinses much easier than the cream. To limit the flow of the powder, open just two holes from the spout. Wet the toilet brush and pour the powder on the brush---NOT in the toilet bowl. You'll be diluting the powder in the water and will need to use more of it. Going green, to me, means using less of any cleaning agent, period. Think FEWER cleaners, be frugal with all!
5. SURFACE CLEANER - Working nearly twenty years in the housekeeping business, I never had more debates about any one product than the surface cleaner. So many 'Green' cleaners! Are they really safe? Are they Green? What does “Green” really mean?  

A surface cleaner is a general cleaner, your go to cleaner, that ideally will clean everything in the house from countertops to walls.  A safe, non-toxic surface cleaner is obviously preferred.

Like any long-term relationship, before you fall in love with "a" surface cleaner, do your homework. What are you bringing home to your family? Check the label, go online or call the 1-800 number and ask for the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) of your favorite cleaner.  The MSDS is a must read for ALL household cleaners. No exceptions!  Here is a link to University of Missouri's site for some detailed information on MSDS and a video on Google's You Tube. are some links to help you learn to interpret a MSDS. 

At Penguin's Best we use Red Juice from The Clean Team. It is an odor-free cleaner, a de-greaser, which is non-toxic and completely biodegradable. It is free of petrol-chemicals and bleach.  It is made of soybean extracts and is safe to use in the kitchen as it is approved by the USDA for use around food (A-1 rating).1 We use it for all surfaces--from the kitchen and bathroom counters to the pantry and laundry room, inside the microwave, fridge and stove! I also use it to remove laundry stains at home. It is my champion!

I can’t stress it enough the need be frugal when it comes to household cleaners for your health, the environment and your wallet. Try to find alternative homemade cleaners from your kitchen pantry such as white vinegar, baking soda or lemon juice.  

Clean more often and you'll find you will use fewer cleaners and less elbow grease!  Do more touch-ups every day and apply the rule: when you see something, do something!  Like if you spill soda in the fridge, clean it right away or be prepared to use a chisel in the morning.  Keep your environment dry from your shower, kitchen sink, floors to your sponges!   

Less is More for household cleaners.  The opposite applies to tools. More is more for tools. Have more tools and learn how to use them properly and safely.  We will talk about them next!

Keep it Clean! :)


1The Clean Team website, indexed on March 29, 2012.
Hunter, L. M., Halpin, M.  Green Clean: The Environmentally Sound Guide to Cleaning Your Home.  Melcher Media: 2005.
Haley, G., Haley, R.  Haley's Cleaning Hints.  NAL Trade: 2004.

Nicky Tomboulides
Nicky Tomboulides

Nicky P.E. Tomboulides, MBA has run and managed Penguin's Best Housekeeping Service, LLCsince 1994. Nicky's entrepreneurial experience and spirit is behind the birth of her business. Penguin's Best, an upscale residential cleaning service, has evolved from teaching and training its own crew to running outside classes and workshops for various organ.. Read more

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