I’ve been noticing lately people’s homemade cleaning solutions. Most of them make me laugh. They are simply random mixtures of household chemicals that seem “cleany.” You can use vinegar, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, and Dawn dishwashing liquid to clean, so why not mix them altogether to make a super-cleaner?
Do I need to answer that? Perhaps so. Just because a bunch of agents will help clean things in their own right doesn’t mean mixing them together will create a stronger cleaning mixture. A chemical reaction will take place between the different agents when you mix them together. The products of this action may not be as good for cleaning as the original agents themselves. What’s more, if you’re not careful, you could poison yourself. Many people have been injured by mixing together household bleach and ammonia. This can form chloramine gas which is a potent respiratory irritant. Very dangerous hydrazine may also form.
Baking Soda and Vinegar – Nothing Special
Among all these wacky household cleaning solutions, by far the most popular is baking soda mixed with vinegar. When you mix baking soda with vinegar, it produces quite an exciting reaction. It bubbles up and if you mix too much, it will froth right out of the container.
Perhaps it is this bubbling action that makes people think it is a deep cleaner. All those scrubbing bubbles. It will even clean your oven!
Folks, those bubbles are formed by carbon dioxide gas which is produced by the chemical reaction between vinegar and baking soda. They don’t do anything, in terms of cleaning.
Let’s break this down. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. It consists of a sodium atom, a hydrogen atom, and a carbon dioxide molecule. Vinegar is a solution of acetic acid and water, or dilute acetic acid. Baking soda is a base and vinegar is an acid. When you mix together a base and an acid together with a solvent (water in this case), an acid-base reaction occurs. The acid has a proton, a positively charged hydrogen atom, that it would love to get rid of. The base would love to get ahold of a proton. So, in this case, the acetic acid gives up a proton to the sodium bicarbonate.
Since the baking soda is actually being mixed with water, it breaks apart into a sodium ion and a bicarbonate ion. The acetic acid gives up its proton (a hydrogen atom) and carbon dioxide gas (the bubbles) and sodium acetate are formed (acetate salt). Since the carbon dioxide is simply bubbling off into the air, what you are left with is sodium acetate and water. Basically, you have water and a little salt. Either the baking soda or the vinegar would have been much more effective on their own!
Baking Soda as a Scrubber
Baking soda cleans basically by being a scouring agent similar to the tried and trusted Bon Ami, the basic version of which is simply feldspar and calcite. I described how you can use it to clean rust spots off of your stainless steel refrigerator or other appliance. A baking soda paste can be great for certain things. However, you end up with baking soda residue to remove, so before you go using this in your oven, realize that removing the residue can be quite a pain!
Vinegar as a Cleaner
Vinegar, since it is an acid, acts to basically dissolve stuff. It’s good for cleaning windows and most bathroom surfaces. It makes a pretty good basic degreaser. And, while a lot is made of baking soda’s ability to deodorize, vinegar is actually a better deodorizer. In fact, a good soak in vinegar will often remove pet urine smells if the urine hasn’t set too long. While at first, it will leave behind a vinegar smell, that smell will dissipate. If you’ve ever walked into a public restroom and smelled an odd mix of urine, feces, and some kind of sweet-smelling cleaner, that is because the cleaning agents leave behind a residue that just mixes with the other smells, resulting in a disgusting combination. The worst are the cleaners which use a sassafras scent. If you cannot abide such harsh fragrances, try a vinegar and water solution instead if you can handle the vinegar smell!
Don’t use vinegar on anything that can be etched by acid, such as stone countertops. In general, vinegar is one of the best and cheapest household cleaners. You can get a gallon of white vinegar for 2 or 3 dollars. I usually have a gallon of Heinz vinegar that I use constantly for all kinds of cleaning, and for cooking. To better control the concentration of vinegar and to allow a more potent vinegar solution, you can purchase concentrated vinegar such as a 30% vinegar solution (vinegar and water). This will allow you to handle very nasty jobs! It will even help to unclog drains and control pests. It is NOT suitable for use in cooking!
Vinegar and Dawn – A Professional Glass Cleaning Secret
If you’ve ever employed a weekly cleaning service, chances are one of their main glass cleaners was a solution of water, vinegar, and Dawn dishwashing liquid. Dawn is another overlooked household cleaning agent. It’s all I actually use to clean my acrylic tub, in fact. A quick wash down with Dawn a few times a week and it’s never dirty. Use it to clean out your sink (with a non-scratch scrubby) and use a bit to clean your toilet. No, you do not need to disinfect your toilet. Just get it clean. As with all cleaning, if you do it more often, you won’t need heavy-duty harsh cleaners. But I digress. A solution of water, vinegar, and Dawn makes a great glass cleaner!
To make a streak-free glass cleaner, combine the following in a spray bottle:
1 cup water
1/3 cup white vinegar
2 or 3 DROPS of Dawn Dishwashing Liquid
Mix them together in a spray bottle. That’s it. Spray it on windows, mirrors, or your shower doors and wipe it with newspaper (yes, newspaper), microfiber cloth, paper towels, etc. You can also use this as a general surface cleaner such as to clean your countertops. Just use a little and wipe it off with a damp cloth.
Now, don’t be tempted to put large amounts of Dawn into the solution. If you do that, you’ll have a soapy mess to deal with. Use just a little bit of Dawn for the glass cleaner. If you have a big soap-scum build up in the shower you can mix together vinegar with a larger amount of dawn and rub it on, then rinse it off. But if you are not going to be able to easily rinse off the resulting suds, just stick with the basic glass cleaner.
Vinegar and Dawn and Baking Soda
Adding baking soda to this mix is also popular. This will do nothing to enhance the cleaning power of the solution, as shown above. All it will really do is make rinsing that much more difficult due to baking soda residue.
Before I leave you to your mixing, I’ll let you in on another glass cleaning secret. This is especially great for mirrors, since you wouldn’t want to use it on large windows. Use household rubbing alcohol. Any kind. Put a little on some newspaper and just clean your mirrors. No streaks. Works like a charm.
Your bathroom mirror can be kept clean with nothing more than water, however. Just keep a microfiber cloth handy (I leave one hanging on the door). Whenever you notice a spot on the vanity mirror, simply wet your microfiber cloth and rub the spot clean. Allow to air dry. If you tackle these little spots as you see them, you’ll hardly ever need to clean your mirror with anything more than water and a microfiber cloth.
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