What Cleaning Meant to Me

When I was a kid deep cleaning meant one thing: bleach.  My mother would get a bucket of hot water and pour a capful of bleach into the water.  A pair of elbow length rubber gloves and a disposable sponge completed the preparations for cleansing war.  By the end of the day the entire house would be effused with eau de Clorox.

I would not say I am smarter now, but definitely more aware.  Bathing one’s home in a diluted solution of chlorine bleach may kill the germs you fear, but it is trading one evil for another.  Ignoring for the time being that one can create a low grade chemical weapon by mixing chlorine bleach and ammonia together, there are some things to consider before reaching for the nuclear weapon of home cleansing. Chlorine, depending on the concentration, can be caustic meaning burns to exposed skin.  It can create organochlorines, which are suspected of being carcinogenic compounds, and if ingested chlorine bleach can be fatal.

So, what is a boy supposed to do when the tried and true disinfectant of his youth is tarred and feathered as a vanguard of the toxic home cleaning crew?

For a lot of my house I clean surfaces with a diluted solution of vinegar and water.  According to experts, the ability of vinegar to kill germs and other pathogens has not been adequately documented.  It may not be the best choice when one wants to make sure that a surface is free of nasties like E. coli.

Vinegar can be used in conjunction with hydrogen peroxide to produce a powerful antiseptic cleaning combo.  Susan Sumner has shown that plain white vinegar and the commonly available hydrogen peroxide used for wound cleaning or gargling sprayed one after the other on a surface, the order is not important, kills pathogens as effectively as chlorine bleach and other commercially available cleaners.  The powerhouse combo killed salmonella, shigella, and E. coli bacteria, which are like the horsemen of household doom.

You cannot mix the two liquids into one spray bottle because that dulls the effectiveness to the point of danger and when exposed to light hydrogen peroxide breaks down rendering it ineffective as well.  The good folks at Root Simple lay it all out.

Maybe I am lazy, but I like the idea of a one bottle solution under the counter in the kitchen that I can grab for a quick spray down of a countertop before and after prepping dinner.  At the local big box store—not freakin’ WalMart which has become some kind of bad student art film trying to ape The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari—I ran across method’s  anti-bacterial bathroom cleaner in a spray bottle:

The claims all seemed to be solid—natural, botanical derived, etc.—and I have been pleased with the other method products that I use in my home.  The active ingredient in this product is thymol.  Thymol is derived from—wait for it—thyme oil that has anti-bacterial properties that are fairly well documented.  In addition to its household use, thymol has long standing medicinal uses in treating things like nail fungus.

This seemed to be the one bottle solution that I was looking for.  One complaint was that the product stinks to high heaven.  I agree it has a strong odor, but it is not offensive.  It is not the spearmint that it claims.  More like the off kilter mash up of spearmint and thyme as imagined by Danger Mouse.  Assuming that the product works in killing over 99% of household germs I am happy.  It is so much better than a day spent bathing the chemical soup of a deep cleaning with chlorine bleach.

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One response to “What Cleaning Meant to Me

  1. Wonderful post! We will be linking to this great post on our website.
    Keep up the great writing.

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