The vernal equinox has arced the heavens and we’re into the season of spring. (Though it feels more like summer.) If you have an urge to straighten things up around the house or apartment, to shine and clean those areas that have become dingy and dusty during the winter, or maybe to spend an afternoon cleaning the clutter that is in the passenger-side footwell and washing and waxing the car, you’re not alone. Psychologists say that the drive to organize and secure the nest is a springtime instinct we share with nature, as we see animals building nests, emerging from hibernation and blossoms opening from buds. For the human animal as well, spring is a time of renewing and rebirth of body and mind. Some would add “soul” but since when does an eternal spirit need rebirth?

Cleaning up around the home or just washing the car, can be done with an eye to economy and a thought toward using safer, more healthful alternatives to caustic commercial concoctions that are designed more for marketing glitz than for effective advantage over more staple, tried and true old-time methods. So here are some ideas that are simpler, healthier, can save you from breathing a lot of questionable fumes, absorbing a lot of unknown chemicals and can save you money, too.

Cleaning Windows Probably nothing has as quick and dramatic an effect on appearance or brightening things up as cleaning windows. My dad would always say that even a dirty car with clean windows looked “clean!” Same goes for a home. Reflective surfaces, especially glass, bounce light around with clarity and that’s surprisingly important. Dirty glass or surfaces diffuse light and cloud the aura. The conventional solution is one of those commercial sprays that contain a list of chemicals. The most popular has ammonia or ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, butyl cellosolve, butyl glycol, glycol ether eb, 2-propanol, dimethyl carbinol. I’m not sure what each can do to the body but I’m not eager to experiment. Some have been linked to cancer, liver and kidney damage.

An alternative would be simple ammonia diluted with water. It’s cheaper and is a single chemical. But ammonia is caustic and an irritant so needs to be handled safely. Better would be vinegar. Plain white vinegar is cheap and can also be diluted in a spray bottle. It works great as a glass cleaner and can be used to clean and shine many surfaces. As far as safety is concerned, if you can put it on your salad, how bad could it be? Another tip — if you make your own solution, use distilled or reverse osmosis water. That way the water will have fewer minerals and will streak less. A vinegar solution is great for use in the bathroom, too. Good for tubs, shower tiles and mirrors.

Maybe the greenest solution would be the one the Dominican nuns taught me at St. Cecilia’s Grade School. When kept after school, our punishment was to clean windows in the library. We didn’t use Windex, ammonia or vinegar solution. No, our cleaner was a balled up page of newspaper. To clean your windows, just scrunch up a couple pages of The Reader into a ball and start rubbing the window, with vigor! You’ll go through a lot of pages and a lot of elbow grease but you’ll be left with sparkling windows and a pile of newsprint you can compost or recycle!

Baking soda is another cleaning staple. For less than .50/box you can use it anywhere you would use an abrasive scouring powder. It’s handy as a deodorizer. Leave an open box in the refrigerator or sprinkle a little in the bottom of the kitchen trash container. Pouring just a little into the garbage disposal keeps it fresh, too. A baking soda and water paste can also be used as a stain remover on laundry. By the way, baking soda is an excellent dentifrice.

REAL clean air. Please, for the sake of your health and your kids’, dispense with those bogus air fresheners that you plug into the sockets or wick into the air. You can search the labels but the makers will never tell you what’s in them. Of course they don’t actually “freshen” the air. In fact, they pollute it with dangerous chemicals. Some even emit a nerve-deadening chemical to blanket room odors. Harmful substances in air fresheners include potential carcinogens acetaldehyde or styrene, toluene and chlorbenzene, glycol ethers, phthalates. Paradichchlorobenzene, formaldehyde and benzene (a carcinogen for which the WHO recommends zero exposure), are common.

A safer way to clear the air is to identify the source of any malodor and remove it. To add pretty smells, try potpourri of herbs and flowers or a pomander made of an orange pierced with whole cloves.

Water you waiting for? In all productive endeavors, it’s often time or money. You can choose which to spend. Want it clean fast? Spend money now for a costlier product and more money later, when those medical bills pile up from chemical exposure. But expend a little time and elbow grease and the burden is lighter on health, the environment and pocketbook. For example, consider water, nature’s ultimate solvent. Given time, water can erode solid rock. Likewise, it can handle most cleaning situations. Soaking things gives water a chance to work, at least that’s what Eula, my dishwashing co-worker taught me at my first job as a pot and pan washer at Methodist Hospital. Use water wisely and you’ll need fewer bad chemicals.

Good soap. Soap has been used for centuries. Understanding the difference between old-fashioned natural soap and modern detergents is vital for green living. To that end, visit the website to learn about the historical all-natural soap that has gone far beyond cult status. Dr. Bronner’s Soaps are widely available now and when water isn’t enough, Dr. Bronner’s can help. Clean green this spring. Be happy and healthy.

Be well.

Heartland Healing examines various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information, not as medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Access past columns at

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