Health

The feeling that comes with knowing your laundry, kitchen, and bathroom are clean is something like intense joy. We often judge this cleanliness by what we smell: the smell of disinfectant. Bleach. Soap. Strangely tropical flowery fragrances that would never actually be in our apartments naturally.

What these smells actually tell us, though, is that we have replaced dirt and germs with chemicals and artificial substances. Replacing bacteria with these agents is sort of like replacing a stomachache with a headache – the unpleasantness is still there, just in a different form. We clean our little living spaces with chemicals that are unsafe to even inhale. What is up with that?

I’m not dissing our love of freshly cleaned chemical smell. I love it, too. I am saying, though, that there are some natural cleaning agents that actually get the job done better, and much more safely, than the commercial products to which we’ve become so accustomed.

Below are five natural cleaning products to replace commercial cleaners:

Task: laundry
Natural solution: soap nuts

I’m sorry, what? Soap nuts? That’s the reaction I often get to this.

Soap nuts, native to India and Nepal, are these little round berry things that grow on trees and do a fantastic cleaning job by releasing natural saponins to free dirt, oils, and stains from clothing. They are unscented and wonderful for those of us with sensitive skin and allergies. In fact, they’re used in Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for eczema and psoriasis.

Not only that, but they clean incredibly well. I spilled red curry all over a new white shirt. In a moment of pure stupidity, I didn’t wash the shirt right away, leaving it to bask in all its curry-stained glory for two days. I felt defeated when I finally put it in the wash. To my surprise, it looked good as new after I took it out.

What you do is place around five soapnuts in a reusable muslin bag (which typically comes with the order) and place them in the washing machine. It’s not unsafe to put them in the dryer, but I prefer not to do that. The soap nuts can be reused for about five washes.

The best part? Soap nuts are completely non-toxic and can be composted when done, and they are pretty darn inexpensive. I love them, and order mine here, although Amazon and plenty of great retailers also carry them.

Task: dishes (in the dishwasher)
Natural solution: white vinegar

I know, I know. It sounds strange. But, if you want your dishes to actually be stain free and deep-cleaned, I’m telling you, this is how. Just put white vinegar in the dish soap slot and run the dishwasher. That’s it. They will be sparkling when they’re done, and the vinegar smell isn’t apparent when used in the dishwasher.

Task: quickly remove a stain from clothing or carpet
Natural solution: Dr. Bronner’s castile soap and water

I can’t tell you if it’s ok to use on fabrics that require dry cleaning – I’m going to assume it’s not. I can tell you that last time I spilled hot sauce down my cotton shirt (I’m messy, ok?) I put water and a little dab of Dr. Bronner’s almond castile soap on a tissue and wiped away the stain. It went away completely after wiping for around 20 seconds each with three damp/soapy tissues. It probably would have been quicker had I used a washcloth, but that would have made too much sense.

Castile soap is good to have around the house, too, as it has many uses, including washing dishes in the sink, as an ingredient in natural body washes and shampoos, and to hand wash delicate fabrics.

Task: maintain shower cleanliness
Natural solution: apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle makes a great everyday shower cleaning spray. I also like to add a few drops of lavender oil to remove the vinegar smell. You can use this as a quick toilet bowl cleaner, too, by spraying and letting it sit, or using a toilet brush. Add coconut oil, too, and lemon or lime juice for an extra cleaning kick.

Task: use an all-purpose cleaner in the bathroom and/or kitchen
Natural solution: coconut oil

Coconut oil is magical and life-changing. It has hundreds of fantastic uses, and it’s incredibly gentle and safe on skin. In fact, I use it as a face wash and body moisturizer every day. Aside from its gentleness, its cleansing properties are incredible.

Dampen a rag or sponge with coconut oil – it can be in liquid or soft form – and wipe down any surface that needs cleaning. The dirt will come right off; it’s amazing to watch.

Pretty amazing, and a little strange, that we can safely and naturally wash our faces with the same product we use to clean our showers, floors and countertops.

I hope these cleaning products help you replace the dangerous, nasty chemicals currently under your kitchen and bathroom sinks! I swear by each of them and have found success using them to keep my apartment clean. They’re great for dorms, too, because we all know those little rooms can get dirty. Happy cleaning!

Do you use any natural ingredients in cleaners? Share below!

Image: Umberto Salvignan

EducationSkills

It’s summer! You get to sleep in, waking to the sound of chirping birds, sunlight coming through the windows, illuminating your room. You wake up with bed hair and you stumble out of your bed, walking past the pile of dirty laundry and bowl of cereal you went to get in the middle of the night. Your desk is a mess. Nail polish bottles, papers, pencils, eraser dust, an earring missing its sister, a collection of bracelets, a chipped cup, a photo of you and your friends, Post-Its that have lost their stick…

Listen. You’re a lovely and awesome person, but it’s time for an intervention. It’s time… to clean your room. Summer is a great time to clean your room or workspace. You can get rid of old things and prepare for the next semester. There are some things you can do to make it easy for you to keep your room clean until September, without making your room too sparse or boring.

Ah, yes. The satisfying feeling of a clean room. The space on your desk, the unused hangers in your closet, the shelves of books organized by height, color, or author’s last name. If you’re anything like me, you love that refreshing feeling, the sense of accomplishment, and the pride that you did all of that work. But there’s something in the back of your mind.

Can you keep it this way?

I always have a hard time keeping my room tidy during the semester. After all, I wake up at 7am and I come home at around 9pm to midnight almost every day. I live in school and at my job more than I’m in my own bed. What are the chances that I can keep this place organized?

The best medicine is always prevention. Getting into the habit of keeping things a certain way is one of the best way to keep your room clean. Now that it’s summer, it’s a good time to practice these habits. For example, always put clothes back into the closet if you decide you don’t want to wear them. I’ll try two or three things in the morning before deciding on one outfit, and I make sure I always fold my tank tops and hang my dresses up before I close that closet door.

Putting things back where you found them is the general idea. This goes for your necklaces, pens, books, umbrellas, shoes, anything! You’ll appreciate it when you’re in a rush and it’s raining outside. Or maybe you forgot you had to meet someone for a study group date and all your notes are on your USB. Have key spots for your things, like a plate or a tray, so you’ll always know where to look first.

It’s good to keep often­-used items in an open, easy to ­grab spot, such as on your desk or by the door. These items might include keys, phone chargers, chapstick, things that you throw in a purse or in a book bag. Keep a tiny trash bin next to it so you can throw out garbage from your bag, like gum wrappers, used tissues, and receipts. It’s surprising how much can gather in your bag.

Finally, have a dedicated day to clean. Just as you had a schedule for who cleans the dorm back in freshman year (yes, people have that), have a day of the week for cleaning. Some people clean every half a month, others once a week. Do whatever you think you need, but remember that it’s your room, so make it feel like home!

Check out Cleaning Your Room Part I and Part II.

Image: husohem.se

EducationSkills

It’s summer! You get to sleep in, waking to the sound of chirping birds, sunlight coming through the windows, illuminating your room. You wake up with bed hair and you stumble out of your bed, walking past the pile of dirty laundry and bowl of cereal you went to get in the middle of the night. Your desk is a mess. Nail polish bottles, papers, pencils, eraser dust, an earring missing its sister, a collection of bracelets, a chipped cup, a photo of you and your friends, Post-Its that have lost their stick…

Listen. You’re a lovely and awesome person, but it’s time for an intervention. It’s time… to clean your room. Summer is a great time to clean your room or workspace. You can get rid of old things and prepare for the next semester. There are some things you can do to make it easy for you to keep your room clean until September, without making your room too sparse or boring.

When most people clean their room, they clean their closet. But there are other parts of your room that you can’t neglect. You have that Economics textbook propping up your laptop. The Victorian novels you bought for Lit class are scattered on three shelves and you probably spent $200 buying all of those last semester.

Students often forget (or don’t have time) to sell their textbooks at the end of each semester. Finals can get in the way, or going back home/going abroad will be more of a priority than a few books lying around. But unless they’re on a shelf (and you’ll be using them again), there isn’t any reason to keep them. There are many options to sell them, either back to the school’s bookstore or online.

Speaking of things you’ll need again, you might want to sort through all your notes. Some students use a laptop and save their docx. or PDFs there. Luddites like me like to print things out (sorry trees!) and write notes on them before putting them in a folder. All those papers scattered in your room? The Post­Its reminding of you an upcoming final? The pens that dried out because you lost the pen cap? (I prefer clicky pens myself) This is a good chance to go through what you want to keep (or not keep) and delete/throw out what you don’t want.

Laptop users, this is a good time to back up your data! You might unexpectedly need that final paper’s works cited page again, or you might get a handout that you’ve gotten before. I like to back data up every half a semester, but the summer is the best time to do it. You might want to tune-up your computer and all that techy stuff while you’re at it!

This time of the year is a good chance for you to make a workspace for yourself. If you’ve been living off your bed with laptop in lap, you might have found yourself falling asleep while doing a paper (sounds familiar?). If your desk space was cramped up with dirty laundry, old lip gloss, and a dusty printer, well, it should all cleaned up and free for you to use. If you create a workspace, it will help you concentrate.

Remember, if you always push your chair in after you use it, it won’t be piled up with clothes and other things. Keep a container for pens and other office supplies, and make sure your printer is in a spot that’s easy to access. Ink is also easy to refill, so always have that somewhere in case you have to emergency­print a handout or something. Things like that can distract you from working during the school year, and if you start the habit this summer, you are more likely to maintain it (and get to know where everything is) by fall.

Now that your room looks like it’s ready for summer fun, as well as for the next semester, there are a few things you can do to keep it that way. Next week, I will share my tips on how to maintain your organized space.

Read Summer Action Item – Clean Your Room: Part I

Image: Kikette Interiors

CultureSkills

It’s summer! You get to sleep in, waking to the sound of chirping birds, sunlight coming through the windows, illuminating your room. You wake up with bed hair and you stumble out of your bed, walking past the pile of dirty laundry and bowl of cereal you went to get in the middle of the night. Your desk is a mess. Nail polish bottles, papers, pencils, eraser dust, an earring missing its sister, a collection of bracelets, a chipped cup, a photo of you and your friends, Post-Its that have lost their stick…

Listen. You’re a lovely and awesome person, but it’s time for an intervention. It’s time… to clean your room. Summer is a great time to clean your room or workspace. You can get rid of old things and prepare for the next semester. There are some things you can do to make it easy for you to keep your room clean until September, without making your room too sparse or boring.

Where I live, the summers are 100 degrees and the winters are three. New York is a challenge for a closet because there is such a drastic difference and sometimes you feel like you need everything. If you live in a place like that, this would be a good chance to sort through your closet, accessories, and jewelry.

You’ll be surprised by what you find. That blue off-­the-­shoulder top? The t-­shirt from summer camp. That pair of jeans with the hole by the butt. Riiiight, I forgot I had that! If you haven’t worn it in a while, chances are, you won’t wear it again. You can totally sell or donate stuff, and that would free up closet space!

I live near an Ikea and they have a super great section just for organizing things. I love silver sterling necklaces, but they always get tangled. You should find a way to store special accessories, such as silk scarves or cute hats, so they won’t get crushed or damaged.

One more thing. That nail polish that’s been sitting there for about three years that you haven’t touched, the one where the color has separated with the un­open­able top? Toss it. The mascara that’s gathered dust by the foot of your bed? Toss it. Summer’s a good chance to go through expired makeup or other chemical­ish things that you put on your body.

Your body changes from season to season, and from month to month. Sometimes you have to accept the new tan or the sudden dry skin and find products that are healthy and good for you. You want to look your best, and you can’t have that if you have a rash from expired concealer! Remember to wash your makeup tools (ugh, germs…) and store them somewhere dry and safe (and away from pets!).

Next week, we will discuss that textbook you have propping up your laptop and those books that you’ve been using to keep the window open.

Photo via You Make Me Swoon