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I must admit, despite being anally tidy, I’ve never been much of a cleaner. I like a bit of bacteria, it’s good for the constitution and I put the fact that I almost never get ill down, in part, to my repulsion of endless scrubbing and sweeping. Cleaning is an odd endeavour, and the fact we feel we have to highlights how linear the processes of our homes have become. I’ve yet to see a squirrel, bird or badger inventing concoctions and recipes with which to clean their homes. They just live, without the oppression of endless cleaning to weigh them down.

Nevertheless, I’m fully aware that I am out on my own with this one, and that most of you would like a clean house, and not a nest or den in the ground. Thankfully there are others who know how to clean their homes with nothing other than the plants that they can grow in their garden.

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CLEANING USING 100% LOCAL INGREDIENTS
Steph Hafferty, organic no-dig grower, teacher and speaker(194)

Making your own cleaning products is empowering, creative and fun. It not only keeps you out of the loop of consumerism but also creates a home environment free of toxins and pollutants. Simple and a joy to make, these potions will ensure your clothes and home will be hygienically clean and fresh, smell fantastic and have the vibrant energy which comes from feeling fully connected with Nature and your home environment.

To make these recipes, you will need some old rags for filtering and cleaning (I love using old pieces of denim as cleaning cloths) jars with lids for storage and some recycled squirty bottles.

Apple cider vinegar is excellent for making cleaning products. Firstly, make some cider! Creative homemakers have use dried corn cobs as fermentation locks when making homebrew in demijohns. When the cider is ready, strain into non-metal containers, filling to three-quarters capacity. Do not cover, and keep it warm and out of direct sunlight, stirring daily. Natural bacteria in the air will turn the cider into vinegar in around 3 to 4 weeks when it will smell vinegary. Filter through cheesecloth to remove the ‘mother’ (the mat at the bottom of the container) to stop further acetic acid fermentation. Store in glass bottles with lids on. You can also use wine and malt vinegars in these recipes too.

Wonderful, powerful herbs to grow or forage for cleaning the home are rosemary, all mints, pennyroyal, thyme, lemon balm, pine needles, sage, lavender, eucalyptus, tansy and southernwood. They have antiseptic, antibacterial, disinfectant or insect repellent qualities, as well as smelling fantastic and making one feel amazing.

A handful of these herbs tied firmly together and added to hot water will add fragrance to most cleaning jobs and lift the mood. Simmered on the stove, they will cleanse the air and lift the spirits, especially useful if there is illness.

To make a cleaner for floors, paintwork and all indoor surfaces, make a soapwort preparation but add two handfuls of a fresh (one of dried), fragrant herb. Choose from mint, lavender, pine, rosemary, lemon balm, thyme or lemon verbena.

Potato water is an effective cleanser for carpets and fabric stains. Wash and grate two potatoes and add to a pint of water. Swish about for a few minutes then strain, pressing down hard to release all of the potato water. Add a further pint of water, mix and leave to settle. To use, dip a sponge or cloth into the liquid. Wash or wipe with cold water.

Woodash, mixed with water to form a paste, cuts through grease and grime as a scouring powder on woodburner glass, pots and pans (including the burnt underside), oven doors. It removes limescale from showers, brass, silverware and, when mixed with sand, for scrubbing stone floors. Woodash paste is brilliant for washing up when camping. Rinse well after use, of course. Always use ash from natural wood fires and wait until the fire is cool before collecting and storing in a lidded metal container. To help reduce damp and mould in cupboards, punch holes in a tin can and add pieces of charcoal.

Horsetail is full of silica and incredibly useful for the home, body and garden but as a gardener, I am very aware of its invasiveness and have mixed feelings about this extraordinary plant. Exceptionally difficult to eradicate, it is definitely better foraged rather than grown at home.

Traditionally horsetail is used to scour pans to a high shine and as a fine ‘sand paper’ for polishing wood. After gathering, leave in the sun for an hour or so before tying together and using. Wear gloves when scouring because the silica can make it sharp.

To make a liquid, simmer 50/50 fresh horsetail to water (or 25/75 dried plant) for 5 minutes then rest for at least 6 hours before straining. This liquid can be sprayed on mildew and added to herbal decoctions to aid the cleaning properties when cleaning floors, worktops etc.

A handful of chopped dried mint, rosemary, thyme or lemon balm mixed with a cup of salt makes an effective, all purpose aromatic scrub for the kitchen and bathroom. Store in a jam jar. After using, rinse with water before wiping down with herb vinegar spray for extra cleanliness and sparkle.

An alternative abrasive is washed, dried and crushed egg shells. Leave to dry in a warm, airy place and when dry crush further using a rolling pin. Add some finely chopped dried mint, lavender or pine for enhanced cleaning properties and fragrance.

To make a cleaning herb vinegar, shake the herbs gently to remove insects. I usually use equal quantities of rosemary, thyme, pine, lavender, mint and lemon balm. Fill a large jar with the herbs, then add vinegar, stirring to release any air. Seal and leave for at least two weeks, shaking gently daily. Strain and store.

This can either be used neat for stubborn limescale and cleaning the loo, or diluted in equal quantities with water or horsetail liquid for cleaning.

Mint and lemon balm window cleaner is not only excellent for cleaning glass (includin windows) but also works well as a general multi-surface cleaner. Mix 2 cups of lemon balm and mint decoction with vinegar and put in a spray bottle.

Pennyroyal is disliked by ants and fleas (and, apparently, rattle-snakes!) – scatter the herb either fresh or dried, or simmer a handful of the herb in 2 cups of water for 30 minutes, cool for at least 6 hours before straining and adding to a spray bottle. Pennyroyal is toxic and it is strongly advised that pregnant women should not use pennyroyal for cleaning.

Dried rosemary, tansy, thyme, mint and southernwood, chopped and put into bags made from muslin fabric scraps, keep moths and fleas from cupboards and clothes.
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Dish Scrubbers

Humanity didn’t always have throwaway Brillo pads or dish sponges to clean up those burnt pots after they were left too long over the camp fire. Back in the good old days, when life was supposedly “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”,(195) people used what they had growing at hand in their local area.

In the UK, this could be a pine cone of some variety, depending on what you are washing. If the mess is tough, use a tough cone. If you wanted to wash your bowl straight after eating, then a softer one would be more apt. Another option is to take a ball of dried grass and use as a normal scrubber. You’ll be surprised by how effective it is.

An option requiring slightly more effort is the loofah (often referred to as a luffa in the UK). Whilst native to the warmer regions of the US, you can grow them in the UK if you have a sunny room, greenhouse or polytunnel. Whilst they are growing they look like a cucumber (they’re from the same family), but after you dry them out you will be left with that fibrous internal structure that most of us recognise from the shops. One plant should keep you in sustainable, moneyless dish scrubbers for a year or so, and you can even use them as sponges for your body also. Remember to save seed for the following year’s washing up.