Saturday, December 29, 2007

how to clean the outside of a refrigerator

Do you want to clean green?
I got a digital camera for Christmas, and have been going nuts creating photo essays on Facebook with it ever since. I'm including the written instructions below for cleaning the outside of a fridge, but to see the entire photo album (I recommend it), click here. (You don't need to be a Facebook member to view the album.)*

I like stuff on my fridge - even though I'm a professional organizer, and I always tell clients who are staging their homes for resale that an uncluttered fridge is more appealing to buyers. In my defense, sometimes I just don't remember to do things unless I stick them to my fridge. And I have a niece and nephew whom I love (and who make lots of drawings for me)... and I wanted to display all my Christmas cards this year...

It was the Christmas cards that inspired me to clean my fridge. I wanted to take them down, and I figured while I was at it, I might as well do the whole thing.

The first step is to take everything OFF the fridge - including things on top (in my case, a wooden dish rack and a basket of brushes and scrubbies for dishwashing). While you're at it, organize what you've taken off so that you can put things away immediately.

These are the supplies you'll need to clean the outside of the fridge:

-baking soda (in a shaker can)
-vinegar (in a spray bottle)
-TSP (trisodium phosphate, which you can buy in crystal form at hardware or paint stores)

You may also want a bucket of warm water or a spray bottle of water, and you'll need some clean rags and possibly some brushes or toothbrushes for the nooks and crannies.

Start at the top of the fridge, wiping down all the outer surfaces. If there's a lot of dust on top, wipe it off with a dry rag first to get the worst of the dust, and then wipe again with a damp rag.

If there's a lot of greasy grime up there, mix up a TSP solution according to the directions on the carton. TSP is fantastic for greasy grime - it will wipe right off.

NOTE: When using TSP, be sure to wear gloves. It is a mild skin irritant, especially at high concentrations. And don't breathe in the dust from the crystals.

(The reason I use TSP is that it does a better job than most conventional cleaners like Fantasic and Mr. Clean, without the nasty scents and fumes.)

If there are scuff marks on the fridge, they should come off with a scrubbing of baking soda. Spray well with vinegar afterwards, to remove any powdery residue.

NOTE: If you use vinegar and you're going to put photographs or important papers back on the fridge after cleaning it, be sure to rinse well with plain water after using the vinegar, so that you don't get acid damage on the photos or papers.

The fridge handles will likely be grimy - especially if they are textured like mine. A TSP solution will again easily clean up any greasy grime. (This is where a toothbrush might also come in handy.)

If you have chrome handles (or a stainless steel fridge), TSP can clean off most of the greasy fingerprints or smudges. Just spray well with vinegar afterwards, and wipe dry with a clean rag to make the chrome or steel shine.

I decided not to clutter up my fridge with photos, papers and cards after cleaning it. Who knows how long that will last, though...

*Instructions for viewing the album on Facebook: Click on the first photograph to read the description of that photo. To proceed to the next photo in the series, simply click on the current photo, or click on "Next" in top right corner of the page.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Do you want to clean green?
When I had my cleaning business and strangers asked me what I did for a living, I liked to joke that I spent my day I scrubbing toilets. (Which, of course, I did.) For some people, this is the most dreaded cleaning job, but strangely enough, toilets are (generally) one of my favorite things to clean. Porcelain looks so nice when it sparkles.

What's the problem?
With toilets, the biggest cleaning challenges are: drips on the rim, down the outside of the bowl, and all over the floor from careless male users; spatters on the inside of the bowl; build-up below the water line from "letting it mellow" (which can occasionally lead to very severe gunk + lime scale); mold growth on the tank.

Old school:
Dump a bunch of toxic, corrosive chemicals into the bowl. Let sit, scrub and flush.

The greener way:
The toilet brush is your friend. Buy a good one - that will reach under the rim, and deep inside the "exit passage". Replace brushes as soon as they start to wear out - exposed brush wires can permanently scratch the inside of the bowl. And make sure the brush you choose has a large, stable base in which to rest when it’s not in use. That puppy will be germy, and will drip water all over your bathroom floor otherwise.

To cut down on extreme toilet maintenance, encourage all toilet users to scrub the bowl whenever they create a "mess". They know who they are, and what they’ve done. This kind of thing is SO much easier to clean up when it’s fresh, rather than after it’s been allowed to dry – at which point it will require all sorts of curse-inducing elbow-grease.

Once every week or two, give the inside of the bowl a thorough scrub. There are eco-friendly toilet bowl cleaners on the market, but I never bother with them. If you want some suds, squirt in some eco-friendly dishwashing detergent.

And don’t fret about finding a replacement for the traditional chlorine bleach toilet cleaners. I mean really – how long do you think that toilet is going to remain “germ free”? If you want to disinfect the brush between uses on the other hand, spray it well with vinegar and hydrogen peroxide (see detailed instructions in the posted item on disinfecting with vinegar and peroxide).
You can even keep the brush soaking in hydrogen peroxide when it’s not in use. It’s much preferable to soaking the brush in chlorine bleach, which is highly corrosive and could be a hazard to pets and small children. Note that continually soaking a brush will often cause rust damage to the brush, though – and you will have to replace the peroxide frequently, since it naturally loses its potency upon exposure to air and light.

To clean the rim, seat*, bowl sides and tank, liberally spray them with vinegar (or use the vinegar/peroxide disinfection technique), let sit for a few minutes, and wipe dry with a clean, dry rag. DO NOT CROSS-CONTAMINATE SURFACES by using the rag for anything else afterwards. It goes straight to the laundry room, okay? And wash your hands immediately after cleaning any toilet.

*If you have a painted wooden seat and lid, be aware that vinegar can etch the finish. Don’t let the vinegar sit after spraying, but wipe it up immediately with a dry rag.

Preventive maintenance:
Flush after every use. If you're worried about water consumption, replace your old toilet with a newer, low-flow or dual-flush one. "Letting it mellow" - even just overnight - causes the worst build-up of unspeakable gunk below the water level.

I’ve read that slipping a 1000mg tablet of vitamin C (or a package of citrus drink crystals) into the bowl and letting it sit for several hours will help prevent lime scale build-up. It’s the ascorbic acid that does it. Don’t pee into the acidic water, though – a toxic vapour may result.

Special circumstances:
Some toilets will develop rust stains starting underneath the rim at the water holes, and spreading down the inside of the bowl. Alternatively, you can put off cleaning a toilet so long that a thick, gross-looking lime scale develops, usually creeping up from the outflow hole. Both can be treated by a (toxic and corrosive) commercial-grade calcium, lime and rust remover. I have yet to find an eco-friendly alternative to these extreme problems.

Another challenge in some bathrooms is a pervasive urine smell around the toilet. I don’t like to point fingers, but the blame for this always rests with men in the household who stand to pee. Urine that “misses the mark” can seep underneath the toilet, and urine spray in the air can spread to the walls and underneath the toilet tank. I’ve noticed this is a special problem in wallpapered bathrooms where the paper absorbs the urine, and the smell is almost impossible to remove.

With a damp cloth, thoroughly wipe down all surfaces surrounding the toilet, including the underside of the tank. Spray vinegar and hydrogen peroxide into the crack where the toilet meets the floor. Teach your men to sit when they pee.

Pet peeves:
I have a special aversion to tschochkes on top of toilet tanks – and homeowners who never dust this area as a result. What’s with those little dolls that hide toilet rolls under their skirts? Please. The only thing that should be on top of your toilet is a box of Kleenex (if that). Dusting problem solved…

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

lime scale in pots, kettles and coffee makers

Do you want to clean green?
This post discusses a problem I've just been dealing with as I've washed my supper dishes.

I boil a lot of water - for tea, hard-boiled eggs, pasta - and as a result my pots and kettle are often left with a white-ish residue. This residue is lime scale, or calcium. It is especially prevalent in areas with hard tap water. (Hard water is water with a high mineral content.)

What's the problem?
Lime scale looks kind of yucky, but it won't actually hurt the pots, or harm you if you cook food in the pots. However, after an extended period of time lime scale can build up, so you might want to regularly remove any calcium deposits.

Old school:
The toxic way to remove lime scale is to use a product like CLR, which creates a chemical reaction that dissolves the calcium. It works, but it's not exactly food-grade - and CLR is corrosive and gives off hazardous fumes.

The greener way:
One inexpensive liquid that you can easily find on your grocery store shelves will quickly remove all lime scale - and that ingredient is vinegar. I buy vinegar in large jugs, and use it for a number of cleaning tasks.

To remove lime scale in pots or kettles, simply fill the pot or kettle with vinegar until all the affected areas are covered. Let the pot or kettle sit for a couple of hours, and the lime scale should be dissolved.

I'm not a coffee drinker, but I've heard that you can remove lime scale from the inside of your coffee maker by running vinegar through the machine. If anybody has experience with this, please feel free to comment!

Preventive maintenance:
You can reduce lime scale by soaking your items regularly with vinegar.

Special circumstances:
I use my slow-cooker a lot - especially to cook dried beans - and I've often noticed a calcium build-up on the inside of my crock. As soon as I empty the hot crock of its cooked contents, I immediately fill the crock with hot water, a squirt of eco-friendly dish detergent, and about a cup of vinegar. I let it soak for a couple of hours (or overnight), and when I go to wash the crock, all the lime scale is gone.

The worst I've ever seen:
I once did some house-sitting for a couple who lived in a small community where the tap water was drawn from a well. I have never seen such hard water before or since. You couldn't wipe a countertop with a damp cloth without the water leaving behind a white residue when it dried. I got into the habit of carrying around a spray bottle of vinegar to prevent the deposits. The homeowners eventually purchased a water softener to deal with their hard water problem.