Monday, June 20, 2011

The Amazing Little Workhorse -- CLR

I came late to CLR (Calcium-Lime-Rust Remover). It seemed to me expensive and unnecessary. What did I know? 

Some 85% of American homes are affected by hard-water, which shows itself as white crusty spots on sinks, faucets, shower doors, frames, and any place there is running water. Calcium, unchecked, can manifest itself by covering over the holes in faucets and inside dishwashers. It can make an otherwise clean bathroom look dirty. It can cause corrosion on expensive-to-replace bath and kitchen fixtures. It can permanently damage porcelain sinks and toilets.

If you see crusty white spots inside sinks, coating faucets, splattered on the refrigerator grate of the water dispenser, clouding your drinking glasses and glass coffee pot, you too have hard-water. A water softener will help -- but it will not remove hard-water stains already in place. 

There is an acidic property to vinegar that will help -- used weekly vinegar goes a long way to reducing hard-water stains. Also vinegar can be used in places, where CLR cannot, such as through a cycle of the coffee maker. (Heating CLR in a coffeemaker turns the product into an dangerous vapor that should not be breathed by humans or pets.) Heating vinegar, while not especially pleasant, posing far less danger if exposed to breathing the vinegar vapors.

Though using vinegar on heavily stained surfaces, such as shower doors, frames and faucets, will help over time, you will see dramatic immediate results upon using CLR.  

CLR, sold in a pour bottle, is not likely intended to be sprayed this way, which tells us we should use all possible caution. Spray small amounts, always spray away from the face and never in an enclosed area (like a shower with the doors closed -- I do it, but I am telling you not to do it -- spray a rag, towel or cloth to wipe into the shower doors.) The helpful aspect of a spray bottle is being able to direct the product right where you want it -- onto the shower nozzle, between the faucet and the sink, onto the shower door track. 

CLR should be used full strength and not diluted with water -- it loses potency very quickly. 

A similar product is Lime-Away, which can be used interchangeably with CLR -- it has some properties that work better, others not so much. The Lime-Away sold in a spray bottle appears to not be as strong as the original non-spray formula.

Spray on CLR and leave for one minute to five minutes to allow the product do it's job before wiping off. Dazzling isn't it? Who knew that under all that white powdery stain was a brand new clean and shimmering shine? 

Once the calcium has been removed, wash away the CLR residue by  cleaning thoroughly with a spray of vinegar or light ammonia solution.  

If your shower nozzle is heavily crusted with calcium you can suspend a bag of CLR directly onto the nozzle so that the nozzle is submerged -- careful, it's tricky. OR, assuming the nozzle is removable, pour CLR into a plastic container and dunk your shower head right into vat of CLR -- leave it sit the entire afternoon. 

CLR is the best -- it removes calcium and lime deposits on surfaces we thought were ruined for good. 

As it happens, at $7 per 42 ounce bottle of CLR, the cost is a smidge more than .16c per ounce. Using it in a spray bottle allows it to be sprayed directly where needed, which results in less waste. In cleaning the average home, two bathrooms and one kitchen, I use about 6 ounces of CLR or less than a $1 -- not so over the top expensive at all. And worth every penny when one considers how the cost to replace corroded faucets and ruined shower glass, it's practically free.    

Monday, June 13, 2011

Everything you need to know about Ammonia -- but wouldn't bother to ask.

Ammonia, ammonia... I live and breath ammonia!! When it comes to cleaning supplies, ammonia is the living end. It cleans everything. It cleans floors, it cleans windows, it cleans paint, it cleans plastic (it isn't supposed to clean granite, but, shhh, sometimes it does) When it comes to cleaning supplies, ammonia very nearly does it all. It cuts grease, grime, hairspray, stuck on food, floor wax. It serves as an excellent pre-treater in heavy traffic areas prior to carpet cleaning. Ammonia is the house cleaning workhorse.

HOWEVER -- the key to working safely with ammonia depends entirely on it being adequately diluted. Chemists know that ammonia is a gas and in usable household form it has been suspended in water... blah, blah, blah, on and on, whatever. All we want to know, no offense to the chemists intended, is how to make ammonia work as a quick, easy and cheap cleaner.

I buy regular household ammonia -- not Professional Janitorial Strength, which will strip the veins off the inside of your eyelids.  This little two quart bottle is about $2 and compares itself to Parsons (which is wonderful stuff). My preference is lemon scented... not that it really smells much like lemons... In a 25 oz. spray bottle pour between 5 to 10 oz. of ammonia. Fill the bottle with water.

There, for about .35c, you have a perfect blend of ammonia in a perfect vessel to flit about the house cleaning way up high and way down low.  Grubby finger prints on the fridge, God knows what on the counter, paw prints on the floor, that icky place between the window and the screen... windows, switch plates... it's all ammonia all the time.

If you are wondering how I go about cleaning floors with this stuff, you might not like what I have to say -- I clean floors on all fours. I know, everybody uses one of those cute little mops... if your cute mop allows you to fill the water reservoir then you can fill it with ammonia and water. What I do is sweep the floor of excess dust and debris. With a roll of paper towels in one hand and a spray bottle of ammonia in the other, I get down on all fours, spray the dirty floor, wipe it up with paper towels. (We'll have a whole paper towels vs terry cloth rags discussion another time.) I don't know what other floor cleaners cost, I do know that with an ammonia water spray and a length of paper towels I can clean a floor for under $1 and leave no residue behind.

As an aside, when I attack a kitchen or bath I clear away all the clutter, then I can spray away from left to right, top to bottom all the way around the room.

Mirrors: The key to a sparkling mirror is in the dry, not the wet. Dampness left on a mirror will result in    water spots. Wipe mirrors and glass dry for the cleanest possible clean.

Grimy surfaces: Let the product do it's job. Allow the ammonia and water solution to sit on a heavily soiled surface for several minutes before wiping it up. This can be tough on vertical surfaces but spray and spray again.

Water spots in a shower: This is not a job for ammonia -- next product discussion will be on Limeaway/ CLR (Calcium-Lime_Rust). Ammonia can clean quite a lot -- but it can't do everything.

Meanwhile De-clutter, Dust, Shine and Done!

If you have any specific cleaning questions please leave them in the comments and I will answer them here.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What's In Your Bucket?

Do you find cleaning supplies confusing? Do you wander down the cleaning aisle of the grocery store and feel like all the hundreds of new products are going to leap off the shelf, fling themselves into your cart and insist you take them home. And there you go, running out of the aisle, chased by bottles and cans, sponges and wipes. 

Whew, that was close. If we aren't careful our supply closet ends up looking like this:   

Someone didn't run out of the cleaning aisle fast enough. 

The person who owns all these supplies can't possibly clean, as she'd have no idea where to start. 

And where to start is to simplify... think about what we need to clean -- what type of grime and what is the surface? In my mind there are hundreds of types of dirt-soil-grime -- but only three surface types: Porous (wood and some stones), non-porous (plastics, paints, polymers, ceramics, porcelain, glass, metals) and fibers (fabric, carpets, grass-cloth wall papers). With only three types of surfaces I rarely have need for more than four, maybe five types of cleaners. This is good because I come into each home fully stocked and ready to go -- everything I need to clean a home top to bottom fits into a single bucket: 

My Big Five Go-To supplies are ammonia (a little goes a long long way), mildew remover (hyper-concentrated bleach -- Tilex is much preferred), a powdered cleanser (Comet, Ajax, Soft-scrub), lime-calcium remover (CLR or Lime-away) and furniture polish (Pledge, Behold, beware bargain brands -- they cost less for a reason.). If I can come into a home with this traveling cleaning show, fully prepared and ready to rock, there is little need for hundreds of bottles and cans and sprays. 

One caveat -- I do sometimes use a vinegar spray on hardwood floors -- vinegar is prefered on hardwood because it provides a superior clean to most floor cleaners, dries faster than water alone and does not over-dry the wood the way a harsh product such as ammonia would. 

So, there are our supplies:

WARNING -- Bleach and Ammonia should never NEVER be mixed or come into contact with one another -- toxic gas danger.

Ammonia I use in a spray bottle mixed with water. It is my everything cleaner -- windows, mirrors, counters, stainless, floors. Take away my ammonia and there goes my career! Ammonia cuts greasy grime, dissolves hairspray, removes finger prints from paint, stainless, plastics, porcelain. It cleans and shines. 

Tilex kills mold and mildew -- that is it's primary talent and focus. If your stainless is looking dull, give it a shot of Tilex or any handy bleach. Bleach dries too quickly to do a nice job making a stainless fridge glisten -- instead it tends to streak. Once the fridge is brightened from bleach (and dry), spray with ammonia and wipe till dry. 

Scrubbing cleansers, such as Comet, Ajax or Soft Scrub have their uses on stubborn grime, like dirty feet marks or soap build up in a shower stall or tub, removing stuck on food in a sink. I also use it to scrub toilets. Use sparingly and rinse thoroughly. 

CLR is a godsend. If you live in an area of hard water there is nothing that gets tubs and faucets sparkling clean like CLR. What happens is the calcium is carried by the water in our sink, shower and tub -- the calcium then mixes with soap, hangs on as it dries and leaves white spots on walls, pipes and fixtures. Not only is it unsightly, it also can build up on faucets, stop the water flow, and corrode faucets causing permanent damage. 

Pledge -- Pledge sometimes gets a bum rap, when in fact this lovely product is well formulated to do what it is supposed to do -- which is to remove grime from wood surfaces and leave them fresh and shiny. 

So there they are -- the bare minimum of house cleaning products. No need to buy a hundred products when all you need to do is buy a few of the RIGHT products. 

As we continue I will further show in depth how each product is used, as well as explain the occassional need for additional products. Next time -- All About Ammonia!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Why Bother!?! Or How Not to be Featured on an Episode of HOARDERS.

We clean and we clean -- 6 months later we have to do it all over again!! Why bother... um, I can think of at least one good reason... 

It could be finding this fella (what's worse, finding a dead roach in the cereal box or encountering a live one?) You might find a trail of ants traipsing through your pantry. Your child runs off to school wearing mismatched socks -- belonging to her dad. Or you would  invite a couple of friends over for drinks sometime -- if only there  clean glasses in the house.  

So there we are -- aren't our very lives worth living clean? Living in a clean house means moving seamlessly and successfully through our day, able to enjoy our lives, our family, our friends and not being tripped up by ugly dirty surprises. 

The first step to a clean house is to clear the clutter. Get a box, get a bag, get a timer. (Set the timer for half an hour -- we are not making a career of this de-cluttering thing.) The box is for donate, the bag is for trash. Start in the left corner of your busiest room. If it's a closet open the door and start there, if it's a bookcase, desk or dresser, start with every shelf or drawer. Look at each object and decide right now -- Keep, Pitch, Donate, Move. "Keep" items stay right where you found them, "Pitch" items go in the bag (and stay there), "Donate" items go in the box, and "Move" items get piled in the middle of the floor. 

When the timer goes off stop. With the "Move" pile remaining in the center of the room you are not likely to leave it there. Sort the "Move" pile into sub-piles : bathroom, garage, playroom -- where ever these things need go, take them there. 

De-Cluttering Day One DONE. Now this room is ready to be cleaned. Wipe, polish, vacuum. Ahhh.