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Taking care in cleaning is sound investment practice – on health and economic grounds

Avoid cleaning agents containing hydrochloric acid, formic acid, chlorine bleach or acetic acid, as these can damage the surfaces of baths, showers and basins, and affect the tapware’s inner workings

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 April, 2016, 9:41am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 April, 2016, 9:41am

Not everyone in Hong Kong has to do their own household cleaning, but we all should at least take an interest.

Even if you’re not too bothered about what gets thrown out with the wash – which you should be, since household pollutants can pose a greater health risk than the nasties lurking outdoors – consider it as investment protection. Domestic fittings and appliances are expensive, and if they’re not looked after, their lifespan could be shortened.

Sanitary fittings manufacturer Hansgrohe, in a guide to looking after your bathroom kit, advises avoiding cleaning agents containing hydrochloric acid, formic acid, chlorine bleach or acetic acid, as these can damage the surfaces of baths, showers and basins, and also affect the tapware’s inner workings.

If chemicals can do that to metal and porcelain, imagine the impact on the human body. A glance at the labels gives a clue: hazard symbols, along with word like "poison", "corrosive" or "irritant" are likely.

And they don’t actually disappear down the drain. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian-based environmental not-for-profit, when we use these chemicals to clean our home, they linger in the air and we breathe them in. Of six common cleaning products tested by researchers in the United States, each emitted from one to eight chemicals classified as toxic or hazardous under US federal laws.

There’s usually an organic alternative for any commercial chemical cleaning product – and many of the ingredients for an effective “green” household cleaner may exist in your cupboard. They’re also much cheaper.

As homemakers knew for generations before the term eco-friendly was coined, you can’t go past vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda and salt for an old-fashioned spring clean.

Distilled white vinegar is a mild acid that not only dissolves dirt and soap scum, but disinfects and deoderises as well. It’s gentle enough to use diluted to clean hardwood flooring.

Lemons, high in citric acid, fight grime thanks to their low pH and antibacterial properties. This versatile citrus fruit smells great, and isn’t likely to damage interior finishes such as fabric and wood. Salt is an abrasive – so teams well with elbow grease – and it absorbs spills. It’s still the best way to reverse that red wine accident on the rug or sofa: just sprinkle liberally on a fresh spill, and let the salt do its magic.

Here are some simple recipes:

For an all-purpose bathroom cleaner, mix together ¾ cup of baking soda, the juice of half a lemon, three tablespoons of plant-based dishwashing liquid, and half a cup of vinegar. A sprinkling of your favourite essential oil will add a lovely fragrance.

Equal parts of vinegar and water make an effective window cleaner: just spray on the glass, and squeegee off, finishing with a lint-free cloth.

Bring shine back to chrome tapware with a paste made from lemon and salt, and use lemon juice and an old toothbrush to scrub grout between tiles. Lemon is also useful to freshen up the microwave: place ¾ cup water with two tablespoons of lemon juice in the microwave, heat to boiling, and don’t open the door for another 10 minutes. Then just wipe away food particles with a clean cloth and dry.

For a natural air freshener, you can’t go past this: in a pot of boiling water on the hob, throw in sliced lemon, lime orange and ginger root, with a dash of vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon. Just simmer away, and let the fragrance pervade …. couldn’t be simpler, and not a toxin in sight.