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Monday, November 10, 2014

Don’t Throw it Out, Clean it!

Many items in my home seem to be ready for the dump: some shoes; the shower curtain AND bathroom rug; oven mittens; a few water bottles; white leather sandals; gloves, a baseball cap, and my kitchen garbage can.
However, I have learned over the years that many of these can be cleaned and used for many more years.  Cleaning them is cost-saving AND better for the environment than throwing out AND buying new; throwing out adds trash in garbage dumps; buying another item means it has to be manufactured and this not only uses new materials (plastic, etc.) but these materials require some type of transformations to be made into the product you are buying.
So can you clean everything? almost!  Let’s start in the bathroom: you can wash and disinfect almost anything in there.  A grimy shower curtain is easily thrown into the washing machine (you can use the shortest cycle – and hang dry in the shower!) and it will come out clean, especially if you do this every few months.  While talking about shower curtain, remember that no matter how expensive a shower curtain you buy, it will become full of soap scum at about the same rate so skip the designer one and buy the one from the dollar store. I do the same with the bathroom rug – but not at the same time as the shower curtain!  Use the cold cycle if you have a rubber-backed rug because heat dries out rubber.  Do NOT put in the dryer.  Finally, make sure to wash the toothbrush holder every week; the slimy stuff that’s in it is from non-rinsed out toothpaste from someone’s mouth  - enough said. Make sure to have more than one toothbrush – by letting your toothbrush dry between uses (best done by alternating the use of 2 toothbrushes), you are preventing the growth of bacteria on your toothbrush.  This is especially important when you are sick and trying to GET RID of bacteria!  And when a toothbrush is too old to use (dentists recommend every 3-4 months of use only), clean it well (disinfect with rubbing alcohol) and save as a cleaning device (and label as such).  Use a shopping bag to line the trash basket in the bathroom so you don’t have to touch anything when you empty it, and to ensure that it remains clean(er).
In the kitchen, wash the draining rack and its tray, especially its tray; soap scum accumulates and can turn someone’s appetite.  Wash the sink at least once a week – use a scouring powder and scrub a little (use an old toothbrush to get in the drain area).  All it takes is 5 minutes and you are reducing considerably the amount of germs and bacteria on your food and dishes. Water bottles should not use indefinitely, especially the ones that are meant for single use; the degradation of the plastic in the sun can add chemicals into your drink.  However, kept cold they are generally safe, and you can use them a few times before tossing them.  Keep them clean with hot water and soap, rinse well and let dry before using again.  The reusable ones need cleaning too: use a brush made for this purpose (less than $5), lots of soap and hot water.  You may need a bit of soaking with a bit of bleach and hot water to disinfect them well – if you use bleach, make sure to wash with soap and rinse well before use.  Still in the kitchen, oven mittens, dish cloths and dish towels all go in the washing machine.  Finally, the kitchen garbage pail can take on some awful odors after a while; scrub with water and soap (dish soap is fine) and let air dry before putting in the next garbage bag (oh yes, use a garbage bag!). 
Some clothing and bags may seem extremely difficult, if not impossible, to clean: shoes, boots, sandals, and anything leather or suede, and ball caps because they contain cardboard or plastic in the bill.  To clean most types of shoes, brush with an old dry toothbrush first to get rid of surface dirt.  Then, to wash the deeper dirt, clean with dish soap and an old toothbrush.  This can be done as a spot clean, or for the entire shoe (they are of limited size!).  Fabric shoes, after this treatment, can be washed in the washing machine; this will help refresh the inside of the shoe as well as the outside and therefore transform putrid-smelling athletic shoes into less offensive equipment.  I have completely immersed and washed leather shoes before, with very good success.  Suede is more delicate; however, if they are so dirty that you cannot wear them anymore, give it a try – they may not end up with the same appearance as when they were new, but they may end up with acceptable looks – at this point, you have nothing to lose.   Try the washing of your baseball cap with a brush and avoid soaking the bill; you can still lightly dampen the fabric of the bill, just don’t immerse it.
Washing and cleaning everything is what people three generations ago did, when housewives had more time than money and when common goods were not so cheap as to be seen as disposable.  On a student budget, shouldn’t the same principles apply?

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