The Science behind the Scrubbing

Why natural cleaners work and why you should use them

Captain Vacuum’s All-Purpose Cleaner

Ingredients for spray

1 tsp borax, ½ tsp washing soda, 2 tbs vinegar or lemon juice,                                          ¼ to ½ tsp vegetable-oil-based liquid soap, 2 cups very hot water,                                spray bottle

Combine the borax, washing soda, vinegar and liquid soap in a spray bottle. Add very hot water, shake gently until minerals dissolve. Spray and clean using a sponge alternative, like a “spaghetti scrub.”

For buckets

1/8 cup borax, 1/8 cup washing soda, 1 tbs vegetable-oil-based liquid soap, ¼ cup vinegar, 2 gallons hot water

Place ingredients in a pail. Stir to dissolve. Use with a sponge alternative or mops as usual. Be sure to wear rubber gloves, as borax can be slightly caustic to skin. Rinse well.

Effortless Oven Cleaner


Baking soda, water and a squirt or two of vegetable-based liquid soap, such as Dr. Bonners

Sprinkle water generously over the bottom of the oven, then cover the grime with baking soda. Sprinkle some more water on top of the baking soda. If you let it sit overnight, you can effortlessly wipe up the grease the next morning. When you’ve removed all the mess, dab a little vegetable soap on a scrub or dishcloth and wash all sides of the oven and inside of door. Rinse to remove all baking soda.

For tougher jobs

Follow the above directions, but add washing soda, particularly to burnt areas. Washing soda will help cut the grease, but it requires more rinsing.


By Cassie Pence

887 Words

When my husband and I, Captain Vacuum, opened our green cleaning company about a decade ago, natural cleaning was still on the fringe of mainstream. People with allergies were doing it. Crunchy old hippies were still doing it. For frugal grandmothers, well, vinegar is just the way they’ve always done it.

Now, the ingredients – and the benefits – of green cleaning are widely recognized. Vinegar, baking soda, lemon, washing soda, hydrogen peroxide and borax are some of the core ingredients, most of which are found in cupboards and easily mixed into multi-purpose cleaning agents.

Benefits are simple: a healthier you and a healthier planet. Who wouldn’t want that? It’s why most people now are making the switch.

Toxic chemicals surround us. From our building materials to our food and water supply to the toys we give our kids to the fire retardant on plane seat upholstery – we are constantly being exposed to strange, chemical combinations. It adds up and loads up in our bodies causing all kinds of ailments, from allergies to hormone disruption to cancer. Consider the way you use cleaning products. The product makes contact with your skin and you inhale it as you clean. Cutting toxic chemicals out of your cleaning products is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce your exposure. It helps lessen the chemical build-up of modern day life in a very direct way.

Check out this statistic, for example: indoor air is typically two- to five- times more polluted than the air outside. Those nasty chemicals in conventional cleaning products are one of main contributors to that number. Drop the toxic stuff and improve your air quality.

Just as chemicals build up in our bodies, they build up in the environment, too. Petroleum-based products, which are commonly found in dish soap, are slow to break down in the environment, contaminate air and water and are a non renewable resource.

Most of this info about natural cleaning is understood, accepted, and in a way, old news. Chemicals bad. Plant-based products good. Yeah, yeah, we got it.

But there are many of you – even those who practice green cleaning – who secretly wonder: Do green cleaners really work?

I am one of green cleaning’s most staunch believers, but it wasn’t until Walking Mountains Science School in Avon charged me with the task of presenting the science behind green cleaners (as part of the “Science Behind” series) that I really learned how green cleaners kill germs and wash away dirt.

Using Captain Vacuum’s All Purpose Cleaner recipe (recipe in box) and Effortless Oven Cleaner (thank you green cleaning goddess Annie Bond), I’ll take each natural ingredient and identify the science behind its power. Truth is, most of today’s conventional, chemical-based cleaners started out as natural ones. The ingredients have taken an ugly turn, but the science is still the same.

There are three basic ways cleaning products work: as a surfactant, using the power of pH and as abrasives – AKA, pure elbow grease.

Vegetable-based soap – the perfect surfactant

Using surfactants is the most familiar way we clean our homes. It’s the way regular old soap and detergent work.

A surfactant lowers the surface tension of water, which allows oil and grease to be “grabbed” and washed away. Soap is an excellent surfactant because of its ability to emulsify. An emulsifier is capable of dispersing one liquid into another liquid that is incapable of being mixed. This means that while oil (which attracts dirt) doesn’t naturally mix with water, soap can suspend oil/dirt in water so it can be removed.

The problem is most soap on supermarket shelves is petroleum-based, and do we really need more petroleum in our lives? No. Vegetable-based oils, like coconut oil, make a better, safer, cleaner soap surfactant. My favorite brands include Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap and Seventh Generation.

The power of vinegar is in its pH

The pH scale is a scientific way of comparing the amount of acidity (low pH) or alkalinity (high pH) a substance has within it. The scale runs from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Products on either end of the scale generally should be avoided, since they can be caustic.

The most safe and useful green cleaning supplies are mildly acidic, such as vinegar and lemon juice, or mildly to moderately alkaline (also known as basic), such as baking soda and washing soda.

As mentioned above, cleaners have a specific pH and so do the things in your home that need to be cleaned, such as dirt and oil, which are generally acidic, and soap scum and hard water deposits, which are alkaline. When using the power of the pH scale to clean your home think about the “opposites attract” rule. You should use acidic substances to clean up alkaline messes and vice-versa.

Abrasives and elbow grease

The third way green-cleaning supplies can be used is an abrasive to manually remove dirt, like using the grainy combination of baking soda, salt and borax. Or, you can stir ingredients into a paste and rub onto the surface, like our Effortless Oven Cleaner.

For this easy oven cleaner, sprinkle water generously over the bottom of the oven, then cover the grime with baking soda. Sprinkle some more water on top of the baking soda. If you let sit overnight, you can effortlessly wipe up the grease the next morning.

So next time you pull out your homemade cleaners, have faith in the very old science of surfactants, pH and “elbow grease” that they aren’t just improving your health and the planet’s — these natural cleaners are actually working — kicking grime’s behind.