Thoroughly Modern Throwback Cleaning

April 10, 2014

Thoroughly Modern Throwback Cleaning

If your grandmother was anything like mine, she was always in motion, scouring, scrubbing, dusting, and mopping. It was exhausting to witness, but it always felt clean at her house and without the toxic aftershock smell and feel that many of the products we use today seem to have.

There’s no way I can match the cleaning dynamo my grandmother was, and luckily I don’t have to. There are numerous ways to get that clean feeling at home without the exhaustion of yesteryear or chemical overload of many modern cleansers. It just takes a bit of a throwback to our grandparents’ ways while taking advantage of handy modern conveniences.


Laundry provides one of the easiest ways to combine old-time methods with modern time-savers. Many of the new laundry detergents may be fabulous for the environment, but not always as great at getting the dirt out. Solution: Add borax to your laundry. This natural, relatively inexpensive mineral salt boosts the detergent’s power without harming the environment. If you need extra whitening, a cup of hydrogen peroxide in the machine or a few drops of bluing (usually found near the borax in the supermarket) added to the detergent will do the trick. Bluing is old school, but thankfully most of the brands have upgraded their formulas to be environmentally friendly. Plus, a little bit of bluing goes a long way.

High-efficiency front-loaders tend to get a bit stale smelling. In addition to the borax (also an effective odor killer), white vinegar added instead of fabric softener can freshen up your machine — and your workout clothes. Turns out, vinegar is also good for disinfecting most mold, germs, and bacteria, without the harmful side effects of bleach. Surprisingly, there’s little-to-no smell left on the washed clothes, either. You won’t smell like a salad as you go about your day.


In Grandma’s day (and my childhood chore days), there was only one way to clean the floors: on your hands and knees. It’s still the best way to get the baseboards clean, but thankfully, we have mops with washable microfiber covers and swiveling heads, so you can get to the tough spots without actually crawling on the floor. I tried the much-heralded equal parts vinegar and water cleaning solution, but couldn’t take the smell. What’s worse, the floors seemed dull afterward. Now I add a couple drops of essential oil — jasmine or almond is nice — to one part water, one part white vinegar, one part rubbing alcohol, and a few drops of liquid dish detergent. Just spray a fine mist on the floor and go over with the microfiber mop. Streak-free, clean floors are the result with no backaches or sore knees like our ancestors suffered. Though this recipe is meant for hardwood floors, it seems to work equally well on linoleum and vinyl as well.

Windows and Mirrors

Though I’m partial to the nice-smelling window cleaners out there, equal parts vinegar and water really does get the job done on windows and mirrors. Back in the day, homemakers used newspapers to rub the windows with the vinegar/water solution. Newspapers work great, but they get your hands filthy with rub-off ink. Invariably, I managed to accidentally touch something with my dirty hands and make more of a mess to clean up. The trick our forebears didn’t have was the power of microfiber cleaning cloths. These wonderful tools make this onerous task much less taxing, getting you streak-free, sparkling results without the grimy hands — and usually in less time too.

Laura Dobbins

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *