The Alchemical Kitchen: Spring cleaning

By Rebecca Brenner

Don’t buy into the harsh cleanser hype—go DIY-safe and natural instead.
by Rebecca Brenner

Spring-cleaning is in full swing here at the Alchemical Kitchen. I’ve been clearing out old homemade cleaning products from under the kitchen sink, replacing them with fresh, new concoctions. Cupboards, bins, the refrigerator and the freezer have all been reorganized and wiped down. The last of summer and fall’s preserved foods have been turned into soups, casseroles and baked goods. Trays of sprouting tomato, eggplant and pepper plants have been cleared off the counters and transplanted.

Spring-cleaning also happens on an internal level in the Alchemical Kitchen— for a full week in the spring, I religiously avoid pre-packaged, processed food, wheat, dairy, meat, sugar, caffeine and alcohol. I load up on gentle, homemade vegetable broth, homemade vegetable juice, cultured foods and drinks such as beet kvass, kombucha and cultured vegetables; and organic vegetables, fruits and whole grains such as quinoa, millet and amaranth.

For me, spring-cleaning really is that pure and easy. But many manufacturers will have you believe the cleaning of both your gut and your grout is a complicated and costly event.

Ads pushing detergents, multi-surface cleaners and anti-bacterial soaps abound in the spring. Alongside these ads you’ll find full-page claims for colon and digestive cleansing herbs and supplements. Someone decides there is money to be made and then much effort goes into bombarding you with advertisements to buy more stuff—when really, if you’re interested in a true cleanse, you’ll be clearing out all of this stuff.

Even as Earth Day celebrates its 40th birthday this month, these companies push products that take resources to make, contain and ship, while giving lip service to the growing trend to “go green,” as they make misleading claims about their “natural” products (this is called “greenwashing”). Their spring-cleaning message is: Buy more stuff that only specialized companies can make properly. This message is inflated by media reports of deadly bacteria and viruses lurking on your dish sponge.

I am not saying that there aren’t deadly bacteria and viruses. In fact, super-bugs—those who proved fit enough to survive while the rest of their family did not—are evolving, making those sponges deadlier than before. But all you really need can be provided by nature. If you have baking soda, vinegar, salt, essential oils with anticeptic qualities such as tea tree or eucalyptus, or gentle castile soap, you have all you need to clean your home without exposure to harsh chemicals.

Same goes for internal cleansing—all you need is organic vegetables and fruit, whole grains and fermented foods/drinks and you are ready to release and renew. Homegrown or bulk-purchased cleansing roots and herbs (think ginger root and dandelion) can be added to teas and tinctures to aid in the cleansing process. Add lots of high-quality water and a few good naps and you’ve got yourself a spring cleanse.

DIY cleaning products, foods and beverages aren’t new. Until the Industrial Revolution, most of these items were created at home. It is a new phenomenon in our species’ history to depend so much on others for the advice and supplies we need for eating and living. It’s time we reclaim the ability to care for ourselves.

Cleansing and renewal along with the seasons can be found in every spiritual tradition throughout history. They are a way of recognizing our intimate connection to the seasons and to nature. They are rituals that allow us to express gratitude and reverence for the natural forces that support and sustain Earth and us. Making your own supplies and food do matter.

You truly are capable of creating what you need to be healthy. It’s just a matter of making the change and creating a system that works for you and your family. Try some of the following recipes and begin to take more of your health and the health of the planet into your own hands. The more self-sufficient each of us becomes, the healthier we all will be.

Natural cleaners
To spruce up the look of natural cleaners, keep them in spray bottles or antique glass containers with added sprigs of your favorite herbs/plants—lavender, eucalyptus and bergamot. You can also add your favorite essential oils. As always, don’t be afraid to “mess up”—allow it to be a creative process as you find the perfect combinations.

Disinfectant cleaner
1/2 cup borax powder
1 gallon hot water
5-8 drops a fragrant essential oil such as rosemary or lavender
Place ingredients in bottle and label.

All-purpose surface cleaner
Mix together equal parts vinegar and salt. Scrub surfaces gently with a natural cloth.

No-streak glass cleaner
1/4 cup undiluted white vinegar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 quart warm water
Divide into spray bottles and label. For a guaranteed streak-free shine, wipe dry with a sheet of newspaper.

Floor cleaner
1/8 cup gentle castile soap
1/2 cup vinegar
2 gallons warm water
Combine soap, vinegar and water in a bucket. Wash the floor as you normally would.

To kill mold
To kill mold simply use full-strength vinegar directly sprayed onto area. To keep mold under control, spray with diluted vinegar on a regular basis.

Unpleasant smell
1 tsp tea tree oil or other fragrant essential oil you love
1 cup water
Combine ingredients in bottle and label. Spray directly on area. May need to repeat a few times over a few days.

Cleansing foods
For the recipes for the cleansing fermented foods including beet kvass, kombucha and cultured vegetables visit the Alchemical Kitchen archives on CATALYST Magazine’s website.

Rebecca Brenner, Ph.D., is a nutritionist and owner of Park City Holistic Health. and

This article was originally published on March 31, 2010.