No matter how loudly any idealistic raw foodist evangelizes about being immune to sunburn, resistant to jet lag or impervious to other travelers’ maladies, raw food has offered me none of the aforementioned inoculations. Without fail, I am laid out flat with four days of fever, delirium and dysentery while my body purges parasites innate to third-world water supplies. During those desperately ill moments, I am thankful for the thorough waste-management system in the US (we take indoor plumbing for granted, really, we do). But I am also aware, thanks to my third-world-country adventures, that waste management is one thing and sterilization is another.
A Cure Worse Than the Disease?
We may not get sick from parasites in the United States, but we do get sick from the chemicals we use to kill them. We can manage waste properly without bleaching our toilet paper, bleaching our counter tops, bleaching our sugar, bleaching our teeth and fluoridating our drinking water. With "unexplained" thyroid disorders, childhood obesity, young-adult cancers and allergies commonplace, I question which is the more dangerous: living organisms or cleaning agents.
Sometimes I wonder if all the US's sterilization hasn't actually made me more susceptible to the critters that live in the drinking water in Chiang Mai's jungle, for example. I knew better than to drink it, and didn't. So was it the water on my tooth brush in Chiang Mai's jungle responsible for the digestive sneak attack? Was it the unwashed street-vendor fruit in Rio that left me in fever and delirious for 36 hours straight? Strangely enough, the residents of these places did not seem to suffer the same maladies. At least not as often.
Perhaps our obsession with sterilization (fear of nature?) is precisely what strengthened the invading parasite's blow. Maybe if I had encountered bacteria and viruses and parasites on a regular basis, my body would handle them like the locals. I hope that we, in the United States, are not making ourselves more susceptible to traumatic illness by over sterilization. What an ironic shame.
I keep these two things in mind when cleaning my home: First, a lifetime of chemical accumulation eventually causes incurables; and second, like homeopathy, a body exposed to natural bacteria, fungus and mold knows what to do with them. Within reason, of course. I am a huge fan of septic systems, as I mentioned in the first paragraph. I'm not advocating "finding peace" with the cockroaches. I am advocating disinfecting no more than necessary and maintaining a naturally hygienic home based on knowledge of how bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi and molds thrive.
Remember that sinks are not the cause of cockroaches. Dirty dishes are the cause of cockroaches. No dirty dishes, no cockroaches. It’s the same for internal health.
Method Acting a Germ’s Role
If I were a germ, virus or other hygiene malady, where would I be? In standing water, preferably somewhere warm. According to John Oxford, head of the Hygiene Council and professor of virology at St. Bartholomew's and the Royal London Hospital, the eight germiest places in the home are, in this order; kitchen cloths or sponges, kitchen faucets, tubs and showers, pet food dishes, microwave touch screens, TV remotes, light switches, baby changing tables. Notice: the toilet is not on this list. Again, if I were a germ, I would live in standing water, preferably somewhere warm. The constant flushing of the toilet makes it more difficult for germs to live there than say, the edges of the sink.
Specific Natural Cleaning Tips
Let's take a look at each perpetrator individually and how to deal with it:
- Kitchen Cloths and Sponges - If you have space to rotate two or three cloths or sponges, allowing them to dry completely before use again, it will make them much less attractive to germ residents. I hang my dish cloths in the sun, in the open window when not in use. And I swap them out for clean clothes once a week.
If you use sponges, rotate them to always allow drying time in between uses, swap them out weekly, and throw them in the dishwasher if you use one; the extreme heat will kill every life form that thought it had found a panacea in your swab. And I can't help it, but now is a good time to insert that eating a diet consisting of mainly organic, raw vegan foods will make every step of the entire cleaning process easier—from kitchen to bathroom.
- Kitchen Faucets - Your dirty hands need washing, so you turn on the faucet to wash them… with your dirty hands! Wipe off that faucet as often as you wipe off the counter. Keep it dry and debris free. And after everyone has gone to bed, and your counter will have plenty of time to dry naturally before morning, fill a manual spray bottle with clean water, 20 drops of lavender essential oil, 10 drops of tea tree oil, 10 drops lemon and a little eucalyptus, sage, pine or rosemary essential oils and mist the faucet, counters, crevices, corners and drying rack. Heck, I often turn the nozzle around and mist my face and dread locks, breathing in deeply, these oils are so complimentary life.
Disinfecting can be a simple, once-a-week ritual—and it doesn't have to require a gas mask. Another raw vegan disinfecting technique I employ every few weeks uses food itself to do the disinfecting: after juicing a lemon for a wonderful recipe or salad dressing, flatten out the juiced rind and rub it all over your kitchen surfaces. Allow it to work for 10 minutes and then use a cloth and water to wipe the lemon away. Lemons and limes are natural disinfectants. And you’ll probably have peels around—once you realize they taste better fresh.
- Tubs and Showers - First, let's prevent the need to clean! I'm lazy and would rather never have to scrub, even with natural abrasives, if I don't have to. I am almost exclusively a bather, so I hand stitched a thick, winter sock over itself and strung a cord through it, making a DIY soap lathering sack just for this purpose. Inside is a simple bar soap by Juniper Ridge. I might use this soap on my body, but at the end of my bath, I always use it on the tub. As the water drains, I wipe the sides of the tub with my soap sock, then rinse that soap off with water, keeping the water continually in motion, so no reside can stick to the sides of the tub until the water is fully drained. Sure, by the end I am just swishing it with my feet while drying off, but really, if you do this every time you take a bath, you'll only need to do light scrubbing every other month.
When you do scrub, baking soda is the perfect, non-toxic abrasive. I do not find it necessary to disinfect the bath. I open windows in the bathroom after bathing to make sure water evaporates quickly, leaving no home for molds or fungus to take hold.
I rarely shower, but my parents taught me this one when growing up: keep a window squeegee in the shower and squeegee your shower walls and door from top to bottom after every shower. No more water spots! It's been seven months since I last used baking soda to scrub the shower walls, and even then I wouldn't actually call it scrubbing. Leave the shower door open and the bathroom windows open, if possible, keeping a good air flow moving to carry away any other moisture. No water, no fungus. And there is nothing more satisfying, my lover tells me, than cleaning a shower (when it eventually needs cleaning) with baking soda, home-fermented vinegar, and a scrub brush. Instead of fleeing the vapors of chemical cleaning products our bodies instinctually knows are toxic, my lover can jump right in the shower to clean it nude—heck, while showering! The baking soda is a mild abrasive and the vinegar is a fine disinfectant in itself.
- Pet Dishes - This is a no-brainer. Wash your pet's dishes with biodegradable dish soap and water every three or four days. And wash your hands after handling your pet's dishes every time.
- Microwave Touch Screen - Does anyone really have a microwave anymore? Didn't we all see that viral Internet video in which a woman placed herb cuttings into two identical glass jars, side by side on the counter for rooting, with only the type of water filling the jars as a variable? The cutting in the filtered water rooted and grew as a healthy herb would, while the cutting in microwaved water eventually withered and died. Yes, for the low cost of $60, you too can cut down on your cooking time and consume microwaves in your food. Mmmm... I've got all the time in the world to be healthy. I don't need to save time in that area, personally.
Anyway, if we've got microwave touch screens, refrigerator handles or stove knobs, they all could use a little more attention. Essential-oil spray bottle to the rescue! Mist it on, allow it to work its disinfectant magic for at least five minutes, then wipe dry. Or if you feel like you want a little more concentrated action, pour 10 drops of lavender, tea tree or lemon essential oil onto a dampened cloth and wipe surfaces directly with the concentrated formula. I know, I know, this is getting pretty technical. I'll try to keep it simple from here on out.
- TV Remote - After removing the batteries, use 10 drops of lavender, tea tree or lemon essential oil on a dampened cloth to rub over every button. I suggest taking the batteries out before to prevent chaotic channel surfing or inadvertent programming.
- Light Switches - To simply clean dirt from light switches, wipe with a cloth and two drops of foaming dish soap (I also clean my non-VOC painted walls this way). If someone in the home has been ill, use the same disinfecting method as with the TV remote, spray the misting bottle hourly throughout the home, and place any of the disinfectant oils in a palm/soy/beeswax candle-heated oil diffuser all day, checking frequently to assure the water has not burned off!
- Baby-Changing Tables - If you have a baby and you're not practicing “Elimination Communication,” the changing station and all of its accoutrements should be sterilized often. I think you have got the idea by now. Disinfect with essential oils, fresh lemon or vinegar. Keep surfaces dry, and keep your hands clean.
Read Part 1: Environmentally Sound Methods of Cleaning Your House
Read Part 3: More Tips and Tricks
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