Thursday, January 24, 2013

Getting Clean and Going Green: Salt, not just a seasoning

With all the buzz on natural cleaning products, I thought I would share one that I haven't really discussed so far, but has been getting a lot of attention from fellow home economists and green cleaning ladies.

Salt, or sodium chloride, is not just something delicious to sprinkle on your food, but it can also be a great cleaning product.  

Part of this is due to salt's neutral pH in water.  When added to water, salt breaks up into sodium and chloride ions.  Water is naturally in balance with it's acid (H3O+) and base (OH-) forms.  That's what gives water a neutral pH.  Salt, likewise, can combine with water to give the base, sodium hydroxide (NaOH), and the acid, hydrochloric acid (HCl).  Having both acid and base properties gives the salt water the ability to dissolve all kinds of substances by using its polarity, and we'll cover that later.

Another reason salt is great as a cleaning product, is that it is quite abrasive when used by itself or as a paste.  It also is able to absorb water to dry out things.  A great example of this is when you get clumps in your salt shaker because water from the air is being absorbed by the salt.  This is why some people add rice to their salt shakers to keep clumps from forming.  Rice is better at water absorption than salt.   

So, without further ado, I give you my Top 10 Reasons Salt is a Great Natural Cleaning Product 

(1)  Mix with vinegar to clean stinky hands.  This tip is great if you are like my husband and I.  We love to eat onions and garlic in almost every meal.  Great for our health and our immune systems.  Not so great for fresh-smelling hands.  To get rid of the tell-tale stench of sulfurous veggies, sprinkle some salt in one hand and drizzle some vinegar on top of it.  Rub hands well with salt and vinegar mixture; then rinse with warm water.  Some people say this works so well that they have used a spray version of this mixture to get rid of the smell when their animals get skunked.  

(2)  Put on spills in the oven to prevent smoking and make clean-up easier.  I don't know how many times I have set off a smoke alarm because something leaked in the oven and is burning.  If I had learned this tip several years ago, I would have save us a lot of running around frantically trying to air out our apartment before the whole building's alarms went off.  I also really wish my apartment neighbors would learn this one.  It also works if you're baking something and the juices start to smoke.  Just don't get it on the item you're actually cooking.  Nothing quite like over-salted chicken.

(3)  Use as a "soft scrub" to scour off grime.  I use a mixture of salt and baking soda all the time to clean my solid glass cook top.  I usually just make a paste out of it with a wet sponge, but for tough grime, I spray on a 50/50 mix of vinegar that I use as a general purpose cleaner.  You can also use the salt alone.  This works especially well on stainless steel sinks and certain types of counter tops.  If you have granite, baking soda and salt will work, but don't use the vinegar because anything you use on natural stone should be pH-balanced.  You can also mix salt and baking soda together with dish soap to make a true homemade "soft scrub".  I hear this works well on tubs, although I haven't had any soap scum nasty enough to try this one out, yet.

(4)  Removing laundry stains.  Salt is pretty good at removing blood and grease stains from clothing.  This has to do with that polarity (positive and negative charge) of salt that I was talking out.  The salt essentially attracts the stain and pulls it out of the fabric.  Another use for your laundry....

(5) Use as a laundry additive/fabric softener.  Although I haven't tried this one myself yet, it makes sense, given number 4.  Some people add about 1/2 cup or more of salt to the wash to help get rid of stains and to soften the fibers in their clothes.  Although true homemade crystal fabric softener is made from Epsom salt, which is actually a magnesium sulfate salt, the same acid/base rules apply to this compound as table salt.  Magnesium sulfate (MgSO4)  breaks up into Mg+2 and SO4-2 and binds with water in a similar fashion as sodium chloride.  Based on this property, assume it is this acid/base action that acts as a water and fabric softener and helps removes stains.

(6)  Use to get rid of ants.  Back when Crunchy Husband and I lived in a first floor one bedroom apartment, we had a terrible time getting rid of bugs from the previous tenant.  At the time, we were poor and couldn't afford to call out pest control, and my DIY natural conscious wouldn't let me bomb the place with toxic chemicals.  The biggest problems we had were with ants and fleas (see number 7 for the flea issue).  Ants don't like to cross salt, and being creatures of habit, they tend to follow a pheromone trail left by the ants before them.  To keep them from coming into the house, I sprinkled salt around all of the possible entrances.  This included our doors and windows, as well as around the pipes under the sinks, and along any areas that weren't caulked around the countertops, baseboards, etc.  After I got them to stop coming in, I found a really great natural lemongrass bug killer and finally got the ant problem under control.  

(7) Kill fleas in your carpets and furniture.  Along with the ants from number 6, the previous tenant of our old apartment had gifted us with a nasty flea infestation.  Not to mention, the apartment being on the first floor with tons of air leaks around doors and windows didn't help the bug problem.  Once I treated the cats, I was at wits end trying to get the fleas to stop biting us until we could kill them off once and for all.  After tons of research, I found I could get rid of them with not only vacuuming every day, but sprinkling salt over all of your carpets, rugs, couches, and other fabrics that can't be washed and are near the ground.  The dehydration property of salt works to kill the fleas.  I also used salt in a mixture with borax to kill the little bastards.  The borax punctures holes in their exoskeleton, killing them but also making it easier to dehydrate them until there's not a drop of life left in the little life-suckers.  It also punctures and dries out the eggs, so there's no little baby ants repopulating after all your hard cleaning work.  Along these same lines, salt can help you get rid of a slug problem on your flowers or vegetables, although it's kind of cruel, and extremely disgusting.  

(8)  Freshen your sponges.    While I don't use sponges very often anymore (I found dish rags last longer and are easier to clean), I still use this tip from time to time.  Sponges tend to get pretty funky pretty darn fast, so to keep them fresher longer, sprinkle them with salt.  It kills off bacteria lurking within and deodorizes.  Again, a mixture of salt and vinegar and/or baking soda doubles your deodorizing, funk-killing power.  If you have a really funky sponge, throw it in the dishwasher with a load of dishes to sanitize it and keep it around a little longer.

(9)  Keep your kitchen sink and drains clean and clog-free.  Along with number 8, I like to wipe my sink down with a salty sponge.  The abrasive power of the salt helps get rid of stains, and in turn helps keep the sponge fresh.  Also, as salt is good for getting rid of grease stains in clothes, it also can help cut that grease in your garage disposal and drain that can cause a pretty disgusting clog.  Just pour some salt in your sink and wash it down with some hot water.  The salt helps pick up the grease and the hot water carries it away.

(10) Kill mildew.  If you have some mildewy funk growing in the corner of your shower, you can kill it with a paste made out of salt and either vinegar or lemon juice.  The salt can kill the mold, and the abrasive power of salt and the acid action of the lemon juice or vinegar can help slough it away. The acid of the lemon juice or vinegar can also help whiten back up your tile or grout.  Just be careful with leaving it on too long or it can eat away at certain glazes that are on your fiberglass tub. 

So that pretty much sums up why I think salt is another great green cleaning agent.  Do you know any more uses for salt that you would like to share?  If so, please share them in the comments! 

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