Test Product of the Month: Good Ol' Fashioned Baking Soda and Vinegar

by moderndomestic on July 20, 2008

Since many of us are overwhelmed and, perhaps, in awe of the huge number of cleaning products that are regularly introduced on the market, I’d like to take away some of the pain by testing the products that intrigue you, yet you’re not quite ready to shell out for. So, each month, I’ll be testing a new (or, in this case, old) household cleaning product, and give a verdict about its potential to revolutionize your cleaning routine. Read on for this month’s product: Good Ol’ Fashioned Baking Soda and Vinegar.

By now, I’m sure that you’ve read so many terrifying reports on the toxic effects of common household cleaners that you wake up with nightmares about being chased around by giant Windex bottles, getting cancer because you smelled some oven cleaner, or crippling your children with asthma because you febrezed their cribs too often.

In response to the Great Household Cleaner Fear that has gripped the nation, there has been a slate of articles appearing in the press extolling the virtues of homemade cleaning products. According to these reports, creating your own cleaning products is a safer, less toxic, cheaper, and just as effective alternative to using toxic and harsh cleaning products that may or may not hurt the environment and your health. And while I’m definitely down with using cleaning products that are cheaper and won’t give me a rash if my skin happens to come into contact with them, I’ve always wondered if they actually work.

So this month’s test product is an old standard that often crops up in these little “make your own fabulous cleaning products” articles: baking soda and vinegar.

Yes, that’s right, that crummy little box of baking soda that you keep in the fridge to keep your roommate’s leftovers from growing eyeballs is the solution to all your cleaning woes. I decided to use the baking soda on our kitchen sink and the bathroom sink/countertops, since they both haven’t been cleaned in a bit (really, the kitchen sink really doesn’t get cleaned nearly as much as it should and the garbage disposal really smells a lot of the time). I found the recipe for my baking soda cleaning solution on an online baking soda book by way of The Simple Dollar, which often has little features on frugal homemaking tips.

Step One: Making the Solution

As directed, I made a cleaning solution out of two parts water and vinegar to one part baking soda (or, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup vinegar, and 1/4 cup baking soda). I used Cider Vinegar, since I like the smell and have tons of it. I mixed up the solution in an old tupperware container that lost its lid, that I now use as a bucket.

Step Two: Watching the Fizz!

At this point I really wished I had a camera because the fizzing was awesome. Once the baking soda came into contact with the vinegar/water solution, it fizzed impressively–creating a foam that filled up half the bucket before subsiding. The resulting liquid was a pleasant pale red color, and smelled very nice.

Step Three: Cleaning the Kitchen Sink.

I cleaned half the kitchen sink with Clorox Disinfecting Bathroom Cleaner (we usually use Ajax soap, but we’re out of that at the moment) and half the sink with the Baking Soda Solution. There were definitely some differences. Like a wild animal rearing up in the wild to show its prowess, the Clorox cleaner foamed up impressively when I sprayed it on and felt thick and viscous when I scrubbed it around the sink. The Baking Soda solution felt thin and weak in comparison. I also felt I had to do more vigorous scrubbing with the Baking Soda solution than with the Clorox, especially to get off that film of crap that always develops on the sides and corners of the kitchen sink. On the other hand, the Baking Soda solution smelled lovely because of the cider vinegar, was easy to rinse off, and once I did the scrubbing each side was equally clean.

Step Four: Cleaning the Bathroom Sink and Counter.

Like in the kitchen, I cleaned half the bathroom sink with a regular cleaning product (the famous Scrubbing Bubbles) and half with the Baking Soda Solution.

The Scrubbing Bubbles again had the advantage in thickness and foaminess category – I loved the way I sprayed it on and it immediately foamed up and I could just wipe it off. However, the fumes from the Scrubbing Bubbles made me kind of dizzy and momentarily lightheaded, which is exactly why all those articles rail against conventional household cleaners.

At this point I also realized that maybe I should have mixed my Baking Soda Solution more thoroughly, because I was getting low on the solution and all the baking soda had sunk to the bottom of my tupperware-turned-bucket, making it a bit of a gritty mess. Still, I poured it on the second half of the sink and scrubbed away. It took significantly more scrubbing to achieve the same result as the Scrubbing Bubbles. Also, the solution left a film of baking soda all over the sink, which, while it was a nice mild abrasive and got rid of the many makeup dots around the sink, was also a real pain to wash away, especially on the countertops. The Baking Soda solution still smelled much nicer and didn’t make me feel lightheaded.

The Result:

Perhaps it was partially user error (with the mixing) and application (I used a bucket, not a spray bottle, which would have made the distribution much more even), but the results of the Baking Soda Cleaner were mixed. On one hand, it worked really well cleaning the sink, tit was a cheap and non-toxic mixture, it was a mild but effective abrasive cleaner, and it smelled really nice and fresh without making me feel woozy.

On the other hand, the conventional cleaners were a definitely easier to use on the counters, didn’t leave a film that I had to wash away, and seemed to get the sinks cleaner without as much effort. However, some of the things that I liked about the cleaners (their foaminess, their thickness) were probably designed into the product to meet consumer expectations, not because they actually have anything to do with the products’ effectiveness. I have a sneaking suspicion that the foaminess is just for show, and has nothing to do with how well a product actually cleans. And you also pay more for these cleaners, both in price and in potential toxicity. And, like I said, the fumes made me feel a bit funky.

The Verdict

I would definitely use the baking soda and vinegar mixture when cleaning the kitchen and bathroom sinks, especially as the cost and environmental effects are something I care about (and I loved watching it fizz!). However, I would not use it on the counters again, especially since that film was totally a pain to get off. And if cost/environmental considerations are not your cup of tea, then it’s probably worth it to get a conventional cleaner.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

alice July 21, 2008 at 4:30 am

Any tips for cleaning old tubs? I think our tub is missing some of its enamel or whatever the outer layer is supposed to be. Whatever the case, I can scrub at it forever without any noticeable difference in cleanliness…

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moderndomestic July 22, 2008 at 2:10 am

Hmmm, letseee.

The first thing is that if your enamel is coming off and you feel like you’re scrubbing and scrubbing without it doing anything, then the “dirt” that you see may just be the enamel coming off. In which case, you have to just accept that, in fact, it’s clean, even if it looks a little dingy.

I think that the bakingsoda/vinegar mixture that I used here would be great for old enamel tubs, because the baking soda acts as a mild abrasive, that can help you clean without being too harsh. Sprinkling some salt on the tub, which is a slightly harsher but still pretty mild abrasive, could be good for this purpose too.

At one of my old apartments I had an old tub whose enamel was wearing off, and and I used Softscrub (which was recommended by the building manager). It worked well, if you want to go the chemical cleaner route.

This link has some tips on cleaning old porcelain enamel tubs: http://www.hometips.com/repair/bathroom_fixtures/bathtub_porcelaincleaning.html

Also, if some of the dirty bits of your tub are because there’s actually a rust stain, you can try the CLR Rust Remover: http://www.walgreens.com/store/product.jsp?CATID=100783&id=prod1765587.

My parents have used this for rust stains on their shower door, and I’m pretty sure they’ve been happy with the results.

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