By Ashley M. Heher -- AP Retail Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — Flowers are blooming and the sun's rays are streaming through your windows — making clear by the streaks on the glass and dust in the air just how dirty the house really is.
But before you break out the mop, the wipes and the high-powered cleansers for a big spring clean, remember that getting the house spick-and-span doesn't have to mean spending a lot on fancy products. Sadly, though, elbow grease isn't optional.
"Modern cleaners that you pay top dollar for have been formulated for you to clean very quickly with just a wipe," said Janel Laban, a managing editor at ApartmentTherapy.com, a Web site that features cleaning, decorating and design tips. "With all these natural cleansers, you have to actually do a little scrubbing. But that's the trade-off for saving money and being healthier."
Here are tips on making your home clean, green and bright for less.
1. Scrubbing: Table salt and baking soda aren't just for making cookies. The pantry staples also pull double duty as mild abrasives, which make them great — and cheap — cleaners, said Anne-Marie O'Neill, a deputy editor at Real Simple magazine.
Make a paste out of water and baking soda for scrubbing or add some salt to a damp cloth to wipe away dirt and grime.
You can also sprinkle baking soda on a carpet and vacuum it up to deodorize a room. Or get rid of red pasta sauce stains on plastic containers by mixing baking soda with water and letting it sit overnight.
You can add salt and oil to caked-on spills inside an oven, and let it cool overnight. The next morning, the grime should come right off.
2. Washing: Lemons and white vinegar are easy on the wallet and tough on stains.
"They're both natural acids, so they help to neutralize oils," Laban said. "And they work as a gentle bleach."
Mix vinegar with hot water to mop your floors. Do a one-to-one ratio with water and add to a spray bottle to create a solution that will clean glass, windows and countertops. To disinfect and clean the dishwasher, pour straight white vinegar into the detergent space and run the machine without dishes.
"That will literally clean most things," she said. "It's really a great all-purpose cleaner, and it's very inexpensive."
Lemon juice will get rid of tarnish from copper. (You can also try white toothpaste.)
Or you can add a half cup of lemon juice to the rinse cycle of a washing machine and it act as a mild bleach to brighten dingy whites.
Another option? Cut a lemon into quarters and feed it into a garbage disposal to disinfect and give the kitchen a great citrus scent.
3. Reusing: Turning old towels and T-shirts into rags isn't just thrifty, it's also better for the environment so grab an old sock or short, put away the paper towels and leave the pre-soaped wipes at the store.
"My mom never overused paper towels the way we do," O'Neill said. "She would have used them to soak the oil out of fried fish, but paper towels were not something people used to clean with. They used to clean with a nice pile of rags."
Use old newspapers to get a streak-free shine on your windows. (Bonus points if you clean them with vinegar and water, instead of an amonia-based window cleaner.)
4. Reducing: If you're going through the trouble to deep clean, take some time to declutter shelves, drawers and closets.
"Most of us have everything we need and what really will help organize our house is to get rid of the things we don't need," Laban said.
Apartment Therapy recommends turning a cardboard box into an "outbox" and fill it with any thing that you think might be taking up space — from old clothes to extra pots. Then, set the box in an out-of-the-way spot for two weeks as a sort of insurance policy against overzealous purging. If you make it through two weeks without finding a need to fish out that old pair of sunglasses, you know you're probably safe to drop off the box at your favorite charity.
"In most cases, you'll find you don't miss it and it's out of sight and out of mind and you can close up the box," Laban said.
If all this sounds great, but motivation's an issue, download new tunes or a podcast, turn up your favorite radio station or plan a small reward for yourself.
"I think reward is always the best motivation," O'Neill said. "Give yourself a room, tell yourself when you've finished that you can take a break and go outside and do whatever you want to do. Have a cup of coffee or have a glass of wine."
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