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Like Vinegar for Glass

This year, make it yourself

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Just in time for the new year, I received an email blast asking whether I was tired of toxic products. Sent from a "green" nonprofit, the message described various battles with cleaning-products manufacturers. I'm glad people are battling toxin hustlers, but I'd rather ask, "Aren't you tired of letting someone else make your glass cleaner for you?"

It's easy to make cleaning products, and it's an expression of love. Think back on the movie Like Water for Chocolate. It focused on passionate cooking to show how fantastically work and food are transformed by inspired and loving determination. But what about mundane chores that don't result in mole sauce or lovemaking? Washing windows, for example, is hardly the prelude to a kiss. Some may fear passionate housekeeping leads to rejection.

"Being perceived as excessively domestic can get you ostracized," claims Cheryl Mendelson in her 1999 tome Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House. Mendelson, an attorney, says she wrote her treatise in secret, for fear of ridicule. But the massive, 884-page reference book is a labor of love showing how one can clean house without filing lawsuits against makers of toxic products. "You can make a good window cleaner yourself," explains Mendelson on page 442, using "45 percent water, 45 percent rubbing alcohol and 10 percent ammonia." Label the spray bottle you put it in, because there is no blue dye in the mix. And use a new, clean bottle so you don't mix chemicals.

About.com gives a simpler recipe, calling for one cup of rubbing alcohol, one cup of water and one tablespoon of vinegar. And Care2.com says to use one-half teaspoon of liquid detergent, three tablespoons of vinegar and two cups of water, claiming that this homemade cleaner will cut the "wax residue from commercial brands you might have used in the past."

Whether or not any of these home recipes cleans up residues from commercial brands, using your own concoction for cleaning does something radical on a number of fronts: it puts you in charge of what's in your cleaning agents, and what touches your skin and lungs; it saves money; and it restores an almost lost art—the transformation of a home, by inspired and loving determination.

Whatever recipe works for you, making your own cleaners is liberating and sustainable. It's also an act of passionate housekeeping that boots corporate influence out of your home. Clean your windows with vinegar and sincerity. Maybe there's no romantic payoff—but then again, you never know.

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