A few Sundays back, the newspaper seemed to spill an overwhelming number of cleaning-product coupons onto my living-room floor.


“It’s like They know,” my husband said. “They’re on to you.”

“They” are the companies selling household liquids and powders for a little spring cleaning. And the secret my husband thought they’d discovered? I had decided to purge my pine-fresh scents and 99.9 percent germ killers in favor of a few products our “great-grandparents used,” as advised by green-parenting maverick MaGreen.

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Here’s a little secret the cleaning companies don’t want to promote on daytime TV: This older, less-expensive version of cleaning often works better. Things like Swiffer mops don’t make the job easier. They make it more irritating, because they don’t work well and you spend a fortune to do a half-ass job on the kitchen floor.

So I decided to load up on the basics. Vinegar. Baking soda. Washing soda. Borax, which apparently cleans everything. Two bars of laundry soap.

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It’s one of those green choices that will actually save my one-income family some money — unlike paying $374 to join a local CSA, a move suggested by several Gristmill readers.

That CSA bill comes out to only $14 a week, a very reasonable amount for organic vegetables, but is a huge chunk for us to pay in one lump sum. We were only able to do it thanks to a well-timed IRS refund check.

The cleaning products, on the other hand, totaled $12.40 and will last for months.

Parents have become so complacent about using paper towels and disinfectant — they never notice that a hand-knit dishrag and soap actually works better. A quarter cup of vinegar in the rinse cycle takes out all the scratchiness of line-dried towels and doesn’t smell. My friend sent a link to a recipe for homemade laundry detergent, which costs about $2 per batch, or less than 6 cents a load. It works great. And when you have kids, you have a lot of laundry.

Worries that greening my house meant it wouldn’t be as clean were unfounded. In the end, I think it might be cleaner, although I haven’t yet tackled huge jobs like shampooing the carpet or cleaning the oven, so I welcome thoughts on that.

Now, on to spring cleaning. A mom’s life is so glamorous.