Natural Cleanin’ Corner (published in Resorter Reporter, state-wide resort magazine) by Kim Bowen
For a healthy RESORT, and a healthy YOU!
In this issue I’d like to yak about the toxic ickyness of chemical oven cleaners (even the “fume free” type). If you have a self-cleaning oven, GREAT! Using high temperatures as a cleaner is a great non-toxic avenue. However, if your resort is like mine, we still have many traditional cabins with older ovens in them. Our charcoal GRILLS also get tons of use, and instead of using chemicals to clean your grill racks, continue reading to learn about natural, safer and CHEAPER alternatives.
Chemical oven cleaners: Nasty stuff. I started playing around with natural cleaning recipes for oven cleaning 10 years ago when my hubby and I were landlords in Iowa. Nobody likes cleaning ovens, especially vacating tenants apparently. I tried the store-bought “Easy” spray-on cleaner. After practically passing out and having an utterly wretched headache using it, I decided to try the “fume-free” stuff on the next oven cleaning job. I even held my breath, sprayed it on and ran like heck outta that apartment. I didn’t go back ‘til the next day thinking it wouldn’t be as bad if it settled down. ‘Course it was winter and the windows were only cracked open a bit, so I’m not sure where I thought the chemicals would settle down “to”. It certainly wasn’t “away” from the vicinity I put it. (Yep, I had an idiot moment, what can I say?) What I learned from the experience was that despite the happy, carefree marketing of this “Easy” spray-on product, it stank. In more ways than one. I had to wear gloves, wipe loads and loads of gunky stuff from inside the oven, my nose burned, my eyes watered and I had a bad headache again. If you need to kill a cow at 10 paces, this here’s your stuff. Just spray ‘em in the snout and wait for the mooing to fade. Gee whiz.
Have you ever read the labels on these cans? “DANGER!” it reads, in big, fat capital letters. A clue, huh? Although to me, it’s kinda like saying “Hey, this product will poison you, but as long we’re telling you that it will poison you, it’s OK for us to sell it to you”. From an article entitled Cleaning Chemicals: Are They Affecting Your Health, 2001, by Michael McCagg, he states: “OVEN CLEANERS contain lye (caustic soda, sodium hydroxide) which is highly corrosive. Direct contact may cause severe burns to the skin, mouth, throat, and stomach. Direct contact with eyes may cause permanent blindness. Inhalation may permanently damage the respiratory tract, especially the lungs. Prolonged exposure may cause kidney damage, brain damage, and reproductive disorders.” (source: www.cmmonline.com, Environmental Archives) Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Not to mention that even if you get your oven or grill racks cleaned, chemical residue that’s not wiped up thoroughly “‘outgases” itself and intensifies the next time heat is applied which infuses into your cooking food. Ewwwww.
The US Consumer Protection Agency has issued numerous statements linking 150 chemicals found in your home (including Oven Cleaners) to allergies, birth defects, psychological disorders and cancer. Yikes! Why are these products still available if they’re so toxic? Well . . . in a nutshell: big business is protecting big business and you gotta follow that money trail for it to make perfect sense. Research it for yourself. Please. As consumers, we could probably do a lot legislatively to protect ourselves and our environment, but that’s a whole other issue for another type of magazine . . . soooooo . . .
Enough bad news, here’s the good news in two words: BAKING SODA. At seventy cents a box, baking soda is your best buddy in the cleaning arena. It’s CHEAP, versatile, and non-toxic! I put a box of baking soda in every cabin’s refrigerator and freezer at the beginning of each season for odor control. If the box gets soggy or we feel the need to put a fresh box in, I’ll save the old baking soda for scouring out ovens, baking pans, pots and grill racks later. The following are some amended recipes I’ve been using for years (original source: Clean & Green, 1990, by Annie Berthold-Bond):
“Believe it or Not” – The BEST AND EFFORTLESS OVEN CLEANER
- baking soda
- squirt or two of liquid soap
- optional - white vinegar rinse
Sprinkle water generously over the bottom of the oven, then cover the grime with baking soda. Sprinkle more water on top of the baking soda. If you let it sit overnight you can effortlessly wipe up the grease the next morning. Use a green scratch pad or razor blade to loosen stubborn spills. When you have cleaned up all the mess, dab a little bit of vegetable-based soap (Dr. Bronner’s is the best!) or white vinegar on a sponge and wash all the sides, top, bottom and inside of door. Rinse thoroughly to remove all baking soda (you may have to let it dry first to see areas you’ve missed).
TOUGH-JOB OVEN CLEANER
- 1 small box of baking soda
- ¼ cup washing soda (Arm & Hammer is a good brand called “All Natural Super Washing Soda” in a yellow box-- you can find this in the laundry detergent area of any big supermarket)
Follow directions for “Believe it or Not” recipe, but add washing soda, particularly to burnt-on areas. Washing soda will help cut the grease, but it requires a lot of rinsing.
SALT VARIATION OVEN CLEANER
- Hot water
Pour salt and hot water over grease and grime. Let sit for a couple of hours or overnight before scrubbing with a mild abrasive pad. Pour salt directly onto the grease when freshly spilled and come back to it later for easy removal.
CHARCOAL GRILL RACK CLEANER
Confession time: I personally have not cleaned a charcoal grill rack. At our resort it’s the husband’s job. Or, rather, he makes our grounds-keeping employee scrub the grill racks every week with a wire brush. (How’s that for delegating icky tasks?) However, I HAVE personally cleaned about a million oven racks, blackened pots and pans, greasy baking sheets and cake pans. These are all metal items and respond similarly to the baking soda/salt scouring treatment. When I’m washing all the dishes in cabins during fall, I often have a dirty pot on the stove simmering with baking soda water to soften up the baked-on food particles. (I drop in stove top burner racks, too, and then rinse in vinegar.) I imagine it would be easy enough to brighten all charcoal grill racks in the spring by:
- Spritzing a grill rack with plain old water OR salt water (dissolve a couple Tablespoons of salt in hot water and pour into an empty quart spray bottle)
- Throw grill rack in a big plastic garbage bag (you could do several at once)
- Shake a box of baking soda into the garbage bag and coat the rack thoroughly
- Tie up the garbage bag and leave it sit for a few hours or overnight
- Take the grill rack out of the garbage bag and wipe down with a sponge or scratcher
- Rinse or spritz with white vinegar for sparkling finish (and to prevent grease build-up, making it easier to clean next time)
Other non-toxic oven or grill rack cleaning options: Steam cleaner gadgets. I haven’t tried one myself, but those home shopping network commercials make cleaning with hot water look easy. (I think I have two of these machines, courtesy of my mother, a.k.a. Queen of the QVC, but they’re still in their boxes.) Apparently these machines work on steamed water applied with a small pressure hose to clean showers, toilets, floors, ovens, whatever. Anyone try this kind of gizmo? Another option I will be trying this season is a product by Shaklee called “Basic I” Industrial Cleaner with 9 degreasers. It’s non-toxic and rather inexpensive, too (about fifty cents a pint). (Go to www.shaklee.com to learn more.)
(E-mail me if you have a natural cleanin’ tip or product that you use at your resort that you would like to pass along to other resorters.)
----March 2006 edition of Resorter Reporter