Cleaning is hard work

There is no miracle cleaner the will make cleaning your home anything but work. Just like miracle diet pills can’t replace healthy eating and regular exercise to maintain healthy weight. What you need in both cases is a good attitude to put in the effort that is required to achieve good results.

So if you have a large space in your home dedicated to bottles and jars full of specialised cleaners for every surface then you are most likely deluding yourself. Not to mention wasting a lot of space and money.

I encountered just such a situation recently and it left me shaking my head in amazement. I am not going to go into more detail than that but it sure got me thinking. And yes, I have written about this subject in the past, with a list of the limited number of cleaners I have in my home along with convoluted details on where and how I use these items. So I am not going to go into the details again here today but I do suggest that you take a look at what you are using. How many of those items are just multiples of the same thing and multiple brands of those same things. How toxic are they ~ these are usually ones that “require no scrubbing” but a hell of a lot of rinsing. And trust me proper “thorough rinsing” can turn out to be more complicated than scrubbing.

When it comes to the surface cleaning of my home, sinks, counter tops, showers, baths, windows, hard floors and even spot cleaning the carpet, I use a solution of white vinegar, water and a couple of drops of dishwashing liquid. And I have a bottle of toilet cleaner with a bleach element that I use very sparingly. I can assure you that I have tried all those other “fancy” cleaners and they have all been a disappointment. The only miracle ingredient that I know of is effort. And anyone who knows me will vouch that I have a lovely clean home.

So stop wasting your time, space and money trying new cleaners. They are usually just a lot of advertising hype. And some of that hype borders on false advertising. Start a use it up challenge on all those extra bottles and jars and in future simplify your cleaning supplies.

Allow me to make one little extra remark. Cleaning is not such hard work when you have less clutter. So clearing the clutter is much more effective than wasting your hard earned cash of mythical miracle workers.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter shabby linens that have hung around too long waiting to be used as rags.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  • Freeing up space I talk a lot about freeing up space in cupboards, closets, shelves and floors. No one ever seems to have questioned me as to what all this space is being freed up for. What is the point […]
  • House Chores – Do a little see a big difference ~ by Andréia One of the things I have discovered with decluttering is that house chores are not all that hard and don’t take that much time. You might laugh and say I am lying and a couple of years […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Hi Colleen, I didn’t receive this in my inbox today so I am going to resubscribe. I think about these cleaners from time to time. When I was in my late teens I fell for the advertiser’s schpeel in about how you needed a specific cleaner for every room or task and went out and spent my hard earned on cleaners for my mother’s rental. The bathroom had it’s own cleaner, the kitchen, grease cleaners, and expensive useless shower scrubbing bubbles garbage.
    I have grown up to realize that dish soap is fine, vinegar is cheap, microfiber rags clean the bathroom mirror without anything else at all. There’s bronner’s soap for mopping, although even that could be replaced with vinegar I am sure. I keep reading about the wonders of vodka as a cleaner since it doesn’t leave a residue and sanitizes and cuts grease naturally. I am done buying the cancer spray.

    • Good for you Jean, you have it all worked out. I mostly use nothing for cleaning the floor, just the microfibre mop. If I feel it needs more than that I just use my vinegar, water, dish soap concoction.

      • Although, Colleen I just realized I still spray that air disinfectant now and then when air in the house gets a bit stale smelling. I realized this after my lofty declaration about cancer spray, so now I just feel silly. We have had that same can for a while but I will not renew it when it’s gone.
        If anyone has an alternative please chime in a recommendation. I have tried the lavender water but it doesn’t do much. And my husband gags when he smells tea tree oil spray.

        • Jean,
          Open all of the windows (even if just for a few minutes and even if just a couple of inches) every few days to let the fresh air in. A simmering pot of water with a cinnamon stick, cloves, a couple slices of orange or lemon will do wonders. All organic.

          • Oh Kimberly, it’s like that Christmas scent brew. I hadn’t thought of that! I open windows when weather permits. It is just too hot most of the year here to open the windows. 86 degrees right now but it feels hotter. It’s common practice here for temps to be gauged in the shade, so who knows what it is out there.
            But thank you, I had never thought of doing that holiday brew! My boys would love that.

          • Love doing this Kimberley. Really is a wonderful brew:)

        • Jean,
          I live in Hawaii and even though it is rarely cool enough to open the windows, I still do on a regular basis, even if only a few inches and for a few minutes. Nothing will “clear the air” more than introducing fresh air into your recycled air environment. Please try it. It is so worth the time involved in opening and closing the windows. You will begin to notice a change immediately.

          • We have a recirculating fan in the attic that my husband installed and that brings in new air so that helps. I think I just need to get in the habit I have been in with the cooler weather of cracking the windows first thing in the morning, even if it’s already warm out. Oh my goodness, Hawaii! Good for you! (Despite the frogs) And I have the ingredients for the aromatic brew, even the cinnamon sticks someone gifted a while ago. I can use them now.

        • Hi, Jean. Do you have any indoor plants? The Boston fern, Kimberley Queen fern :-), aloe vera, and some bamboo palms help to filter and purify the air indoors. I’m sure there are many others. I’m not a plant expert but my only concerns would be for children and pets, as well as possible mould on the soil if they are over-watered. I bet that Kimberley could also jump in at this point with regard to feng shui and plants 🙂

          • Hi Nicole V, I wish we could have plants! My younger son is moderately to mildly autistic and he destroys things. Not every day, not all the time, but weekly something is broken or chewed or obliterated. It is not something we have been successful at teaching him not to do. I could literally write volumes on the subject so I will not elaborate, but it comes with the territory with special needs. It is also a great excuse to minimize, I admit.
            We are just getting to the point where we think we might be able to hang pictures and canvases that will need plexiglass armor to be desplayed in. So it will be a while till we have plants. My MIL’s hosta is still alive but we cut off three feet of plant and will probably need someone to babysit it. I would love to have that living wall like the zero waste home blogger!
            The only problem with opening the windows is that if I have the A/C on all night and I let all the cold air out in the morning and then have to build it up again it may be very cost prohibitive. It is well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit most of the year here and with my autoimmune disorder it just saps my energy. Even a normal person would be affected. It’s a big reason that we are finally moving away from Phoenix. We spend so much money on the air conditioning even after my husband completely insulated and redid the windows. I know, excuses, excuses, blah blah blah, but you get the picture. I know sometimes, like water, plants can be appropriate with feng shui, it just has to be the right conditions and it can have a calming effect on an area of a home with too much energy.

          • Nicole,
            Absolutely! Living plants are excellent air purifiers. Anything in the Palm family (I prefer Areca palms for inside the home) are good if you want something tall. Even herbs on a window sill would be an excellent idea, especially basil and rosemary.

          • I’m sending you lots of good vibes, Jean. I hope you find the right place to move to.

          • Maybe you should write a book about feng shui, Kimberley. Then there’ll be two awesome 365 books that I can look forward to reading (yes, Colleen, I’m referring to you). 🙂

  2. I am so with you on this!! It is so long since I used washing powder with a smell and I’ve never used conditioner (on clothes) that I now notice it when people pass me in the street who do use scented washing powder.
    I absolutely cannot be doing with cleaning but I love my place clean and it is so much easier without too much stuff in the way!

  3. Good idea to cut down on cleaners. There are far too many products out there, including those antibacterial ones, that are not only unnecessary but WRONG! For those people hoarding old linens: cut them up today into useable cleaning cloth sizes, put them in a bag under your kitchen sink or wherever you keep your minimal cleaning supplies and use them up.

    • Well said Linda. Although I am a microfibre girl so I don’t use linens are rags. It is said that microfibre cloth with just water will remove any soiling and 99% of germs just like a disinfecting cleaner. I don’t know if that is true but we don’t get sick in my house so I sure seems to be working.

  4. I had read, and printed out, Colleen cleaning tips and I have seriously decreased the amount of cleaning products I buy. I’m glad to not be wasting money on that junk. Less clutter = less crap to clean.

  5. Ha! This post reminds me of a Carol Channing segment from that children’s record album “Free to Be You and Me” from the 1970’s:

    Remember… your mommy hates housework, your daddy hates housework, I hate housework too! And when you grow up, so will you! 🙂

  6. A woman came into our store once and complained about the finish on her chrome bathroom fixtures. We had to explain to her that she was TOO clean. Clean the tub, yes, but the taps and the spout? Until the finish wears off??

    In honor of this post I asked Ian yet again if we could get rid of the old carpet cleaner we don’t use (particularly as we ripped out most of the carpet a year ago). This time I got a Yes. As my mission for March is to get rid of big items, this is a big checkmark in the GONE column.

    • Yay Wendy B, good for you. And well done Ian letting go of more stuff. I know he is a lot more attached to things than you are. This comments reminds me though that my carpets are due for cleaning so I must call someone to come and do that.

  7. How I wish I could convince my mother of this. Not that we have many cleaners but we have more than I would like. And they drive my allergies nuts plus are a drain on the money. She also uses paper towels like crazy. Ah well. Someday.

    • Deb J, my husband still brings home cleaners from time to time. I told him he can use them for his things outside like cleaning the cement in the carport or de calcifying the shower head what have you. Inside our home I decide what gets used. It is a pain in the butt to store that stuff though.
      I know that’s not the same thing as what you deal with between you and your mom but there is so much compromise in any relationship. If I had it my way the knife block would be donated and my high school year book would be gone. But he insists I keep them so I do, among other things.
      It was hard when my mother lived in our home for two years. After she was finally ready to move out I realized how much I had accumulated around the edges. So I can sympathize a little with that situation.

      • Jean, yes compromise is a big part of liing in any household. When we move I will have my own place and I can do what I want and she can too. Until then I will just deal.

    • Your mom uses paper towels like crazy? Deb J., that makes me laugh because she grew up in a time when there were no paper towels, haha! My sister teases me, because a roll of paper towels lasts me about 2 years. I have a rag bag full of old towels, cotton t-shirts that have been cut up etc. All clean, but once used get tossed.

    • Hi Deb J, that is interesting. I would have thought she would probably be more old school. I would also certainly think that she wouldn’t want to upset your allergies.
      I told my brother and sister-in-law the other day that I don’t even keep plastic wrap. They couldn’t imagine how I managed to live without it. It isn’t hard.

      • Colleen, we also have plastic wrap, loads of small plastic storage containers for food storage, foil, etc. Another area where I will choose do differently when I have my own place. There are some things you just can’t get people to change. At least, I can’t.

  8. It sounds like several of us 365’ers could be featured in a commercial singing the praises of white vinegar 🙂 When we had pergo flooring installed in our former home, the installer told me to only clean the pergo and the linoleum with white vinegar and water.
    One can go broke buying every new and improved “unnecessary” cleaning product and gadget on the market.
    Regular maintenance and elbow grease are our best weapon against dirt and grime.

  9. Hi, Colleen. If only people realized the simple truth of your statement – “The only miracle ingredient that I know of is effort.” – a lot of companies would go bust and we wouldn’t be making things worse in our battle against germs and dirt.

    I totally agree with you that decluttering helps to facilitate cleaning. I often feel like Sisyphus though, when it comes to cleaning and housework.

    I’m with Kimberley about opening the windows to help alleviate a bad air day. 😉 And her aromatic brew smells divine.

    My personal “Famous Five” for green-cleaning my home are white vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, liquid soap and microfibre cloths.

  10. I use Lysol wipes for everything. They are the best! The only 2 things I can’t use them on vacuuming the carpet (I have a vacuume for that) & cleaning the 2 glass items that need cleaning which one day will be replaced with not glass (I use Windex wipes for those). The only question I have is, is steam cleaning a carpet one should do or is vacumming enough?

    • Yikes Victoria, one of my pet peeves is the use of any kind of wipes. I don’t even like paper towel being used willy nilly. All that cloth and paper wasted when one could use a microfibre cloth over and over and over. I am also not a lover of chemical disinfectant and use it very sparingly. I am glad though that you have at least limited the number of cleaners you use.

    • Victoria,

      I think carpet cleaning depends on the situation. Some people steam clean rugs and carpets religiously. Some people never do it. It depends on if you have high traffic, pets, kids, snow, etc. Personally, I think steam cleaning removes protective coatings from carpet fibers, and so they get dirtier faster. That’s just a theory, though. I think preventive measures such as taking shoes off at the door, wiping pet feet with a towel, etc., can go a long way to keeping carpets clean.

      I have laminate flooring throughout my house (with a few small rugs). It is impossible to keep clean. I totally understand why man invented carpet. 🙂

      • Melanie – my brother-in-law’s brother-in-law is a professional carpet cleaner and I was surprised to learn that barefeet on carpet is worse than shoes on carpet. Apparently the bottom of feet are quite acidic. He told me this because we were talking about the primary school both our kids went to which had a no shoes on the new carpet policy and the carpet needed constant cleaning and had to be replaced in half the time they expected. He said bare feet are worse than shoes. However on the other hand there is a definate worn patch on my carpet at home where my husband sits on the couch with his work boots, so its six of one, half a dozen of the other.

        • Moni, I have friends who used to own a carpet cleaning business. they said that you should have a pair of indoor shoes that never go outside. Whatever kind you like. When you come in the door you change shoes. It solves the problem of having to clean often. It you have no spills and no pets you should be able to go a long time with just vacuuming.

        • Interesting that you should mention the worn spot in front of the sofa. I had never encountered that before until this and the last home that we have lived in. I thought it was just the, disappointing yet expensive, wood rug we had in the last house but I have noticed it here too. And we are usually in bare feet, so perhaps your husbands work shoes has little to do with the issue.

          • Colleen – it has been his ‘spot’ for nine years and the worn patch is approximately size 10 feet size. He walks in the door and straight to his spot to watch the news still wearing his steel cap work boots, quite often he will eat his dinner there too (Courtney takes up the dinning room table with art in progress) and then he wanders off to shower.
            I decided not to be precious about carpet, yes it is expensive, but I figured the amount of effort it would take to police it wasn’t worth it, especially when the kids were younger.

        • Moni – Well, that is just fascinating! Feet are acidic and hurt the carpet. Will wonders never cease. I guess I’d suggest taking shoes off at the door and putting slippers on. Oh, I see Deb J suggested that first with inside shoes!

    • I had the carpets in my apartment cleaned before I moved in about 15 months ago. I am thinking about getting them cleaned again soon. At least in the lounge/dinning areas. We live near a coal port and the coal dust does float around a bit. I then gets walked inside.

      • Thank you everyone for your insite! I just love this website to bits. I feel like I’m with family/sisters! : ) I have 5 rugs at the moment which I love & was thinking about investing in a carpet cleaner but all of you have made me decide not to so thank you! Also Colleen, 1. I love you & 2. I know, I hate throwing out & using all those wipes! But I hate the thought of using 1 cloth or many for different rooms. Lysol wipes come in 1 neat container & I feel like the disenfect well.

        • Hi Victoria and welcome to 365 Less Things. I am glad you are enjoying 365. It is more than just a blog it is a community and I am glad you are happy to be among us. And we are happy you are here.
          Now onto those lysol wipes. I would say that you have been convinced by advertising hype by chemical companies, whose best interest it is to scare you, into believing that germs are scary and therefor need to be eliminated at all cost. What that does is sell more of their product. Consider this instead ~ Most germs are relatively harmless and the way to build a stronger immune system is to be exposed to them. Yes it is less cluttering to have a small jar of wipes but it is also way more expensive and less helpful to the environment. That is just my thoughts on the subject.

  11. Hello everyone, I have a really deep and personal interest in this one now. Just after new year, I used an insect bomb (fogger for you guys in the US) incorrectly. I made a couple of quick trips back into the room before the exclusion time was up and the chemical in it caused some neurological damage which gave me a twitching upper lip for three weeks. PLEASE BE CAREFUL with cleaners, sprays etc and if you have to use them follow the instructions. If any one is interested I have a pinterest board featuring safe things that actually work (quite small so far, as I am just trying things out as I run out/decide against using of products) Also Sara at is a very good resource on natural cleaning.

    • Laura thanks for that link. What a horrible thing to happen to you. I once used bleach in warm water at my work years ago and thankfully I was only sick for a few days. Those foggers also leave residue everywhere when they are done.

  12. I’m a bit late to this post but……no can do using vinegar as a cleaning product in my house. Long story short my youngest seems to be some sort of throw back to English or Irish ancestors and going out in the sun invaribly means she turns lobster red. We were told by a friend that water mixed with vinegar sprayed onto sunburn helps take the sting out of it. Unfortunately you have to leave it to soak in and she smells like a salt and vinegar chip. The extra unfortunate to it is that she has an extremely sensitive nose so for her it is a hard call between burnt skin and smelling of vinegar. So she hates the smell of vinegar. If I even open the bottle to use in cooking, put the lid back on and put away in the pantry, 10 minutes later she’ll walk into the kitchen and comment on the vinegar. She can walk past a person in the street and identify what perfume they are wearing – actually this will sound a bit odd, she recognises people by their natural scent too.
    However my work, many years ago purchased a 20 litre drum of citrus based cleaner concentrate and I’ve been told to help myself to it and so slowly over the years I’ve made my way 3/4 thru the drum. When I eventually use it up, I will probably buy a 1 litre bottle. Aside from that, I do buy other cleaning products but only a fraction of what I used to.

    • Hi Moni, I didn’t much care for the smell of the vinegar mix when I first started using it either. So I got a jar, collected up lemon peals over time as I used the lemons, then started steeping my vinegar and lemon peals together. This seemed to work because instead of smelling like vinegar the solution took on much more of the lemon smell. Each time I make up the mix I refill the lemon peal jar with vinegar to steep until I make the next batch of cleaner. I have only replaced the lemon peals in the jar about four times over the last few years.

  13. The other question I wanted to put out there is how often to you all clean your windows?
    I’m feeling a bit annoyed as I have recently cleaned mine and we have a cyclone skirting its way along our coast, its coming ashore further down the coast from us but it has generated a lot of rain and wind.

    The other question I wanted to put out there……..I and another friend recently helped spring clean my friend’s house ready for their Open Home. They were a bit baffled when I cleaned the cat door and even more surprised when I went outside to clean the clothes line (we both have one of those tilt lines that is attached to the fence and can be put up or down). I was a bit surprised to learn that other people done clean their clothes line. I only do mine maybe once a year usually before Summer ie when washing is going to be hung out again as I find they get quite grimy (the line not my laundry) and there’s spider webs around the supporting pole thingees that lift the clothes line up and down. However both friend’s agreed that there was an improvement to the clothes line. I’m sure the cat appreciated the clean cat door too.

    • I clean my windows whenever I can’t stand looking at the state they are in. That is usually when I am about to have visitors other then my own kids. I had to buy one of those Window Mate magnetic window cleaners to do the hopper windows and balcony rail as, being on the sixth floor I can’t get out to clean them. They never look perfect but they will do.

      I used to clean my tilt clothes line too Moni. And all sorts of other miscellaneous things around my house that I am sure many other people don’t even think of. Although I encounter many people who don’t even bother to clean their skirting boards. That being said. I also dust my wall art and picture frames each week and when we had doors with recessed panels I also dusted those. I am pleased to have boring flat doors in this house so I don’t have to clean them.

      Back to the clothesline. They have plastic coated lines that can get moulding and they can also get cob webs etc. So yes they do need cleaning.

      • Colleen – I’d never seen those window mate magnetic things so I had to google it. What a good idea!
        Alas I have a house lot of windows and all are floor to ceiling (except the kids bedrooms) – its an eco idea to have big windows to let more sun in during the day. But it takes some working up of enthusiasm to clean them, especially as we get sea spray even though we are about half a kilometre from the beach.

        • Hi Moni,

          Sea spray is so damaging, especially to anything metal (like window frames or cars). Do you have an outside hose that can rinse off your windows? (I’m not sure how much rain you get, the cyclone notwithstanding!) But sometimes the roof line prevents the rain from rinsing off the windows, so you might want to rinse them with the hose once a month or so. Weekly might even be more ideal if you get a lot of salt spray.

      • Yes me too colleen I clean my skirting boards and picture wall art every week too.When I am sweeping the floor or vacum cleaning I just do along the skirting as well and then when I wash the floors I run the mop along them then too.Same with the wall art, when I dust or vac I do them too.

    • Hi, Moni. I’m with Colleen on the window-cleaning frequency. My husband cleans the windows (bless him), for which I am grateful.

  14. Moni, my other windows, six large panels all up, are floor to ceiling too. Fortunately they are mostly easy to get at. And we also suffer from the effects of being close to the sea. We even get salt build up on the insect screens.

  15. I hate the smell of vinegar, but it really does clean most anything. It’s a fabric softener, too, when added to the wash (the smell goes away). If you combine vinegar and baking soda, you have a nice fizzy cleaning solution. But vinegar is acidic, so be careful using it on wood floors. It can eat through the wax or finish, depending on what kind of floors you have. Every floor is different, so using a vinegar/water solution might be just fine for most floors.

  16. colleen what quantities do you use for your cleaning product. ie vinegar to water to detergent?

  17. Nicole V, thank you. I can always use those good vibes. I send them out regularly enough that I am not opposed to receiving them every now and again!