Non-toxic spring cleaning, Longbourn style

March 28, 2014 | Maureen

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LongbournAfter reading the novel Longbourn, by Jo Baker, I decided to put an intriguing cleaning method used by Sarah, the novel’s main character, to the test. Just to be clear, Longbourn is not a novel about cleaning, although a great deal of cleaning happens in it, including laborious hand-scrubbing of petticoats which have dragged through dirt, scraping mud from boots, and even the emptying of chamber pots (which are taken to the charmingly named “necessary house”, a small building set back from the main house.) This is because the novel tells the stories of the servants employed by the Bennet family in the  Jane Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice. These folk are no more than fleeting presences in Austen’s novel, where they have no existence outside of bringing tea, serving meals, and delivering letters. Jo Baker gives them hearts and minds, which she fills with dreams and secret sorrows as intensely felt as any experienced by the genteel Bennets.

Reading Longbourn was a treat. I learned that sugar once came in loafs. I came across wonderful words like tatterdemalion, lickspittle, syllabub and flump. You won’t need a dictionary to read this book – such words are sprinkled sparingly through it, like judiciously used spices. And I was reminded that the seemingly perfect world of the upper classes was paid for by servants like Sarah, with blisters and exhaustion. As if all of that weren’t enough, Sarah taught me an old school sweeping method.

Jar_0207_25In the book, Sarah saves used tea leaves in a jar. Before sweeping, she sprinkles tea leaves on the floor. I suppose the idea is that dust sticks to the damp tea leaves, and is swept up along with them. I imagine this method would minimize the amount of dust stirred up and inhaled.

After a couple of days of saving used tea bags, I had more than enough tea leaves to give Longbourn style sweeping a try. I waited for a sun beam, and then liberally sprinkled damp tea leaves all around. Then I swept. I did see dust motes floating around in the sun beam as I worked, so not all the dust was caught by the moist tea leaves. 

I’m not sure how much more dust I captured using this method, but I’m going to continue using it. I’m sure I inhaled less dust than I do when I dry sweep. Besides, the tea had a nice, subtle scent. And I liked that I was practicing two of the "three Rs" of environmental sustainablity: reuse and recycle. (When I was finished, I tossed my dust infused tea leaves onto the compost heap.)

The timing is perfect for learning environmentally friendly cleaning methods. Earth Hour is on Saturday March 29. Millions of people all around the world will turn off their lights for one hour, at 8:30 p.m., as a declaration of their commitment to the health of this planet. Earth Day is on April 22. And it is spring, a time for the traditional thorough cleaning of our homes.

Sarah's sweeping with tea leaves made me see a connection between the world of Longbourn and the world of today. Someone had to pay the price for the lifestyles of the rich and idle like Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley in Longbourn. (Something far worse than Sarah's painful chilblains is hinted at in the book: Charles Bingley's fortune depends on the slave labour of sugar plantations.) Likewise, a price will have to be paid for the way we live now, too often putting the health of the earth at the bottom of the priority list. Who will pay the bill? Our children? Our granchildren?

Spring cleaning can be done in an earth friendly way, with non-toxic ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda, olive oil and lemon. Here's a simple recipe for furniture oil from Ellen Sandbeck's Organic housekeeping book:

Mix one part lemon juice and two parts olive oil. Mix in a blender or shake vigorously in a tightly lidded jar. Apply sparingly to furniture. If the mixture begins to separate, shake it up again before applying. Let the mixture soak into the wood for a few minutes, then wipe dry with a clean, soft cloth.

Here’s a non-toxic method for removing soap scum build up on shower doors, from Jill Potvin Schoff’s Green-up your cleanup.

Removing mild buildup of soap scum on shower doors:

White vinegar

A spray bottle

A nonabrasive sponge

Spray the surface heavily with undiluted vinegar. Let it sit for 10 minutes, then scrub it using a nonabrasive sponge.

For heavier build up, try using a paste of baking soda and water.

Try one of these books for more green cleaning ideas. Happy spring cleaning!

  Green cleaning for dummies   Greening your cleaning   House works   Clean home
Green cleaning for dummies Greening your cleaning

House works: how to live clean,green and organized at home

Clean home, green home:the complete illustrated guide to eco-friendly homekeeping

  A guide to natural housekeeping   Soaps_bubbles_scrubs   Ecoholic home   Naturally clean home
A guide to natural housekeeping : recipes and solutions for a cleaner, greener home  Soaps, bubbles & scrubs natural products to make for your body and home   Ecoholic home The Naturally Clean Home