"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cleaning," by Mary Findley and Linda Formichelli

Pros: Effective, safe suggestions for cleaning every surface in your home
Cons: A couple of products are harder to find than others
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 5/9/2006
Review copy courtesy of Alpha Books.

Cleaning house is a real challenge for me that all too often results in the house not getting cleaned. The skin of my fingertips is so sensitive that a single drop of something like Lysol will cause it to crack open. I have tendonitis, making scrubbing painful at best, debilitating at worst. And we have overly-curious cats with their own allergies–I’m just not willing to risk them getting their noses into some toxic cleaning chemicals. Thus I was looking forward to reading Mary Findley and Linda Formichelli’s “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cleaning” in the hopes that it might provide some cleaning solutions that didn’t require either serious scrubbing or harsh, toxic chemicals.

That, of course, is a tall order, and one that I didn’t really expect the book to fulfill. However, it succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. Mary Findley is a huge proponent of safe, non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning solutions using, when possible, everyday easy-to-find supplies. Of course, I figured there’d be a price for this. After all, why would people make and buy expensive, harsh, dangerous chemicals if things you could make out of vinegar, water, and a couple of other everyday ingredients could do as good a job?

That’s where the real shock came in. There’s one all-purpose solution Mary recommends that involves water with a bit of vinegar and all-natural dish soap that knocks my socks off. Our stovetop was in pretty sad shape and I was sure it was going to take a ton of scrubbing to get it clean. Still, I had to give Mary’s suggestions a shot. So I sprayed this stuff on, let it sit, then wiped it off with a terrycloth towel. And the gunk came right off with it. Sure, I had to do it twice due to the sheer amount of stuff that needed cleaning, but there was no scrubbing involved. And when I was done you could run your finger across the stovetop without feeling a single bit of grease or dirt. Now I just keep the spray-bottle nearby and do a quick spray-and-wipe any time the stovetop gets the least bit dirty; I’ve never had such a consistently clean stove in my life.

Other solutions have been equally effective. The product she recommends to clean pet messes out of carpets left me unable to tell where my cat had thrown up on our white carpet, and again, it’s all-natural, safe, and doesn’t involve scrubbing. My kitchen sink has never gleamed so well, and now that the water deposits have been cleaned out of our showerhead the water pressure is noticeably better and more even. I don’t have to obsess over whether or not any tiny bits of cleanser might have sprayed or dripped somewhere that the cats could get to.

My only issue with the products she recommends is that I had trouble finding a few of them. While many are everyday things such as baking soda, white vinegar, all-natural dish soap, and so on, some are more specialized–such as a 20% hydrogen peroxide solution. Unfortunately that one product is involved in her one recommendation for mildew, which (living in a humid region) I have a particular interest in, so I wasn’t able to do much with that. I do wish she had another recommendation for dealing with mildew in case you couldn’t find that product, or had been able to recommend a specific company to order from.

While many of the products she recommends can be purchased all at once from her own online store, she’s good about recommending other sources and I never once felt as though I was being advertised to (and I can be fairly picky about such things). It does cost a bit at first (you are, after all, replacing nearly every cleaning supply in your house, most likely), but most of these materials are much cheaper to replace or last much longer than store-bought chemicals, making them cheaper in the long run.

The scope of this book is formidable. Whether you need to clean blinds or curtains, siding or gutters, your bathtub, carpets, hardwood, wood furniture, kitchen counters, or whatever, you’ll probably find it in here. There are a few corner-case exceptions (she covers nearly every type of house siding other than our old asbestos siding, for instance), but not many. She deals with scheduling cleaning tasks and doing emergency quick-cleaning techniques when company suddenly decides to show up. Even she can’t make the huge list of tasks that comes with house ownership seem anything but daunting, however.

My only other mild complaint is that sometimes different parts of her book seem to offer different suggestions for the same thing without an explanation for the discrepancy. There’s one recipe for bathtub cleaner in the recipes part of the book and a different set of instructions in the bathroom cleaning section, for example. I expect that just means that either will do, but slightly better organization would have made this clearer.

This is an extremely handy little book. I’ve been so pleased with the results, and our house is cleaner than ever. I had high hopes (one might say unrealistic hopes) for what I might find inside, and it exceeded even those. The text is witty and humorous, clear and easy-to-understand. In short, I give this book an unreserved thumbs-up.

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