In the days when a 'spring clean' meant cleaning away sooty residues after having the fire burning throughout the winter, housewives usually didn't have the same array of commercial cleaning products at their disposal that we do today. Instead, they raided their kitchen cupboards and came up with some pretty effective cleaning products of their own.
If you'd like to have a go at making your own natural cleaning materials, here are a few ideas to get you started.
White vinegar is excellent for cleaning windows. Make a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray it onto dirty windows, wipe with a clean cloth to remove dirt and smears, then polish with scrunched up newspaper until the glass sparkles.
White vinegar also cuts through odours left by cats marking their territory. Make a 50/50 white vinegar/water solution in a spray bottle and add about 20 drops of citronella essential oil. Spray where a cat has marked his territory, and it will help remove any unpleasant odour. The citronella scent will soon replace the vinegar smell; since cats don't like citronella, this will discourage them from marking there again.
Bicarbonate of soda is another old housewives' favourite. Sprinkle it onto soft furnishings, leave for 30-60 minutes then vacuum. Or, add a few drops of your favourite essential oil and sprinkle the mixture over carpets. Leave for 30-60 minutes then vacuum - this is great for removing pet smells and leaves a lovely fresh scent behind.
Add a few drops of chlorine bleach to bicarbonate of soda and mix to a paste. This can be used on an old toothbrush to clean tile grout.
Lemons can be used for cleaning and freshening around the home. Add half a lemon to a bowl of water and heat in the microwave until steaming. The steam will loosen tough stains from the microwave's inner surfaces - just rub with a clean cloth to remove them once loosened. Fresh lemon juice in warm water can also be put into a spray bottle and used as an air freshener.
Essential oils have many uses around the home. Use a cloth to rub orange oil into stubborn grease stains on kitchen surfaces - they should be removed quite easily. Or, add a few drops of your favourite oil to a piece of cotton wool and carefully wipe onto cold light bulbs. When you switch on the lights, the oil will warm up and the beautiful scent will spread through the room. Remember to be careful with essential oils around children, pregnant women and pets - do your research before you buy.
For more homemade cleaning products and other housework tips, see The Cleaning Bible by Kim Woodburn and Aggie MacKenzie. If you'd like a chance to win a copy of the book, send your favourite natural cleaning product recipe to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and address - our favourite entry will win a copy of the book. Closing date 31st March 2014.