Tuesday, November 15, 2011

my chemical romance

I got my driver's license in 1987, behind the wheel of my mother's flesh-toned Pontiac Phoenix. Lame ride aside, I was so enthralled with my new-found freedom that I volunteered to do any and every household errand no matter how short the distance or tedious the task. When my mother finally let me drive to the grocery store unaccompanied I was ecstatic.

I struck off for the local Food City and, as per driving school code, I began to apply the brakes three telephone poles ahead of any stop sign or signal light. As you might imagine, the flow of traffic began to slowly coagulate behind me and within minutes I was at the head of a kilometre-long traffic jam on Keele Street. I have never before or since been so glad to pull into a parking lot. But this inaugural drive was memorable for another reason: it was on this day that I discovered the cleaning products aisle. Up until this point my experience with cleaning products was limited to Pine Sol for floors, Windex for glass, Endust for polishing and Ajax for everything else. My mother was a price conscious creature of habit when it came to shopping and she stuck with what she knew. The medley of those four smells utterly defines my early childhood memories of home. I don't know why the cleaning aisle was so enticing that day. But the array of products was revelatory. I ignored most of the grocery list and filled the cart with the stuff we really needed: Brasso to polish the living room lamps, 409 spray for the bathroom (no more Ajax grit underfoot!), Drano to finally deal with that slow drain, and an expensive bottle of orange oil for the wood. Having spent a good portion of the weekly budget on non-food items, my mother was peeved. But I was hooked.

Am I alone in my fascination? I am all ears when a cleaning product commercial airs. I am that person at the CNE peppering the microfibre mop demonstrator with questions. I own a Steam Shark. I have colour-coded toothbrushes for the bathroom (grout) and kitchen (behind the oven knobs). When we make a trip to Target all I ask is for 15 minutes of alone time so that I might browse the cleaning aisle in peace. At home I clean with wild abandon. I spray and spritz and fill the air with chlorine-scented vapour. I have Talked Dirty With The Clean Of Queen. I watch You Tube videos on how to clean baseboards. I polish and wipe, disinfect and deodorize even as my lungs ache and eyes water. Sure I've tried "green" cleaning products. I do like some Method products (they make a good toilet bowl cleaner and the almond-scented wood polish is dreamy) but I've never met an eco counter-top spray or bathroom cleaner that was up to the task.

Is this all sounding impossibly housewife-y and perhaps just a little obsessive? I feel like it might be. Last week I stood in the laundry aisle comparison smelling Downy Sage and Jasmine Thrill and my standby, Fleecy, and I felt...bad. My nose hurt. Nothing smelled fresh or lovely, just obnoxiously synthetic. But unscented laundry detergent? Ugh. What's the point? Just the same, I found myself at the library checking out books on natural house cleaning. It's time I end this chemical romance.

I spent some time on the weekend testing different home-made cleaning products. As improbable as it sounds, I scrubbed the tub with half a lemon dipped in borax. Fishing lemon seeds out of the drain, I wondered if it was worth it. But it smelled wonderful and, more importantly, it did a pretty good job even if it felt strangely wasteful using a lemon for a non-food purpose. What happens when the price of citrus doubles over winter?

The basics of vinegar, baking soda and borax now mastered, I am hankering for more advanced cleaning recipes. Preferably something that incorporates essential oils. I miss aromatic cleaning. But not the sinus-clearing chemical kind. I can't say that I won't occasionally blast the grout with Scrubbing Bubbles, but for now I'm on the straight and narrow.