24 May 2010

Clean your tub with grapefruit and salt. Or not.

Those crazy kids at Apartment Therapy are forever touting labor-intensive and probably ineffective "green" alternatives to household cleaning supplies. The idea seems to be that if you're inconvenienced, then you're somehow saving the earth.

I am a huge proponent of sustainable practices and stewarding resources sensibly and equitably. With that said, scrubbing out your tub with a half a grapefruit and some salt is absurd.

The piece in Apartment Therapy went on to break the process down into four easy to follow steps. I have a better idea. Here are my four steps. At the end of my steps you'll have a clean shower and full tummy.

1. Peel and eat grapefruit, preferably an Indian River pink.

2. Sprinkle salt on some fresh, crusty bread. Top with high quality olive oil and be transported.

3. Spray down shower with SC Johnson's Scrubbing Bubbles.

4. Come back ten minutes later and rinse.


Many household cleaners are a gimmick, they are marketing messages in a bottle. Developed to exploit your fears and perceived inadequacies, they represent an absolute waste of resources in the sense that they waste your money and your time.

Similarly, just because it came off a tree doesn't mean something's benign.

If you read that there was 1-Dimethoxy-2, 5-trimethyl-4-hexene, Acetic acid and decyl ester in something you were about to slosh around your bathroom would you be concerned? Well, they are but four of the thousands of chemicals in a grapefruit. They're probably harmless (I say probably because no one really studies them) but why are they inherently better than Disodium Ethanoldiglycinate, Butoxydiglycol, Ethoxylated Alcohol, Quaterinary Ammonium Chlorides? Those are the four ingredients that make Scrubbing Bubbles so gosh darn effective.

Chemicals that come from a lab and chemicals that come from a tree aren't inherently good or bad. In chemistry it's all about dose and duration. Most synthetic chemicals are engineered specifically to break down into their component parts and to do so quickly. What's in them is controlled tightly and studied thoroughly. I don't know that they're safer, but at least they're known.

Whether or not you use them is entirely up to you. There are some things I won't use because they waste resources. Usually my money, often my time and a lot of times I don't use things because they waste the earth's resources or they'll have an impact I don't want them to have. I say there's a balance you have to strike and the best way to strike that balance is to arm yourself with knowledge and to make decisions based on reason and not emotion.

To that end, SC Johnson has a new website called What's Inside. What's Inside is a product-by-product list and explanation of what's in their products. It's enough to make me buy more SC Johnson products if only to demonstrate how much I applaud their move.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with one of my neighbors the other day. He's looking for a pesticide to kill off the caterpillars that are eating his tomato plants. He's concerned about what he's going to spray and rightly so. However, he wants something "natural" because he thinks it'll be safer. I reminded him that rattlesnake venom is natural but I doubt I'd eat a tomato that had been treated with it.


  1. I just imagining the sheer torture of using grapefruit and salt if one has the tiniest of nicks or papercuts.

  2. I think this method is intended to cause suffering in the first place. I would think that escalating it to outright torture by introducing a series of paper cuts would make it more effective.

  3. Because we have nothing better to do than to spend two hours cleaning the bathroom with our breakfast?

    Great post, but as someone who used to clean houses for extra cash, I hate Scrubbing Bubbles. It doesn't scrub.

    I like Bon Ami, which only happens to be "all-natural." (http://bonami.com/)

  4. I would need to take out a second mortgage to pay for the amount of (organic) grapefruits and salt needed to clean my 4' sq. princess tub and tiled walls. Oh and probably quit my job to find enough time to clean it like that.

  5. Scrubbing Bubbles does a great job on my shower curtain but when I scrub my iron tub. I am all about BarKeeper's Friend. Nothing cleans ancient enamel as well as the oxalic acid in Barkeeper's Friend.

  6. But you'd be able to wear a hair shirt Saucy, surely there's value in that.

  7. Who needs a house or means of income when I have my grapefruit-cleaned salty integrity?!

  8. Not to mention your hair shirt Saucy; all the cool kids are wearing them now.

  9. I like to wear it with my stilettos for maximum torture AND fabulosity!

  10. Do you have to flog yourself before you do this too? (thanks Paul for stealing the hair-shirt line I was going to use).

    I use a Mr Clean Magic eraser on my tub, works like a hot damn.

  11. If Grapefruit does to Bathtubs what it does to tooth enamel, then au revoir lustery sheen. Acid etched does not equal clean. But give AT a break, at a goal rate of 150 blogs a day, you gotta come up with something.

  12. I agree with you Julie! I've not had much success with Scrubbing Bubbles and I HATE the smell of it. I much prefer to etch the surface of my acrylic tub with a cheap can of Ajax or Commet. However, nothing does the trick better than lemon and salt to clean the bottoms of my copper-bottomed pans. Then I can grind the remains of the salted lemon down the garbage disposal that freshens it up a bit. I live in an area where just about everybody has a lemon tree in the backyard so it's not as if it's expensive or a waste of food. Oddly, I don't know anyone who has a grapefruit tree.

  13. wow. ok... well, you can use caustic chemicals which you can't breathe in without distress and/or major ventilation, and i'll use 5 seconds of scrubbing with a brush and white vinegar or baking soda and a lemon. it's really not that hard.

  14. Nim: I've never tried a Magic Eraser. What makes them work I wonder?

    Saucy: Stilettos and a hair shirt? Oh baby!

    Veronika: Bingo. This is a dumb idea for a host of reasons.

    Pam: I'm not saying that "natural" alternatives don't have a place and your copper cleaning method is a brilliant case in point. By the way, I think backyard grapefruit trees are a Florida thing. They need hot and wet, not just hot.

    Wicked: Vinegar is an acidic chemical and when it's combined with baking soda it releases CO2. Isn't CO2 always a horrible pollutant? I'm playing devil's advocate here but there's not a whole lot of difference between vinegar and any other harsh surfactant. If these chemicals weren't "harsh" they wouldn't work. Chemicals touted as "natural" are not inherently better or more safe than those that come from a lab. Breathing vinegar is no fun and will do as thorough a job on your lungs as any other cleaning agent.

  15. This is the best description of Magic Eraser I've found on the web:

    "The Magic Eraser is made from the laughter of angels. When humans make messes that nothing else can clean up, grab one of these little gifts from Heaven and restore beauty to the world!

    When activated by water, the little, white, fluffy brick releases it's tiny, microscopic Goodness and banishes whatever is impure or mars beauty! The peals of angelic glee can be heard loud and clear as you go... within your own head, in the form of "Oh, thank Heaven!" "

    It's a piece of melamine foam that basically acts as an abrasive to scrub away what ails you. 9 out of 10 moms swear by them. I'm sure that as it disintegrates it's releasing god-knows-what-but-it's-bound-to-kill-me, but I'm not giving them up completely until the kids are out of toddler-hood.

  16. That's hilarious M2R, "the laughter of angels." Melamine foam. Hmmm. I wonder what the active ingredient or ingredients are.

  17. Paul, I loved this post..
    I use baking soda to clean most anything...You can make a paste or sprinkle it in a dirty pot with some warm water overnight. Hurrah for Arm and Hammer!

  18. Christine: Hmmm. That's a good question for my manufacturing pals. Manufacturers?

    Anne: Thanks for your comment. Baking soda is how I keep my teeth so preternaturally white. Seriously, it works like a charm.

  19. totally missing the fact that the grapefruit on the left has a vagina.


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