Spring Cleaning for Charity

As soon as the snow melts, I’m ready to trade my parkas and boots for shorts and flip flops. This means time for my bi-annual closest swap, which, as an organizing fanatic, is one of my favorite times. This is also a great time to purge my unused/unwanted items and send them off to charity.

Tips on In-Kind DonationsSpring Cleaning for Charity

  • Only donate items that are clean and in good condition. Many charities raise money by selling their items at thrift stores. If you’re thinking it’s in good condition but just needs a small repair, then repair it. If it’s not worth your time, it’s not worth the charity’s either.
  • Check to see what items the charity is accepting. Most charities have a list of acceptable and not acceptable items. Mattresses and large appliances are commonly not accepted. This is where Freecycle or Kijiji can be useful (see below).
  • notextbooksNo one wants your old textbooks. Unless the edition is still be used in schools, your textbooks are worthless. I have done a lot of research on this. The library doesn’t want them, Goodwill doesn’t want them, and developing nations don’t want them (too expensive to ship).  Better World Books will take them, if you are willing to pay for the shipping costs.  I heard that somewhere they will recycle them into shingles, but I haven’t found a place who will accept them yet.  For now, they go into regular paper recycling.

Picking a Charity

  • Goodwill and Canadian Diabetes’s Clothesline are my favorite places to donate, because it’s easiest on me. They take (almost) EVERYTHING, because they sell it in the store, and they will even pick up from you.
  • For teen or “cool” clothes, I give them to YESS. It’s pretty hard for them to get clothing for their clients. Image you are teenager who has to accept donated clothes. Mom jeans and grandpa’s sweater are not helping.
  • If I do a big purge and have a lot of good condition clothing (like when the husband lost 25 lbs, and he got rid of entire wardrobe), then I’ll give it all to a nearby shelter. Mustard Seed, Bissell Center, and Boyle Street give them directly to their clients.
  • Freecycle is best if you have a big, damaged or unusual item. People will take almost anything if it free. If you have an item that needs a repair, just be clear about it in your description. This is a great litmus test, because if no one wants it for free, then its garbage. Charities won’t normally take mattresses (because of bed bugs and cleanliness), sofas, or large appliances (because of storage and delivery), but if yours is in good condition, then offer it up. You can also search the wanted ads, maybe you can answer a request. Here are some specific Freecycle tips:
    • Post a detailed description. The more details the better so you don’t get bothered with email questions.
    • Post a general location. Also to prevent more questions.
    • Only respond to polite, well written inquiries. In my experience, people who respond in “text language” or with poor spelling or grammar are not reliable.
    • Arrange an indirect pick up. This is more for your convenience, but it’ll work for safety too. Once I find a taker, I tell them I’ll leave it at my front door for them after a specified time. Since it’s free, they sometimes flake out, so I don’t want to be waiting around for them. Plus, they are strangers and I don’t need to meet them in my home.

I have Freecyled broken bicycles, old (but working) washer and dryer, unused/uninstalled carpet, rain barrel, hockey net…

  • The Reuse Center takes all your weird bits. If it can be used for a craft, they will take it.
  • The ReStore (Habitat for Humanity) accepts building materials, books, collectibles, antiques, and artwork. They will pick up large items, and I understand they will even uninstall kitchen cabinets or fixtures.
  • The Eco Station is the last stop. They take your household hazardous waste, anything broken, big, landfill worthy, and recyclables.

donatellamaWhere to donate my Llama?

Not sure who’ll take what? Check the Reuse & Recycle Directory. They can even tell you where to take your llama. No seriously, type llama into the search.


Cleaners: Store Bought vs Homemade

Store Bought vs Natural CleanersHomemade cleaners sound like such a good idea, right?  But do they work as well as the store bought stuff?  I decided to test some myself.

It's science if you write it down!

Glass Cleaner

vs. 1/8 c vinegar + 2.5 c water

Glass Cleaner

The first thing I noticed about the brand name is the smell of ammonia.  I really don’t like the smell; it’s so “chemically”.  But you know what?  Ammonia is a naturally occurring.  Know what else?   It’s an irritant.  Don’t breath it in, get it on your skin or in your eyes.  I cleaned a few mirrors and windows, and the results were virtually the same.  The homemade cleaner did leave a few streaks, but they evaporated away within seconds.  The brand name left no streaks and was easier to wipe.  Still, I’ll take evaporating streaks over stinky ammonia any day.

The brand name said it can clean stainless steel, so I tried both on my fridge.  Neither of them worked, I was left with lots of streaks.

Verdict:  Homemade Glass Cleaner.  It doesn’t stink and works great.

Bathroom Cleaner

vs. 2 tsp baking soda + 4 tsp vinegar + + tbsp ammonia + 2 c water

Ya, I know, I just said I don’t like the smell of ammonia and here I am with ammonia in my homemade cleaner.  The thing is, I made these cleaners a while ago and if I were to make it again, I’d find a recipe without ammonia.  I cleaned the kitchen sink and the bathroom sink, and both cleaners worked equally well.  Then I cleaned the pink slime (did you know that’s mold? It’s called Serratia marcescens) off the shower curtain.  The homemade cleaner was hard to scrub because it’s not very slippery and in the end didn’t work.  The store bought had nice foam and it’s viscous texture was easy to scrub, the pink stuff came right off.

PowerPro Naturals® Bathroom SprayThe brand name cleaner I happen to have is Vim Power Pro Naturals.  The active ingredients are sodium laureth sulfate (a detergent, surfacant (lowers surface tension of a liquid) and foaming agent) and citric acid (chelating agent, which means it binds to metals, which means it can remove lime scale and hard water stains).  Both ingredients are considered “good” to Paula Begoun, who rates chemicals in cosmetics for irritation.  She considers ammonia to be “bad”.

Verdict: Brand Name Bathroom Cleaner, specifically Vim Power Pro Naturals.  The homemade stuff just didn’t cut it, and the brand name ingredients are safe and non-irritating.

Dusting Spray

vs 2 tsp oil + 1/4 vinegar + 1 3/4 c water

This one is a no-brainer.  For dusting all you need is water to keep the dust from flying away, oil to add sheen, and vinegar’s acidic properties to dissolve minerals and is antibacterial.  No need for expensive cleaners for dusting.

Verdict: Homemade Dusting Spray.  Cheap and it works.

Wood Polish

vs 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar

Wood polish is supposed to clean and revitalize wood.  Use this when the wood is dried out and needs refreshing.  I already had great success with a homemade version and you can read all about it here.  But I never did a head-to-head test with the store bought version.

Well I had two different brands, Pledge Revitalizing Oil with natural orange oil and Orange Glo wood polish.  Both had a nice citrus smell, but I don’t really need my furniture to have fake orange smell.  The Orange Glo was definitely the worst.  It left an ugly dull film.  At first the Pledge and homemade looked equally good – the dried out spots were hydrated and the wood had a nice sheen.  But the next morning was a different story.  The homemade version looked nice but had absorbed all the oil.  The Pledge side was still really glossy, beautiful.

Pledge has the following ingredients:  White mineral oil (safe), diamethicone (non-biodegradable), d limonene (poor, skin irritant), polyglyceryl oleate (avoid contact with skin), fragrance, dye and bitrex.

Verdict: Toss Up.  Homemade is cheaper, safer, greener.  But for serious wood rejuvenation projects, I would opt for Pledge Revitalizing Oil.

Cleaning Powder

vs baking soda

Baking soda is a mild abrasive.  Plus it’s in pancakes, so it’s got to be good, right?  The cleaning powder has a whole host of ingredients that are not good eating.  Both worked equally well on my kitchen sink.  I’ve cleaned my entire bathroom with baking soda and vinegar and have had no problems.

Verdict: Baking Soda cleaning powder

Stainless Steel Polish

vs a dab of oil and a soft clean cloth.

It seemed everything I tried left terrible streaks.  Then I realized that I didn’t want a cleaner, I wanted a polish.  Once the fridge is clean, a little polish is what makes it shine.  A dab of oil on a cloth worked just as well as the store bought stainless steel polish.  Save money, save space, save time – use homemade.

Verdict: Homemade Stainless Steel Polish.  Works just as well.

Drain Cleaner

Drains aren’t usually a problem until they’re a problem.  I usually start at the simplest remedy and work my way up to more serious solutions until one of them works.  Grossness Warning!  If it’s hair down the drain, the easiest way to clean it is manually with something to pull up the gunk.  Yuck!  But nothing works better or is greener than fishing it out with a coat hanger.  If it’s further down, try the following from weakest to strongest.

1. Boiling Water

2. Baking Soda and Vinegar

3. Drano – Uses lye to dissolve organic matter.  Lye is corrosive and can burn your skin.  Remember Fight Club?  So be careful.

4. One-Second Plumber – reacts with water and produces air to force out the blockage

5. Plumber

When we had just finished our kitchen reno, the kitchen sink started to drain really slow. I tried all of the solutions above and nothing worked until we finally got a plumber to come look at it.  It turns out that our tiler was pouring grout and sand down the drain .  Our pipes were full of bits of tile and grout.  Bleh.  Can I recommend a plumber? Yup.  Can I recommend a tiler? Sorry.

Verdict: Depends on severity


A note on vinegar – Vinegar’s acidic properties can dissolve mineral deposits from glass and stainless steel and can polish brass and bronze.  Plus it’s anti-bacterial.   5% vinegar is 90% effective against mold and 99.9% effective against bacteria.  So why wouldn’t you use it?

Conclusion – Start with Homemade, move to Store Bought if necessary

You can pretty much clean your entire house with some vinegar, oil, baking soda and a couple of spray bottles.

Glass Cleaner1/8 c vinegar2 ½ c water

Combine in a spray bottle.

Dusting Spray2 tsp oil¼ c vinegar

1 ¾ c water

Combine in a spray bottle.  Shake before use.

General Cleaning

Baking Powder


Use with a plastic scrubbie.

Wood Polish3 parts oil to1 part vinegar

Wipe onto surface.

Stainless Steel  Polish

Use a dab of oil on a clean cloth to polish stainless steel surfaces.

The easy way to clean an oven

ovenThis is the best way to get rid of the burnt black grim in your oven. All you need is baking soda and some soaking time. I’ve tried a few different combinations (baking soda to water ratio and different times) but this is my favorite method.

1. Wipe down oven.
2. Make a thin paste of baking soda and water. Don’t over think this, any consistency will probably work.
3. Smear all over oven. Cover with a damp paper towel or dish rag (this is just to keep it moist).
4. Leave it overnight or for a good amount of time.
5. Wipe clean.  If any stains remain, scrub with the baking soda paste and maybe a plastic scrubbie.


The glass on my oven door needed a little more care.  It had greasy stains splattered all over it.  I used a plastic scrubbie, some soap, and elbow grease (don’t use a metal scrubbie on the inside of your oven, you might scratch it).  Sparkling!