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Baking soda & vinegar: cheaper, greener, cleaner

Using store-bought commercial cleaners can be toxic to your body, the environment and your wallet. Even cleaners that promise natural, environmentally safe ingredients will cost you a substantial premium and often offer disappointing results. Enter this month's Frugal $ense winner who, using two common household items, has found a green way to clean most anything while fizzling down costs.

This month's Frugal $ense winner: Jan Fandrich
Jan FandrichJan Fandrich won $100 for submitting the following tip:

"A few years ago I needed a healthier way to clean. The smell of harsh commercial cleansers with all their chemicals gave me migraines. I now use baking soda and vinegar for almost all household cleaning. In the laundry, a little vinegar in the rinse cycle instead of fabric softener works wonders and is incredibly inexpensive. Mop the floors with a mix of baking soda and vinegar in the water. Use the same mix in the garbage disposal to clean it or use orange peels -- they smell wonderful. Clean the showers with baking soda and vinegar. I have saved hundreds of dollars each year by doing this instead of buying all those harsh cleaners. I have saved thousands of dollars in medical costs by going green and not subjecting my body to the chemicals in those cleaners. The peace of mind I get from knowing I am healthier, wealthier and kinder to the environment -- that's priceless." -- Jan Fandrich of Billings, Mont.

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Bankrate.com: How did you first find out about your idea?

Jan Fandrich: This was just a process of trial and error over years. I had read different things online and in different magazines, and it had kind of been floating around in my consciousness for years, you know, the idea of cleaning with vinegar and baking soda, and it was just something I that began to rely on more and more, especially after I had discovered that cleaning with other things -- things that have a lot of harsh chemicals -- were contributing a lot to my migraines.

Bankrate.com: In relation to the migraines you mentioned, did you notice an obvious difference when you switched from commercial cleaners to baking soda and vinegar?

Jan Fandrich: Well, I stopped using commercial cleaners (and) I stopped eating and drinking certain things, so there were a lot of things that went along with that. But I did definitely notice that I no longer automatically got a headache after I cleaned something.

Bankrate.com: How much vinegar do you use for your laundry?

Jan Fandrich: Not very much. I have a front-loading washing machine, so it only takes about a tablespoon, maybe a couple of tablespoons; I don't even measure it. I just pour in a little bit.

Bankrate.com: And it doesn't leave an odor?

Jan Fandrich: It doesn't if you don't use too much. If you use too much and you know that you accidentally used too much, just run it through an extra rinse cycle, and it'll come out.

Bankrate.com: How much money do you save by replacing commercial cleaners with baking soda and vinegar?

Jan Fandrich: You know, I am not sure. I'm pretty sure it's a good chunk because anytime you buy a bottle of spray cleaner or a can of aerosol cleaner, you're spending (perhaps) $3 or $4 a pop? I buy huge bags of baking soda from Costco, I get a big case with 2-gallon jugs of vinegar in it, and I just couldn't tell you. I'm sure I'm saving at least $5 or $10 a week.

Bankrate.com: Do you know of any other uses for baking soda and vinegar?

Jan Fandrich: I use it to clean my drains; all of my bathroom drains and my kitchen drain. This is wonderful for cleaning out your drain. You pour in some baking soda, you pour in some vinegar, you repeat if necessary. I do this at least once a week. And then after that's gone down, you pour in some boiling water. This seems to keep my drains nice and clean without using drain cleaners, which are the most horrible chemicals of all and are a lot more expensive. I mop my floors with a mixture of water and baking soda and vinegar. For heavy-duty cleaning of the floors, I drop a little baking soda directly on the floor and scrub it in with that. Cleaning my coffee pot -- that's very near and dear to me -- cleaning my coffee pot with vinegar. You pour in about three-fourths of the pot's worth of water (in the coffee maker) then fill the rest of the way up with some vinegar and run it through (the machine). If you do this once a week, you only have to run it through once. If you wait -- like I do -- and maybe do it once a month, you might have to run that through twice and then run one more cycle with just plain water, and that keeps the coffee pot nice and fresh. I clean my glasses -- you know, my mirrors and sometimes my windows -- with a mixture of vinegar and water and scrub them down.

Bankrate.com: Do you have any other frugal tips to share with our readers?

Jan Fandrich: The main way my husband and I save money is by making our cars last a long time. We decided a long time ago that we don't need the latest and greatest bells and whistles to drive. We're basically "something that gets us from point A to point B" people. We've got one car that is just about 10 years old and another car that's almost 23 years old, and so now it's become almost entertainment for us to see how long we can make these cars last. I want to wait until electric cars are more readily available, and I really would like for somebody to come up with an electric car that's at least partly solar powered. That's my dream car; I'm waiting for that. We've done some other things like we cut our cable TV. We watch TV online, or we rent DVDs. We cut our long-distance phone sometime back. It just seemed redundant to have a landline with long distance when we can use calling cards or use cellphones or what have you.

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