This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Natural Living Blog Carnival hosted by Happy Mothering and The Pistachio Project through the Green Moms Network. This month our carnival participants have written posts about how they keep their homes clean - naturally.
[This post is not, strictly speaking, about house cleaning. But the car has unfortunately become such an integral part of our lives that you might consider it your second living room. Which needs its own type of cleaning.]
It usually comes at the same time: the cold finally lets up, and suddenly you can no longer ignore the crud that has accumulated inside your car during all the time it's been too freezy to even contemplate taking a wet sponge outside the house.
The situation depends on where - and how - you live. In my case, it's pretty dire in there, with the dust lying thick on the dashboard, the crumbs, beeswax bits and other droppings on the back seat, not to mention the slush residue and mud marks that make their way onto the most surprising parts of the car (what is a smear of mud doing on top of the headrest?).
Time to get out the big guns.
Please allow me to introduce my other set of four wheels. This baby is powerful, and well built: its door closes with a satisfying "whump". It's got great handling, zips around the tightest corners, and is easy to park since you can stand it on its rear. It's a Miele with a 1.6HP engine.
Okay, on a vacuum cleaner that last bit is usually known as 1200 Watts. That's not huge: my dad's Miele has 1800 W. Still, even 1200W is serious suction, just what you need to pick up all the dirt from a car interior's upholstery. (Fortunately, a control knob allows you to turn down the power, so inside the house you can give your curtains a quick once-over without ripping them off the windows).
Best of all, it's equiped with a HEPA filter, indispensible for cleaning inside the house, and just as important when tackling your car interior, which collects all manner of allergens like pollen, pencil shavings, particles from brake pads and other icky road dirt tracked in on your shoes, as well as mold spores from your air conditioning unit if you tend to run it in humid weather.
This is the reason why, as much as I insist that my children do their bit in the household, I don't ask them to clean the car. Frankly, it's a nasty job. As it is, I wait for a dry and preferrably slightly windy day, I open all the doors, and I make sure to be upwind from everything I'm doing so that I don't breathe in the dust that gets blown up.
To start, I take out the floor mats. Oh boy. You know you're a participatory mom if there is as much mud under the pedals as there is in the back row footwell where the children put their feet.
Our floor mats are made of rubber; the carpety ones are full of nasty phthalate plastic softeners and are hard to keep clean. On the rubber ones, most of the mud falls right out if you strike the mat against a tree trunk or a lamp post (taking care to stand upwind from the billowing cloud). What is left in the grooves can be taken off with a stiff brush. If it's really, really bad, you can soap it up, scrub it, and rinse it under the garden hose. Make sure the underside of the mat is completely dry before you put it back, to prevent mold growth.
Next, I take the same stiff brush on anything that's stuck inside the car, much of it mud. I use the back of a hoofpick that I keep in the car at all times. Not that we have a horse; but a hoofpick is an incredibly useful tool for picking stones out of shoe soles and tire treads, and the brush is stiff enough to dislodge the most stubborn mudcake clinging to synthetic pile. I like to hold the vacuum cleaner nozzle close by when I do that, to catch the stuff coming off.
Check for any sign of mold or mildew on the upholstery; inside a closed and damp car it can develop surprisingly quickly. I once found a patch on the back seat, which I cleaned with a cloth dipped in a solution of Borax fortified with a few drops of tea tree oil. The mildew hasn't come back yet.
Then it's time to vacuum clean the interior surfaces, using the crevice tool for those tiny spaces next to the chairs, and the brush tool for the dashboard including the outlets of the air conditioning, the CD player and all that. I learned this trick from my inventive brother who hated dusting cloths and used a vacuum cleaner to dust his room, including his desk.
My cloth is reserved for washing the windows, which at this point are still collecting very sticky stuff, a deposit of the plastic offgassing that's called "new car smell", still ongoing inside the car even nearly a year after purchase. It's not as bad as last summer when the car welcomed me home from a long holiday with a nasty surprise smeared visibly all over the window. But it's there.
To remove this stubborn layer, use a cleaner that cuts grease - none of my non-toxic ones was equal to this gunk, I finally had to resort to Windex, ugh - then go over it again with a mild soapy solution to remove the residue. I like to spike that with an essential oil, like Thieves (love that clove smell!) or Peppermint. (On the rear window, make sure to wipe parallel to the heater lines). You can use a microfiber cloth to deal with any streaks, but - with apologies to my vegan readers - I prefer a pigskin chamois cloth, rinsed and wrung until it's almost dry. It erases streaks like magic.
The inside of your car should now be clean, and the easiest way to keep it fresh is simply to open the windows. But if there is a lingering smell in the car, perhaps from pets, or from the time you spilled that latte, please skip the commercial "air fresheners" which are often perfumes dissolved in a toxic carrier, and only mask the problem smell.
Instead, try a non-toxic solution like the one described by Jen of Jen and Joey Go Green, who has a great tutorial on how to make your own non-toxic air freshener based on baking soda that actually absorbs bad smells rather than masking them.
If you still have energy you might go on to cleaning the exterior of the car. I don't. I'm going inside for a shower to take off all that dust.
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