MCS Barbie's Mom's (and Barbie's)
Cleaning and Household Tips

(Or Vinegar Is Versatile!)

Winter 1998. Use these tips with your own allergies and sensitivities in mind. They were passed down from my mother and they have held me in good stead over the years -- including the last seven of which I have spent living with full-blown, beyond-a-shadow-of- a-doubt, MCS.

While I have lived with MCS since April 1991, I have lived with formerly undiagnosed chemical-induced asthma since I was a child of five years. My coping skills were well honed -- holding my breath until I could make a hasty retreat, breathing shallowly, ducking my head into my clothing or behind a tissue to help filter the chemical assault, or fanning away the fumes with my hand or a piece of paper . . . trying as best I could to avoid people who looked as though they may use perfumes and scented powders (such as a little old lady with blue hair . . . remember, I was a child of five a very long time ago).

My coping mechanisms were outdone by the modern fragrance products -- personal care and cleaning/maintenance -- in vogue and widely used by others in the 1980s and 90s. It has been a long time since we've taken in such activities as the theater (we used to hold season tickets), the opera, movies, restaurants ... I even avoid my healthcare facility to the extent possible because of modern fragrance products relied upon by staff and the maintenance crew. (When will healthcare facilities return to the common sense of yore, when nurses and doctors were not allowed to wear fragrance products to work? Many of those regulations are still on the books, but thoroughly ignored by management.) All this leaves the workplace as my primary exposure area. And it can be a doozy!

A couple of years ago I was able to clean my mother-in-law's apartment thoroughly using the following helpful/healthful tips. She was moving into a retirement residence. She was then 95+ years. (She was doing well as long as we kept her away from the new carpet that was installed in the halls and dining area of her retirement residence. However, she broke her hip in October and died five days before her 98th birthday in November 1998.)

I am thankful my mother, who died in 1976 as a result of cancer of the larynx (yes, she smoked!), raised me with nontoxic ways of cleaning. I have, by and large, followed these methods for 41 years. I remember my mother trying the "latest and greatest" product, only to discard it as she switched back to her "tried and true."

Most of these tips have worked most of the time. For example, milk takes out most ink stains, but there may be some ink it will not remove. If you are allergic to vinegar or lemon juice, or any other product mentioned, please don't use that tip. Always test a hidden spot first.

Be extremely careful when using even "safe" products, e.g., Borax is labled as an eye irritant.

This list will grow as I remember more of my mother's ways, which I'm sure were garnered from her mother.

I repeat: In all cases, please keep your own sensitivity in mind before trying anything. If possible, find a hidden spot to test first before using any tip, given by anyone, anywhere, ever. -- barb

EHN and I assume NO liability in
proffering the following tips.

Remember, listen to YOUR body;
e.g., if you cannot be around vinegar, don't use it!
If you can use it, it's a great cleaner and weed killer . . .

Back to the top

Aluminum pans: (For those who insist upon using them.) Clean with lemon juice. If badly stained, soak in lemon juice and water.

Baking Soda: (Where would I be without baking soda?) Use to clean procelain and to clean coffee and tea pots and cups. Use with vinegar to clean drains -- can also successfully unplug drains! Use as a dentifrice, use as a shampoo -- several hair laundrying sessions with baking soda and you just may see the dandruff situation cure itself (1 tablespoon, mixed well in one cup warm water); I also brush it into my hair as a "dry" shampoo, and brush well to remove so I don't look any grayer than I am.) Also, use as an underarm deodorant . . . if your body can't handle plain baking soda in the pits, mix with a little corn startch or whatever your body can handle. Use as a deodorizer for your refrigerator, linen closet, bathroom, kitty litter box. I carry a box in the car and if I wind up reeking from the petrochemicals in other people's signature scents, I shake baking soda in my hair and on my clothes before heading home for shower and change of clothing. I have used baking soda in baggies to help pull the odor of money, but these days, I use dried coffee grounds as that won't freak out people (coffee grounds can't be mistaken for anthrax). Use baking soda to do your laundry, to freshen your carpet, freshen your furniture. Baking soda will help outgas your carpet if cleaned with fragrance or if new. Around our house, we also use baking soda to clean up Claremont's contributions to our days . . . furballs. Oh, yes, do use baking soda when called for in a recipe.

My mother used to use baking soda as a deodorant, many long years before I did. She also used to love to remind me of the time when I was a teen and I said to her, "Better get the baking soda, Mom!" As she recalled, I was giving her a hug as I was about to leave on a journey, and it became readily apparent to me that she had developed one of her "disstress-scented sweats." (Mom raised her children to "leave the nest," and yet was always anxious during those early "flight" lessons, hence the need for her safe underarm deodorant, BAKING SODA.)

Berry juice, red wine: Hot water. Run the hot water through with force -- right from the faucet should do the trick (my goodness, I "sound" just like my mother!) -- while spreading the fabric. If the item can't take hot water try club soda and/or salt.

Blood stains: Use cold water for soaking -- often running water through with force, while spreading the cloth helps rid the material of the stain more quickly.

Bread: Just plain old white bread will do the trick . . . add a slice to a box of brown sugar to keep it from caking. Also use in your tin of Anise or other hardening cookies to keep them soft.

Carpet cleaning: Baking soda or Borax -- sprinkle on let sit a least 45 minutes and up to half a day and then vacuum (or better yet, if at all possible, have someone else do that for you). Be sure to keep your children and pets out of the area until you have it vacuumed.

Before you get to the point of needing carpet outgassing information . . . Demand carpets, pads and adhesives with lower emitting VOCs. And, look for the Green & White tag.

In some cases, one has to remove the products, and I personally know of cases where that was done, but too late. The deed of the chemicals had already affected the bodies of family members. To learn more about carpets and their effects upon health, visit

Carpets - Toxic emissions from carpets.
By Rosalind Anderson Ph.D.
Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine (1995) 5: 375-386.

Toxic Carpeting
By Cindy Duehring

Toxic Carpeting - Important Points to Remember
By Mark D. Gold

You can also look for the industry's Green & White tag, which indicates lower-emitting volatile organic compounds. Of course, bare floors are safer than carpets and there are safer fibers, like wool. (EHN's site has more information under Green and Carpets.) But for all of those who feel you must have wall-to-wall carpeting, please look for safer products.

The Green & White tag
"To assist in choosing carpet and an underlying cushion or adhesive, the Carpet and Rug Institute has developed testing and labeling programs to aid in the selection of carpet, adhesives and cushion materials."
It is like pulling hen's teeth to find info on the Carpet and Rug Institute's site about safer carpet products, for they are hard pressed to admit that their products could be the problem. What is readily available under their "Clearing the Air in Your Home" is all the poop on allergies, without a hint at the fact that the carpet itself could be producing insidious or blatant symptoms of chemical poisoning. Carpet can also hold pesticides dragged in on one's shoes. Chemical injury is no fun. Chemical injury can be avoided.

If you have outgassing carpets, do something before you or your family members begin to develop health problems. Don't think in terms of "allergies," think in terms of "chemical injury." Alas, mainstream medical doctors have not been adequately trained to recognize and diagnose symptoms of chemical injury, hence people find they move from doctor to doctor to find a cure. Avoidance is the best "cure" . . . but then you get falsely labeled by members of the medical industry, mainstream media and socieity. But all of this is for you to learn the hard way, if you choose to ignore the advice of the already-chemically injured and just blithely go on your way to purchasing high-emitting VOC carpets, pads and adhesives.

If you have a carpet emitting chemicals, you may try using an ozone generator, but be sure to stay away from it while it is running and then air out the room for many hours following use. Ozone is hard on the respiratory system. You can also try turning up the heat and/or baking soda. But remember, you do not want to be breathing the outgassing chemicals, which are accelerated by higher temperatures.

A carpet outgassing fix (mid 1990s)

My former workplace installed a carpet, using high-emitting volatile organc compound adhesives, despite my requests to the contrary. Fortunately it was a utility area at that time and not used for the full eight-hour workday. However, it was enough to add to my ills AND adversely affect the health of co-workers as the VOCs did not remain confined to that space. Naturally.

When after four months of pleading for them to "do something," and their turning down possible solutions I was suggesting, I called The Carey Brothers radio help show ( They told me to apply grated potato ("Seriously!," they said, but since it was not my carpet, I didn't want to try that). However, the second piece of advice did work: Baking soda.

With prior approval -- finally, but reluctantly granted -- I bought and applied several large boxes of baking soda so there was a thick layer. I sealed off the room for a week and then cleaned the bulk of it up one day with my broom and dust pan, using my own paper bags for disposal. The next day, I cleaned up the residual with my vacuum -- I didn't want to be accused of ruining their equipment! I wore my respirator and oxygen for these tasks.

When the job was finished, the room was OK for the "temporarily able" people to use. Lo and behold, people's negative health symptoms -- sinus problems, sore throat, eye irritation, flu-like symptoms -- abated. One of my staff, who also had to use that area occasionally and whose health was negatively affected by that room, "magically" returned to health. That was my measure of the success of the baking soda outgassing of that room. And, I could do some work in there for periods of 15 minutes or so at a stretch without my mask and/or my oxygen.

2002 Update

Our daughter and son-in-law were pleased with the baking soda and heat treatment to quickly outgas recently installed carpet in their new home. His brother -- who lived in the area -- was kind enough to sprinkle baking soda all over the carpet and let it stay on several days. He also turned up the heat some to help volitilize the chemicals out of the carpet. Then he turned down the heat, aired out the home, cleaned up the baking soda and greeted them when they moved to his state. His efforts worked like a charm. Our daughter had noticed the new carpet odors when they first saw the home, but by the time they moved in, there were no lingering carpet odors. They had an infant and toddler at the time, which they were very mindful of protecting. When we visited a couple of months later, I had no problems in their new home, but even more importantly, none of their family has been sick because of the carpet. I don't know what kind of carpeting it is, other than wall-to-wall and throughout most of the home.

For those of you with options, do look for the carpet industry's Green and White tag, which means the carpet is made with lower-emitting VOC s (volatile organic compounds).

Carpet stain: Blot up as much of spot as you can, then clean with applications of club soda, or even a little grated potato and salt. Do not soak the area, because you don't want to set yourself up for mildew problems.

Cat fur balls: After cleaning up your cat's contribution to your day, sprinkle with baking soda. Let sit until the area has dried, then sweep up.

Clothes washing: baking soda or Borax. For those who feel they must use laundry detergent, use fragrance-free products.

  • Do not use fabric softeners. Use vinegar for the rinse (only if you can be around it, of course).

  • Do not use baking soda on wool items.

Coffee mugs and glass containers: Wash with baking soda; rinse well.

Coffee stains: Cold water, as with blood stains.

Crayon: I've successfully cleaned crayon marks off walls with white toothpaste.

Deodorant: Baking soda -- a light dusting is sufficient. If you find it too strong for your skin, cut with two parts corn startch to one part baking soda. I keep an open box of baking soda at work and in the car. When my clothes pick up all of the fragrances other people wear, I sprinkle them with baking soda (I don't wear wool) and it seems to help cut the odor that will cling to clothing.

Deodorizer: Baking soda or small dishes of vinegar set out. Place open boxes of baking soda in the refrigerator, bathoom, car, on your desk at work. Throw lemon or other citrus rinds down the garbage disposal. Squeeze some jucie down the drain if you don't have a disposal. Or, sprinkle good ol' baking soda down the drain to "sweeten" it.

Dishwashing: Baking soda, or use the fragrance-free products available through most health food stores. Do not use baking soda on aluminum -- if you use aluminum.

Drain cleaner: baking soda and vinegar -- works best if you make a ritual out of it. A few years ago, my mother-in-law, then a spring chicken of about 94 years, was lamenting the stopped kitchen drain and how the apartment manager couldn't do a thing with it. I found baking soda and poured about 3/4 cup down the drain, but the only vinegar she had available was her beloved Balsamic. It went to a good cause -- the drain worked AND it never plugged again!

Electric skillets: Clean by boiling baking soda in it for about a half hour. Let cool before cleaning.

Faucet cleaner: Vinegar -- straight or mix with water if you prefer. The fixtures absolutely sparkle.

Fleas: Lights with sticky pads work! Also, lightly sprinkle Borax on furniture and floors, let sit about one hour, then vacuum.

Floors linoleum or tile: Either can be effectively cleaned with vinegar or vinegar and water, or with borax in water

Fragrance: Rub a bit of the vanilla pod, or dab a bit of vanilla extract, behind the ears, on the wrists.

Fragrance removal: I use baking soda on my clothes, those loaded enough with fragrance that have to be changed get tossed into the basket with baking soda, otherwise I simply sprinkle it on the surface and pat it in (I don't wear wool). I keep baking soda in my coin purse to help outgas the dollars which come loaded with someone's signature scent. If I pick up fragrance products on my skin from using equipment "marked" by a previous user, I use olive oil to remove it.
If on your skin, try using oil, such as Jojoba, olive, almond or almond/olive mixed. Also, you can try using hydrogen peroxide.

Furniture Polish: Use equal parts olive oil and vinegar (or lemon juice); beat well with fork until it becomes an emulsion. Apply, wipe off with clean soft cloth.

Furniture scratches: Rub with pecan or other oily nut meat.

Glass, coffee pots: Wash with baking soda, rinse thoroughly. Not only will they sparkle, the coffee will taste fresher, too.

Glass, windows: Vinegar -- cut with water if you can't stand full strength, wipe with newspapers if you don't have problems with the ink.

Gum stuck in hair: Peanut butter -- smooth is best. Trust me on this.

Hair dryer: Use for not only drying hair, but your body . . . including between your toes. Also, when I've had earaches -- common among chemically injured in general and children whose parents use a lot of air "fresheners" -- blowing warm air from the hair dryer into my ear has helped ease pain. I've also used a hair dryer to defrost old-style refrigerators. And, to dry my child who grew up since age one, with eczema. In that case, it was definitely on low and held a distance from her . . . but this trick worked in place of towels that caused pain.

Head Lice: Oilve oil, nit comb -- do not use toxic chemicals. Or, use a product like Not Nice to Lice.

Ink stain: Blot excess, soak spot in whole milk; change milk often. This works best for non-ballpoint pens, but I was able to get red ball point ink removed from a sweatshirt recently. As with all stains, the sooner you get to it the better the chance for stain removal.

Linoleum floors: Vinegar, or you may wish to use Borax in water for moping.

Masks: I Can Breathe ® Air Filter Face Masks by Adrien Bledstein. See

Mayonnaise: Furniture polish ... Use the real stuff. Also, combined with ashes, it can take out white rings in furniture. My mother used to smoke (died of cancer of the larynx at the end of her 62nd year), therefore she had cigarette ashes. To get white rings out of wood, she'd combine ashes with a dollop of mayo and then rub. She was famous for putting into action her lines, like, "Put some elbow grease into it!" Fast forward to several years ago. One of our chairs developed a white ring. Regular methods could not remove it -- I didn't try White Wizard -- so I asked a smoker to save some ashes for me, mixed it with mayo, put some elbow grease to it . . . and the ring disappeared and has never returned.

Mildew: Vinegar (or lemon juice) -- if you want to wash your shower curtain, put in tub and throw in about about a cup each of Borax and vinegar. Add warm water to cover the curtain, let sit for half hour or so and then scrub it clean. You can hang it while wet -- just make sure it is within the tub.

Mugs, coffe or tea: Sprinkle in baking soda, wash using sponge, rinse well.

Mustard: Rub with glycerine; you may also want to use hydrogen peroxide

Ovens: Baking soda, sprinkled on wet surface, let sit at least an hour -- more if really dirty. Clean. Repeat if necessary. Put salt on a fresh oven spill; clean up when cool. (Self-cleaning ovens can be sources of pollution -- if you use one, be sure to ventilate the kitchen properly.)

Plants: Aloe Vera (great to have on hand for treating minor burns too -- unless you happen to be allergic to Aloe Vera), Arrow-leaf, Ficas and Spider plants help clean the air. For more info on plants cleaning air inside and out, see EHN's section on Plants

Refrigerators and stoves: Clean with baking soda. Do not use acid (vinegar, lemon juice, tomato juice ...) on porcelain surfaces.

Respirators, outgassing: (MCS Barbie's very own tip.) I use a Willson Half Mask,available through dealers such as Sanderson

I use the chartreuse and mauve (product number 31311) VOC-filtering cartridges.

Respirators -- another type -- available through Cyndi Norman

I never had trouble with Willson in the past, but the last one was a different story. Why?
I don't know. But my workaround was to soak it in baking soda before attaching the cartridges,
then dried it. Still couldn't use it. Set it in a bag with baking soda for several days. Still couldn't
use it. Hubby took over, moving the mask, with baking soda sprinkled in it and on it, to follow
the sun around the house. The old trick of sun and greenery took care of the outgassing

On the other hand, you may wish to try one of Adrien Bledstein's
I Can Breathe® Air Filter Face Masks. See

Rust: If on clothing, Mom used to say, "Lemon juice and salt are not enough, you must also put the item in the sun on grass or other greenery in the garden." I've had success with this tip.

Scalp treatments: Olive oil: warmed slightly, apply, let sit for half hour with head wrapped in a towel, shampoo out.

Shampoo/Conditioner: Various fragrance-free products are available, such as Granny's (available from N.E.E.D.S.) and Pure Essentials (1.800.222.6720), available through health food stores. Baking soda also serves as a wonderful shampoo. Use lemon juice or vinegar as a rinse for your hair.

Shower curtains: Put in tub and throw in about a half- to 3/4-cup each of Borax and vinegar. Add warm water to cover, let sit for half hour or so and then scrub it clean. Rehang dripping wet -- just make sure it is within the tub.

Silver polish: Toothpaste -- white only.

Static Cling: Use vinegar in the rinse. Also, fasten a safety pin to hem of pants, skirts, slips ... Tea stains: I'm not much of a tea drinker, but mom used to drum into my head to use hot water for tea, just as if it were a berry stain. (Don't remember ever using this tip myself.)

Toilet Paper: Well, all grins aside, this is not a trick for cleaning, but for saving excess use of TP. I don't know if any of you remember the various TP shortages, but they have happened and as my mother used to repeat -- and apply it to varied situations -- "A penny saved is a penny earned." Soooo, to save on consumption of TP, squeeze that roll! If you don't have strength enough in your hands, put it on a hard serface and use your arms. What you want to do, is to make the tube oval shaped. This is a great trick for those who have young children in the house, too. It makes it a little less likely that they'll have gleeful times of pulling off an entire roll of toilet paper.

Toothpaste: Baking soda. If you don't like to put it directly on your brush, first mix with a little water. Or, you can mix with a little hydrogen peroxide (3%). Teeth brighten beautifully. Or, use Tom's of Maine or other fluoride-free toothpaste.

Urine:(on floor) Baking soda -- clean up first, then sprinkle with baking soda and let dry thoroughly. Sweep up. I've used this method for cats, dogs, children. (This also works for cat's fur balls.)

Vinegar: Cleans woodwork, floors, great as a hair rinse, closthes rinse, wonderful for washing windows, shining faucets, killing weeds, . . . A little in the ear (1part vinegar to 4 parts water) no more swimmers ear. Also helps fight fungus. I've used vinegar on my trunk, when prescription medicine cause a reaction on the second round of use -- once I used the vinegar, I've not had another outbreak of miserable, itchy, fungus. I've used the same treatment for athelete's foot. On my trunk I've diluted it one part vinegar to three parts water . . . but the tissue was raw at the time. Now, I've used just vinegar after my shower. Also, for my feet, I use just straight vinegar . . . even soaking my toes in it. But as with all suggestions, listen to YOUR body. And, by all means, talk it over with your healthcare practioner. In my case, I was prescribed a medicine that worked the first time on my trunk and brought blessed relief. But, I had a flare after about a week of clear skin and that's when I had an adverse reaction to the medicine, on top of the return of my fungual outbreak. The other thing I do, is I use my hair dryer to dry my body and my hair. Of course, if you have EMF problems, you'll most likely not want to be around a hair dryer, let alone use one.

Warts: I've had success with applying a small piece of the inside of a banana peel to a wart and then holding it in place with a bandage. Change daily. My wart went away in no time ... and it had been rather persistent in its decision to hang around preceding the banana peel treatement. Interestingly, I've not had warts since. Preceding that, I'd had several removed and re-removed by a dermatologist with liquid nitrogen. I went through a period of time with warts developing on my fingers. Now, whether I simply got beyond whatever wart-stage I was going through in my life, or if the banana peel truly worked miracles, I can't say. All I know is I've been wart-free since ... and that was a good 25 years ago. -- barb

Weeds: Give 'em the ol' vinegar. Give it to 'em straight.

White water mark on finished wood: Mayonnaise, but best of all is mayonnaise mixed with a few ashes. Rub in gently, wipe clean. Of course, getting the ashes may prove to be difficult, unless you know someone who could save a few wood ashes for you. We now know how harmful smoking is, but my parents did smoke, and so my mother used to use her cigarette ashes.

While their smoking provided a great means for removing white water marks on finished wood, it did lead to the death of both my parents. My father's lower jaw, two-thirds of his tongue, the glands in his neck and his top rib were removed. Dad used to say he could get along OK without his top rib. He had to learn how to speak with only 1/3 of his tongue. Eatting continued to be a problem. He lived and continued his practice as a Palmer Chiropractor for seven years following that surgery. In 1969, he suffered a stroke with which he survived for about six weeks. My mother had cancer of the larynx -- with which she lived and worked for a year and four months -- up until the last 3.5 weeks of her life. They both died at much too early an age (67 and 62) -- their non-smoking family members lived into their late 70s and 80s, and one of my mother's sisters is still going strong into her 90s.

Window washing: Vinegar -- cut with water if you can't stand full strength, wipe with newspapers if you don't have problems with the ink.

Wine, red, or berry juice: Hot water. If the item can't take hot water try club soda and/or salt. Of course, blot up as much as possible as quickly as possible.

Products tested by time, MCS Barbie's Mom and Barb

June 6,1998

Baking Soda: cleans teeth, stove tops, refrigerators; sweetens refrigerators, arm pits, shoes, linen closets. Freshen carpets and furniture before vacuuming. Great for laundry. Use in combo with vinegar and it is a great drain opener -- use regularly so the drain doesn't clog. And, baking soda saved me from a disasterous recarpeting of an auxillary area of my workplace. They unnecessarily used an adhesive with high-emitting volatile organic compounds. See story above, under "Carpet outgassing."

Bon ami Cleanser, Since 1886, "Hasn't scratched yet"®: "No Chlorine, Perfume or Dye" -- follow directions on package to clean sinks and stovetops, cookware, tubs and tile ...
Borax: Use to freshen furniture, rugs, for laundry. I've found that it works great to keep fleas at bay when our granddog comes to visit.

Hydrogen Peroxide - 3% solution (find in drug stores): Use 8 oz instead of bleach in laundry; use to clean sink counters and humidifiers; use a capful or less to prevent "swimmers ear"

Lemon juice and salt: My mother used to remove some rust stains, and perhaps other stains from white fabrics, by squeezing on lemon juice, applying a layer of salt, and setting the item out in the sun, on the grass.

Vinegar: Cleans woodwork, floors, great as a hair rinse, clothes rinse, wonderful for washing windows, shining faucets, killing weeds, killing fungus on your body, mildew in the shower . . . Vinegar is versatile!


A couple of suggestions, rather than recommendations . . . EHN doesn't recommend products. MCS Barbie merely makes suggestions and always adds the caveat: Trust your own body first.

Our youngest daughter introduced us to a stain remover called Ossengal. It is carried locally by Real Goods. What I will tell you is that our granddaughter's clothes are stain-free and always have been. But then, they are always spot-cleaned with Ossengal. See

And another tip, out of the realm of my mother's tips: I've found a man who is most helpful in answering queries: Stan Halpern. Plus he has a really great site.

Stan writes: As an environmental cleaning consultant for over 30 years, I advise facility directors, professional cleaning contractors, homeowners,and 'do-it-yourselfers' on a FREE consultancy basis with their cleaning problems each and every day on the Internet.

-- barb

Hope these help! -- MCS Barbie (aka barb wilkie)©
EHN and I assume NO liability in proffering the above tips. Remember, listen to YOUR body.

To learn about available environmentally-friendly products for home, school, workplace, healthcare facility, etc., visit EHN's Clean

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