A little vinegar and elbow grease for a cleaner house and a healthier planet

Common natural ingredients can work miracles - and they're eco-friendly, too

With housework, as with many things these days, the watchword is "green". There are growing numbers of eco-friendly cleaning products, based on natural ingredients that are more easily broken down in the environment than synthetic chemicals. Or you could try traditional cleaners such as salt, lemon juice, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. Technically speaking, "natural" products are still chemicals: lemon juice and vinegar are both strong acids; very high concentrations of salt can kill you. Generally, though, they are safe for humans to ingest, absorb or breathe. They also readily break down in the environment.

Vinegar, technically known as acetic acid, is cheap and non-toxic. It deodorises, cleans, restores colour and will kill germs. The best vinegar to use is white distilled malt vinegar, although brown malt vinegar can be used very successfully. A word of warning: don't use vinegar on marble or alabaster because it can pit the surface, or on porous surfaces such as unglazed pottery. Here are a few ways to use vinegar around the house.

To unclog a drain, first bail out any water. Slowly pour one cup of bicarbonate of soda down the drain, then slowly add a cup of vinegar. The mixture will fizz. Cover the plughole with the upturned cup and leave to fizz for about five minutes. Rinse the drain with boiling water. Remove water marks from worktops and kitchen surfaces by cleaning with a paste made from 2 tbsp salt and 1 tbsp vinegar.

Spray full-strength vinegar on chopping boards and kitchen worktops last thing at night to keep them smelling sweet. Add a splash of vinegar to the final rinse when washing glasses to make them sparkle. Copper pans can be cleaned with a paste of equal quantities of vinegar and table salt. Rinse and polish to a shine. To remove dark stains on aluminium pans, fill the pan with equal quantities of vinegar and water and bring to the boil.

A small dish of vinegar will attract fruit flies, keeping them away from fruit. Disinfect the toilet handle and bathroom doorknobs by spraying with neat vinegar and wiping dry. A traditional method of cleaning windows is to use vinegar and water and then to wipe the glass with old newspaper. The ink in the newsprint is reputed to give a protective screen. Yet another reason to buy The National! The Housewife's Handbook by Rachel Simhon (Bloomsbury) is available at www.amazon.com

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