Tips for making cleanup jobs easier on you, your motorhome, and the environment.
By Janet Groene, F47166
While traveling in different parts of the world, I have learned lasting lessons about going without, making things last, and getting things clean without using harsh chemicals. In many places on earth, going “green” has always been a way of life. Our own attempts at conservation pale by comparison. What can conservation-minded full-timers learn from folks who have far less?
I visited the home of a family that was very poor, and it was sparkling clean, thanks in part to the snail’s pace at which these folks approach each project. They sweep slowly, allowing dust to settle. They soak their whites, giving bleach time to work, and then drape the articles over bushes to dry, allowing them to bleach even whiter in the sunshine.
Dishes sit in solar-heated water while suds do the scrubbing. Bread rises slowly and sweetly in a sunny corner. After clothes are completely worn out, they are cut up. Buttons and zippers are saved to be reused. Any good pieces of fabric are kept for making quilts or baby clothes. The rest are used as rags. Everything is used and reused until nothing is left.
Somewhere along the line, the “Now” generation went into fast-forward. We demand industrial-strength cleaners that work immediately with no scrubbing. We want the convenience of disposable everything. When it’s unfashionable or faded, clothing goes into the trash. We forgot that sometimes patience is the greenest cleaner of all.
Thankfully, we can learn from children who know the value of time as a cleaning agent, because they’re taught to wash their hands for as long as it takes to sing the birthday song. Here are ways to put time on your side, preserving your strength and the environment while keeping your coach clean.
Leave your shoes at the door. No matter how good your doormat is or how faithfully you wipe your feet, shoes bring in soil ranging from animal waste to sand, mud, pollen, and leaf mold. Some motorhomers change into “house” shoes at the door; others go barefoot indoors; and some slip washable covers over their shoes. In our RV we compromise “” shoes in the cockpit, but not in the living area.
Use the sun. The bright rays of Ol’ Sol can be a great ally when you need dry heat and bleaching light. However, don’t wash hard surfaces in the sun. Water drops can turn into little magnifiers, leading to fading or stains.
Scrape before washing. Use a rubber scraper to lift food remnants from dirty dishes and deposit them into the garbage. Rinsing off the food wastes water and flushes grease into your holding tank. If you wash dishes by hand, the best scrubber is a square of nylon net. This inexpensive material can be bought by the yard at fabric stores. It lasts for weeks and is safe to use on delicate surfaces such as nonstick pans or bug-crusted paint on the front of your coach. Give it a few shakes and it’s dry. A damp dish cloth, by contrast, is a breeding ground for mold.
Shampoo, body wash, laundry soap, and other products will react differently as you travel, because water around the world varies greatly. You may need a different conditioner to go with your shampoo, or more fabric softener in each load of wash. Select personal products to perform best for the least amount of water and energy usage.
Buy cleaners formulated for RV use. They work better and are less likely to pollute the environment or damage holding tanks and dump stations. They also may contain protective elements, such as UV inhibitors, not found in household cleaners. Take your time, allowing the product to penetrate, spread, neutralize, sanitize, or bond. (Exception: refer to the product instructions, because some cleaning products should not be allowed to linger too long.)
Read labels. The most common cleaning sin is to use too much cleaner in hopes of obtaining better or quicker results. Liquid laundry detergents, for example, come in full-strength, 2X, and 3X concentrations, each with its own measuring cap. If you use more than one capful, you can fade fabrics, require more rinse water, and leave fibers stiff. In the not-so-distant past, the rule was to keep adding soap to hot water until you saw sufficient suds. Modern detergents make little or no suds while actually cleaning better.
A 20-minute laundry soak usually does the work of a much longer wash, and it doesn’t require the elbow grease or electricity.
Engine cleaners and spray lubricants are designed to soften baked-on grime and rust over a period of hours. So, apply that cleaner and find something else to do while the spray does its job.
- Blotting and wicking require patience, but they’re among your best allies in cleaning. Keep a supply of soft, absorbent fabrics (such as old linen or cotton towels) on hand. The more they’re washed, the more absorbent they become.
Say you spill something thick and disgusting on carpeting or the sofa. Your first instinct is to flood it with cleaner. Unless it’s a strong acid, which should be neutralized at once, flooding the area just dilutes and spreads the mess. Begin by scraping up as much of the spill as possible, working gently with a table knife or dull scraper that doesn’t drive the debris deeper into the weave. Then place several pieces of absorbent fabric over the stain and weight it down with something heavy, such as a pile of books. After 20 to 30 minutes, change to clean towels and repeat.
Keep repeating this until no more of the mess wicks into the fabric, but don’t let the spill dry. While it’s damp, treat it with a cleaner according to label directions for the type of stain. Always have on hand at least two types of carpet/upholstery cleaner: one for biological stains and another for grease stains.
Another way to let time work for you is to apply a poultice, especially when the stain affects a porous material such as teak, plastic, granite, or marble. This is tricky, because you need advice from an expert on how to treat the precise problem, such as oil-stained granite or water-marked teak. Do an online search for the keywords that apply to your stain. For example, makers of marble sills or granite counters, companies that manufacture cleaning products, and do-it-yourself writers have Web sites that describe cleaning suggestions. Check them all and then distill the best advice for your problem.
First, note whether the stain is oil-based (grease, tar), organic (grape juice, tea, coffee), metallic (rust, copper), biological (pet accident, algae, blood), or chemical (hair dye, nail polish, marker pen). Mix up a paste that is safe for the material you’re cleaning and also suitable for the stain.
When working with porous materials, saturate a piece of absorbent fabric (such as gauze or old toweling) with a paste recommended for the purpose. Put the poultice on the stain, cover with plastic wrap, and weight it down. Let it dry completely. With luck, some or all of the stain will be drawn up into the gauze poultice.
Depending on what your owner’s manual recommends for cleaning the toilet, you may be able to use less chemical by allowing it to work longer. Put the cleaner in the bowl; swish around to wet evenly; and then give it a few minutes before flushing. A mild acid such as white vinegar can help loosen calcium deposits on porcelain. The crustier the calcium, the longer the vinegar needs to soak in. Don’t use abrasives on glazed surfaces. Once the glaze is scratched, stains build faster and penetrate more deeply.
Soap scum removers work better in the shower if they are allowed to soak for 10 to 15 minutes. Thick, foam cleaners cling longer and spread more evenly, resulting in less streaking.
When cleaning your motorhome’s windows, keep them wet as long as possible before rinsing (but beware of damage to adjacent surfaces on the RV and to the ground underneath). You’re dealing with road grime, greasy stains from highway diesel exhaust, and sometimes stubborn water spots from acid rain or a sprinkler system. Give cleaners time to emulsify greasy soot and soften water spots.
Have burned-on food stains ruined a favorite cooking pot? Fill the pot with enough water to cover the stain; add a couple tablespoons of baking soda; and bring the solution to a boil. Cover the pot and let it cool completely. Most of the carbon will lift off with light scrubbing using a nylon scraper. Repeat if necessary.
To remove odor in your carpet, vacuum the area and generously sprinkle with baking soda. Brush it in with a broom and then allow it to sit several hours or overnight before vacuuming it away. Baking soda also neutralizes odors in the vacuum bag.
They say time heals. It also cleans house.
More About Taxes
Tax expert Julian Block has come up with yet another reminder that some motorhome expenses may be deductible. If you’re a full-timer and make modifications to your coach for medical reasons, read IRS Publication 502, “Medical and Dental Expenses.” Those modifications could range from a wheelchair lift to a new air filtration system for asthma or allergies.
You’ll need to itemize on Schedule A of Form 1040, so save receipts and get a letter from your doctor(s) stating the need for the changes. Most importantly, work with a tax adviser from the beginning so you don’t skip any of the necessary steps.
In my April 2010 column about tax strategy (“What’s New In Taxes,” page 76), I pointed out the importance of making taxes a year-round affair. I alluded only briefly to possible charitable deductions (fuel used in volunteerism, for example), because that had been covered in this column before. However, a reader found it confusing. If you use your RV in charitable work, go to http://www.irs.gov/ to find specific information, and consult your own tax adviser. The project you’re working with must meet IRS provisions, and the amount of your deductions also can depend on many other factors.
Send your comments and any tips about how to keep the costs of full-timing down to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll share results in a future column.