Paging Dr. Chemistry


I had to put a request into my friend Jerry who is also a phD from Harvard no less. His degree is in chemistry so poor Jerry occasionally gets a frantic email from me asking how to blow things up.

Only half kidding.

A couple of years ago a strange weed grew in my little front yard that could simply not be killed. Jerry and I decided on a acetenyl blow torch. Well, I decided on a blow torch. I didn’t get one, mind you. They are really expensive as it turns out. Eventually, the vinegar I kept pouring on killed it. Or maybe it was the bleach. Or the salt. I am uncertain but whatever I used, it finally worked. I have white marble chips as ground cover by the way, nothing alive that isn’t safely in a container. I kill nothing that isn’t a weed.

So, this past week I decided to take back up a frugal habit that I actually find very soothing, the weekly deep clean project. It’s always something different and nothing mundane. This past week I looked at the stovetop and decided that my partner had no clue what really clean meant.

I broke out a box of steel wool scrub pads, the kind that cost me a buck from the dollar store. I tackled the drip pans first and the steel wool made short order of them all. Thirty minutes after I started they were shining like brand new. I then decided the burner grates needed a good scrub.

I’ve been at war ever since. No amount of scrubbing worked so I tried spraying them with oven cleaner. It hardly made a difference. Annoyed at my lack of progress, I decided to try chemical warfare, frugal style. I boiled water and added it to a couple of cups of cheap white vinegar and let one of the dirtier burner grates soak. I checked a few hours later and they were actually a bit cleaner without any scrubbing. I then tried a paste of water and baking soda and concluded I should wait until morning, letting the grate get a really good soak before applying more elbow grease.

Turns out, that only got me so far so I sent an email to Dr. Chemistry who explained that I was no longer dealing with ordinary gunk, I was down to carbonized material which meant I either had to burn it off or well, burn it off. He then suggested I use what I have (a man after my own heart) buy putting the grates into my self-cleaning oven during a clean cycle so the material could burn off. Perfect. It’s where they are right now. Burn baby, burn. I can’t wait to see how they come out. And the darling doctor pointed out (lest I be tempted to finally buy that blow torch) that a self cleaning oven was an infinitely better choice because it would reach temperatures below the melting of metal. Thank you for that Dr. Chemistry, thank you.



The point of this exercise is that deep clean frugal cleaning projects should never cost you much. A buck or two for dollar store cleaning supplies sounds about right. All of these projects should simply be items you don’t get around to very often and should never take more than a couple of hours of elbow grease which sets aside major efforts like cleaning out the garage or the rain gutters. And it goes without saying that you should be very careful if you put something in your self-cleaning oven. Check with experts for sure before you try something like that. I got a guy. A guy from Harvard no less. Hopefully you have a guy too. Some frugal cleaning projects to tackle in this time of lock down below:

  1.  Stovetop. Clean all the drip trays and burner grates.
  2.  Freezer. Defrost and wipe down with really hot soapy water.
  3.  Refrigerator. Same as number two.
  4.  Light fixtures. Wipe all the dust off of them obsessively. Any old rag will do.
  5.  Windows. Newspaper and a spray of  vinegar or ammonia.
  6.  Clean and wipe down every window sill in the house.
  7.  Drapes and curtains. If washable, take them down and wash them gently.
  8. Blinds. Stuff big towels underneath them and spray with hot water, wipe down.     You don’t even need to remove them as it turns out.
  9. Electronics. Wipe everything down with a dry cloth. Be sure and hold the giant wide screen televisions firmly while doing this. No matter what anyone says, or how well they are assembled, the bases tend to be wobbly. Just saying.
  10. Minor kitchen appliances. That kitchen stand mixer or food processor has a lot of crud on it, trust me. Pull everything out and scrub clean with hot soapy water. Buff to a mirror shine using a dab of kitchen oil. There you go, lovely.

The strategy is to do only one of these a week so you don’t get overwhelmed or annoyed and give up. And hopefully you won’t be tempted to buy a blow torch. And again, back to Frugal 101, use what you have.



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