Be Kind to your House and Garden: Homemade Furniture Polish and More Beneficent Ideas
I must admit I am not the world’s greatest housekeeper. During the warmer months, we manage to keep our home tidy-enough by vacuuming, dusting, and mopping. Very time consuming household chores like washing and ironing curtains and slipcovers, scrubbing walls and woodwork, and polishing floor and furniture are relegated to the furthest corners of my mind. With gardens tucked-in for their winter respite, my thoughts turn to the holiday season and those cozy, nesting passions are reawakened. Cooking for family and friends is my favorite holiday activity, although prior to becoming immersed in the cooking life, I go on a cleaning tear.
Our wooden furniture was looking increasingly neglected, made worse by my mindset that I must go to a store and purchase furniture polish. Shopping for polish at the local grocery and hardware stores only proved frustrating because I could not find a single polish that provided the consumer with a list of ingredients. Furthermore, I had to ask myself why is it that I felt compelled to purchase furniture polish, especially since we already make so many of our own cleaning products from ingredients readily available from the pantry?
After only a very little experimenting the following is a recipe with which I am quite satisfied:
4 parts canola oil (or olive oil)
2 parts fresh lemon juice
2 parts white distilled vinegar
Optional: a few drops of almond and/or lemon extract
Combine all ingredients and pour into a recycled squeeze-bottle container (a plastic mustard squirt bottle, for example). The almond and lemon oil extracts are optional and only added because they smell super delicious. Shake vigorously before each use. Pour a small amount onto a clean, soft cloth (thinly-worn pure cotton t-shirt). Apply in the direction of the wood grain. Let the mixture soak in for a few minutes, then wipe and polish with a dry, soft cloth. I have satisfactorily used this recipe on everything from hundred year-old burled walnut veneers to contemporary pieces of fruitwood and cherry wood. Make the polish in small batches and store any remaining for up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Cautiously, first try this formula in an inconspicuous area. I once stupidly poured commercial polish on a lovely nineteenth century writing desk that I had meticulously restored. The end result was a terrible grayish-white hazing in the shellac.
There are myriad commercial cleaning products that can be easily replaced with common-to- every kitchen ingredients. I love to use household ingredients for cleaning because you never come away gagging from the droplets that you invariably inhale as you do with the great majority of toxic and overly perfumed commercial cleaners. For many, I don’t need to extol the virtues of plain white distilled cider vinegar. But, just in case you don’t know of the power of white vinegar for home and garden, the following are just a few of the hundreds of different uses for distilled white vinegar.
We purchase vinegar inexpensively by the gallon and use it in varying strengths to clean various surfaces. A mild ratio of water to vinegar (10 parts water to 1 part vinegar) is ideal for wooden floors (and is also the choice cleaning agent that all floor refinishers I have worked with recommend), and a slightly stronger ratio of vinegar to water makes a fantastic glass cleaner. White vinegar added to the wash is a wonderful whitening agent and deodorizer. I find wonderful vintage linens and tablecloths at flea markets, where they may have been stored in a smoky environment. The smell of embedded cigarette and cigar smoke is easily removed with an overnight soaking of mild detergent and white vinegar. Vinegar also makes a great kitchen deodorizer after cooking a curry dish or sautéing fish. Place a half-cup of vinegar in a shallow bowl or saucer on the stovetop after cooking. You’ll be surprised when you wake up—the vinegar will have absorbed that next-morning-fish-fry or curry odor.
White vinegar has many uses in the garden. We regularly soak all bird feeders in a white vinegar and water solution, with a few drops of dish detergent added. White vinegar is also useful for removing the residue inside flower vases. For vases with very narrow necks, stuff the vase with a vinegar-soaked paper towel. For unwanted weeds growing in the cracks and crevices and between the stone and brick of your terrace, walkway, patio, or sidewalk, fill a recycled spray bottle with undiluted vinegar. Thoroughly wet the weed’s foliage, and also direct the spray toward the base of, with the vinegar and it will typically shrivel and die. Be mindful not to spray on any surrounding foliage, as it too will die.
I recently read that a mixture of two parts white vinegar and one part molasses placed in a tin can and hung from a tree is an effective method of capturing moths. I am planning to experiment with this formula in hopes of capturing a few of the dreadful winter moths (Operophtera brumata) and will let you know whether or not successful. Perhaps with the vinegar/molasses mixture, along with dormant oil sprayed after the moth’s egg-laying cycle is complete, we can at least mitigate some of the damage created, without harming the tree and other wildlife that is supported by the tree.