Somewhere along the way, consumers – particularly in America – have been sold on the idea that a clean house is one that smells like lemon (or pine) and with every surface wiped with antimicrobial cleaner on a regular basis (if there are children present, daily). This, despite the fact that we are all – everyone one – descended from people who lived in varying degrees of dirt, and grew up without ‘modern conveniences’ (like antimicrobial dishwashing liquid). As an antidote to this mindset, Ellen Sandbeck has given us Organic Housekeeping.

There is a lot of common sense here. “Wash your hands regularly” is one such piece of advice, but she adds information about how soap is made and why you just need plain soap, rather than fancy dancy multipurpose chemicals added soap. My partner is a bit indolent when it comes to housework and by passing on the cleaning techniques Sandbeck recommends he and I spend less time on our chores, and the rooms are cleaner. For me, that says it all (less time and cleaner AND healthier).

The primary focus is on simplifying, and the idea that less is more when it comes to cleaning. Sandbeck suggests that most cleaning can be done with a few simple tools and products. For example, washing the bathroom floor is most easily done with a clean rag or towel, dipped in hot water to which vinegar and a drop of soap has been added. Wring the towel out a little. Drop it on the floor and swab. If you need more, throw the used rag in the laundry and get a fresh one. The water stays clean, the floor cleaner, and the solution does not need to be washed off.

Chapter One (First Things First) takes us through Ms. Sandbeck’s perspective: she does not like to do housework and her techniques are based on having found the easiest and most practical methods for keeping your house clean and non-toxic. For example, reducing the amount of stuff you own, setting orderly habits and living lightly. I should be clean – this is not just a book of cleaning solutions, this is a book about examining your life and your way of being in the world. For many of us the material presented may be redundant with how we already are in the world. If so, take it as a compliment and enjoy. Personally, I’m getting a copy for my sister so that she doesn’t obsess too much about cleaning now that she has a new baby.

Chapters Two through Five take us through various rooms in the house (Bedroom, Bathroom, laundry, etc.) discussing equipment, techniques and attitudes. Chapter Six (General Cleaning) discusses household items like rugs, drapes and computers. Chapter Seven (Indoor Air Quality) discusses indoor pollutants and how to cope with them (and prevent them). Chapter Eight covers hazardous materials, general maintenance, and auto care. Chapter Nine takes us out into the garden. There is an excellent bibliography and index.

This is not a ‘quick fix’ but a reason to change your life for the better, in many, many ways. Highly recommended for everyone.

~review by Lisa Mc Sherry

Author: Ellen Sandbeck

Scribner, 2006

pp. 448, $30