Cleaning House with a Bar of Soap?

Beck-SudsI guess this is probably most women’s least favorite task.  And everyone usually has their favorite tools for getting the job done.  I guess this is why I have been asked on more than one occasion how I keep my house clean without electricity.  Living in a small house with limited stuff really helps and goes a long way in helping me when I do my cleaning.  (See A Clean House Makes Mama Happy!)  But I also have a strategy that really helps me so that I think I can keep my off-grid house cleaner than I ever did my electric house.  I’ve learned some things along the way.

This probably sounds weird, but I usually just use a bar of soap, a tub of water, and a dish rag.  I used to have a bunch of fancy cleaners and I’ve also done the whole vinegar and baking soda thing, but honestly I feel like I can get most things done with just soap and water.  After all, what did people do before the invention of the spray bottle?

I also have very simple surfaces in my house.  No tile and grout!  I’ve seen some very pretty tile and I’ve had tile in previous homes, but I knew that I wanted smooth and easy to clean surfaces in my off-grid house.  I’m very happy with our formica counters and seamless tub and shower surround.  I often think about how people lived 100 years ago with no power and running water.  They had very simple homes with maybe a plank or a dirt floor.  They bathed in the creek in the summer and in a washtub once a week during the winter.  (We are able to bathe everyday because of the invention of the shower bag.)  People who had fancy homes with lots of things and pretty interior finishes, had servants.  I think it is near impossible to keep up a large beautiful home while living off grid.  An electric house is possible because the house is full of “electric servants” (aka. dishwasher, washing machine and dryer, hot water heater, vacuum…on and on).

When I was kid, my chore was cleaning the bathroom.  I think this is why it has always been my least favorite chore!  I’ve been doing it most of my life!  I’m thankful I only have one in my house.  It keeps things a lot simpler.  I also don’t have a regular toilet.  Yes, we compost with sawdust.  So I don’t need a toilet cleaner and toilet brush.  It’s pretty easy to wipe down the box and seat with soap and water.  So, here’s my strategy.  After I do my laundry, I generally have usable rinse water.  I get my rag wet and lather it with soap to scrub my sink and counter.  I rinse and wipe it again and dry with a clean cloth.  I do this pretty regularly so I don’t need a scrub brush.  If I left it and there was a lot of build up, I would probably need a brush or scrub sponge for this routine.  But this way it only takes me a few minutes.  If I need to do the mirror, I use the same method and polish with a dry cloth.  No windex!  It’s stinky anyway.

Using this method, I work my way from least dirty to most dirty.  So, if I don’t do the bathtub, the next thing would be the toilet box.  After I wash it, I get a clean rag (the one I used to polish the mirror and dry off the counter) wet to wipe the soap off the toilet box.  This whole routine takes me about ten minutes.  I do this a few times a week.  I usually do the bathtub another day when I don’t do the sink and toilet.  I use the same method and will sometimes use a scrub sponge for this.  I love that I never have to worry about whether my bathroom is dirty if I have guests come announced.  I’ve had this happen frequently since living in the country!  Plus, with just one bathroom and a few minutes a day, I don’t have to set aside time for cleaning.

I clean the kitchen the same way, usually after I have done dishes.  I use my clean rinse water and some dish soap.  I wipe my counters and stove and anything else that needs it.  I don’t have a microwave, toaster, refrigerator, etc, all of the appliances that I used to have to plan to clean.  The kitchen and dining table also function as our schoolroom, so we always clean up after a meal.  Likewise everything gets put away after school to prepare for a meal.

Sweep-Hardwood-FloorsThere is only one more house cleaning chore that gets done daily, sometimes multiple times a day!  I sweep my floor.  I don’t have carpet.  Even if I could plug in a vacuum, carpet is a bad idea for a young family living in the country.  There are so many things that get tracked in: snow, mud, animal poop (sorry, but true!), grass, rocks, and bugs.  I can’t believe all the stuff that ends up on the floor.  We have the same linoleum throughout the house and I can sweep the entire house in about ten minutes, without distractions!  I generally do not use a mop because the floor will never stay spotless.  I just spot clean with a wet rag.

Dusting is something I do about once or twice a week.  I’ll pick one room per day and again it takes me about ten minutes, but I only have a few things to dust.  In the living room I just need to do a few end tables, trunk/coffee table, and rocking chair.  I don’t have a tv, entertainment center, and lots of built-in shelving and knick knacks.  I get a microfiber towel a little bit damp.  Sometimes I have to rinse it, squeeze it out, and keep going.  I don’t feel like I need to use any sprays.  They don’t really keep the dust off anyway.

Where do I fall short?  Windows.  Who really washes their windows on a regular basis?  Right now, mine are smudged by little hands.  They will probably get on my list of things to do soon.  But I’m not going to worry about it today!

I have a lot of other chores in my life, so this is what I do to keep cleaning simple and manageable.  I don’t have time to set aside an entire morning/day to clean my house.  I do it in regular intervals throughout the day so it doesn’t get overwhelming.  And I get to enjoy a pretty clean house (most of the time), which makes me happy!

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About JaimieB

Jaimie lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead known online as An American Homestead. They live with their two sons and her parents Tim and Joann on 50 acres located deep in the American Ozark Mountains.

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  1. Hi Jaimie, Great post! When my son was a baby, I didn’t want to leave him with minders so went out cleaning for other people and swiftly learned how chemical cleaners can affect your health, especially breathing. I live in London, in an old flat with wooden and tiled floors (no carpet out of choice!) and do as you do – soap, water, cloth. It’s simple but it works! The one concession to this is that I use bleach in the toilet and eco dish soap on my windows as bar soap would leave marks.

  2. Thanks for this post, Jaimie! I can’t even believe that the idea of just using soap to clean never occurred to me! Do you all make your own soap? I have to say I really love your posts and videos, and I can’t wait to see more. You’re such an encouragement to me!

    • I know! It only occurred to me because I had finished laundry one day and had a tub of rinse water and a bar of soap sitting in the bathtub. I just wanted to get the bathroom clean and didn’t want to go find my cleaners. I thought why not?! And then I realized that this is how people must have done their cleaning before all the modern commercial sprays. No, I don’t make my own soap. It’s on my list of things to learn. I really want to learn how to make my own lye also.

  3. You can use microfiber cloth for windows too. A little soap and water on those then polish with a dry one. Of course do it when it is overcast or the sun will dry streaks onto the glass.

    I have gone back and forth over the cleaners/ baking soda and vinegar/ plain soap and water thing. There’s this nostalgia that comes with the chemical cleaners sadly. We spot clean floors and have removed all our carpet in our farmhouse some years ago. Soapmaking is on my list of things to do as well and I’ve been saving fat for that very thing! We aren’t off grid but much of what we do is! We have a wood cook stove as well as a heat stove so getting that going is the next thing for us. Shalom!

  4. Jamie I clean my windows with newspapers my parents save for me, I wet the windows with a spray bottle (but a bucket and cloth would work) and scrunch up the paper to clean and dry, I know that it will be streak free when it starts to squeak!
    We have lots of windows in our house and young children so I spot clean regularly and then clean them all at the beginning of each new season. I like the newspaper as it can be composted (or placed in the wood heater) after and I find it gives a shiner finish than a cloth. Not to mention no need for washing the cloths after too!

  5. How do you clean out the 5 gallon bucket you use for the toilet? I know you throw wood shavings in after each use, but I’m curious how you clean it after emptying it.

    • We rinse it with water, scrub the inside with a handful of hay or with leaves, and rinse again. When I get back to the house I wipe it with a paper towel and spray a little bleach inside.

  6. Old pillowcases to polish the windows and mirrors. When I worked at a motel as a house keeper one of the other housekeepers showed me this trick. Because they are old and worn they don’t leave lent on the shiny surfaces.

  7. I only use 2 items to clean my whole house: washing up liquid (for handwashing dishes) and scrubba sponges. I use 2 different colours of sponge so I never cross contaminate: yellow for dishes, pots & kitchen surfaces; and green for bathroom. These get washed and reused many times but after a few months- when they get old, worn & “dirty-looking” – old green sponges are then relegated to becoming floor cleaning sponges and old yellow sponges are then used as non-kitchen surfaces dusting/ cleaning sponges.
    I find the one-sided abrasive surface and easy wring out properties of scrubba sponges to be much better than rags and cloths.
    I prefer washing up liquid to soap or bleach or any fancy cleaners because it does great job to clean off grease, soap scum, germs, dust, mud, baked on food, dried poo, vomit, everything. So I figure to myself: why complicate things?
    This system also works ok for windows & mirrors but vinegar & newspaper is best if windows & are not too grubby. Very dirty outside windows usually need use washing up liquid & scrubba sponge first then finish off with vinegar & newspaper – since I only do them twice a year.
    I would be cautious to ensure any sponge, rag or cloth used to clean food dishes & kitchen worktops is pretty “germ free”. But just my own experience.

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