Walking into a foreclosed home is like opening an old box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get--but you do know that it is going to be dirty. And dirty it was. But thanks to a few Trader Joe’s runs, raiding my father’s garage, and the generosity of SC Johnson, my dear college friend and I were fully prepared to take on this mess last Saturday in Fresno.

Not knowing what I was getting into, I walked into the Fig Garden Project fully prepared on a beautiful summer day in the San Joaquin Valley. I would group these products into three baskets:

The conventional basket: half used bottles of cleaners from Home Depot; concentrates that SC Johnson generously sent to me, including Windex, 409, and Pledge.

The eco basket: Method products. What else? I am biased. And when you walk into a place that smells like an armpit, the scents of lavender, tangerine, mint, ylang ylang and sea salt with lime are your best friend.

Your grandmother’s basket: Baking soda, white vinegar, Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap and kosher salt. Plus almond extract to add a pleasant smell. I figure the method’s of my grandmother’s generation were timeless.

The Avatar: The Shop-Vac, which made the process even easier.

The instruments: Lots of rags, the previous owner’s t-shirts and towels, Q-Tips, Trader Joe’s pop-up sponges and a lot of elbow grease. And a generous friend who offered to help.

So what performed the best?

Windows: Windex. This will not score points with the green mafia, and it is true that the fact that cleaning projects do not have to label their ingredients is a ridiculous business practice. But the Method version of window cleaner, while smelling nice, just left too many streaky. Windex did the job and it was timeless. Plus, as any fan of My Big Fat Greek Wedding could testify, Windex cannot be all bad for the skin. Plus there is something comforting and retro about that faint ammonia smell.

Abrasive: Method Le Scrub. It did a solid job of removing stains while NOT removing skin. For some tough jobs, baking soda and kosher salt did the trick fairly well, too.

Surfaces: Method Tangerine concentrate. I needed at least about three spray bottles of cleaner, so the massive bottle of concentrate I bought on clearance at Target was a lifesaver. It got its first use when an old kitchen table caught my eye at 4:30 in the morning on Saturday. I needed a clean surface. After three scrubbings I had a place onto which I could lay my keys, phone and everything else! That set the tone. And my skeptical helper friend was sold!

Wood surfaces: Dr. Bronner’s diluted with water. The Pledge and Method version of cleaner can do the trick. But for a triage attempt to just get the surface clean, the minty smell of Dr. Bronner’s really works wonders. By the way, a little olive oil can also help revive old wood.

Natural alternatives to Drano: Some of the drains were slow to clear, so if you do not want to use caustic products like Drano, here is a simple alternative: a heaping spoonful of baking soda, one teaspoon of kosher salt and a generous cupful of white vinegar. Pour it down the drain and if it does not work, then you need a plumber. Do this once a week, by the way, for maintenance. Pouring boiling water is a help, too. Sometimes it’s just soap that causes that nasty clogging gunk to form over time.

Tile: This is a tough one. For old tile, I found baking soda on a sponge can tackle those layers of nastiness. Plus you do not have the overwhelming smell of tile cleaner that I have despised since childhood.

Walls: Windex, Method sprays, or again, Dr. Bronner’s diluted in water. But use the Shop-Vac first. I love the minty smell that Dr. Bronner’s leaves, however.

A bath at the end of the day: Dr. Bronners and baking soda. Forget the overpriced bubble bath products. Sit and soak in the baking soda and castile soap for at least a half an hour. You will smell like a breath mint and your skin will be soft. Then you can repeat the process and get dirty again.

Overall winner: Dr. Bronner’s. Sorry competitors. This is laundry soap, personal soap. cleaning soap and a dirt defier. The 30,000 words on the label do not lie! And the Shop-Vac: it saved a lot of towels and water needed to wash them.

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The cleaning supplies from SC Johnson, Method and the past

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.