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Cleaning is Job One

The life span of most major household appliances can be severely shortened by neglect -- and often greatly prolonged with simple care and very basic preventive maintenance that mostly centers on, you guessed it, cleaning.

Cleaning your appliances doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. You don't need a cabinet full of the latest hi-tech cleaners and commercial products from your local supermarket. Rather, just a few simple household ingredients and a little elbow grease from time to time keeps your appliances sparkling, operating efficiently, and often one step ahead of the repairman.

Many of our favorite kitchen cleaning formulas have simple, recurring components. Here's what they are and what they do:

  • Baking soda: This is soduim bicarbonate, an alkaline substance that is used in everything from fire extinguishers to sparkling water and antacids. It is produced naturally in mineral springs or made from another natural substance called sodium carbonate (from which also comes washing soda). Often found in the familiar yellow-and-orange box, its mild abrasive and foaming action is a gentle, but effective, favorite.
  • White vinegar: It's been around since ancient times and used for everything imaginable. The acetic acid in vinegar gives it a tart taste and great cleaning properties. When we say vinegar in the following sections, we mean distilled white household vinegar with a standard 5 percent acidity. For tough jobs, you can increase its acidity (and cleaning power) by boiling off some of the water content. Just remember: Higher acidity requires more careful handling.
  • Lemon juice: Next to vinegar, lemons are the hands down favorite for all-round cleaning and freshening. The secret ingredient of this wonder fruit is ascorbic acid -- more commonly known as Vitamin C. It's a little more acidic than vinegar and often is a good substitute or even better choice. By comparison, vinegar is inexpensive and has a sharp odor, while lemons cost a bit more and smell a whole heck of a lot better.
  • Common salt: Believe it or not, there are almost 15,000 uses for this ancient natural food accent and preservative.

Even though our homemade cleaning solutions are made with natural products, they still contain mild acids that can sting and burn both eyes and skin. Commercial products can be even more dangerous and highly volatile due to caustic components and chemical ingredients that can sting, burn, and give off vapors. Always wear rubber gloves, protect your eyes with goggles, and have plenty of ventilation when using any type of cleaner -- whether store-bought or homemade.

In the following sections, we give the recipes for our favorite cleaning solutions. We refer to these recipes frequently in the pages that follow.