Dustbusting without a vacuum cleaner

I admit that I have never vacuumed this apartment.  To me, dragging a heavy vacuum cleaner across the delicate ceramic tiles is not a good idea and managing the cord and hose settings is exhausting.  Therefore, I developed a simple method for cleaning the floor and carpets using a household ‘dust-grabbing’ powder and a broom:

  1. Sprinkle washing soda* (sodium carbonate) or baking soda* (sodium bicarbonate) over the carpets and into the corners of the room.
  2. Sweep the powder over all flooring, out of all rugs and into a neat dust-powder pile to be disposed of.

[Update: I now simply spray a washing soda and water solution (with a drop of lavender oil) onto the rugs to dampen them, brush them with the broom using a circular motion and then sweep everything.  This method uses a smaller amount of chemicals, is easier and more effective and doesn’t leave visible residue.]

*NFPA Rating: Health-1, Flammability-0, Instability-0

Using washing soda and a broom instead of a vacuum cleaner to clean floor and rug


I believe that this method is as good as using a standard vacuum cleaner (although I haven’t dragged out the vacuum to confirm it), and it requires less time/energy, no electricity and produces no noise (pets will be pleased).  Also, as you can/will see, the dust bunnies clump together nicely instead of fleeing from the broom.

The ‘dust-grabbing’ ability of the carbonate powder can simply be attributed to the many strong intermolecular interactions that it can form with dust particles without reacting with them (i.g. dipole-dipole, ion-dipole and hydrogen bonding interactions), similar interactions to the ones which created the accumulated dust in the first place.

Dust can be fine particles of anything, but the biggest concern are dead skin cells in the form of flakes or hairs, which attract dust mites.  Salt crystals in fine powder form, ‘salt’ being any ionic pair, including sodium chloride and sodium carbonate, can be used to kill dust mites.  Chloride salts cause corrosion of metals, including stainless steel, so I don’t use sodium chloride (table salt).

For your safety, do not inhale large amounts of any powder or handle them with your bare hands.  Use a shaker and sprinkle close to the floor, or dissolve the carbonate salt in water to use in a spray bottle.

Disclaimer:  This post and blog fall under the heading ‘Personal Experiences’ and is meant to interest, educate and inspire.  All information and instruction is given without the intent to harm or control the reader in any way.


Proposal: Chalk grafiti on paved roads would help prevent black ice

Considering the current high-maintenance and inconvenient ice management practices (or lack thereof) on roadways and driveways, it would be nice to have an easy, ecological and fun (?) way of preventing icing of roadways.

This is an easy experiment:

  1. Get sidewalk chalk.  To be most environmentally responsible, it should be mostly calcium carbonate (limestone) or calcium sulfate (plaster of paris, gypsum) and natural dyes.  Calcium carbonate is preferred since calcium sulfate is a minor irritant.  Both are beneficial for natural water sources when they eventually run off.  Crayola currently makes calcium carbonate anti-dust white chalk but their sidewalk chalk is sulfate based, and it is not clear what dyes they use (other than not the allergen Red #40).
  2. You and/or the kids cover the driveway with chalk drawings.
  3. Let it snow (let it snow, let it snow)!
  4. Shovel if you need to.  Sprinkle ground up chalk onto whatever is removed.

Why you shouldn’t get black ice:

a)  Black ice is generally caused by melted snow that seeps into holes in pavement and refreezes to form a smooth transparent layer of water molecules that is difficult to remove without remelting.

b)  The chalk is used to fill in gaps in the driveway before the snow gets a chance.  Unlike most deicers, it is not very soluble in water and should not melt the snow for the most part.  It may, however, react with acidic water to form a soluble salt and become a typical freezing point depressor (ice melter).  In either case, ice/snow should slide right off of the chalk-covered pavement/snow interface, making shoveling easier.

c)  I did an experiment with chalk, ice and a rough surface:


From just a glance at the photos, you can see that the plain ice sample is much more transparent than the chalk-ice sample.  It is very smooth, slippery and compact, whereas the chalk-ice is rough, crystalline and brittle.  While the central part of the plain ice is white due to air bubbles, the high transparency of the main part and slipperiness of the whole qualify it as black ice.  In addition, the plain ice melts much more slowly than the chalk-ice.  After 2 hrs on the counter, the chalk-ice is almost completely melted, reforming a chalk-water suspension, while the plain ice is only a little melted.  This is due to the larger surface area to volume ratio of the crystalline chalk-ice as well as to the freezing point depression phenomenon.

Besides chalk and eggshells, antacids for heartburn also contain calcium carbonate.

Calcium carbonate and calcium sulfate are also better than sand for your flooring, since the quartz in sand is 10 or more times harder than these chalk minerals.

Disclaimer:  This post and blog fall under the heading ‘Personal Experiences’ and is meant to interest, educate and inspire.  All information and instruction is given without the intent to harm or control the reader in any way.



DIY Dryer Balls

I was suckered into buying one of those funny-looking plastic laundry balls with the rounded spikes.  Lowering drying time?  Saving energy?  Not only did they not save time/energy, but they made such a racket in the dryer that I feared that they were wearing-and-tearing away at my clothes.

Thanks to pinners on Pinterest, I happened upon a much better alternative to store-bought dryer balls, and I get a warm, fuzzy feeling every time I use them, because I crafted them with my own hands (and they get warm and fuzzy).

Wool Dryer Balls in Vinegar

From a chemistry point of view, wool felted dryer balls are ingenious.  Wool, as you probably know, is full of static charges, so it attracts the surfactant and metal ions to it and away from your clothes.  After the water molecules are freed from strong ionic interactions, they can leave the solution more easily and water on clothing can evaporate faster.

My wool dryer balls are extremely gentle on clothes, and the clothes are left super-soft, fresh-smelling and practically lint-free.  Although they probably work well on their own, I keep them soaked in a vinegar solution with bergamot essential oil (both good for destroying mold).