Deepavali means different things to different people. For many people, it means early morning oil baths, questions about ‘Ganga snanam aacha?”, fireworks, lamps, deepavali legiyam (a digestive paste to help you blast your way through the goodies), and rich, delicious food shared with friends and family.
But for many of us, Deepavali is also the time for removing accumulated grime from fan blades, attacking cobwebs and dust bunnies, sparkling the windows, giving the house a deep cleaning and perhaps even a coat of paint (for some people, it is also the time to air out old grievances about who did which cleaning job the previous year).
Have you noticed, though, that each of these activities now has a dedicated cleaning agent? There is a glass cleaner, an anti-grease detergent for fans, and special brushes and liquids for floors. I am sure I saw an advertisement for a room freshener that smelt like the ‘outdoors’. Um…
This was brought home to me over the past week when I went on ferry rides across the Brahmaputra. Small villages surround the ferry ghat, and most of the grey and black water from the houses simply flows into the river near the docks. While I waited, I saw dirty grey foam, persistent and ugly, clinging to the sides of the boats. The Brahmaputra is a river with a viciously strong current, so the region around these ghats will recover quickly. But I did wonder about the mangroves and ponds and lakes that would form downstream.
My first thoughts went to the small grocery stores selling sachets of shampoo, and I wondered self-righteously, why people couldn’t stick to traditional methods for cleaning their hair and skin. Unfortunately, my sense of hypocrisy didn’t last long, and I remembered the multi-coloured bottles sitting at home. I have a powder for brass and silverware, a liquid detergent for stainless steel, a bar of dishwashing soap, another for scrubbing bathroom floors, as well as a liquid detergent and a powder-based detergent for clothes. I used nearly all of them for my Deepavali spring cleaning session.
Over the past year, I have shifted completely to natural products for personal care and hygiene. I use shikakai for hair, and grain-based cleansers for my skin. I use oils and milk cream to moisturise my face, and green gram flour to wash it off. And since I barely have the time to comb my hair, makeup isn’t a top priority. It’s been a while since I used disposable feminine hygiene products as well.
But I have had a blind spot about domestic cleansers. A recent conversation brought all of this to the forefront, though. So here are three main reasons why you should consider shifting to simple products to clean your home.
1. It is better for your health – A physics teacher once made a presentation to show that unless you are particularly thorough with rinsing, every plate and every utensil retains a thin layer of soapy liquid. Which then mixes with your food the next time you use it, especially with hot food.
2. It is better for the environment – Bangalore’s lakes have begun throwing up giant mountains of foam, simply from untreated grey and black water flowing into them. The municipal corporation there seems to be solving the problem by building giant walls around the lakes, but perhaps you should consider simpler solutions like using natural products like soapnuts.
3. It generates less waste – You can buy soapnuts in bulk from local stores. Even synthetic vinegar is fairly easy to buy in large quantities (useful for nearly every domestic surface). Most commercial producers of natural cleaning products also tend to be careful about their packaging, using recyclable material and natural dyes. Some of them even mention that their boxes can be composted.
So this Deepavali, I am starting a new routine, and lighting a different kind of lamp for my home. Would you care to join me?
(Next week, I will look at alternatives for nearly every domestic cleaning product)