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Depending on what time you are reading this today, spring is here. It officially begins at 11:15 a.m. CDT with the March equinox.

I am a lover of winter (people with allergies often are) and many times the beginning of spring leaves me longing for just a bit more cold and snow, but not this year. Our February and March snow and ice have left me as ready for spring as the most dedicated lover of warmer weather.

My mother and grandmother viewed the beginning of spring as a call to rid the house of any dust distributed by forced air heating systems. Opening up the blinds and shades to all of that lovely sunshine revealed every surface that needed to be cleaned and shined. Not that mom and grandma ever let our house get really dirty, but spring was an invitation to get into every nook and cranny with a rag, sponge or brush to make sure not one iota of dust remained anywhere.

Every closet and cupboard was emptied and scrubbed, every washable item was put through the washing machine, every drapery was sent to the dry cleaner and while they were being cleaned, the windows were shined inside and out. Heavy quilts were replaced by lighter coverlets and flannel sheets were banned as cool cotton sheets were taken from the shelf in the linen closet and placed on newly turned mattresses.

They wanted all of that activity to be done before Easter, but sometimes that just wasn’t possible. When Easter fell on an early April Sunday like this year, the cleaning frenzy did continue after the celebration.

I certainly don’t go as crazy as mom and grandma did every spring. I don’t feel a need to empty every cupboard, drawer and closet, but I do try to get to areas of the house that have been neglected during the winter and I am a huge fan of cleaning up all of the dirt that is around the outside of the house.

This week’s column is a reminder that some of the best cleaning methods involve things from your kitchen that you might also use in your favorite recipes. I call citrus, vinegar and baking soda the big three because they make tasty treats and also clean up messes. Here are some of my favorite tips, hints and recipes for using those ingredients for brightening my living quarters.

Lemons and limes make great cleaners in your kitchen and elsewhere. If I buy a pound or two of these citrus beauties and don’t get them all used in teas and treats before they start looking past their prime, I use them to accomplish the following cleaning chores:

  • I squeeze the juice of one fruit into a pint of water, add the rind and heat it in my microwave for 10 to 15 minutes until the inside is all steamy and moist. I wipe it down with a rag or paper towel and my microwave oven is clean and my kitchen smells delightfully citrusy.
  • I use half of a lemon or lime with baking soda to scour greasy countertops. The most stubborn stains are removed and once again my kitchen smells great. A word of caution with this hint – don’t use this on marble or stainless steel. It may damage the surface.
  • To clean wood and plastic cutting boards, I sprinkle salt on the surface and use a half of lemon to scrub the salt into the board. I let it sit for a bit and rinse.
  • I sometimes add a bit of lemon juice to my dishwashing water with dishwashing liquid to remove grime from really greasy dishes and cookware.
  • I clean faucets with a lemon half as it does a great job removing hard water stains.
  • I routinely run a lemon half through my garbage disposal to get rid of any smelly residue that accumulates there.
  • Did you know a bit of lemon juice on your hands can get rid of cooking odors that linger there? It can be a bit drying so follow up with hand cream.

Another kitchen staple that is a cleaning wonder is vinegar. Here are some of my favorite hints for this item that I buy by the gallon because it is so useful.

  • I use equal parts vinegar and water to clean my coffeemaker. I just fill the carafe with the mixture, pour into the water chamber and let set for a while. I brew as I would a pot of coffee and then run a plain pot of water through the machine to rinse.
  • I pour 1 cup of vinegar in the bottom of an empty dishwasher and run on a normal cycle. I do this at least once a month because we do not have a water softener.
  • When I hand wash glassware, I add a bit of vinegar to the rinse water for a beautiful shine.
  • I often find mold on flower pots that I store outside during the winter. Vinegar will kill that mold. I just spray it on the mold, let it set for a bit, rinse with water and let the pot dry in the sunshine.
  • I clean my shower head by filling a plastic bag with vinegar, slipping it over the shower head and then using a rubber band or tape to hold it in place. I let it soak overnight or for several hours. If you can easily remove your shower head just immerse it in a plastic container with the vinegar.

Baking soda is the last element of the big three cleaners that can be used in recipes or cleaning. I use it in the following ways:

  • I use it to clean my can opener because that cutting edge can get really dirty whether you use an electric or manual opener. I make a paste of baking soda and water and dip a toothbrush into it and clean away the grunge.
  • I use the same paste to get tea and coffee stains out of my favorite mugs and cups.
  • You can use the same paste to remove crayon and other stains from a white painted wall. Just lightly scrub and rinse.
  • I remove odors from my furniture and carpets by sprinkling with baking soda, letting it set for an hour or so and then vacuuming.

Quote of the Week: If we had no winter, spring would not be so pleasant. — Anne Bradstreet

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Ellen Lund of Fremont is a freelance food columnist.

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