DIY Cleaning Class at the Charlottesville Trade School

by Madeleine Hawks

First of all let me say that I looked through almost all of the archives of Portlandia and could not find a suitable video to really represent the time I went to DIY cleaning product class at Charlottesville Trade School. But suffice it to say that the class was pretty perfect for a Portlandia skit. In general, most of my Charlottesville experiences seem to be inspiration for that show. My roommate Chris and I have been in the habit of saying this expression lately: Essential To the Charlottesville Experience (pronounced etsee for short). Well Homemade Cleaning Supplies 101 at the Charlottesville Trade School was totally ETCE.

Anyway, Charlottesville Trade School is this marvelous idea based on the barter system. They’ve hosted classes on bike maintenance, yoga, indoor vermiculture (composting worms!), and even tax prep.  Anyone can teach a class and ask for a non-monetary fee. This was my first class and my teacher, Joanie, asked for us for one of the following fees:

  • Perform a random act of kindness
  • Take a stranger for a coffee/tea or a smoothie
  • Donate 2 hours of work to a food bank
So I showed up with a bag full of supplies:
  • a bar of Doctor Bronner’s washing soap bar
  • white vinegar
  • baking soda
  • Borax
  • a squirt bottle
  • a quart size container with lid

Class started with Human Bingo, which meant that we went around the room trying to meet people who met descriptions listed on a bingo paper. Example: Someone who knows what Single Stream is; Someone with a kitchen garden; someone who attends City Council meetings, etc. Then Joanie gave an introduction, talking about her work with Transition Charlottesville, which is an organization of people interested in taking action on climate change issues.  

To kick off the cleaning portion, Joanie gave us all this massive list of cleaning suggestions that feature 2 key ingredients you already have in your kitchen: baking soda and vinegar. The list covers anything you could ever dream of cleaning and then some. Here are some highlights:

Baking soda

  • Deodorize your dishwasher: sprinkle a handful of baking soda in the bottom of the machine to absorb food odors before your next load.
  • Laundry booster: add a cup of baking soda to your laundry load to help brighten your clothes.
  • Clean hairbrushes and combs: remove oil and product buildup by letting them soak in a sink full of warm water and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Rinse and let dry.
  • Clean retainers and dentures: let them soak in a glass full of warm water and 2 teaspoons baking soda.


  • Decal remover: apply warm vinegar on a sponge and allow it to stand for a few minutes then wipe with a soft dry cloth.
  • Weed killer: pour undiluted white vinegar on weeds (be careful not to get any on your flowers or other plants because it is too acidic and will kill them too!)
  • Ant remover: wipe your counters with a solution of equal parts vinegar and water. If you find their home base, spray it with white vinegar.
  • Brighten clothes: add 1 1/2 cups of white vinegar to the rinse setting on your washing machine. It also acts as a fabric softener.
  • Remove deodorant stains:rub the area with vinegar before laundering.

Joanie also gave us some quick tutorials for making laundry soap, scrub cleaner, and disinfecting/cleaning spray, which we made during class.

Powdered Laundry Soap


  • 1 bar of soap (Dr. Bronner’s is the best, duh – I used 1/2 a bar of rose and 1/2 a bar of eucalyptus but any scent will do)
  • 1 cup of washing soda (Arm & Hammer makes it and you can find it with other laundry supplies)
  • 1 cup of Borax
The bar of soap is the surfactant and the washing soda (sodium carbonate) is the water softener. The Borax (sodium borate) brightens and deodorizes. Boom. That’s a Laundry Dream Team right there.
To make the powder, I suggest you sit down with someone who is good at telling funny stories because grating a bar of soap by hand makes for well-toned arms and a restless mind. This I learned the hard way. If you’d rather speed up the process and save yourself from sore arms, I recommend chopping the bar of soap with a knife into 1 inch chunks and sending it through the blender until you get a nice fine powder. Once you get a nice soap powder, just combine with the other ingredients and mix it all up!
To use the detergent, add 1 – 2 teaspoons per load. This recipe will last you between 30 and 35 loads, but beware – the soap is non-sudsy. So it might not look like it’s cleaning even when it is. If you want to get all fancy, this is where you can add your 1/4 cup of vinegar to the laundry load. Don’t worry, your clothes won’t smell like vinegar once they’ve dried.

Scrub Cleaner


  • 1 empty and clean parmesan cheese container or any container with a sprinkle lid
  • Baking soda
  • Essential oil (like lavender, tea tree, or lemon)
Fill up your container with baking soda and then add your essential oil of choice, 10 drops at a time. That’s it! Use this cleaner anywhere you need a little scrubbing action. I used it on my porcelain tub and was actually horrified with the amount of grime it managed to find. And mine smells like lemons, which is just the best.

Vinegar Spray Cleaner


  • 1 spray bottle
  • White vinegar
  • Water
  • Essential oil  (like lavender, tea tree, or lemon)

Pretty simple recipe: Add a couple of tablespoons of vinegar to a spray bottle of water. Then slowly drop in essential oil, 10 drops at a time. Shake, shake, shake señora.

This cleaner is great for cleaning counters, stoves, windows, mirrors, and pretty much anything else! The vinegar smells until its dry and you may crave pickles, so you may want to have a few of those on hand. The good thing is, the vinegar dries quickly but the essential oil smell lingers and makes your house smell great.
Now that you have the only two cleaners you’ll ever need, you can use them together! Baking soda and vinegar make a very satisfying reaction that will give you a deep clean. Especially on rust or really grimy things. Sprinkle some, spray some, scrub some. Did you ever make one of those volcano projects in elementary school? Now, get cleanin my friends!

10 responses to “DIY Cleaning Class at the Charlottesville Trade School

  1. I have used the baking soda/vinegar combo two ways recently…To clean out my shower drain (worked like magic ~ no Drano!) and to wash all of my towels. My towels started getting that awful musty/mildew smell. One wash cycle with hot water and 1 cup of vinegar. And then a cycle with a 1/2 cup of baking soda. Voila. No more mildew smell!

    • Awesome! I have done that before as well. I also washed my plastic shower curtain liner with baking soda and vinegar and that worked well to remove mildew stains.

  2. Baking soda and vinegar is the best combo ever (ok, behind pb and banana, but so close). They also get toilets almost unnervingly clean. I feel like Bon Ami never gets any love as a “natural” cleaner. Is there anyone reason not to use it? Its the only thing that works when the vinegar and soda method doesnt

    • i’m really amped to try baking soda/vinegar now! i feel like a wuss though because i’m afraid it’s going to explode on me like a volcano. 😛

      i looked up bon ami (hadn’t ever seen/used it before) and i found this page with their ingredients:

      most of the ingredients look fine to me, but because i’m a skeptic, i keep wondering if this is the full list or if they’re potentially hiding stuff (cause they don’t have to reveal everything if it’s a cleaning agent). let me know if you can find another website that looks at this!

      • The “explosion” is fizzy but fairly disappointing if you’re hoping for or dreading soda fireworks. It’s more on the Alka Seltzer tab level. Seriously, try it on your toilets and you will be amazed, and we can chat about it, and then reflect on how we’re old and talk about toilet cleaning methods in fawning detail now.
        Ill re-check the Bon Ami…I’m pretty sure it’s just lists 5 or 6 super abrasive (physically) ingredients but I’m not totally sure.

      • update: I have been using the baking soda/vinegar power cleaning combo! it really is awesome. it took me a little while to figure out the best cleaning method, but i think what works is to sprinkle the baking soda around, use a scruby/sponge to scrub it into the surface, then spray vinegar and watch it fizz up as you continue to scrub. anybody else got a favorite method? and i am happy to report that there were no volcano eruptions created in this testing process.

    • I found everything at Whole Foods, but you can get most of the ingredients at any grocery store or natural foods store!

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