Thursday, November 2, 2023

Federal regulations, environmentalism, and cleaning


I've long been frustrated (as, I'm sure, have many of my readers) with the declining effectiveness of laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, floor cleaners and other cleaning products.  They just don't seem to work as well these days as they used to.  The reason is pretty clear:  the EPA and other Federal agencies have been trying to legislate or regulate many effective cleaning materials out of existence in the name of "environmental protection" or "pollution control" or whatever is the reason du jour.  (That's not helped by new "efficiency" regulations that hobble the performance of new clothes and dish washers, even if they had the old full-strength detergents to use.)

I've tried to get around the problem wherever possible by "adding back" some of the missing ingredients to the cleaning products I use.  One of the most common "hacks" is to add a little TSP (trisodium phosphate) to laundry or dishwasher detergent.  Until recently I've bought a box of the stuff at home improvement stores (Home Depot, Lowes and the like) when needed, and it's lasted two or three years when used sparingly.  I find it particularly useful for mopping dirty floors and cleaning grimy, greasy paintwork.  I don't do that often, but when I do it makes the job much easier.  It makes cleaning a charcoal or gas grill much faster, too, and a lot less effort.

Unfortunately, when I went shopping for a box of TSP yesterday, I found that the major home improvement chains in a nearby city have all stopped carrying it.  Instead, they're selling what they call "TSP Substitute Phosphate-Free".  The packaging claims that it's as good as the real stuff, but many customer reviews online are pretty emphatic that it's not.  I daresay the EPA and/or other agencies "leaned on" those stores to stop carrying TSP.

Fortunately, there are still ways around that.  One can get TSP online from various suppliers in 1lb. or 4½lb. boxes, or even in 40lb. buckets.  Buying in bulk, like the latter option, is also quite a lot cheaper than the current substitutes.  I've just ordered enough to keep us going for the foreseeable future, plus a little extra in case the bureaucrats shut down even the online channels.  If you, like me, have been accustomed to using the stuff, or you want a powerful cleaner that just plain works, you might want to stock up on some yourself while the going's good.

Another bone of contention is pre-mixed or pre-diluted solutions of common cleaning products, whether spray bottles or aerosols or whatever.  I may be wrong, but the small consumer-ready bottles on the racks seem to be less effective than before.  I suspect the concentration of cleaning product has been reduced, and/or some of the chemicals used to make it have been replaced by environmentally friendlier alternatives.  That's great for the eco-weenies, but not so useful if you're trying to get something clean in a hurry.  I've therefore started to buy one-gallon bottles of concentrated cleaning detergents and products (e.g. Simple Green, Zep, bleach, vinegar, etc.) and mix my own solutions in my own spray bottles to higher concentrations than those sold commercially.  No more problems with weak-kneed solutions!

I hear that some people add TSP to their solutions of such cleaners.  I'm leery of that, because I don't know all the chemical reactions involved.  Instead, I'll have a spray bottle of TSP solution right alongside the bottle of cleaning detergent solution.  I'll apply first one, then the other, then use a mop or cloth to rub the combination into the surface I'm cleaning.  Works like a charm.

Finally, if the supply chain goes to hell in a handbasket and we can't get the cleaners we need in a timely manner, it's good to have extra in your emergency supplies to take care of that until supplies are restored.  (I wonder how many of them are made here, and how many come from China?  Even if the products are made here, where do their containers come from?)  Buying cleaners in bulk makes that easy.  One can put aside a year or two's worth of concentrated product in not very much space, and for a lot less money per unit than buying small consumer-size containers.  Add a few spray bottles to your preps to mix them, and you're all set.

Just a thought.



Steve Sky said...

If you're looking for soap ingredients, may I offer Soap Goods for them. I've used them and always been satisfied with the treatment.

riverrider said...

make it quite a few spray bottles. i find they don't last much beyond first use anymore. the heavy duty ones at lowes hold up a few more uses, but 4 bucks a pop.

Hamsterman said...

Glad you are wary of mixing household cleaners. Bleach + Ammonia = Chorine Gas + a lot of side reactions, including my favorite, hydrazine.

Mind your own business said...

If things really go tits up, keeping my grill clean or my exterior walls washed is going to be pretty low on my list of priorities. The last thing I think I will need to worry about is keeping things shiny. Just like I don't think I'll be mowing my lawn for a while.

Personal hygiene is another story, because wound infection is a thing. Being able to wash and dry clothes.

Canadian Friend said...

Drano and similar products used to work very well like 10 or 20 years I need 2 or 3 bottles and sometimes even that does not do much...things have definitely changed

Professor Badness said...

TSP is a miracle in our household.
My wife has soft teeth, always has. For many years, a sizeable chunk of our income has gone to paying for her dental work. Fillings, crowns, a couple of caps, etc. etc.
Then we discovered a recipe for a mouth rinse made of predominantly baking soda and a little bit of TSP mixed into water. Very salty!
She's been using it daily for almost a decade now, and no new dental problems. Old dental work occasionally falls apart, but there has been no new damage ever since. It has saved us thousands of dollars and countless hours of pain and sleepless nights.
I guess I'll have to find alternative sources, then. Thanks for the heads up.

Beans said...

Vinegar can be used as a cleaner for glass, tile and metal surfaces. Doesn't smell great but who cares? It's what was the farmer's wife's friend back before the advent of air conditioning.

As to laundry soap, I use 1/4 cup of Dawn instead of any laundry soap. Works well in cold or hot water, and it actually removes old grease stains (like the ones you, well, I get on my clothes from eating.)

And as to 'phosphates are bad,' well, even before I went to Dawn, I had my washing machine moved out to my garage and ran a hose into my yard. Wherever the hose ended resulted in much greener and healthier grass.

Anonymous said...

TSP is being blamed for water quality issues around the country, fairly or not (I suspect not), which has given a ready excuse to eliminate it anywhere possible, regardless of its usefulness.
Several other useful items have been similarly banned, another good example is Strike Anywhere Matches, which have been blamed for several warehouse and delivery truck fires, so they are almost impossible to find anymore.

Anonymous said...

I also noticed that the pre-mixed spray bottle of Simple Green did not work well. I buy the gallon bottle now, full strength, and mix with water as needed. It’s my primary cleaner for most things. On greasy gunk I use it undiluted.
I also read on line (so you know it’s true!) that bleach can be used with or added to Simple Green safely. I’ve been doing it for years, making an all-purpose, diluted cleaner. 1 tbsp bleach, 2 tbsps Simple Green, and 2 cups water, in a spray bottle.
Southern NH

bobby said...

Try the TSP in a carpet cleaner. Amazing!

(The elimination of consumer-use phosphate was dumb. Large-scale use accounts for about 98% of run-off phosphate, and remains largely unchanged. It was a virtue-signaling device that had a huge cost to most people in their everyday lives. Everything works better when you add it back in, and there is no environmental bad effect from the very small amounts a household uses.)

Ozborn said...

What's the recipe?

Peter said...

@Ozborn: I did a quick Internet search, and came up with this recipe for mouthwash with TSP:

I haven't tried it myself, and don't know whether or not it's safe. Use at your own risk.

For general information about cleaning with TSP, see:

Mike in Ga said...

Just ordered six 1-pound packages of TSP from Home Depot; $15.27 delivered.

Peter said...

@Mike in GA: Great! You may have the only Home Depot branch with stocks of TSP. I tried to do the same, and they only had the non-phosphate version.

The Old Sarge said...


Which size of TSP did you buy, and how long does it last (i.e., how many loads of laundry)?


Peter said...

Until now we've bought the 4½lb. boxes, which last us 2-3 years. Most recently, in the light of what look like attempts to take TSP off the market, I've ordered a 40lb. bucket. That should last us a couple of decades at current usage rates. Probably overkill, but I'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.