There are so many things that I love about living in the UK that I could not even begin to count them. But there is one thing that really gets me down. Hard water. And hard water = limescale. The stuff is everywhere, leaving spots on all my glasses and my stainless steel sink never shines. It makes scrubbing the toilet a Herculean effort and the tub gets soap scum the moment you run a bath. It makes your clothes all grey and stiff (especially if you don’t have a tumble drier and hang them to dry like we do.) It clogs the pipes like Big Macs clog your arteries and leaves its telltale chalky white flaky residue in your electric kettle.
There are ways to fight it, but never defeat it. Sigh… it is a losing battle. For the wash it really does help to use a water softener and a lavender scented vinegar rinse. Do you remember those Calgon adverts from the 70s? Not the “Calgon take me away” bath ones but the bloke who ran the Chinese laundry and the female customer asks how he gets his clothes so clean and he replies “Ancient Chinese secret.” Then his wife goes in the back of the shop and tells the camera that he actually uses Calgon water softener. It begins with the words “My husband, some hotshot” and ends with “Honey we need more Calgon!” to which the customer replies in a sarky voice, “Ancient Chinese secret, huh?” and the Chinese dude murders his meddling wife because the woman stops coming there to get her clothes washed and just saves her money by buying a box of Calgon. Okay, that last bit didn’t happen--but it should have. Anyway, back to the point, Calgon is full of some potential nasty chemicals and fillers but you can use Washing Soda Crystals (a.k.a sodium carbonate) to get the same effect. It is a cousin to baking soda (a.k.a. sodium bicarbonate) . I can get Washing Soda Crystals cheap here (£1.14 for a 1kg bag) and so have made an effort to use them in the wash and have seen a difference.
I have to use a micro fibre cloth in the tub every few days and then really scrub it down on the weekend with baking soda and lavender scented vinegar and or lemons if I have them on hand. If you use lots of fresh lemons save the rinds and use them to scrub greasy dishes or rub over soap scum or polish your taps or if you have a disposal put it down there to freshen the blades. But we compost all our food scraps so we don’t do the last one.
Lastly the kettle. This has been the bane of my existence. The most natural thing I could find for ages was vinegar. You mix up water and white vinegar in your kettle and boil it then let it sit overnight. Then in the morning your kettle stinks and all the limescale flakes are floating around and when you try to pour them out they cling tenaciously to the sides of the kettle. Then you have to rinse and boil, rinse and boil--repeat until the kettle no longer pongs like the Chippy which can take bloody ages. But if you don’t descale the kettle the water tastes all funky when you make your tea and if you do descale with vinegar then it still tastes funky. I was nearly ready to cry.
I went to my old mate Google and discovered that Citric Acid was good for descaling kettles (as well as washing machines) and I knew just where to find some. Our local hardware store carries stuff like cheap boxes of baking soda and borax washing soda crystals and I was sure I had seen citric acid the last time I was there. I picked up a box today for £1.50 with enough in it for 4-5 descaling adventures. The instructions said to half fill the kettle, boil and some citric acid (I used 1/3 cup) and let it sit for 15 minutes then rinse. I did and the stuff fizzed like mad--like Alka-Seltzer--Plop, plop, fizz, fizz/Oh what a relief it is--God, I would so be the ruler of the free world if my brain were not filled with crap telly adverts from the 70s. Well by the end of the 15 minutes it was dissolved and so was the limescale. Gone. Not floating around waiting to stick to the sides when you pour it out. The bottom of the kettle where the heating element is was so shiny I could see my face. I swear it like a mirror. And it smelled all lemony.
Hooray! Natural products rule!