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Green Barbarians–Ellen Sandbeck

A Buddha A Day–Ellen Sandbeck


Dear Ellen,

We clean our kitchen with white vinegar and cotton towels and dishcloths as you recommend. The problem is, all the towels and cloths have become completely water resistant. They won't absorb anything! We've tried stripping with hot water, bleach, more vinegar, baking soda.

We launder them in hot water (and our water heater gets VERY hot) with a cold rinse (the only option my washing machine gives with a hot wash) and regular laundry detergent - no fabric softener.

We've had them for 18 months tops. They started to become water resistant in the last 3 months or so. We have well water that tends to be acidic, so we have a neutralizer system. I guess you would call it hard water, but it's not the worst I've experienced.

It is possible that some kitchen grease could be the culprit. I just want to make sure I understand what you mean by a citrus solvent - can you list a couple brand names as examples?

Thanks so much for your help. My husband enjoyed your book tremendously and we used it to make a lot of changes when our daughter was born.

Any suggestions?

Alison, Reinholds, PA

Dear Alison,

I'm glad the book has been useful!

Here are some citrus solvent brands:


Orange Solv and Orange Thunder (

Simple Green is also an effective degreaser, and it's easily available in hardware and discount stores.

If the degreasers don't work, it may be time to replace your kitchen linens. Perhaps the interaction between kitchen grease and your well water will mean that your kitchen linens' working life span is a year and a half. I compost my holey old linens in my worm bins. My kitchen linens don't become impermeable to water, but they do eventually turn quite gray because of the iron in our well water. Sometimes replacing well-used items is more environmentally friendly than trying to rehabilitate them!

Good luck! And please keep in touch!

Environmentally yours,



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