Letting someone else clean your kitchen is a lot like letting a stranger drive your car with you in the passenger seat. At first, it requires a whole lot of trust before you fully allow yourself to become comfortable. This is especially true for me, a self-confessed green cleaning freak who takes pride in my cleaning methods. It’s not that I’m against having someone else show me how to do “it,” it’s just that I’ve become complacent with my rituals and happy with the products that I use.

Yesterday, Ivette Melendez, Seventh Generation’s own green spring cleaning guru and a trainer with San Francisco’s WAGES (Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security), a remarkable nonprofit that helps Latina women start eco-friendly, cooperative cleaning services, stopped by my apartment to prove that this old dog can indeed learn a new trick or two. And boy did I learn.

Ivette — an engaging and inspirational character who is truly committed to her craft — along with Tere, a fellow WAGES cleaner, performed miracles in various parts of my kitchen — particularly my oven, — using just a couple of select Seventh Generation products, micro-fiber cloths, baking soda, a razor blade, and a couple of other tools.

As someone who invests in various task-oriented cleaning solutions, I was amazed by how unnecessary that really is. Ivette relies on just two primary cleaning solutions: a Suave multipurpose cleaner (12 ounces of water mixed with 5 drops of Seventh Generation natural dish liquid) and a Fuerte heavy duty cleaner (12 ounces of water mixed with 15 drops of Seventh Generation natural dish liquid). Simple as that.

Below are some of the other valuable green cleaning tricks and tidbits that Ivette shared with me during her visit. Check ‘em out. And if you live in the Bay Area and are looking to hire an exceptional, earth- and health-conscious cleaning cooperative with a great social cause, I can’t recommend WAGES enough. And while you're at it, find out more about Seventh Generation's Search for Mother Nature Contest. The grand prize is a $5,000 green home makeover and one of the contest's judges is none other than Seventh Generation's own Mother Nature inspiration, Ivette Melendez. 

Three of Ivette’s favorite tools

• Let vinegar become your elixir of happiness. Mix 1 part white vinegar to 3 parts water.

a. Shine a hardwood floor. For large areas, dip your mop. For smaller surfaces, apply from a spray bottle.
b. Bring shine to wood furniture. Spray a cotton or microfiber cloth and rub along the grain. For occasional conditioning try a mineral or olive oil rub.
c. Remove smudges from glass. Spray the mixture onto a cloth. Wipe in just one direction. Cloth-dry for extra shine.

• Get a grip on your flathead screwdriver.

a. Get into appliance crevices. Cover the tip with a cloth. Slide in one direction.
b. Reach nooks and crannies of shower frames or fridge seals. Cover the tip with a cloth. Inch the cloth to a clean spot after each wipe.
c. Remove faucets and light switch panels. For a deep cleaning, use the screwdriver to remove small fixtures. Always keep the screwdriver dry.
d. Lift gum or stickers. Wet what’s stuck. With even strokes, carefully scrape one direction using a spatula or screwdriver. Uneven pressure may result in scratches.

• Let your baking soda do the talking.

a. Maintain troublesome drains weekly. Remove hair or blockages. Pour in 1 cup baking soda. Add 1 cup vinegar. Watch for happy bubbles. Rinse with hot water. Repeat if necessary.
b. Clean the oven. Wipe out loose detritus. Lightly dampen the entire area with a soapy water spray (if it’s too wet, it won’t work). Lightly sprinkle the entire surface with baking soda. Leave for 7 minutes. Scrape with a metal spatula from side to side. Then scrub soap and water using a plastic scouring pad or brush. For a clean smell and a nice shine, wipe the oven with the 1:3 vinegar solution.
c. Rub out rust. Make a paste of soda with a few drops of soap and leave for a few minutes. Apply it to a dry rusty spot. Rub in small circles with a wet pumice stone. Repeat if necessary. 

Ivette’s Five Golden Rules of Cleaning

Rule 1: Go Top-to-Bottom.

Whether it's a room or a bookcase, clean from the top to the bottom and you won't have to go back and pick up any stray dirt or errant dust that falls as you go.

Rule 2: Go Back to Front.

Always clean from back to front for similar reasons. If it's a room, start in a rear corner and work toward the door. If it's a cabinet, begin in the back and clean out toward the edge.

Rule 3: Work Clockwise.

Pick a starting spot and work in a steady clockwise direction. Working systematically in this way will ensure that you don’t forget anything and won’t have to spend any time thinking about it!

Rule 4: Don't Use or Do More Than You Need To.

Always start with a small amount of cleaning product and use more as necessary for tough spots and other challenges. Using more than you need to start only creates more work when it's time to rinse everything off!

Rule 5: Look Before You Leap. 

If you're cleaning something you've never cleaned before and/or using a product for the first time, you'll save a lot of premature hair loss by always testing things first to make sure you won't cause any damage.

Ivette’s Top Three Cleaning Myths

Myth #1: Cleaning Smells Good.
The Truth: Clean has no scent! Unless a product uses natural essential oils and botanical extracts like Seventh Generation, if you smell something when the work is done, it's most likely artificial fragrances or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) left behind for your family to breathe!

Myth #2: Cleaning is Shiny.
The Truth: Clean means clean and nothing more. That strong fresh scent and blinding shine is often the result of synthetic chemicals in conventional cleaning products. You don’t need a strong scent or unnatural shine to do the job.

Myth #3: If a Product Doesn't Make Suds, It's Not Working.
The Truth: We often dump extra detergent into our laundry machines thinking it'll make things cleaner. But the truth is that additional suds have little to do with cleaning power and everything to do with the synthetic sudsing additives many formulas use just to make us think they’re working harder.

MNN homepage photo: )mstay/iStockphoto

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

A very special green home invasion
Armed with razor blades and an arsenal of Seventh Generation products, green cleaning guru Ivette Melendez descends upon my Brooklyn apartment. My stovetop will