So in this month’s newsletter I (half) jokingly mentioned that in a future newsletter I would share my French cleaning product tips. But after getting over a dozen emails asking for me to spill the beans NOW, here’s the shortlist of products I wish I’d known about sooner.
#1 Eau Ecarlate Détacheur Universel
Since first moving to France in 1995, I’ve lived in approximately 14 different apartments and houses, and only one of them wasn’t a rental. So that’s a lot of moving and needing to make sure the place is spotless so I could get back my deposit. If I had known about Eau Ecarlate, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours of my life trying to get (supposedly easy-to-remove) blu-tack off the white walls. A cotton ball dipped in the Eau Ecarlate removes it instantly without any residue. Giddy with my newfound power, I raced around my old apartment looking for any surface with sticky residue that needed removal: a spot on the washing machine where I had removed a decal, the film on the bedroom window where I had a supposedly mosquito-repelling sunflower sticker, the doublestick tape residue on the kitchen shelves that I used to attach the shelf liners that kept slipping…bliss.
I should mention that I’d actually had the bottle in my cleaning closet for years, but it was for a totally different purpose: cleaning my hats. I have a lot of hats. I liked hats. I still like hats. And when I spent a small fortune for a wool winter hat at Le Bon Marché a few years ago, I lamented the problem of keeping the inside rim clean (where it rubs against the forehead, picking up skin cream, sunblock, and/or make-up). Taking my hats to the dry cleaner is outside my tax bracket. But the helpful sales lady told me to just dab the rim with a dry cotton ball dipped in Eau Ecarlate. Et voila!
Apparently it’s also used for stains on clothing and fabrics — blood, wine, sauce, etc. — as well as to generally brighten your colors in the laundry. In fact, Eau Ecarlate was invented in 1851 to clean the uniforms of Napoléon III’s soldiers, and used ever since for its cleaning power. There are many versions of the product sold in powders, pens, towlettes, or for specific stains, but most French people just have the classic Détacheur Universel among their cleaning supplies.
#2 Pierre Verte
I do generally try and keep toxic cleaning supplies out of my tiny apartment. Parisian air is bad enough as it is. So I bought this Pierre Verte (video demo) kitchen and bathroom cleaner because it looked like something that I could use to clean the grout in my bathroom. It’s a disk of white paste made with natural white clay that you use by wetting a sponge (included) and rubbing it in until you get a nice thick foam. You need to rinse it off, so it can be a bit messy to use outside the shower or bath, so I hadn’t tried it elsewhere until last week. My old apartment had a stainless steel kitchen sink. My new apartment has an old-fashioned white ceramic sink, which has been subjected to daily assaults by blueberry jam, turmeric tea, tomato sauce, green smoothies, coffee, beet root peels, etc. It wasn’t “dirty” looking, just disturbingly grungy for a sink that had been spotless only six months earlier, particularly around the drain.
After a bunch of Googling and trying regular cleaning soap, super hot water, vinegar, baking soda, and tons of elbow grease to try and remove the stains, I finally resigned myself to needing something stronger (with a skull and crossbones on the label). Then I remembered the Pierre Verte in my bathroom and thought I’d give it a try. It worked instantly, and I barely had to scrub. I know there are probably professional bloggers out there who figured this out in Episode 1, but for those of you who have followed Secrets of Paris since the turn-of-the-millennium, you should know I clean as well as I cook. And, er, in related news, Pierre Verte is also great for cleaning expensive frying pans that were left on the stovetop just a few minutes too long while carmelizing onions (again, replacing my pots and pans every time I burn them to a crisp is outside my tax bracket).
#3 Vinaigre Blanc Gel
I usually try and buy white vinegar in bulk so I have enough for cleaning and laundry (especially after realizing apple cider vinegar is NOT a good substitute in a pinch). One of the only problems with vinegar is that sometimes it’s not easy to get a liquid to sit still and “soak in” on particularly stubborn lime scale (and if you live in Paris, ALL lime scale is stubborn). This Vinaigre Blanc Gel, which is usually found at any Parisian hardware store like Castorama or Bricomarché, is more expensive than plain white vinegar, but because it’s in a gel format, it stays put for a lot longer on the rim of the toilet bowl, on the shower head, or on wall tile grout, so you don’t waste as much. It’s a great lazy person’s cleaning product. I’m just noticing now as I post the photo that it says it’s “chlorophyll” scented. Huh? I never understood chlorophyll as a gum flavor, and even less so as a scent. But that topic could probably be it’s own blog post.
So there you have it, my favorite French cleaning products. I’m sure many of you have discovered your own favorites while living in France. Let me know in the comments below!
NOTE: I did NOT get any commissions, kick-backs, or freebies to write these recommendations. I’m not that broke.