Cream of tartar? Before I could commit to cleaning with it, I wanted to know what this stuff even was. What is that weird white powder that hides in the back of every spice rack? Well…
Cream of tartar is a potassium-based salt derived from tartaric acid. It’s actually a byproduct of winemaking, because during fermentation the potassium bitartrate — that’s the fancy name for cream of tartar — crystallizes along the inside of wine casks. That’s why they call the crystals “wine diamonds.” Which is a pretty cute spin on a strange salty deposit, no?
These crystals that form in wine casks are the source of most commercial cream of tartar, which is collected and then purified to create the white powder we all know and love for one thing and one thing only: snickerdoodle cookies!
But apparently, cream of tartar isn’t just for cooking. It can be used in a variety of ways around the house, doing everything from polishing copper, brass, and aluminum to removing stains in the laundry. I wanted to put cream of tartar to the test as an all-natural, all-purpose cleaner, so I pitted it against three mighty opponents: my bathtub, my stainless steel stovetop, and my kitchen counters.
There are lots of different recipes that call for cream of tartar to be mixed with a number of different ingredients. But for my purposes here, I made a simple basic “soft scrub” which I used in all three applications.
Cream of Tartar Soft Scrub
2 cups distilled white vinegar (any cheap vinegar you have)
1/2 cup cream of tartar
In a glass mixing bowl or small plastic bucket (no metal), combine the ingredients and stir. The cream of tartar will not dissolve completely. Use the soft scrub by dipping a sponge or rag into the solution. Give it a little swirl every so often, to keep the ingredients evenly distributed.
Here’s how the Cream of Tartar Soft Scrub stacked up against its adversaries:
The bath tub
I’m really impressed with how well it worked on the sticky scum that clings to the cheap acrylic tub/shower in the little place I rent. The abrasive action of the powder was like a powerhouse cutting through scum. I usually use plain vinegar to clean my tub, and it always requires a lot of elbow grease. This made the job a whole lot easier, and I’m never going back!
The stainless steel stovetop
I noticed that the solution really seemed to shine up my faucet when I cleaned the bathtub, so I had high hopes for how it might perform on other, larger metal appliances. It certainly did the job removing the splatters from my stove, but I wouldn’t say it was any better than my standard baking soda-based cleaner (see article below) . Of course to be fair, it wasn’t any worse, either.
The kitchen countertops
My place has white laminate countertops that have been well worn by the many renters that came before me. It’s got many chips and nicks and it’s quick to show the stains from my black tea, red wine, and green juice spills. So needless to say, it’s hard to keep clean.
But I’m happy to report that right now, after scouring with the cream of tartar solution, my countertops are looking whiter and brighter than they ever have before. Literally ever! Consider me converted, and one step further away from having to call in a remodeling team to update my kitchen.
So all in all, I have to give cream of tartar a big fat A+ in the eco-friendly, DIY home cleaning department. Cheap, widely available, easy to use, effective, and safe enough to eat — that’s a 5-star rating as far as I’m concerned!
How does baking soda measure up to household cleaners?
When tested against household cleaner Ajax, baking soda was the clear winner, plus it has no harmful chemicals and scores of other uses.
If you are looking for a non-toxic abrasive cleanser, baking soda can’t be beat. In a comparison I did between baking soda and Ajax, results were similar in terms of cleaning power. However, according to the Colgate-Palmolive website, Ajax is an eye and skin irritant. The site also states that “over-exposure can cause respiratory irritation.” The site mentions that Ajax contains crystalline silica, a low-level carcinogen. The site also said that there is no expected harm from ingesting the cleanser – which is something I won’t be experimenting with.
On the other hand, baking soda is so safe you can use it for toothpaste or an age-old remedy for heartburn and indigestion.
Baking soda is slightly cheaper than Ajax, depending on where you purchase it.
Here are a few comparisons I tried out. I used plain baking soda, Ajax and a no-scratch-backing sponge.
Food stains on a laminate countertop
I noticed equal countertop cleaning power, but I did need a bit more elbow grease with the baking soda. The baking soda residue was easier and faster to clean up (hot water and a sponge). The Ajax gave a slightly deeper clean, but left a lot of residue. There is a greater need with Ajax to use a lot more water and, if not a sponge (used only for cleaning), more cloths or paper towels to clean the residue.
Rust stains on floor tiles
I have two great old farmhouse kitchen chairs at my table which I found at a yard sale. The one downside is the chairs have some type of metal on the base of the legs, which while flush with the chair leg, leaves rust stains after I wash my floors. Both baking soda and Ajax got those stains right up. I would have concerns for left-over residue from the Ajax though, as my pets will often lick things up from the floor.
Paint on floor tiles
I have a heavy red toolbox that is stored on the floor of my pantry. Over the years, each time I have pulled out the toolbox, red paint stains have been left behind. The odd thing was it took more scrubbing with the Ajax than the baking soda to remove the paint stains, then plenty of heavy rinsing again for the Ajax.
Stainless steel and porcelain sinks
Mild abrasives are best for stainless steel and porcelain, so baking soda wins on that factor alone. However, both products cleaned about equally, with a bit more shine on the stainless steel from the Ajax. An added benefit to using baking soda to clean sinks is its ability to help unclog drains. Ajax, especially if it contains bleach, sends more toxins into the water supply.
Both products cleaned equally well, but baking soda will keep your pipes clearer, is safe for septic systems and won’t pollute the water supply.
Since the bathroom is where we all go to clean ourselves, it also has a tendency to be one of the rooms in the house that gets dirty the fastest. I would never use a strong abrasive on linoleum, but a light scrub with baking soda is good for getting out grime that gets into the indentations of the patterns in the linoleum.
So, anywhere you can use a light, non-toxic abrasive, baking soda is the humble winner.