Michael De Jong, author of Clean: The Humble Art of Zen-Cleansing ($8, zencleansing.com), has boiled down housekeeping to five key elements—four of which are edible.

A former professional housekeeper, De Jong found that the chemicals in most cleaning products can be hazardous to one’s health. With the well-being of his HIV-positive partner, Richard Haymes, to consider, De Jong did some research and discovered that most cleaning chores could be handled with different combinations of baking soda, borax, lemon, salt and white vinegar. Grease spots on the rug? Pass the baking soda. Coffee stains? Go for cold salt water. Haymes says he doesn’t miss the harsh chemistry of commercial cleaning products one bit.

“I’m taking about 30 prescription medications a day,” says Haymes, 54, who has been positive for 25 years. “I already feel like my body is a toxic wasteland. Now that I know I’m not dealing with harsh chemicals in the house, it just feels better.” (The book’s subtitle: “Find your spic and span center.”)

De Jong is working on follow-up books with publisher Joost Elffers to further spread his Zen philosophy. But he and Haymes, who share a townhouse in Jersey City, remain humble. “We’re just two people who realize that there was a better way to keep the environment—our environment—safer and healthier. For us, for our dog, for our neighbors and for the goldfish.”