Did you know that all it takes to safely and effectively clean practically your whole house is a few inexpensive, common, (some even edible) supplies and a little elbow grease?
A while back I wrote about using . The same ideas apply to your house--not only are they safe for your home, your children, and the environment but they will save you a lot of money!
According to Care2.com,“ounce for ounce homemade cleaning formulas cost about one-tenth the price of their commercial counterpart.”
In my home, we choose to avoid commercial cleaners filled with harmful chemicals and artificial fragrances (often these are volatile organic compounds (VOCs)).
Most chemical-based cleaners pollute our indoor air, our body, and ultimately our Earth. Plus, removing poisons from our home removes the risk of our children accidentally being poisoned. And did you know that dangerous fumes, such as those from bleach, actually drift out of their containers even when we think they’re shut tight?
"Levels of pollutants in indoor air can be from two to more than 100 times higher than outdoors, according to the U.S. EPA. That indoor pollution is due in large part to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that evaporate, or "offgas," from home decorating and cleaning products” (Source: Grist.com).
My goal isn’t to sanitize my house and remove all traces of anything living except for us humans (even the harshest of cleaners can’t completely do that for long). My goal is to keep my family safe, my home aesthetically pleasing, and do my part to be kind to the environment.
Viruses, bacteria, and other “bugs” are ubiquitous--they are on everything from our eyelashes to our pillows to the chicken that’s been in the freezer for months. While some strains are harmful, we live in relative harmony with most microscopic organisms. If you use common sense (such as when dealing with raw meats or human feces) and good practices (such as washing hands and cleaning up spills immediately), you will be healthy and your home will be clean (enough).
Note: I’ll focus on just a few of the supplies and methods I personally use to clean my house. My go-to resource is “Clean House, Clean Planet” by Karen Logan (much of the information I share in this article is adapted from this book).
Supplies & Uses:
- Microfiber cloths
- You can purchase these almost anywhere and you can buy cloths specialized for different functions such as cleaning windows, polishing, buffing, and dusting
- Or you can simply use whatever you have--towels, washcloths, cut-up old sheets or shirts or rags, even cloth diapers (flats or prefolds) if you have a stash you no longer use!
- Spray bottles, shakers, squirt bottles
- Gather various sizes depending on your needs
- I try to use recycled containers such as syrup, ketchup, or spice containers--but don’t use recycled containers from commercial cleaners!
- Baking soda
- Buy in bulk, as large of a container as you can find
- Store brands work just as well as name brands, in my opinion
- Baking soda can be used to clean, deodorize, as a mild abrasive, and softens water
- I keep several boxes of baking soda in each bathroom and in the kitchen to use for scrubbing sinks, toilets, tub and tile, and for deodorizing
- White distilled vinegar
- Buy in bulk (such as gallon size)
- Store brands work just as well as name brands but note that some brands of vinegar are made with petroleum byproducts so read the ingredients if this concerns you (some say Heinz brand is best but I buy unbranded for cleaning)
- Vinegar is acidic, cuts grease and soap/scum/mineral build-up, deodorizes, disinfects, and helps with mold and mildew
- I use it for many things, including as a final rinse after scrubbing sinks and toilets
- Liquid castile soap
- I prefer the brand called Dr. Bronner’s and I buy it by the gallon (it’s less expensive to buy in bulk and it lasts a long time)
- Castile soap works as an all-purpose cleaner and cuts dirt and grease
- Not only does castile soap work well as a cleaner but in our home we shampoo and wash our bodies with it! I also use it (diluted) in all of our handsoap pumps.
- Sal Suds (Dr. Bronner’s)
- I also buy Sal Suds by the gallon as it’s cheaper and lasts a long time
- I use this mainly for washing dishes and also as a hard-surface all-purpose cleaner (it’s great for both indoor and outdoor cleaning)
- Sal Suds is not a soap, it’s more “detergent-like” so I wouldn’t recommend using it for all your cleaning or for any body/hand washing
- Organic essential oils
- Make sure to buy pure essential oils (not synthetics or blends)
- Choices (fragrances) include tea tree oil, lavender, lemon, grapefruit, and peppermint (there are many types--choose what you like best)
- Essential oils can be used for scenting/fragrance and some have disinfectant or anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and insect-repelling properties (such as tea tree oil)
- Use caution if pregnant and always read directions--these are undiluted oils and very strong (so strong, in fact, if undiluted they can “melt” materials such as plastic)
- I prefer Kosher salt in large, bulk boxes
- Salt cuts/absorbs grease and acts as an abrasive cleaner
- I use salt mainly in our sinks when I need to give them a good scrubbing or remove stains (it’s probably best to wear gloves when using salt as a scrub--make a paste with water, scrub, then rinse)
- Purified or distilled water
- Water is used as base for many cleaning mixes (purified water is usually soft--without hardening minerals which affect the cleaning action of soaps)
- I use distilled water in all of my homemade solutions since we have hard water
- I also use distilled water in our steam cleaner (steam cleaning works great on our hardwood and tile floors)
- Light olive oil
- You don’t need to buy an expensive brand for cleaning
- Olive oil can be used for moisturizing and polishing wood furniture
- Lemon or lime juice
- Lemons and limes are acidic, cut grease and odors, freshen, lighten and remove stains
Chemistry & Common Sense:
Here’s a bit of science that's important to know: All chemicals have a pH ranging from 0 (acidic) to 14 (basic or alkaline). Water is neutral, with a pH of 7. For comparison, mild soaps tend to be pH 8, commercial drain cleaners can be pH 14, lime juice has a pH of 1, and commercial toilet bowl cleaners can be pH 2.
You need to be somewhat aware of their properties when you mix ingredients together to form cleaning solutions. Some ingredients neutralize one another while some ingredients should not be mixed together because they won’t be safe or as effective.
When you add mildly alkaline baking soda to mildly acidic vinegar, they will neutralize to form carbon dioxide gas and water. (Note: don’t mix vinegar with baking soda in a closed container--the gas formed could break the bottle or forcefully push the lid off.) This chemical reaction is great for cleaning drains and toilets. (It’s also good to know because if you, say, scrub your sink with baking soda and can’t get all the bits of baking soda out of the crevices, just squirt with vinegar and it’ll clean the area right up!)
When you add baking soda with liquid soap, you get a great, soft cleaner (they are both alkaline). Keep in mind that dirt and grease is generally acidic so the alkaline soap/baking soda solution will neutralize the dirt (thus the solution will “clean” well).
When you add vinegar directly to liquid soap, you will ruin your cleaning solution as they will neutralize each other (vinegar is an acid and soap is a base, remember?) and be ineffective--the vinegar will dissolve the soap. (If the recipe calls for both of these ingredients, always carefully add the vinegar last.)
Never mix homemade solutions with commercial cleaning solutions. This is certainly a recipe for disaster. Please don't make substitutions for ingredients if you aren’t sure they will be compatible or safe. And even though I mentioned at the beginning that many of these homemade cleaners are edible, it’s good practice to not eat or drink anything you make for cleaning purposes.
While many homemade cleaning supplies are essentially harmless (but not all), they can cause damage to some types of materials and, of course, anything ingested in extreme amounts can be harmful. Keep them out of reach of children! Please use caution and common sense when cleaning with nontoxic ingredients and when in doubt, do your research.
A Few Recipes:
Note: Don’t forget to label your cleaning solutions (and it’s helpful to put the recipe right on the bottle for easy refilling)!
Air Freshener/Odor Absorber
Liquid: Fill a spray bottle with white distilled vinegar and for every 8 ounces of vinegar, add 20-30 drops of the essential oil of your choice. Shake well before spraying. (And don’t worry--the “vinegary” smell doesn’t last long!)
I keep a small spray bottle in both bathrooms and the kitchen. I like grapefruit or lemon essential oils for the bathroom and peppermint or lemon for the kitchen.
Solid: Fill a small container (such as a glass bowl) with baking soda, add 10 drops or so of the essential oil of your choice, and use a fork to fluff and mix. Add more essential oil when the scent fades.
I use solid air freshener under my sink where my trash is located. Also, when I have overnight visitors, I often fill a decorative bowl with baking soda, add a pleasant-smelling essential oil and then place on the table or nightstand. Sometimes I even add nontoxic food coloring to the baking soda to make it look “prettier.”
All-Purpose Antiseptic Spray Cleaner
Fill a 32-ounce spray bottle almost full with distilled water. Add 4-5 Tbsp castile soap (I prefer tea tree oil castile soap) and then add 50 drops tea tree oil. Shake well.
You can vary the amounts of soap and tea tree oil depending on your needs (tea tree oil acts as a disinfectant). You can use this spray cleaner for most any surface--tabletops, counters, sinks, toilets, tubs, toys, even as a handwash.
I use it for pretty much everything except my hardwood floors and furniture. I keep a spray bottle under each bathroom sink and one in the kitchen.
Fill a 32-ounce spray bottle with white distilled vinegar and add 25 drops or so of tea tree oil (or you can add 50 drops of tea tree oil directly to a gallon of vinegar). Shake well.
I use this as a rinse after cleaning sinks, toilets, bathtubs (be careful as straight vinegar can “eat away” at grout and some surfaces), and floors. I even use it to attack mold and mildew on hard surfaces.
Glass & Mirror Cleaner
Make a mixture in a spray bottle using half water and half vinegar. Shake well. Spray on glass or cloth (your preference) and rub until the glass is clean and streak-free.
I use this cleaner for all my windows and mirrors. If they’re really dirty I’ll use Sal Suds or an all-purpose cleaner to wash first, then follow up with the vinegar rinse and rub.
Dusting Polish (Wood Furniture)
In a 16-ounce spray or squirt bottle, add 2 tsp olive oil, 20 or more drops of pure essential lemon oil, ¼ cup white distilled vinegar, and fill the rest of the bottle with distilled water. Shake well before use. Spray or squirt on cleaning cloth or directly onto the furniture and wipe or rub until dry.
This recipe works best for light dusting and polishing. I use it for all the wood in my home except for the floors. If you want to really condition your wood furniture, add more olive oil and/or leave out the water. (And always test in an inconspicuous spot before using on your expensive or beloved wood furniture!)
Note: If you need or want more information, there are myriad books and websites all focused on nontoxic cleaning.
A note about product labels: You can find “green” cleaners on almost any store shelf nowadays. Many are truly “green” and work well. However, keep in mind that most wording such as “natural” or “nontoxic” or “green” or “eco-friendly” is not regulated. Be informed, read label ingredients, and decide for yourself if you want to bring that product into your home. (Click here for more information about labeling.)
While the list of supplies is for the most part short, the list of recipes and uses is long. I only scratched at the surface today regarding nontoxic methods and recipes with which to clean your house. Perhaps it was enough to inspire you to clean in a nontoxic, eco-friendly way. You’ll save money while protecting the health of both your family and the planet!