Greener Cleaning Without Going Broke

Not quite organic cleaning solutions for most of us

Spray bottles with homemade cleaners

When you venture down the cleaning supply aisle at a grocery store, you’ll most likely find a slew of different products, some labeled “non-toxic,” some “organic,” and many with no clue as to what they contain. It’s hard to judge whether they are okay for the environment or not, and that makes it confusing to know which one to buy. What does conventional dish soap have in it that the “organic” product doesn’t? And why does the detergent that says “natural” contain plastic derivatives?

One way to avoid the entire dilemma is to make your own cleaning supplies. It’s an easy, economical, safe alternative to buying expensive, petroleum-derived brand-name cleaners. Often many of the supplies you need to make these simple cleaning agents can be found right in your pantry. The formulas listed below require ingredients like plain liquid soap, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, and borax. Making your own cleaning agents is a simple way to help the environment and save money at the same time.

Common housecleaning ingredients

Here’s a list and descriptions of the supplies you’ll need to make the formulas below.

Warning

Store ALL cleaning solutions in clearly marked bottles or containers away from children or pets. Though less toxic than other cleaners, some ingredients are poisonous and can still hurt or kill humans and pets.

Assemble your supplies, then grab a spray bottle or bucket, and start mixing!

Basic cleaning and disinfecting

For the most part, the simplest cleaner is the best: lots of hot water and soap. Wash dishrags regularly and microwave wet sponges for about two minutes on high to kill most germs.

Once items are clean, you can sanitize with a very dilute water and chlorine bleach solution of four teaspoons of bleach to one gallon of water. Let items sit in the solution for a few minutes, then let air dry. Any hard utensils or cutting boards that regularly come in contact with raw meat, poultry, or eggs can be sanitized this way. For kitchen counters, let the solution sit on the clean counter for several minutes before wiping dry with paper towels or clean cloths. (Time this to throw cloths into the wash to prevent the bleach solution from deteriorating fibers.)

Where deodorizing a room is at issue, open the windows. In summer, whenever possible open the windows and let the wind blow out the build up of indoor pollution. In the winter, bake a pie or cookies and dream of spring.

Cleaning recipes

Most of us have favored products for certain tasks. We might use an all-purpose cleaner in a spray bottle for degreasing kitchen surfaces or doing a quick clean up after dinner.

The following recipes might just help you save a few shekels and reduce some of the vast array of chemicals in your home. Plan on using a little extra elbow grease though. None of the following are instant, easy, or come with scrubbing bubbles.

All-purpose recipes

Windows and glass
  • Vinegar
  • Liquid soap
Mix 1/4 cup vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon liquid soap in a pint of water. Put mix into spray bottle and spray on windows and mirrors. Wipe off with old newspapers for a streak free shine.
All-Purpose Cleaner
  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Borax

Mix all 1/4 c. vinegar and a tablespoon of salt into ½ gallon water. Use for glass, mirrors, shower, and chrome.

Mix 1/4 c. borax into a half gallon of hot water and use to disinfect and deodorize.

Removing mold
  • 1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide
  • 2 parts water
Mix in spray bottle and spray affected area. Wait one hour before rinsing. Straight vinegar or lemon juice are also effective for this.
Stain removal for fabrics
  • Lemon juice
Put straight lemon juice on stains and set in sun to remove. Might take all day, but you'll be amazed at what comes out.

Bathrooms, laundry, and kitchens

Bathtub, sink, and counter cleaner
  • Baking soda
  • Liquid soap
Mix baking soda with a little water to form a paste. Add a couple drops of liquid soap. Use to clean bathtubs and sinks. Easy to rinse, leaves no residue.
Shower/tub surround
  • Vinegar
Spray with a vinegar solution every time you shower to cut down on water spots and scum.
Dishwasher soap
  • 1 part borax
  • 1 part washing soda
Mix equal parts of both in a bottle. Add to dishwasher like dish detergent.
Drain cleaner

 

  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
Pour ½ cup baking soda down the drain, followed by ½ cup vinegar. Let sit for 15 minutes, then follow with a teakettle full of boiling water.
Note:
Never put grease or fats down the drain. Aside from eventually smelling hellishly bad, it can really gum up the pipes. Last time we checked, plumbers were running $75–150 hour for emergency calls.
Hand-dishwashing soap

 

  • Liquid castile soap
  • White vinegar
Add soap and a little vinegar to hot water for washing dishes. It’s a lot cheaper than commercial dishwashing soap and, unlike store-bought dishwashing soap, doesn’t contain phosphates which use up oxygen in waterways. (Phosphate is one of the major components in fertilizer and as it runs "downstream" through the water system it can lead to algae blooms which in turn deprives fish of the oxygen they need to survive.)
Mildew remover

 

  • Vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt
Soak sponge in vinegar, add a few drops of lemon juice, and a small amount of salt. Scrub vigorously onto affected area. Do not rinse.
Oven cleaner
  • ¾ cup baking soda
  • ¼ cup salt
  • ¼ cup hot water
Dampen oven surfaces with warm water using a sponge. Mix together baking soda, salt and water to make a thick paste. Spread throughout interior and let it sit overnight. Remove the next day with a spatula and wipe clean. Use steel wool for tough spots.
Toilet bowl cleaner
  • 1 2/3 cup water
  • ¼ cup liquid soap
  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • ¼ cup borax

Mix solution in bucket, use toilet brush to scrub thoroughly.

Just as easy, but be careful of splashing, pour about a tablespoon of bleach directly into the toilet bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes while you clean the rest of the bathroom. Clean with a brush and flush.

Doing laundry
  • Liquid soap
  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
Sort clothes by type and color. Wash whites in hot water, colors in cold. Boost cleaning with a scoop of baking soda to the wash water. Add 1 c. vinegar to the rinse water to keep clothes bright. Line dry outdoors whenever possible. (It smells great and the slight scratchiness of the towels feels good after a shower.)

Metal cleaning

Brass and copper cleaner
  • 2/3 cup vinegar
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • ½ cup salt
Mix vinegar and flour in glass bowl. Add salt, stir well. Dampen a soft cloth with solution and polish.
Silver
  • Aluminum pan
  • Baking soda
See Easiest Silver Cleaning.
Stainless steel
  • White vinegar
Dampen a cloth with white vinegar; polish. For sinks, use a stainless wool pad to restore luster and remove stains. Isopropyl alcohol works equally well to clean, sanitize, and shine.

Floors

Rug deodorizer
  • 1 part baking soda
  • 1 part cornstarch
Mix equal parts and sprinkle liberally on rug. Wait fifteen top thirty minutes and vacuum up.
Wood furniture polish/floor cleaner
  • 1 part lemon juice or vinegar
  • 1 part vegetable/olive oil
Rub a thin layer of the mixture into the furniture or floor. (Most types of floors can be washed using a barely damp mop solution of vinegar and water. Never expose wood to standing water.)
Carpet Stain Remover
  • ½ part white vinegar
  • ½ part distilled water
Mix in a spray bottle. Spray on stain, let it sink in for a few minutes, and clean with a brush or sponge using warm soapy water. For a more heavy duty cleaner, mix ¼ cups each of salt, borax, and vinegar together to make a paste. Rub the paste into the carpet and let it sit for a couple hours. Vacuum.

Note: If you need something quick and easy to keep on hand when you haven’t got time to mix the solutions, try using Simple Green as an all purpose cleaning agent. Seventh Generation and Mrs. Meyers' cleaning products are also good, environmentally safe products to use. Mrs. Meyers is a little on the spendy side, but they smell really good.

Extra reading

Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living by Annie Berthold-Bond. One of the best books out there on the subject.

Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson. Not "green" so much as comprehensive and covers almost every home topic you can think of.

Making a Home by Better Homes and Gardens Basic intro to homemaking for the young, first timer. Three-ring binder so you can add your own stuff and build a custom book for yourself.


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