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27 Jul

The Easiest Guide to Safe Household Cleaners You Can Make Yourself

Save a Buck, Save the Planet, Save Your Health

Store shelves are bursting with chemical cleaners for everything from stains to sinks to unpleasant odors (vegetable curry, the horror!). These days, “unpleasant” seems to mean any odor, period. Heaven forbid anything actually smell real. Walk down some aisles and your eyes will actually well with tears from the overwhelming levels of fragrances and chemical agents. We know these products are frequently bad for the environment, harmful to children, and dangerous for animals. Surely they’re not so healthy for adults, either. The truth is, most “dirtiness” and “germs” are fairly harmless, and we really don’t need those harsh cleansers for most household cleaning purposes. You also don’t need to kill bacteria left and right. Antibacterial cleaners are perfectly safe, contrary to popular internet wisdom; it’s just that they’re unnecessary most of the time.

Now to it. There are many preparations you can whip up at home that are not only inexpensive and simple, but much safer and more eco-friendly, as well. In fact, there is really no reason not to get started!

Who wouldn’t want to save cash, reduce chemical exposure, help the planet, think about the tiny tots, and still keep your pad sparkling and fresh?

Here’s all you need to know:

1. Glass

A few sheets of newspaper and a spritz of water.

That’s it. Not only is this a nice way to recycle, it’s (almost) chemical-free. The best part is something any expert cleaning pro can tell you: newspaper makes glass gleam in a way Windex only dreams about.

2. Grease

Fruit, Citrus Fruit

You know about all the citrus cleaners (could that guy in the Oxyclean commercial be any more enthusiastic?). Go one step better: just squeeze some real orange, lemon or lime juice on the grease. You might have to let it soak a bit in some sudsy water, but the acid in citrus can degunk like you wouldn’t believe. Chemical free, delicious smell, and your dog can lick it!

This is great for surfaces, plastic furniture and toys, dishes and the stovetop. (Note: lemons work best for surfaces; oranges have a higher sugar content, so while they’re great for dishes, they won’t do well on your stove. Also, don’t use citrus on anything that can be stained, like wood or fabric.)

Another tip for tough grease removal: simply add a little soap and an inch or so of water to the offending pot or pan and boil away. Problem solved. Now did you really need the 409?

orange

WGyuri Flickr Photo (CC)

3. Wood

To eliminate creaks, sprinkle a bit of baking powder in the cracks and wipe up with a damp towel.

To simultaneously clean wood and keep a healthy luster, add 1/4 cup of olive oil to warm water and mop to your soul’s content. Olive oil contains natural antibacterial and antimicrobial power. The Romans used it as a body cleanser and lotion (you can, too). You can also just mop with hot water. Really. Especially if you have your floors professionally sealed or if you do the occasional wax treatment, water is all you need and it’s what pros recommend.

4. Tile & Linoleum

Soak six green or black tea bags in a big bucket of scalding water overnight (obviously it will cool well before morning). Five is okay. Seven is fine, too. Tea is a natural cleanser that is wonderful for sanitizing. In fact, you can pour a little hot, plain tea on the table after dinner and wipe it up with a clean rag instead of spraying a harsh cleaner on any postprandial spills and dribbles.

If you are super worried about germs, relax. Unless you work in the ER or have been hanging around ebola-infested macaques lately, you’re fine. Really. If you wash your hands in hot soapy water whenever you come in the door and keep a box or rack for shoes near your home’s entrance, you’ll easily avoid both the common cold and more serious stuff. We don’t need antibacterial cleaners, let alone chemical sprays for the air we breathe!

5. Carpet

Would you wear a pair of socks for six years without cleaning them? And yet, we love our carpet. Carpet gets incredibly germy and dirty, but don’t take stain-removers and harsh cleaners to it. Once every two months, pay the 10 bucks to rent a steam cleaner, and add a cup of distilled vinegar instead of the store’s chemical formula. For stains, use white wine or distilled vinegar. These safe cleaners work just as well in most cases.

6. Porcelain (sinks, tubs and toilets)

Borax and baking soda scrub just as well as harsh cleaners and are perfectly safe! Neat, huh? Much cheaper and gentler on your skin, too.

tubs

The OneTrueBix Flickr Photo (CC)

7. General clean-up

Keep a spray bottle filled with 3 parts water and 1 part distilled vinegar for counter messes and spill cleanup. You can add just a few droplets of bleach – seriously, you only need a few – for extra killing power in places where you really do need to be concerned with germs (like the cutting board). Psst…here’s a great tip for dealing with raw chicken in the kitchen.

8. Detergent

Make your own safe, eco-friendly detergent! You’ll need one bar of vegetable glycerin soap, one box of washing soda (Arm & Hammer makes it), and if you want, one box of Borax. Here’s one way to do it:

Shave the bar of soap into a saucepan of boiling water (three to four cups will do). Add this highly soapy mixture to three gallons of pure water (you’ll need one big bucket!). Stir. Add the washing soda. Stir. If you want, add the borax. Stir. Um…that’s it! Really! For more detailed instructions, click here.

borax

9. Fabric freshener

Purchase any herbal extraction or natural floral essence of your choice. Add a few drops to a spray bottle filled with water. Rosewater is also completely safe, but we recommend buying an extract or oil because it will last longer than most marriages.

10. Room deodorizer ramekin

See #9! You can also place a small condiment bowl or ramekin in a hidden corner and fill it with your favorite natural oil: rosemary, lavender, rose, lemon, jasmine, whatever suits you! The scent will last and last.

lavender 1

Goins’ Flickr Photo (CC)

11. Coffee maker

Run a pot of half vinegar, half water through the machine. Then run two consecutive pots of pure water through it (otherwise you’re in for some terrible coffee). Forget the pricey chemicals!

12. Water stains and more

You can use plain old vinegar and (gasp) water to remove nearly any stain life dishes out. To remove water stains, soak the offending object in hot water and four ounces of any vinegar overnight. Scrub with vinegar the next day if necessary. Check this out, too.

13. Smelly garbage disposal

Drop in a leftover lemon rind or two and grind away.

limon

Fonticulus Flickr Photo (CC)

14. Natural Cold Prevention

Place a small condiment dish filled with apple cider vinegar in a hidden spot or corner. The smell isn’t pleasant, but if it’s stowed behind a jar or the coffee maker no one will notice. This is a nice way to neutralize airborne germs. Cool!

What’s missing? Share your tips!

Further reading:

Most Popular Posts

13 Simple, Timeless Kitchen Hacks

Natural Cleaning Resource

More Chemical Alternatives

The Dangers of Household Cleaners (University of Tennessee)

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You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. For YEARS now I have been cleaning with equal parts water, vinegar and rubbing alcohol mixed in a spray bottle. It works on EVERYTHING, including glass, and is totally streak free. Promise.

    DopeyLaRue wrote on July 27th, 2007
  2. Interesting article on the safety of rubbing alcohol, vinegar, and water as a cleaning solution:

    http://www.dld123.com/q&a/qandatemp.php?id=Q123

    Robert wrote on July 28th, 2007
  3. I used to brush my teeth every day exclusively with baking soda. Recently it was recommended to me to brush with it only two to three times a week (which will preserve the enamel on my teeth more effectively, as baking soda is an abrasive). So, in the meantime, I gargle with baking soda and water on the in-between days as needed.

    steve wrote on July 28th, 2007
    • Dissolve the baking soda in a little bit of water before brushing…use one of those little cups that comes with cough syrup, or a 3oz paper bathroom cup…and then brush. All of the benefits of brushing with baking soda, with none of the abrasion.

      Helen wrote on August 18th, 2012
  4. Great tips! I love the idea for essential oil ramekin for room freshener and I’ve got to try white wine on the carpet!

    http://www.dote.etsy.com

    Maegan wrote on July 28th, 2007
  5. I didn’t know that dryer sheets were so bad for you.

    nibbles wrote on July 30th, 2007
  6. A couple more tips:

    1. You can use a brick (yep, just a plain old brick) to clean your toilet.

    2. Bed, Bath, & Beyond (hooray for consumerism) sells these spiky blue things called dryer balls. You just toss your blue balls in the dryer, no dryer sheets necessary, and your clothes come out fluffy. Only $10. Reusable forever. Again, consumerism = awesome.

    Bradford wrote on July 30th, 2007
  7. I am totally getting those, um, blue balls. Sounds great! :)

    Sara wrote on July 30th, 2007
  8. I have 2 of those dryer balls in my dryer. I would not trade them for nothing. In a small load they help my clothes dry so much faster in a shorter length of time. And,my clothes are soft.
    NO dryer sheets, NO Downy needed, NOT anymore!
    I LOVE THEM!

    Donna wrote on August 1st, 2007
  9. Re: Water, rubbing alcohol, and vinegar solution. Add ammonia to those 3 ingredients and you’ve boosted its cleaning effectiveness. Just pour a cup of each of the four ingredients into a 32 oz spray bottle (available at Dollar General, WalMart, etc) Also, if you use 90% solution rubbing alcohol (at drugstores or WalMart) you’ve really boosted it’s disinfectant properties as most rubbing alcohol is only 50 or 70 percent solution.

    Big Bob wrote on August 2nd, 2007
  10. You can use those extra little ketchup packets from ffast food places (if you frequent them) to put the shine back into your copper bottom pans. Just apply and let set awhile. It may take a little scrubbing if it has been some time since you polished them. I use a very fine foam backed sanding pad that I cut into 4 squares. Of course the usual lemon juice or vinegar with salt works well, too.

    Willy wrote on August 3rd, 2007
  11. For those who smoke the ganja out there, or anyone needing to clean something pyrex or glass, like a nalgene. A heavy salt solution goes a long way towards cleaning gunk out. Its incredibly abrasive and kills most anything.

    Jonesy wrote on August 12th, 2007
  12. I have searched high and low, and can’t find anything that will safely clean and whiten porcelain crowns. My dentist tells me to just replace the crowns, but that is way too expensive.
    I’d appreciate any suggestions that anyone might have. Thanks a lot!
    Sal

    Sal wrote on September 20th, 2007
  13. I have been making my own laundry soap for a long time. It is wonderfully inexpensive, effective, non-toxic and leaves our clothes smelling like…CLOTHES!! :)

    I grate one bar of Ivory soap, add 1/2 cup Borax, add 1/2 cup washing soda. Mix and store in a container with a lid. I use 3 tablespoons per large (front loader) load.

    It is so easy that my 4 and 10 yo can do up a huge batch once a month for me.

    Depending on the price of the ingredients, it usually runs between 5 and 8 cents per load….compare that to Tide!!

    I also use the dryer balls. They also leave our clothes smelling like clothes.

    When I really need to disinfect, I use a spritz of vodka. It is mostly alcohol and that will kill most anything. If you can believe it, some people drink this stuff!! ;)

    I am curious about making my own dishwasher soap. I think that just Borax is what I am going to try and I’ll use some vinegar in the rinse agent hole. Has anyone else found a homemade alternative to that awfully toxic stuff that sells on store shelves?

    Another air cleanig agent is tea tree oil. You can put it on your furnace filter and let the furnace do the work of blowing it through your home.

    Tea tree oil also kills head lice. (Yes, I know this first hand!) Just add 15 drops to your dollop of shampoo and rub into wet hair. Use more if you have lots of hair like my daughter with waist long hair. Wrap your head in a hot wet towel and let it sit for 10 minutes. Rinse out in the shower. Repeat this in 5 days to be sure you got them all. This is safe and simple and also acts as a deep cleanse for your hair.

    I need to look for a natural treatment for dog fleas. Any suggestions?

    new_me wrote on October 7th, 2008
    • tea tree oil is perfect for fleas – bugs hate it!

      Gem wrote on February 20th, 2012
      • Yes, but be careful, Teatree is toxic to cats.

        cycosfireball wrote on October 11th, 2012
    • Food-grade diatomaceous earth. Works great on the animal as well as on the carpets and upholstery and is completely non-toxic. It can also be used to get rid of ants.

      Helen wrote on August 18th, 2012
      • That’s what we use, it works GREAT. We had a horrible Tick infestation and use the earth. 4 Days and they were gone ! Yet it’s so safe you can eat it. Be sure it’s the food grade, though, not the stuff you clean pools with.

        cycosfireball wrote on October 11th, 2012
  14. These are great great article. One product I use a lot in my house is the Ultimate Cloth. You dont have to use or make any chemicals which is important to me for my kids. There are a lot of places online where you can buy them but this is the cheapest. Cheap Ultimate Cloth

    Jo wrote on February 3rd, 2009
  15. Love the suggestions on this post. I’ve been using the vinegar, alcohol, and water cleaner. It’s great! I would like to know how to apply tea tree oil on my furnace filter (how much of whtatever). The ivory soap, borax, and washing soda works well on towels and whites, I’m just curious about delicates and dark colors.

    Stacey wrote on February 16th, 2009
  16. Where can I get the blue dryer balls?

    Gus Scott wrote on July 17th, 2009
  17. Great article. I really like the first one on glass. I had heard of using newspaper before, but have never tried it. I didn’t know you can use it without some type of cleaner.

    solar panels for sae wrote on December 7th, 2009
  18. Really very useful and informative post. It will help other in keeping their home looks clean and will help a lot in making environment free from toxic chemicals. Really very nice post. Great post.

    cleaners london wrote on July 5th, 2010
  19. Adding vinegar when cleaning your carpets is something I’m going to start doing

    Jeff wrote on November 11th, 2010
  20. Great article. Every cleaning company should consider about this and start using only natural materials for cleaning!

    cleaning london wrote on July 31st, 2011
  21. I think i will use some of these tips at home. I do believe we do use too many chemicals which in turn lowers our immunity to bacteria and illness, so a natural cleaner is the way to go. Thanks for the post

    Elite Cleaning London wrote on August 22nd, 2011
  22. Wow! Newspaper on Glass? Really? Will have to give that a go when cleaning ovens. I currently use micro fibre cloths which costs me a fortune. Newspaper sounds nice and cheap.

    Oven Cleaning Milton Keynes wrote on November 23rd, 2011
  23. In #7 above, it mentions adding a drop of bleach. Bleach and vinegar should NEVER be combined (same as bleach and ammonia should never be combined). By mixing these two products, you are creating a toxic chlorine gas.

    http://chemistry.about.com/od/toxicchemicals/a/Mixing-Bleach-And-Vinegar.htm

    jboner wrote on May 20th, 2012
  24. I have been living in Saudi Arabia for the past year and over the weekend there was a dust storm (dust pours into the house). We have house cleaners once a week, but not for several days and guest were coming over. With no cleaning sprays on hand, I thought “Mark will have an answer to this.”

    These ideas are perfect. The kitchen is not only dust free, with a bit of vinegar it is sparking, the glass gleamed up instantly with newspaper and water, and the wood is shining with a wee bit of olive oil. Man I love cleaning like this!

    Anne Habiby wrote on June 8th, 2012
  25. The very best natural way to get rid of fleas, bacteria , allergens is Steam Cleaning!
    your using pure water.. why mess about with anything less?
    for work tops wipe over with a damp cloth , you can use a lemon for a nice smell.. but then blast with steam
    use this on every surface..use your bath gel as a tub cleaner use a small aount on a sponge lather up and blitz the entire bathroom. rinse and steam..this area is now sanitised!
    use your steam cleaner after vacuuming , use on beds.. after a sickness bug in the air,on surfaces etc..
    all you need is water to lead a clean green life :)
    stop mixing oils and borax and vinegar..its not needed.
    every time you spray is going into your lungs this cannot be a good idea.
    if you want a nice smelling home use fresh flowers, muslin bags of dried herbs or peels.
    you only need soap for washing your body and your laundry ..the rest steam will take care of :)

    nat wrote on August 29th, 2012
  26. Though this article is a few years old by now I want to point out that antibacterial soap is NOT safe at all. Besides the side effects of triclosan (http://healthland.time.com/2012/08/15/freaky-clean-chemical-in-antibacterial-soap-weakens-muscle-function/) using antibacterial products had further consequences down the line. First off they don’t degrade, so when they get to the sewage treatment plant or local river, depending on where your waste water goes, they are as bacterial killing as ever, and kill naturally occurring beneficial bacteria just as we’ll as harmful diseases. Bacteria are among the fastest evolving organisms and when we continuously douse our environment with chemicals intent on killing them (not to mention our cultural obsession with antibiotics which does the same thing) they will adapt into superbugs and that’s pretty much where our new scary antibiotic resistant illnesses come from, and the reason they are becoming more common and more powerful. Sewage treatment plants might as well be considered military grade experimental facilities intent on creating resistant strains of bacteria to destroy the earth, based on what chemicals a routinely deposited in them. Besides that antibacterial soaps don’t work any better than regular natural soaps, so just don’t use them!

    Carol wrote on February 3rd, 2013

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