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:
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
8. 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.
9. Room deodorizerramekin
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.
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!
11. 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.
12. Smelly garbage disposal
Drop in a leftover lemon rind or two and grind away.
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!