Why go to the trouble of making homemade cleaners? Let’s start with the scary stuff: According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the air inside the average American home is two to five times more polluted than the air immediately outside—and traditional household cleaning products can contribute to the problem.
“Homemade cleaners reduce the risk of contact dermatitis, allergies, inflammation and overexposure to chemicals linked to cancer and neurological damage,” says Kristin Arrigo, author of Seasonal Home Repair Checklist: Eco-alternatives for Maintaining Your Home. “It is said that even small amounts of disinfectants can take over a year to get out of our system. This is especially found with any product containing a phenol.”
Homemade cleaners are an easy—and cheap—alternative. Here are some helpful room-by-room hints and DIY recipes from two top eco-cleaning experts.
Possibly the last place you want to worry about toxicity is the kitchen. “Just remember that vinegar is a natural disinfectant, so keeping a spray bottle of it around is a great way to keep everything really clean,” says Billee Sharp, author of Lemons and Lavender. She suggests spraying your chopping boards daily with vinegar—and whipping up small batches (no more than one spray bottle at a time) of the following homemade cleaners.
General-Purpose Surface Eco-Cleaner
1 tsp. liquid Castile soap
1 tsp. borax or baking soda
3 drops essential oil or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 qt. warm water
Mix ingredients, pour into a spray bottle and shake well. Add 1 cup of vinegar for particularly greasy cleanups.
Window and Mirror Cleaner
Mix 1 part vinegar, 1 part water in a spray bottle. Use old newspaper for drying and shining.
1/2 cup baking soda or Borax
1 cup vinegar
1/2 gallon boiling water
Mix baking soda or Borax with vinegar; pour into the drain and cover. Let it sit and fizz for 20 minutes. Pour in boiling water. If this fails to open the drain, do it again and let it sit for longer.
2 cups baking soda or Borax
Spray bottle filled with water
Spray bottle filled with white vinegar
1 tbsp. liquid Castile soap
Spray the interior of the oven with water, then sprinkle baking soda over the bottom liberally so it’s completely covered. Mix 1 part baking soda and 1 part vinegar to make a paste, and coat the remaining interior surfaces of the oven with it. Leave it on overnight. Spray again with water in the morning. (If the oven is greasy, spray with both water and vinegar.) Wipe off with soapy sponges and a long-handled scrub brush. Keep spraying water and using clean cloths to remove the buildup. Make sure to rinse with clean water at the end to remove any residue.
Floor Cleaner (for vinyl, linoleum, tile or stone floors)
1 cup vinegar
A few drops essential oil
1 gallon warm water
Mix together all ingredients in a bucket. Apply with a mop or washrag, and rinse off with clean water. If floors need extra cleaning, try adding 1/2 cup of Borax or baking soda to the recipe.
However basic your bathroom is, it can always be perfectly pleasant if it’s clean and it smells good. Sharp suggests using her General-Purpose Surface Eco-Cleaner on porcelain, tile, linoleum and any bathroom woodwork, adding your favorite essential oils, such as lavender, grapefruit or lemon oil for a refreshing scent. Sharp provides this recipe to deep-clean your toilet.
Natural Toilet Cleaner
1 gallon water
1/2 cup baking soda or Borax
10 drops lavender, grapefruit, or lemon oil
Before you clean the toilet, pour the gallon of water into the bowl and flush. Mix the ingredients together in a bowl with enough water to make a thick paste. Brush the paste all over the bowl and rim. Spray heavily with vinegar, either alone or with equal parts water, and leave on for 10 minutes. Scrub the surfaces, rinse and wipe dry.
Around the House
A good vacuum cleaner will save you a lot of time and energy when you are housecleaning. Sharp recommends a bagless model with attachments to make it easy to get under furniture, into corners and up the walls. She also favors washable, reusable microfiber cloths for dusting surfaces and decorative objects. Here’s her go-to wood floor cleanser:
The Good Wood Floor Cleaner
1 tsp. vinegar
1 tsp. vegetable oil
6 drops essential oil
1 qt. warm water
Mix ingredients, pour into a spray bottle, and shake well. Spray the floor and mop with a clean mop. Repeat thoroughly with clean, hot water. Buff by walking on dry flannel rags infused with a few drops of citrus essential oil. Your floors will look nice and smell even better!
For smart stain removal, acting quickly is always the best policy. Sharp shares her tricks of the trade:
- Table salt will draw out red wine and coffee. Simply grab it off your table and pour it on the spill.
- Presoak stained fabric in a cold-water bath with Borax, baking soda or vinegar. When you wash, use cold water only, as heat will “set” the stain.
- You don’t need bleach to whiten fabric; use Borax instead. Add up to a cup to your washer load.
- Instead of chemical-laden fabric softener, add 1/2 cup of baking soda to the final rinse cycle.
- For dingy white socks, try boiling them for 10 minutes in a big cooking pot with a sliced lemon; hang dry on the line, and the sun will whiten them even more!
“People tend to ignore the air quality unless it starts to smell bad, or becomes stagnant, so keeping windows open, with screens, for a little while each day helps,” says Arrigo. She recommends placing cups of baking soda or white vinegar where odors are to absorb the smell. Her other quick fixes:
- For smelly fish, put a lemon in the oven for 10 minutes to cut the smell.
- For a burnt odor, put 1-2 drops of almond oil in 2 cups of water. Boil the mixture on the stovetop.
- For a room mister, put four sliced limes, 2 tablespoons of coconut extract and a teaspoon of baking soda into a spray bottle and shake well before spritzing.