I know what you’re thinking…this post is about seven years too late and a pretty worn-out topic. Right? I completely agree. But I’m still gonna post this because I think it bears repeating, especially in times of tighter budgets and a modern urge to return to simpler times. I also admit I’m writing this down partly so I’ll have a reference for myself (my own notes keep getting thrown away…hmm), and for friends who’ve asked how I’ve made this-or-that. So for those friends, eat your heart out. Here’s Helpy-Helperton at her finest. 🙂
Back in 2006 I was lucky enough to meet Sara Janssen via Des Moines’ Freecycle and got hooked on her blog. I suppose I could credit her for jogging my memory back to when my mom shopped at No-Name Nutrition and subjected us to all manner of natural/homeopathic/homemade remedies, foods, etc. (For awhile there I wondered if my mom’s medicinal philosophy was “if it tastes like sewage, it’s good for you.” I still gag remembering the daily doses of yeast-in-juice and later, the powdered-barley-green-in-water she made us drink. At least the Frookies and hot carob milk were good. See, Mom? Not all bad.)
One particular post on Sara’s blog discussed the wonders of making your own cleaning products. What the what? Baking soda, vinegar – and who is this Dr. Bronner? Despite my previous aversion to the smell of vinegar, I decided to give it a go. And I haven’t looked back. A peek under my kitchen sink and the only toxic thing you’ll find under there is CLR. The rest has gradually been replaced by non-toxic, eco-friendly and (very importantly for us) frugal cleaning items. In fact, that might be my favorite thing about real green cleaning – it’s ridiculously cheap!
Why do I clean this way? There are several reasons, but for me the main ones are that it’s very easy on our budget, a few readily available ‘ingredients’ clean everything, and it’s safe for the planet and my family. As a result, I’ve become more sensitive to fumes from commercial cleaning products – which, since our bodies weren’t made to inhale those things anyway, makes me think I’m doing myself a favor. 🙂
OK, down to the nitty-gritty. First, a little about the main components:
Distilled white vinegar: I cannot sing the praises of vinegar enough…it does so much around the house! Distilled white vinegar is non-toxic and made from filtered, fermented corn alcohol, with no preservatives or additives. Its high acidity makes it a natural antibacterial disinfectant. A Heinz spokesperson is cited here saying that vinegar kills 99% of bacteria, 82% of mold, and 80% of germs. Works for me. (By the way, did you know it’s not a good idea to use artificial products labeled ‘antibacterial’ because it can actually lower your body’s ability to fight bacteria? Talk about counterproductive.) I think of white vinegar as my Windex, or my ammonia, and buy it by the gallon for a buck or two. We go through a jug every couple of months. (And the smell dissipates rather quickly. After a couple of months of cleaning with it, it became my new ‘smell of clean’!)
Baking soda: Arm & Hammer’s brand has been around for over 150 years – our grandparents knew this stuff wasn’t just for baking! It’s cheap – 45 cents a box at Aldi and readily available in 12-pound bags at any warehouse club for $6 or less. One of those bags lasts me six months or more. It’s found in mineral springs and can also be mined or manufactured. Unlike Comet or other abrasives, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is alkaline and safe for your skin (I use it to exfoliate!). It doesn’t scratch surfaces, neutralizes odors and acids and is antiseptic.
Lemons/lemon juice: Naturally acidic, lemon juice is also a great disinfectant, antibacterial, bleacher and degreaser. It can work along with vinegar and helps to lessen vinegar’s pungent smell. And, come on – who doesn’t like a lemony fresh scent anyhow?
Hydrogen peroxide: I recently learned a lot about this handy-dandy, uber cheap cleaner. Not just for first-aid anymore! The 3% solution you find in any pharmacy section works wonders as a bleach alternative (it’s historically been used to bleach paper, wood pulp and bones), disinfectant and antiseptic. It’s much easier on the environment, your nose and skin than chlorine bleach. That said, a word of warning: vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are not to be mixed together. Just don’t try it. They do, however, work great for cleaning when sprayed in layers. More on that below.
Oxygen bleach: Unlike its evil stepsister (haha) chlorine bleach, oxygen bleach (like OxyClean or its generic equivalents) is 100% biodegradable, non-polluting, natural, non-toxic, fragrance-free and color-safe. It can do everything chlorine bleach can, except sting your nose and roast a few brain cells. 🙂 And it’s fairly inexpensive.
Olive oil: Good for wood conditioning (recipe below) – and my guess is that you’ve probably got it lurking around your kitchen, too. Your wood furniture probably doesn’t care about its healthy fats and antioxidant qualities, but your hands do.
Dr. Bronners’ Liquid Castille Soap: My other cleaning favorite. So versatile and effective. It’s the priciest cleaning product I buy (the best price I can find is here), but a little goes a long way (it’s uses are nearly endless, but here are a few) for people and animals and household alike!
Also in my cleaning arsenal: Stainless steel scrubbies ($2 for 2. Unlike SOS pads, they are free of detergent, don’t rust, and can be cleaned in the diswasher and reused), rags (we cut up old t-shirts, stained towels, prefold diapers, etc.), old toothbrushes, Downy balls, toilet brush and spray bottles.
There are a few products I do buy commercially because I haven’t found a DIY solution yet that’s simple, effective, cheap and green. Things I strive to avoid cleaning with include: sodium lauryl sulfate, parabens, chlorine, phosphates, borax, artificial dyes and fragrances, and chemicals with long Latin names (they make me nervous…but that’s probably just personal preference. I’m no chemist. I did study Latin roots, though – nerd alert!). Two things I had to unlearn: 1) suds don’t indicate a products is ‘working’…that’s just clever marketing, and 2) you don’t need to use products with headache-inducing fumes…in fact, stay away from them.
Windows/glass: Straight white vinegar in a spray bottle – just spray on glass and wipe. You can dilute it with 1/2 water, too, to stretch the vinegar even further. Some use newspaper to wipe, but I just use a clean cotton rag.
Wood furniture: For dusting, a chamois or microfiber cloth works great. To polish my wood furniture, I use a mixture of half olive oil, half lemon juice. Apply to a rag and work it in. A little goes a long way! Another alternative is half olive oil/half vinegar. Shake before applying to your rag. Don’t use this on your wood floors, though – unless you’re trying to mimic this.
Bathroom: To scour the sink, I spray my all-purpose spray all over the surface and sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda on top. Scrub with sponge or rag, then I rinse with hot water. Spray vinegar on the faucet and wipe off. I do the same for the bathtub. I use my all-purpose spray for the exterior of the toilet, too.
All-purpose cleaner: In a spray bottle, I throw in a generous dash of Dr. Bronner’s (I’ve used the tea-tree, peppermint, and citrus orange scents, but any will work just fine), 1/4-1/2 cup of vinegar, and fill the rest up with warm water (Dr. Bronner’s can get cloudy and semi-solid when it’s cold, so the warm water helps it mix better). Shake and spray away.
Toilet bowl: I spray a layer of hydrogen peroxide around the bowl, followed by a generous sprinkle of oxygen bleach. It sits while I clean the sink and outside of the toilet, or up to half an hour, then I scrub with the toilet brush and flush. The all-purpose cleaner and a layer of baking soda also work well.
Tile/scum: Here’s where you don’t want to mix vinegar and hydrogen peroxide beforehand. Spray a layer of hydrogen peroxide first and follow with a sprayed layer of vinegar. You’ll hear a fizzing sound. Scrub away! I tried this for the first time last night with good results. I also make a paste of hydrogen peroxide and oxygen bleach (just a tablespoon) and work it into the grout with a toothbrush. Let it sit for a bit and rinse off. I’ve also made a soft scrub out of baking soda and Dr. Bronner’s. Works great for scouring tile, sinks or tubs.
Kitchen sink: Baking soda sprinkled all over the sink, all-purpose cleaner sprayed on top and scrubbed, then thoroughly rinsed (same for my cooktop stove). To clean inside the drain I pour in baking soda, then vinegar. Volcano! I also have thrown my citrus peels or half a lemon and turned on the disposal. Clean and odor-free.
Kitchen counters: A lemon juice/vinegar combo is great at killing bacteria, as is the all-purpose spray. Spray and wipe. You can also rub a cut lemon onto a cutting board to kill bacteria as well. (Don’t forget to throw the used lemon in the disposal!)
Floors: Ye Olde And Oft-Mentioned All-Purpose Cleaner in hot water to mop with works great, as is a couple dashes of Dr. Bronners (castile soap or Sal Suds) in hot water. Don’t need to get fancy. I use a mop head that can be machine washed and hung to dry.
Laundry: I’ve been using Purex Free & Clear since having kids (Dreft Schmeft!), but recently started making my own laundry detergent, Duggar-style…and man, it is the bees knees. Quick, easy and uber cheap to make. Another, albeit spendier, alternative worth trying are Soap Nuts…although this blogger doesn’t recommend them for cloth diapers (love her blog!). I use the oxygen bleach as directed for stains, too. For years I’ve used no more than 1/4 c. of vinegar in a Downy ball with each load in lieu of fabric softener. Does the same job for less, kills static and is kind to fabric. And no, your clothes won’t smell like vinegar. 🙂
After eyeing wool dryer balls for months, one of my man’s coworkers sent some home with him. (A quick Etsy search yields loads at various price points, too. They’re also simple to make.) They naturally soften your laundry and truly reduce drying time. I’m in love with them…and just might make a few more.
Dishes: Just got done experimenting with different homemade concoctions, and man – not happy with any of the results. Everything left a film or water spots on the dishes if I left them to air dry (which, much to Michael’s chagrin, I often do). Back to using Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day dish soap (the lemongrass scent reminds me of the spa from our Jamaican honeymoon. Yum.). I would love to find a nice DIY recipe, but they all seem to be cost-prohibitive.
Did I forget anything? Are you actually still reading? God bless you. I’m hanging up my apron now. Here’s to a cleaner, happier home – in my family line, that counts for something. Cheers!