Skeptics abound in the natural cleaning world. Noxious smells like bleach are actually associated with effectiveness, so it seems impossible that a cleaner made of non-toxic ingredients, not to mention ones you can mix yourself, could actually work. Yet, when people try these cleaners, they’re surprised by how well they work, much in the way that this skeptic, writing for Grist, was won over by homemade green cleaners after conducting his won tests.
While commercial ‘green cleaning products’ are becoming more popular, many people hesitate to make their own, thinking handmade cleaners are only made by the crunchier types and involve all sorts of time-consuming mixing of funky ingredients. But fear not, handmade cleaners are surprisingly simple to make. And what’s more, they’re way cheaper than their commercial counterparts.
Over the past few years, I’ve become quite an advocate for making your own cleaners for all of these reasons, but most importantly, to avoid chemicals. This infographicgives a good rundown of the chemical dangers in common household cleaners. Consider the following:
- According to the EPA, our indoor environment is two to five times more toxic than our outdoor environment
- The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Health Organization have concluded that 80% of all cancers are attributed to environmental rather than genetic factors, including exposure to carcinogenic chemicals, many of which are found in household cleaning products.
- According to the Silent Spring Institute, women who work at home have a 55% higher rate of breast cancer than women who work outside the home(!)
Some of the dangers of indoor air come from mold, cooking and heating, and building materials, but a big source of indoor air pollution is household products. Many products contains ethers, terpenes, and other toxins. The good news is that it’s easy and cheap to make your own green cleaning products and yes, even skeptics admit that they do work. So, here’s the lowdown on green cleaners.
Most DIY green cleaners use just a few ingredients. These few ingredients are cheap, available at most grocery stores, and can make a huge variety of cleaners:
Baking Soda – Mild abrasive for removing soap scum and residue, deodorizer
Vinegar – Grease-cutter, deodorizer, cleanser
Borax – Natural mineral disinfectant and cleanser (This is on the laundry aisle, and not every grocery store seems to carry it; Use care when using this.)
Castile soap – Mild liquid soap made of vegetable oil. Very versatile cleanser for so many things (including your body!). This is available at most health food stores and grocery stores. A popular brand is Dr. Bronner’s – some people use the soap already mixed with essential oil (peppermint is very popular) and skip adding separate essential oils.
Essential oils- These plant essential oils have natural antibacterial and antifungal properties, and they make the products smell lovely. Popular ones are peppermint, lavender, thyme, eucalyptus, and lemon. (These are available at health food stores and some grocery stores.) They may seem expensive, but you only need a few drops in each cleaning recipe, so a little bottle can last you a very long time. Other than these ingredients, you’ll need:
- Empty spray bottles
- A funnel
- A spoon or something to stir with
Here are a few of the recipes I regularly use to get you started.
Lavender-Oregano Counter Spray – I came across this recipe in Craft Magazine a few years ago and have been using it ever since. The recipe is from the Austin-based Purple Fig Cleaning Company, which offers chemical free cleaning services. Lavender and Oregano have great antibacterial properties, and it smells wonderful. You can also swap out the Lavender and Oregano for other essential oils – I often use Lemon Eucalyptus (which is hard to find in stores but can be ordered) – but you could use Tree Tree or Peppermint or Lemon, add a little baking soda, and use it as a sort of all-purpose cleaner. (See All-Purpose instructions below.)
- 1 Tbsp Borax
- 2 Cups warm water
- 1/2 – 3/4 tsp lavender essential oil
- 1/2 – 3/4 tsp liquid Castile Soap (such as Dr. Bronner’s)
- 1/2 tsp Oregano Essential Oil
- Mix the Borax and warm water.
- Add the Lavender essential oil.
- Add the castile soap.
- Add the Oregano essential oil.
- Pour into a spray bottle, label and enjoy.
Tip: I write the recipe right on the spray bottle, so when I need to refill it, the recipe is right there. I also make a double batch at a time, which fits nicely in the larger spray bottles. Shortcut tip: You could use a Castile Soap with essential oil in it (such as Dr. Bronners Peppermint or Lavender and skip adding essential oils).
To make this counter spray recipe an All Purpose Cleaner, add 1 tsp baking soda to the mix, and substitute 1 – 1 1/2 tsp of whichever essential oil(s) you like.
Basic Window Cleaner – This recipe hails from “make your place,” a sweet little book my friend gave me that’s full of tips and recipes on “affordable, sustainable nesting skills.” I highly recommend this book not only because it’s full of great useful info, but because it’s one of those small zine-like hand-written and illustrated books that’s a delight to read through.
- 3 tsp liquid soap
- 3/4 cup white vinegar
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 4-8 drops lemon essential oil
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle. Label. Shake well before using. Tip: When I used to lifeguard at a huge indoor pool in a glass atrium which we had to clean, my boss gave me a tip on cleaning windows: use crumpled newspaper. For some reason, it leaves less streaks than paper towels and of course, it’s a great way to use up old newspapers without using up more natural resources.
Cleaning soap scum: To clean soap scum off tubs, you can just sprinkle some baking soda in the tub, then spray with your All-purpose cleaner, using the scouring power of the baking soda and a little elbow grease to remove the scum. Some folks premix a scouring scrub (2 cups baking soda + 10-15 drops essential oil) but I’m usually too lazy and just use the all-purpose spray with some baking soda. However you do it, baking soda works great for tubs and sinks.
Unclogging drains: Pour 1 cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by 1/2 cup vinegar. It will bubble up, like a volcano science experiment. Let it sit for 10- 15 minutes, then flush the drain with a pot of boiling water.
You can also use this technique to clean toilet bowls: Use 1 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup baking soda, plus 10 drops of tree tree or another essential oil for antibacterial action. You can either mix all this before hand, dump in the toilet and then scrub, or, you can pour the vinegar in, let it sit for 30 minutes, and then sprinkle some baking soda on your brush or int he bowl and scrub. For a quick scrub, you can also just sprinkle either baking soda or borax in the bowl, let it sit a while (several hours or overnight if you can), and then scrub.
Refreshing old sponges: Old smelly sponges – blech. Try soaking your sponges in a bowl of water with a few drops of Eucalyptus Essential Oil for a few hours to disinfect them.
All-Purpose Floor Cleaner – from Connecticut’s Upper Valley Waste Management site. Mix 2 tablespoons liquid soap or detergent with 1 gallon hot water. Mix, mop, and wipe clean.
Tile Floor Cleaner - also from the Connecticut site. Combine 1 cup vinegar and 1 gallon hot water. Mix, mop and wipe clean. Tip: To remove scuff marks, sprinkle with baking soda and spray with equal parts vinegar and water. Wipe clean.
Wood Floor Cleaner – courtesy of good old Martha Stewart. Use a damp – not saturated – sponge mop to wash with warm water. If your wood floor is really dirty, try a solution of 1/8 cup plant-based liquid soap and 1/8 cup distilled white vinegar to 1 gallon water. You can add add 10 drops essential oil for fragrance.
These recipes should give you a good start into diy green cleaning, but I’ve also complied a board on Pinterest with lots of green cleaning recipes, which I’ll keep adding to. You can experiment with tweaking different recipes to find those formulas that work best for you. Try a few and see if your inner skeptic isn’t won over.