Anyone who's been to my house might chuckle to see that I've written a guest blog post on cleaning. My husband and I share our little old house with three small and very dirty (read: happy) boys. There's always a mess being made somewhere in our home. In fact, I don't remember the last time that our house was all clean at the same time. But the benefit of our messy existence is that we've had lots of opportunities to test lots of different natural cleaning recipes and methods. If these cleaners are able to tackle the messes we make, you can know that they work.
Did you ever see that commercial for the fictional Formula 410? A janitor messing around in a lab sprays some on the wall and burns a hole clean through (complete with an indoor lightening bolt!). The idea was that the world isn't ready for Formula 410, so we can all run out and buy Formula 409, the cleaner that is super effective but just weak enough that it won't burn holes through your stuff. This commercial aired before I had children of my own and became a little paranoid about such things, but I still remember thinking, "Really? I'm supposed to want to use something even a little bit like that?!" Now folks, I realize the commercial was an exaggeration, that it was supposed to be funny and entertaining, but still...
I don't mean to target Formula 409. A quick stroll down the cleaning products aisle of your grocery store will turn up dozens and dozens of cleaners that are probably effective, but dangerous for our families and the environment. Pick up any bottle and read the label and you're likely to find long lists of strongly-worded precautions and warnings.
You don't have to use those harsh cleaners to have a clean home. Did you know that you can make your own household cleaners that are safe, effective, and cost a fraction of what you'd pay for store-bought cleaners? And it's easy too! Once you've got the ingredients on hand, it only takes seconds to whip up a fresh batch. And the best news of all is that you may already have some of these ingredients in your kitchen.
(note: although the following recipes for cleaners are quite safe, it's still a good idea to keep them out of the reach of children and supervise their use)
Here's what you'll need for basic cleaning:
- Clean spray bottles (brand new empty ones are an inexpensive investment)
- Clean shaker-type canister (I use an old sea salt container)
- Microfiber cloths (you can find these in the cleaning supplies section of most stores, but I find that they're almost always less expensive in the auto care section. Or check Sam's Club or Costco if that's your thing. I got a package of 36 large cloths at Costco for about $14.50. That was over two years ago and I still use them every day)
- Washing Soda (found near the laundry supplies in most grocery and discount stores)
- Baking Soda
- Distilled White Vinegar (you'll probably want to start buying this by the gallon, it's awesome!)
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Good liquid soap or detergent (Use whatever you prefer. I really like Method's dish soap-- it's very effective and biodegradable. Some people love Castile soap, and consider it the greenest dish soap option. I have no experience with that, yet...)
- Tea Tree Oil
- Citric Acid Granules (your local health food store is probably the most likely to carry them)
- Optional: Borax (usually found near the washing soda in your store's laundry/cleaning section)
- Optional: your favorite essential oils (for adding scent to your cleaners-- grapefruit oil is my favorite)
My DIY cleaning kit
All-Purpose Cleaner (recipe from care2.com)
I use this all-purpose cleaner for everything: cooked-on messes on the stove, counter tops, crayon marks and grimy fingerprints on my walls, and a great no-rinse mop solution. You may need to give it a little time to work on particularly crusty, caked-on messes. In that case, I usually spray the mess generously, go do something else for a couple of minutes and come back to wipe up the mess. This solution is particularly effective when used with a microfiber cloth.
1/2 teaspoon washing soda
A dab of liquid soap
2 cups hot tap water
Optional: a few drops of your favorite essential oil(s).
Combine the ingredients in a spray bottle and shake until the washing soda has dissolved. Apply and wipe off with a sponge or rag.
Glass Cleaner (recipe from care2.com)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon liquid detergent
3 tablespoons vinegar
2 cups water
Put all the ingredients into a spray bottle, shake it up a bit, and use as you would a commercial brand. The soap in this recipe is important. It cuts the wax residue from the commercial brands you might have used in the past. Microfiber cloths are a great, lint-free, low-waste way to wash your windows/mirrors. Newspaper also works really well.
Mold and Mildew Killer (recipe from care2.com)
This stuff is great. I've successfully used it on moldy shower curtains and on the mildew that shows up in my poorly-ventilated bathroom. Tea tree oil is expensive, but a little goes a very long way-- and there are lots of wonderful uses for it. (I'm still using a bottle that I purchased a couple of years ago) The smell of this spray is very strong, but dissipates within a few hours.
2 teaspoons tea tree oil
2 cups water
Combine in a spray bottle, shake to blend, and spray on problem areas. Do not rinse. Makes two cups.
Fill a clean shaker-type container with Borax. Sprinkle over damp a damp surfaces and wipe with a damp cloth or sponge. Rinse thoroughly. Great for sinks, bathtubs, and toilets. For toilets, sprinkle generously into toilet water, swish with the brush and let sit 30 minutes to overnight.
This does a beautiful job removing stains from my 68 year old porcelain kitchen sink. Baking Soda also makes a great scouring powder if you don't need to remove stubborn stains.
Hard Water Deposit Remover: citric acid granules
I have very hard water and inevitably end up with deposits on my faucets and around my drains. For a while I thought that I'd just have to live with it; that that was one area that my DIY cleaners just couldn't compete. I knew that the high acid content in vinegar will eat right through hard water deposits. However, vinegar takes time, and short of filling my bathtubs and sinks with vinegar, I couldn't find a way to apply it so that it would stick around and get the job done. Citric acid granules, however, do the trick perfectly. Just sprinkle some on a damp sponge or cloth and scrub away at your hard water deposits and watch them dissappear! Be careful around metal fixtures-- it may discolor them. And you'll also want to do a spot test if your sink is made of anything other than porcelain-- I've only used this on porcelain and I'm not sure if it would cause problems for other surfaces. Citric acid is safe (it's really just vitamin C), but it's high acidity may irritate skin, so be sure to wear gloves when applying.
Hydrogen Peroxide is an awesome, and very safe germ killer. It's great for surfaces that come in contact with food and baby stuff. It needs to stay in its brown bottle though, as exposure to light will reduce the potency. Just borrow a sprayer from one of your spray bottles and screw it on, they should match up.
100% Vinegar is another great disinfectant. I especially love to use it in the bathroom. Perfect for toilets and the walls surrounding (I have boys, remember?) The smell is kinda strong at first, but it will dissipate pretty quickly.
Vinegar and Hydrogen Peroxide are both great sanitizers in their own right, but when used together, they're actually more effective than bleach or other commercially available cleansers at killing bacteria, according research done by Susan Sumner, a food scientist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Using her method, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are not mixed together in the same bottle, but rather sprayed one after the other. This combo is effective not only on metal plastic and wood, but also food. That's right, you can spritz vinegar and then hydrogen peroxide on your salad greens to be sure they're nice and clean (with no noticeable vinegar taste, even). Woo Hoo!
Dishwasher Detergent and Rinse aid (recipe from DIYnatural.com):
1/2 c. washing soda
1/2 c. borax
1/4 c. citric acid granules (can be omitted if you've got soft water)
1/4 c. kosher salt
Shake to combine and use 1 Tbs. "detergent" per load. Pour white vinegar into your rinse aid compartment.
I've got an old dishwasher, and like I mentioned before, very hard water. The only way I've been able to get any detergent to work for me is to add the "detergent" to the pre-wash dispenser and fill the actual detergent dispenser (the one with the door) with white vinegar in addition to filling my rinse aid compartment. You may have to experiment a bit to get it to work for you.
I'm still working my way through my stockpile of warehouse-sized jugs of liquid detergent. But when I'm through with them, there are a couple of laundry detergent recipes I'm looking forward to experimenting with.
This one from Bonzai Aphrodite looks interesting, and so does this recipe via Sutton Grace.
And finally, don't let your beloved Swiffer stand between you and saving money and the environment. You don't have to give it up! A couple of modifications will make it a mean, green, cleaning machine.
If you look at the cap of your swiffer wet jet bottle, you'll see that it somewhat resembles the cap on a 2 liter soda bottle, except that the ring on the swiffer bottle is fused to the cap. If you carefully cut the ring away (I used an X-acto knive), you'll find that the swiffer cap will screw on and off easy as pie.
Use that bottle over and over and over again.
For the pads, I just cut a microfiber cloth into an "H" shape, and use straight pins to hold it on. The microfiber makes the mop a little harder to push, but it cleans really well. If you wanted to get all fancypants, you could knit your own colorful swiffer pads and attach them with buttons, like this.
I'm sure we all look forward to the day when houses will clean themselves, but until then, I hope you enjoyed these green cleaning recipes and ideas!