Nothing feels as comforting and welcoming as a tidy, well-tended home. But a clean home isnt necessarily a healthy one. As you peruse the cleaning aisle’s furniture polishes, air fresheners, carpet deodorizers and stain removers, you may realize that a full product arsenal could contain literally hundreds of chemicals and include dozens of safety warnings-not to mention cost a small fortune. Fortunately, you can create nontoxic, inexpensive counterparts to nearly every conventional cleaning product with items found in your pantry.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that conventional cleaning products make a significant contribution to indoor air pollution. In one study conducted at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, researchers found that the chemicals in everyday household cleaners can trigger the onset or worsening of asthma. Children with asthma can experience respiratory symptoms in a newly cleaned home. At least one study also suggests a possible link between prenatal exposure to low doses of common cleaning chemicals and attention deficit disorder or even autism in children.
Exposure to these everyday products can also affect your heart. Results from the Detroit Exposure and Aerosol Research Study, which were recently presented at a scientific session of the American Heart Association, showed that people exposed to pollutants-including household cleaners and air fresheners-experienced a narrowing of blood vessels and an increase in blood pressure. Even seemingly benign products can cause health problems. Glass cleaners often contain ammonia, an eye irritant that can cause headaches and lung irritation. Disinfectants often harbor phenol and cresol, two petroleum derivatives that can cause dizziness and fainting. The polishes that make our floors and furniture shine include nitrobenzene, a carcinogen and reproductive toxin that can also cause short-term shortness of breath and nausea.Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are toxic chemicals released by common cleaning products that can remain suspended in the air for days after use. Able to cross the blood-brain barrier and placenta, VOCs can depress the central nervous system; irritate the eyes, nose and throat; and reduce pulmonary function. Long-term exposure can contribute to a variety of cancers.The good news is that you dont need to rely on these toxic chemicals for a spotless house. You can power through most household dirt with inexpensive and effective homemade cleaners. Plus, you can customize your cleaners with bacteria-busting essential oils.
Natural Cleaning Ingredients
You can clean your house from top to bottom with just eight simple ingredients. To save time and money, buy the ingredients in bulk and make cleaners in advance.
Baking Soda: A truly multitasking cleaner, baking soda is a perfect substitute for cleaning powders that scour sinks and tubs without scratching. Its also great for wiping down and deodorizing the fridge. Combined with an equal amount of vinegar, baking soda can freshen drains and prevent them from clogging.
Borax: Combining equal amounts of white vinegar and borax will banish mold and mildew from hard surfaces. This natural mineral can also clean your toilet. Pour 1 cup of borax into the toilet bowl and let it sit for a few hours before scrubbing to eliminate stains and odor
Distilled White Vinegar: This pantry staple cuts grease, eats away lime deposits and destroys odors. Because of its neutralizing properties, white vinegar is also good for washing windows, sanitizing kitchen counters and shining bathroom fixtures. Simply dilute 1 part vinegar in 4 parts water. A natural antibacterial because of its high acid content, vinegar is an effective alternative to caustic cleaners on toilets and floors.
Hydrogen Peroxide: Typically found in the medicine cabinet, this disinfectant can also be used as an effective bleach alternative in the laundry room. Because its also a powerful oxidizing agent, it works especially well on food, soil, plant, blood and other organic stains. Just make sure to spot test in a discreet area because, like bleach, hydrogen peroxide may lighten fabrics. For each average-size load of whites, add 8 ounces of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide after you have filled the washer with hot water.
Salt: Perfect for cleaning grungy ovens, this natural abrasive is also great for soaking up fresh carpet stains such as red wine, coffee or ink. Pour salt on the wet stain. Let dry, then vacuum.
Vegetable Oil (Castile) Soap: This natural soap is great for floors and all-purpose cleaning when combined with vinegar, borax or even warm water. For an all-purpose cleaner, add 1⁄2 teaspoon of soap to either 2 cups of water or to the “All-Purpose Cleaner and Disinfectant” recipe below. For floors, combine 2 teaspoons of soap with 3 gallons of water. Make sure to rinse well to remove any dulling residue.
Washing Soda: This old-fashioned laundry booster cuts through tough grease on grills, broiler pans and ovens. Because washing soda is a strong alkaline, its perfect for tackling dirty linoleum floors. But because its caustic and strong enough to strip wax and peel paint, wear gloves when using-and use sparingly. Adding just 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 teaspoon of washing soda to 32 ounces of hot water will tackle the toughest grease.
Lemons: Lemons citric acid content cuts stubborn grease and makes your home smell fresh. Lemon juice is also a natural bleach, especially when combined with the sun. Freshen cutting boards by rubbing a cut lemon over the surface. This is especially effective for banishing fish odors. Undiluted lemon juice can also be used to dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits.
All-purpose cleaner and disinfectant
Just as effective as popular antibacterial cleansers, this formula is perfect for kitchen and bathroom surfaces.
2 cups hot water
¼ cup white vinegar
½ teaspoon washing soda (similar to, but more caustic than, baking soda)
15 drops tea tree essential oil
15 drops lavender essential oil
Combine all ingredients in a reusable spray bottle and shake well. To use, spray on surfaces, especially cutting boards, countertops and toilets. Wipe with a dry cloth.
Lemongrass dust cloths
Whether youre using microfiber cloths or old cloth diapers, these do-it-yourself dusters offer the convenience of disposable furniture wipes without the guilt of contributing to the landfill. Make several dustcloths at a time.
1 cup water
1 cup white vinegar
¼ teaspoon lemongrass essential oil
Dustcloths or rags
Freshly cut lemon peel
Combine water, vinegar and essential oil in large bowl. Soak dustcloths in the solution for 30 minutes. Squeeze out cloths, leaving them slightly damp. Lay cloths flat and place a couple pieces of lemon peel on each one. Fold each cloth in half or thirds and roll up. Place each cloth in a glass jar along with an extra piece of lemon peel. Cap tightly with a screw lid. To use, unfold cloth and discard peel. Dust as usual. Launder dustcloths when dirty and infuse again with essential oil and lemon peel.
Creamy nonabrasive cleaner
Perfect for acrylic and fiberglass surfaces, this smooth cleanser wont scratch tubs, stovetops or laminate countertops.
¼ cup borax
Vegetable oil-based liquid soap (also known as castile soap)
½ teaspoon lemon essential oil
In a small bowl, combine borax with just enough liquid soap to create a thick paste. Add essential oil and blend well. To use, scoop a small amount of cleaner onto a damp sponge. Scrub surface and rinse wel
Pre-vacuum carpet freshener
This fragrant odor eliminator will leave your home smelling fresh without posing a danger to pets or children.
1 cup dried lavender flowers
2 cups baking soda
10 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops rose geranium essential oil
Crush lavender flowers and mix with baking soda, breaking up any clumps. Add essential oils and blend well. To use, sprinkle on carpets. Wait 30 minutes, then vacuum as usual. Store leftovers in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
The labels on most household products read like the periodic table violently collided with a bowl of alphabet soup. What are those ingredients, and what might they do to our homes, our pets and our loved ones? A foolproof way to know whats in your cleaning products is to make them yourself. Its easy and economical, with the added benefit of reducing your households carbon footprint by creating less packaging waste and less pollution from manufacturing and shipping.
Feel free to improvise with proportions; none of these recipes are set in stone. When it comes to making soft scrubs, I find myself mixing until the right texture is achieved. Its like cooking a favorite recipe-rely on instinct and use trial and error to refine. The fun part is trying out essential oils to find your preferred fragrance. DIY cleaning will soon become second nature, and your home will look, feel and smell naturally fresh.
Un-Dirty Dozen: 12 Easy Cleaners
Remember, even all-natural cleaning ingredients can be irritating. Open windows to ventilate rooms while you clean, and wear gloves. Store homemade cleaners in sealed containers in a cool, dry place.
Carpets and Drapes
Attack fresh stains and spills right away by covering them with absorbent baking soda or cornstarch. Leave for 10 to 15 minutes, then sprinkle with club soda (the fizz helps lift stains), and vacuum and or blot. Do not rub fresh stains, which can spread them, or use hot water, which can set them.
To clean carpets and drapes, get rid of surface dirt by vacuuming, hanging, shaking out and, if necessary, beating with a broom handle. Next, presoak stains with the solutions below, depending on the type of fabric, for 30 minutes, taking care to spot-test fabric for colorfastness first.
■ For wool or silk, use equal parts cold water and white vinegar or lemon juice.
■ For cotton, linen or synthetic fabrics, use equal parts cold water mixed with hydrogen peroxide, baking or washing soda, or borax.
Following spot removal, wash drapes or area rugs in cold water with liquid soap, old soap bar slivers or natural laundry soap. Because agitation and heat can damage delicate fabrics, wash wool, silk and rayon by hand in a sink or on the gentle cycle of your washer, then hang dry. If you have wall-to-wall carpet, vacuum, then steam-clean using water with a few drops of liquid soap, or simply wipe the entire surface with hot soapy water on a wrung-out rag, sponge or mop, taking care not to let water soak in. A wet carpet can easily grow mildew and mold.
Foamy Homemade Carpet Cleaner Recipe
Combine 1/4 cup (60ml) liquid dishwashing soap, 1/2 cup warm water and 5 drops lavender essential oil in a large bowl. Use an electric mixer to beat them into a stiff foam.
Use a damp sponge to rub the foam cleaner into soiled areas, then remove with a damp cloth. Repeat as necessary. Let the carpet dry, then vacuum.
All Purpose Homemade Carpet Stain Remover
Combine 1 teaspoon liquid dishwashing soap, 1/4 white vinegar and 2 cups of water in a spray bottle. Add 3 drops lavender and 2 drops tea tree essential oil. Shake well.
Spray the homemade carpet cleaner onto the stain. Blot with a clean, damp cloth. Repeat if necessary. Note: only use a little spray at a time - dont saturate the carpet.
How to Use Homemade Carpet Stain Removers
Act right away to clean up spills. Stains are WAY easier to remove when theyre fresh.
First, soak up the liquid with paper towels or soft, clean cloths.
Use one of the stain removers below. For liquid stains, blot - dont rub - the problem area. For semi-solid spills such as chocolate or grease, gently rub in the stain remover.
Make sure you get the stain out completely. Dont skimp here! Once they dry, stains can be very hard to remove.
Dry the cleaned-up spot by covering it with a dry towel and pressing down with a heavy object. Replace the towel as soon as its saturated.
Homemade Carpet Stain Removal Tips
Alcohol, Coffee & Tea Stains: Blot the carpet with a damp sponge soaked in club soda. If it doesnt completely get rid of the stain, follow with All Purpose Stain Remover (recipe below.)
Chocolate Stains: Gently rub a mixture of equal parts vegetable glycerin and warm water into the chocolate stain. Rinse with warm water. Repeat as necessary.
Grease Stains: Gently rub baking soda into the grease stain. Leave overnight, then vacuum. Follow with All Purpose Stain Remover.
Mud: Let dry completely, then vacuum the carpet. Follow with All Purpose Stain Remover.
Chewing gum: Rub the gum with an ice cube until it hardens, then scrape it out of the carpet with a dull knife.
Wax: Use a dull knife to scrape off as much wax as possible. Put a brown paper bag over the remaining wax, then press with a warm (not hot) iron. The wax will stick to the paper. Keep doing this until all the wax is gone.
Scrub with 1/2 cup of borax to brighten and disinfect. For daily maintenance, brush the bowl with baking soda and let it sit for a bit before flushing. Add white vinegar for a little extra stain-lifting fizz.
Use on any non-wood surface.
1/2 cup borax
1 gallon hot water
Mix until borax is dissolved; mop or spray and wipe surfaces.
Floor and Wall Cleaner
Use this on any floor, including wood, and on walls.
1 cup white vinegar
1 gallon hot water
1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup liquid soap (optional)
1 to 2 tablepoons pine or lemon oil (optional)
For extra cleaning power, add liquid soap. Add pine or lemon oil (essential oil of lavender or rosemary are less-intense alternatives) to condition unlaminated wood floors. Mix all ingredients and clean floor or walls with mop or damp rag. Follow with a clean-water mop if you use soap.
Shine on without toxic ammonia-based products.
1/4 cup white vinegar or
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups water
3 to 4 drops liquid soap (optional)
Mix and spray or wipe on; for the best shine, use old newspapers!
Encrusted Gunk Buster
Avoid chlorine-based scrubs by making your own scrubbing bubbles.
Baking soda, washing soda or salt Wipe surface with hot water;
sprinkle on soda or salt. Let sit for a few minutes, then scrub with a rag, sponge or brush.
Fume-Free Oven Cleaner
Avoid caustic lye-based products and still make your oven sparkle.
1 cup baking soda
1/4 to 1/2 cup washing soda
1 tablespoon liquid soap
Few drops white vinegar
Make sure oven is off and totally cool. No need to disconnect power. Wipe off surface soot and any fresh spills. Combine dry ingredients and gradually add hot water until you have a thick but malleable paste. For greasy ovens, add an additional 1/4 cup washing soda. Add vinegar (watch it fizz!). Coat all oven surfaces and leave overnight. Wipe off with warm water.
Use this non-scratching, chlorine-free paste on enamel or porcelain.
1 cup baking soda or borax
2 to 3 drops liquid soap
Combine baking soda or borax with enough water to form a paste. Add liquid soap. Apply to surfaces, let sit at least 5 minutes, and scrub with a non-abrasive sponge. Rinse and wipe off residue.
Kill mildew and whiten grout without chlorine.
White vinegar or hydrogen peroxide
Combine ingredients to make a paste. Let stand 30 minutes or more, then scrub.
Lye-Free Drain Cleaner
For a clogged drain, use a plumber’s snake or an untwisted coat hanger to pull out as much gunk as possible. Pour 1/2 cup baking or washing soda down the drain; gradually add 1/2 cup white vinegar. Let fizz and dissolve. Carefully pour in boiling water from a tea kettle. Wait half an hour. Repeat as necessary. Before calling a plumber, let things cool off and snake again.
Avoid cleaners with chlorine bleach and toxic antibacterial agents such as triclosan and triclocarban. The American Medical Association advises against using antibacterial products because they may not be any more effective than regular soap, and they promote the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A wipe-down with white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide provides adequate disinfecting for kitchen and bathroom surfaces—and don’t forget door handles. Remember, the best way to get rid of germs is plain soap and hot water!
The Real Deal Air Freshener
Many commercial air fresheners contain hormone-disrupting chemicals such as phthalates. The healthiest alternative: fresh air! Open the windows. Place an odor-absorbing dish of baking soda or borax on kitchen and bathroom counters out of reach of children and pets. Make your own potpourri by drying flower petals and herbs; these absorb odors and replace them with their own natural scent.