If you find yourself standing in the shopping aisle reconsidering the ingredients in the products you’re buying to clean your home, you’re not alone. Millions of us are looking for safer alternatives. Why? Many common cleaning products contain hazardous chemicals that impact our health and the environment in three ways: when they’re manufactured, when they’re used, and when they’re thrown away. Why not try DIY green cleansers? You can easily make them out of inexpensive but effective ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen cupboard.
DIY Green Cleansers: Non-toxic and Money-saving, Too!
All of the recipes below have one “magic ingredient” in common that only costs pennies to use: it’s… water! That’s right. Remember – water is so powerful it created the Grand Canyon! Surely, it can clean up the dirt in your home. Good old H2O, plus a little baking soda for abrasion, vinegar for astringent, and plant-based liquid soap to get at the grime, will clean up almost every surface in your house, including the bathroom.
distilled white vinegar
plant-based liquid soap
fresh-squeezed lemon juice, strained to remove the pulp
General Purpose Cleanser for Sink, Tub, Tile –
Baking soda, liquid soap, water
Sprinkle or spray water on the sink and tub surfaces, followed by a generous shake of baking soda on most surfaces. Scrub with sponge or bristle brush. Add a little of the liquid soap to the sponge for more cleaning power. Rinse well.
Window and Mirror Cleaner
White vinegar, water
Put 1/4 cup of white vinegar in a spray bottle and fill with water. Spray on the glass surface. Rub dry with a lint-free cloth (don’t use newspapers – they streak), old kitchen towel, or another kind of cloth rag. Wash outdoor windows with warm water, vinegar and a few drops of liquid soap if windows are particularly grimy. Use a squeegee to dry. If you don’t like the vinegar smell, add a touch of lemon juice.
Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Baking soda, liquid soap + pumice stone for ring
Sprinkle baking soda inside the bowl. Add a couple drops of liquid soap. Scrub with a toilet bowl brush. If you have trouble removing a ring stain in the toilet bowl, pour 1/2 cup vinegar into the bowl and let it sit about half an hour. You can also generally rub the ring away with a pumice stone.
Wipe outside surfaces with a wet sponge sprinkled with baking soda, rinse the sponge, then do a quick wipe down again.
I have wood floors throughout my home. I sweep them pretty much every day. Twice a week, I run a dry mop with a micro-fiber cloth over them. I’m busy, so I don’t have time to damp mop my floors more than maybe once every two weeks. But when I do, that’s all I use: a damp mop. I don’t put vinegar on my wood floors, or oil, or anything else. And I make sure the mop isn’t soaking wet, because even though my floor is sealed, water can get into the cracks and cause the wood to swell. If something has spilled and left something crusty on the floor, I will give it a quick scrub with a sponge.
Some people swear by steeping two tea bags in a gallon of boiling water, then using the cooled tea water to mop the floor. I haven’t tried that yet, but when I do I’ll let you know. For now, simplicity does the trick.
Baking soda, water
Make a wet paste from baking soda and water (the water actually does the most to loosen grit; baking soda provides the abrasive when you scrub). Apply to oven surfaces; let stand for five minutes. Use a scouring pad or knife to remove loosened grime.
Baking soda, white vinegar, boiling water
First, take the plug out of the drain and use a drain “snake” to plunge the drain and pull out the clog. Usually, bathtub and bathroom sinks are plugged with hair, which you can pull out in a matter of minutes.
Next, pour 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain. Follow with 1 cup vinegar. Be ready! You need to cover the drain IMMEDIATELY upon adding the vinegar because it will fizz like crazy. It’s this fizzing action that helps loosen the grime in the drain so cover it quickly so the fizzing goes down into the drain rather than up into the sink. Once the fizzing stops, flush the drain with boiling water. I generally flush each cleaned drain with two tea-kettles full of boiling water.
In almost 30 years of living in my house, with two kids who always brush their hair over the sink and plug it up frequently with all manner of debris, this method – the wire snake followed by the baking soda and vinegar fizz and the hot water flush, has never failed me. I never use a caustic drain cleaner. I don’t want that stuff in the house, and it’s really bad for the environment once it gets into our water system, anyway.
It should go without saying: never pour liquid grease down a drain. Always use a drain sieve to capture food, hair, and other materials that could clog the pipe. Don’t miss our blog update: Five Steps to a Naturally Green Drain
White vinegar, water, salt
Mix equal parts of vinegar and salt and apply to the surface with a sponge. Rinse thoroughly with water, then dry.
Salt, soda, aluminum foil/toothpaste
I’ve been using this recipe on my family’s heirloom silver for years. It works like a dream to remove tarnish. For a nice shine, you’ll have to buff it a bit. Get the kids to help!
Line a large pan with aluminum foil. Place the silver in a layer not more than three utensils deep. Add water to cover the silver, plus 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon baking soda. Let the mixture rest for at least an hour. The tarnish will transfer to the aluminum foil. Rinse the silver in hot water and dry. You can also use toothpaste to polish individual pieces of silver.
Potpourri, Essential Oils
Most commercial air fresheners don’t actually freshen the air. They mask the bad smells by using chemicals that often contain phthalates, toxins that can cause headaches and nausea when inhaled.
I prefer to locate the source of the objectionable smell and remove it, then open the window, or use an exhaust fan to clear out musty air.
When I want to infuse the house with more fragrance, I’ll simmer a small amount of cinnamon, orange peel, and cloves on the stove or in a small ceramic saucer over a candle. Fresh cut flowers will also pleasantly scent your home.
Indoor plants absorb volatile organic chemicals. An open box of baking soda will help absorb odors in the refrigerator; sprinkling baking soda in the garbage can or diaper pail will do the same.
In the bathroom, I keep a bowl of potpourri. Crumbling a little of the potpourri releases their fragrance. I also have a liquid soap in the bathroom scented with essential lavender oil. When someone washes their hands, they automatically add a little lavender scent to the room.
Don’t Want DIY? Some Shopping Suggestions
If you prefer ready-made non-toxic green cleansers, shop for these. They’re chlorine-free, biodegradable, and just abrasive enough to get the job done. Plus, they’re cheap – no need to spend a lot of money on fancy cleansers. (NOTE: None of the companies below are Big Green Purse sponsors or advertisers; I just think their products work and are safe to use.)
Bon Ami - Bon Ami couldn’t be simpler: no artificial fragrances or synthetic chemicals, just pulverized rock that’s abrasive enough for the toughest marks and greasiest grime, but gentle enough that it won’t scratch. It’s available online and in many big box, grocery, and hardware stores.
Citra Solv - look for Citra Solv’s concentrated cleaner and degreaser. You can add it to your own reusable spray bottle in whatever strength you need to get the job done.