Go green, save green by making your own cleaning products

Isn't paying lip service to the environment a standard part of every college application essay? Prepare to put your money where your mouth is, as the following green cleaning products make a serious economic and ecological impact.

Tree huggers tout baking soda and vinegar as replacements for every cleaning product in your cupboard. Yet it has to be said – some homemade cleansers simply aren't effective enough and aren't worth the prep work. The following are a couple of recipes I've tested on my own. They've managed to get red wine stains out of clothes and remove crusted-over mac and cheese from countless stove tops. The savings are as real as the results; all prices listed are for brand-name products at Target.

Before beginning, invest in a few empty spray bottles from the dollar store. Better yet, save old Windex bottles and jelly jars to maximize your savings and minimize your impact.

All-Purpose and Window Cleaner
Here, recipes vary widely, but two basic ingredients remain the same: vinegar and water. Planet Green will tell you to add a couple of drops of dish washing detergent to cut the residue left by Windex, but it will leave a film. A mixture of half vinegar and half water works on both windows and hard surfaces. A 32-ounce bottle of Windex typically costs $2.69, while a gallon of Heinz vinegar retails for $3.89. The savings? $1.71 per bottle.

After investing in a gallon of vinegar, check out 74 little known uses for the stuff (which is more than the 57 varieties Heinz boasts of sauces and such).

Furniture Polish
Particleboard from Ikea hardly deserves a mirror-like shine. Still, a few drops of jojoba or olive oil added to a cup of vinegar, cleans and protects like Pledge claims it does. It's amazing that this dressing-like concoction doesn't harm wood, but I've used it on my great-great-aunt's hand-me-down furniture with no ill effect. I highly recommend jojoba rather than olive oil here, as the waxy finish provides momentary protection from spills. Store the mixture in a glass jar, and shake before using. Assuming you already have olive or some sort of cooking oil on hand, this will cost just 12 cents to make versus $2.85 for a 12.5-ounce can of Pledge.

Scouring Powder
Versatile and inexpensive, baking soda doesn't deserve banishment to the back of your refrigerator. Mix it with a bit of water to scrub sinks, counters and stove tops. Sprinkle a half cup or so in the toilet as an alternative to Lysol, then add a bit of vinegar for disinfecting power. Baking soda can be difficult to rinse away, but the same is true of Soft Scrub (which sells for $2.79 per 32 ounces compared to $1.18 for the same amount of baking soda)

Laundry detergent
While making laundry detergent is more labor-intensive than for any other item on this list, the savings are a substantial reward. Listen and clean up -- in more ways than one.

Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar has one of the most popular recipes on the Internet. He estimates his cost at 3 cents per load, and his savings at $0.25 a load over Tide. Unfortunately, he also mixes each batch in a five-gallon bucket that would dominate the average dorm room. Lindsay Edmonds at Passionate Homemaking offers a scaled-down version using castile soap, washing soda, salt and vinegar. Washing soda is easier to find in independent grocery stores or regional chains. I keep each batch in a recycled Arizona tea jug. The geisha illustration on the front brightens my day as its contents brighten my clothes.

Fabric Softener
Homemade detergent has one downside: if you use too much soap, your clothes become both stiff and dingy. Traditional fabric softener, whether in liquid or dryer sheet form, will only further coat your clothes, often with animal fat. A cup of vinegar added to the rinse cycle cuts residue, costs only 49 cents per load and is more appealing, vegan or not.

If static cling is an issue, try a set of dryer balls or a bit of foil in the dryer. A twin pack of dryer balls will set you back $4.99, compared to $4.29 for 120 loads of Snuggle. The spiky spheres fluff and aerate clothing and last indefinitely.

Air/Fabric Refresher
What did collegiate males do before Febreze? Procter & Gamble is well aware that it's cornered the market on "linen & sky" and "meadows & rain," charging $3.49 for a 16-ounce bottle. Use your all-purpose vinegar cleaner as Febreze, either in the air or on fabrics. The acidic scent and offending odors disappear as the mixture dries.

Ultimately, all of the above recipes should help save time and money. If you have to spend hours scrubbing, either modify the recipe or ditch it altogether. While you're at it, try using giveaway t-shirts instead of paper towels for additional savings.

Who says it isn't easy being green (and saving some in the process)? Share your cleaning disasters and helpful tips in the comments, or email to MoneyCollege@walletpop.com.
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