Environmental writer Sarah Engler shares how to make six ingenious, effective natural cleaners that you can make for less than the cost of dinner.
Recently, I had to clear out all our kitchen cabinets to prep for a renovation. This taught me a few things:
There is no way I'm going to use up all my ground coriander before I die.
I have one of those cornbread pans that makes little loaves that look like ears of corn! Who knew?
I buy way, WAY too many cleaning products.
Once I started trying to avoid chemical cleaners, I think my stash doubled. Suddenly I have natural wood furniture cleaner AND wood floor cleaner, eco glass cleaner AND regular window cleaner, all-natural shower spray AND scrubby bubbles tile spray. There was no way I was going to cram all of those bottles and powders back into my pretty new cabinets. (Or buy a new set of cleaning products now that I was kitchen-poor.)
Annie B. Bond's Eco-Clean Deck: 50 Recipes for Non-Toxic House Cleaners, a box of laminated cards featuring DIY homemade cleaning products, had been sitting on my bookshelf and mocking my laziness for years. I guess I'd always assumed it would be too much work to actually try them out. (It wasn't.) Or that DIY recipes don't clean as well as store-bought stuff. (Some of them actually do.)
After a little experimentation, I decided on a set of six effective solutions from her deck that would tackle every single surface in my apartment, and, all in all, I spent just $18 in supplies (including spray bottles and sponges). I'm kicking myself for not trying this sooner! Here's how to make them:
The 6 All-Natural Cleaning Products You Should Be Making at Home
The 6 all-natural cleaning products you should be making at home
Combine the ingredients in a bowl. Saturate a sponge with the mixture, squeeze out excess, and wash surfaces.
You can use either vinegar or lemon juice in this recipe. A vinegar solution will keep between uses in an airtight jar, but if you use lemon, like I did, you’ll want to make only as much as you need for one cleaning. The original recipe also recommends 3 to 5 drops of essential oil for fragrance, but the fresh lemon scent was good enough for me.
1/4 teaspoon washing soda
1/2 cup hot water
1/4 teaspoon liquid soap or detergent
2 cups club soda
Dissolve the washing soda in the hot water, then pour into spray bottle. Add the liquid soap and club soda. Shake to combine, then spray and wipe clean.
I’d never heard of washing soda and was convinced I wouldn’t be able to find it at the store—but it was right next to the borax in the cleaning aisle! (Arm & Hammer makes a popular version.) Just a quarter teaspoon of it in this magic spray cleaned all my glass surfaces with no streaks.
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup white distilled vinegar
Pour the ingredients into the toilet. Let sizzle, then scrub. Flush.
First of all, how do you not love that name? Remember those volcanoes you used to make in elementary school? Imagine that chemical reaction plus extreme cleaning power! I’ve never had so much fun cleaning my toilet. (Correction: I’ve never had any fun cleaning my toilet.)
Enough liquid soap or detergent to make a paste with a frosting-like consistency
A few drops tea tree oil
Place the borax in a bowl; slowly pour in the liquid soap, stirring all the while, until the consistency reaches that of a frosting. Add the oil and stir to combine. Scoop the creamy mixture onto a sponge, scrub the surface, and rinse.
Bond has a recipe for a basic soft scrubber, too, but I need extra power in the bathroom if I’m not using bleach. Borax, which you can find in the cleaning aisle of your grocery store, is surprisingly mighty for a natural ingredient.
Photo Credit: Mark Weinberg/Food52
5. All-Purpose Alkaline Cleaner
1/2 teaspoon washing soda (or baking soda if you want something gentler)
2 teaspoon borax
1/2 teaspoon liquid soap or detergent
2 cups hot water
Combine the washing soda, borax, and soap in a spray bottle. Pour in the hot water (it will dissolve the minerals), screw on the lid, and shake to completely blend and dissolve. Spritz every 6 inches of the surface once or twice, wiping off the cleanser with a rag as you go. For stains, leave the cleanser on for a few minutes before wiping it off. Shake the bottle before each use.
Bond has many variations of all-purpose cleaner recipes, but I found that this one best cleaned my shower tiles, bathroom sink, quartz countertops, and laminate furniture surfaces.
Photo Credit: Mark Weinberg/Food52
6. Stainless Steel Cleaner
Spray the surface liberally with vinegar. Using a soft cloth, rub in the direction of the grain to clean. Polish by dipping the cloth in olive oil and rubbing again in the direction of the grain.
Bond didn’t have a recipe for this, but my kit wouldn’t be complete without something to wipe away the smudges on our appliances. I've heard that vinegar will help, but for extra luster, The Kitchn had the answer.