Homemade Natural Cleaning Recipes: A Complete Guide
Why Make Homemade Household Cleaners?
Whether you want to cut your spending, protect your family from toxic chemicals or just lead a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle, making your own cleaning products is the way to go. Despite the claims you've seen in cleaning-product commercials, those bottled potions don't contain any magic ingredients...just expensive and dangerous ones. Homemade household cleaners are just as effective (and often more so) than commercial products, for a fraction of the cost. So do your wallet, your body and the world's marine life a big favor by ditching the toxic chemicals and making your own simple homemade cleaners.
Basic Supplies for Homemade Cleaners
You only need a few basic ingredients to put together a non-toxic cleaning toolbox. In fact, you might be surprised to find that most of the supplies you'll need are so safe you can put them right on your skin, or even eat them! Stock up on these basics and you can tackle all your major cleaning duties without exposing yourself, your family and the environment to toxic chemicals and dangerous fumes:
Distilled White Vinegar: Vinegar is an absolute must for anyone interested in homemade cleaners. Vinegar cleaning is one of the oldest cleaning methods around; long before bottled cleaning products came along, vinegar cleaning solutions were a household staple. Non-toxic, edible and dirt cheap, vinegar is practically a miracle product. Vinegar has antibacterial and antifungal properties, making it a good choice for both general cleaning and disinfecting in virtually every room in the house. Many people find vinegar's strong odor objectionable, but the smell disappears as soon as the product dries. You'll go through this faster than any other cleaning supplies so stock up on a few large bottles of distilled white vinegar.
Baking Soda: Here's another magic product that's cheap, non-toxic and has a fantastic variety of uses. Baking soda balances pH, meaning it neutralizes substances that are acidic or alkaline (this is why baking soda is well-known for its odor-neutralizing properties). It also makes a great scrub for cleaning bathtub grime, dried spills and baked-on foods, and you can mix it with other supplies to create cleaning pastes.
Dr. Bronner's Magic Pure Castile Liquid Soap: Personally, I love these soaps. I keep one bottle in the shower because this "18-in-1" product (as the label claims) is actually made to be used as a skin and hair cleanser. But what I really love this soap for is making homemade household cleaners. Dr. Bronner's isn't the only liquid soap out there, but It's important to note that you need pure liquid soap, which is not the same as liquid dish soap, hand soap, detergent and similar products so don't confuse the two! Dr. Bronner's soaps are great for all-purpose cleaning, and they come in a variety of fragrances; my personal favorites are the peppermint, citrus and baby (unscented) formulations.
Borax: Borax is a naturally-occurring substance used in a variety of household applications, including deep cleaning and deodorizing. But you do need to take special care when making natural cleaning recipes with borax; while it's generally considered safe, it should never be ingested or inhaled, so keep it well out of reach of children and pets. Wear gloves when using borax, since it can cause serious irritation if it gets in your eyes.
Lemon Juice: Lemon juice does more than just add refreshing fragrance to your homemade cleaners. It has antibacterial properties, and its acid content can tackle tough household troubles like soap scum and hard water deposits.
Washing Soda: You'll need this inexpensive ingredient if you plan on making homemade laundry detergent. Just don't confuse this with baking soda, since the two are not interchangeable.
Essential Oils: Essential oils aren't an absolute must for making homemade cleaners, but if you want your cleaning supplies (and your clean home) to smell good, they make a fragrant addition to these natural cleaning recipes. You could spend hours browsing the endless varieties of scents available, but think about how you'd like each room of your house to smell when you're finished cleaning: fresh peppermint for the bathroom? energizing orange for the kitchen? relaxing lavender for the bedroom? The possibilities are endless.
Spray Bottles: You'll need a few clean, empty spray bottles to store your homemade cleaners. I highly recommend getting some large, high-quality bottles (even the good ones are inexpensive) since I've found that the spray triggers on the cheaper versions usually break, and the small ones you find at the drugstore need constant refilling.
Bar Soap: This is only necessary if you plan on making homemade laundry detergent. Don't use heavily-perfumed bar soap; instead, choose from Ivory soap, Fels-Naptha, Sunlight bar soap, Zote and Kirk’s Hardwater Castile.
Well you've got your tools assembled, now let's get to the natural cleaning recipes!
Fill one of your clean spray bottles with 50% water and 50% distilled white vinegar. Spray on countertops, stovetops, sinks and floors, wipe with a clean cloth or sponge and voila - vinegar cleaning is that easy. As I mentioned earlier, vinegar does have a strong odor but as soon as it dries down, the smell will disappear.
Homemade Shower Cleaner
Shower Spray: Mix together equal parts water and white vinegar in a spray bottle, and add 5-10 drops of tea tree oil or lemon juice. Shake well and spray all over the walls, floor and door of your shower and let it dry (no rinsing needed). Try using this homemade shower cleaner once a day right before you step out of the shower; it'll cut back on soap scum and mildew so you don't have to deep-clean your shower as often.
Shower and Tub Scrub: Fill a small bowl with baking soda (roughly 1/2 cup) and squeeze in enough Dr. Bronner's soap (or your preferred liquid soap) to create a thick paste. Place a large dollop of the mixture onto a sponge or cleaning cloth and use it to scrub your shower and tub.
Homemade Bathroom Cleaner
Mix one part water and one part white vinegar in a spray bottle and add a few squirts of Dr. Bronner's liquid soap. Shake well and spray on and around the bathroom counter, sink, toilet, shower and tub. Wipe off as you would any spray cleaner.
Homemade Air Freshener
Homemade air fresheners made from non-toxic ingredients are a safe (and inexpensive) alternative to commercial air fresheners, which are known to release dangerous phthalates, volatile organic compounds (VOCs - the same stuff you find in paint) and other toxic pollutants that can cause headaches, dizziness and fatigue (to name just a few side effects). If you're a regular user of commercial air fresheners, I strongly urge you to do just a little bit of research about the dangers of these products. And in the meantime, try this homemade air freshener recipe:
In a spray bottle combine 1/2 cup water, 1/8 to 1/4 cup white vinegar and 10 to 12 drops of the essential oil of your choice. Turn your spray nozzle to the finest setting and shake before spraying the room. Making homemade air fresheners can actually be a lot of fun, since you can choose from so many different scents; personally, I like using citrus essential oils like lime or lemon.
Homemade Window Cleaner
In a spray bottle, mix together 2 cups of water, 3 tablespoons of white vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of Dr. Bronner's soap; shake well, spray on windows and other glass surfaces and wipe off.
*TIP* Instead of wiping windows with cloths or paper towels, try crumpled up newspaper; it won't leave streaks like paper towels, plus it leaves an invisible film that repels dirt and dust.
Homemade Floor Cleaner
I admit I never gave much thought to the neon, chemical-laden floor cleaners I used to mop and wipe my floors with. But when I had a baby and I saw how much time he spent on the floor, I started to investigate non-toxic floor cleaning alternatives. As it turns out, vinegar makes a fantastic homemade floor cleaner whether your floors are wood, tile, vinyl or linoleum.
Just add 1/2 cup white vinegar to a gallon of warm water and mop as usual.
For quick touch-ups or spot-cleaning, spray floors with your homemade all-purpose cleaner (half water, half vinegar) and wipe with a dry mop or microfiber cloth.
Homemade Furniture Polish
This is a super-simple alternative to those aerosol dusting sprays and furniture polishes.
In a glass jar or airtight container, combine 1/2 cup white vinegar or lemon juice and 2 teaspoons olive oil. Shake well, dip a clean cloth into the mixture, wring it out and polish the furniture as usual. You can also put the mixture into a spray bottle if you prefer the fine mist it gives.
Homemade Toilet Cleaner
Ok, nothing can make cleaning the toilet bowl fun, but at least with this homemade toilet cleaner you get to see the vinegar and baking soda fizzing and foaming (just like the old "erupting volcano" science project!).
Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of baking soda in the toilet bowl (you can use a plastic spoon to get it under the edges). Then fill an empty spray bottle with white vinegar (you can use plain vinegar for tons of other green cleaning tasks), and spray it inside the bowl. Let it sit for 20 to 30 minutes, then scrub with a toilet brush and flush to rinse.
*TIP* To whiten a stained toilet bowl, try this toilet stain remover: sprinkle the bowl liberally with borax and scrub with a toilet brush. Let it sit for 30 minutes, then flush the toilet to rinse.
Homemade Laundry Detergent
Making homemade laundry detergent takes just a little bit more work than the other natural cleaning recipes, but keep in mind that you can create large batches at once (feel free to double or triple the amounts listed here):
Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent: Grate enough bar soap (choose from the ones listed in the supplies list above) to create about 2 cups of flakes (the finer the grate, the better). Boil one quart of water and add the soap flakes; reduce heat to medium low and stir until the soap flakes have dissolved. Pour the mixture into a clean bucket and add 2 cups of borax and 2 cups of washing soda, stirring until dissolved. Finally, add 2 gallons of water and stir well. Use 1/4 cup of the mixture per load, and cover the extra with a tight-fitting lid, making sure to stir before each use. Please note that it's perfectly normal for homemade liquid laundry detergent to be lumpy and gelatinous.
Homemade Powder Laundry Detergent: Combine 2 cups finely grated bar soap (choose one of the soaps from the supplies list), 1 cup washing soda and 1 cup borax. Store in an airtight container and use 2 tablespoons per load.
*TIP* Ditch the bottled stuff and try using white vinegar as a homemade fabric softener; it'll get rid of soap residue and leave your clothes super-soft.
Homemade Laundry Freshener
This is by far my most-used natural cleaning trick. The best part? It's so simple, you don't even need a recipe. Next time you need to de-stink clothes, towels, sheets, dish towels and cleaning rags, just add a splash of white vinegar to the wash water at the beginning of a laundry cycle; anywhere from 1/2 cup to 1 cup should do the trick, depending on the size of the load.
This is great for getting odors out of workout clothes and pet bedding, but is absolutely phenomenal for getting mildew odors out of wet laundry that's been forgotten in the washing machine and dish cloths that have gotten smelly from sitting damp too long. I add vinegar to the machine every time I do a load of dish towels and rags, and this trick has never failed to get out odors.
Homemade Linen Spray
There's nothing like tumbling into a bed of clean, fresh-smelling sheets, but storebought linen spray can be outrageously expensive given the simplicity of the ingredients involved. In fact, for the price of a single boutique linen spray you can create an entire shelf of spritzes in scents to suit every mood.
Pour 1/4 cup vodka into a clean spray bottle and add 1 tsp. of the essential oil of your choice. Swirl the bottle gently to mix, then pour in 3 1/2 cups of distilled water, screw on the top and shake the bottle well. That's all it takes! Remember, you can always add a few more drops of oil if you prefer a stronger fragrance on your sheets.
*TIP* You can omit the vodka if you'd like, but you'll have to shake the mixture very well before each use, since the alcohol acts as an emulsifier.
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