Cleaning

6 All-Natural Cleaning Products You Can Make at Home

For less than the cost of dinner.

January 10, 2020
Photo by Mark Weinberg

Welcome to Spring Clean Your Life, your one-stop shop for gotta-try-those tips & bookmark-me inspiration to spruce up your kitchen and home this season—and well beyond.

________

Last year, I had to clear out all our kitchen cabinets to prep for a renovation. This taught me a few things:

  1. There is no way I’m going to use up all my ground coriander before I die.
  2. I have one of those cornbread pans that makes little loaves that look like ears of corn! Who knew?
  3. I buy way, WAY too many cleaning products.

DIY Natural Cleaners

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My stash of cleaners has actually doubled after I started trying to avoid chemical cleaners. 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. The last thing I wanted to do was 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 renovation-poor.) There had to be another way of owning more eco-friendly cleaning products, without spending too much money, and acquiring too many bottles.

All Natural Cleaning Products You Should Make at Home

Annie B. Bond’s Eco-Clean Deck: 50 Recipes for Non-Toxic House Cleaners, a box of laminated cards featuring DIY homemade cleaning products, has been sitting on my bookshelf and mocking my laziness for years. I’d always assumed it would be too much work to actually try them out. It wasn’t. Everything was fairly quick and easy to make, and mostly used items I already had in my pantry. And that misconception I had that DIY recipes don’t clean as well as store-bought stuff? Totally wrong.

After turning my home into a bit of a lab, and indulging in a little experimentation, I had set of six effective solutions from her deck that would tackle every single surface in my apartment. And at the end of it all, I had spent just $18 in supplies (including spray bottles and sponges). The best part? You can make only as much as you need for one cleaning (aka, no storage necessary), or make enough to store in an airtight container. I’m now kicking myself for not trying these sooner! 

1. Basic Wood Cleaner

Natural Cleaning Products to Make at Home

1/2 cup lemon juice (from about 4 lemons)
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon natural liquid soap or detergent (I used Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Castille Soap, aka the only soap you ever need.)
A few drops of olive oil 

Combine the ingredients in a bowl. Saturate a sponge fully with the mixture, squeeze out excess, and wash surfaces.

All Natural Home Cleaners Food52

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 (if you choose to, peppermint and eucalyptus play nicely with lemon), but the fresh lemon scent was good enough for me.

2. Super-Duper Grimy-Window Cleaner

All Natural Cleaning Products to Make at Home  All Natural Cleaning Products to Make at Home

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 (which is also touted as an excellent cleaning agent by itself for stainless steel countertops and porcelain sinks). Shake to combine, then spray and wipe clean.  

All Natural Cleaning Products to Make at Home  All Natural Cleaning Products To Make At Home

I’d never heard of washing soda (which should not be confused with baking soda) and was convinced I wouldn’t be able to find it at the store—but turn out it was right next to the borax in the cleaning aisle! (Arm & Hammer also makes a popular version.) Just a quarter teaspoon of it in this magic spray cleaned all my glass surfaces with no streaks.

3. Toilet Bowl Sizzler

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. Ever.)

On the subject of baking soda, here are other best uses for it, aka, why your pantry should never be without it.

4. Mildew-Removing Soft Scrubber

All Natural Cleaning Products to Make at Home  All Natural Cleaning Products to Make at Home

Borax
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. 

All Natural Cleaning Solutions to Make at Home

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.

All-Purpose Alkaline Cleaner

1/2 teaspoon washing soda (or baking soda if you want something a little 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.

Stainless Steel Cleaner

All Natural Cleaning Products to Make at Home  All Natural Cleaning Products to Make at Home

Vinegar
Olive Oil
Very soft or microfiber cloth

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 club soda will help, as will vinegar, but for extra luster, The Kitchn had the answer.

And while on the subject of vinegar, here are 8 of our favorite ways to clean with vinegar.

This post originally ran on September 23rd, 2015; we dug it up to help with all your cleaning projects in the new year!

First two photos by James Ransom; all other photos by Mark Weinberg

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Brooklyn-based writer and editor who bakes her own granola and has actually hugged several trees

27 Comments

Marilyn T. April 19, 2020
The Mildew-Removing Soft Scrubber did not work for me at all. It made the mildew spots a lighter gray and made the caulk underneath it whiter, but it sure didn't remove the mildew. I'm disappointed.
 
Smaug April 19, 2020
It might be worth trying a baking soda slurry- it's quite effective with some types of fungus; also for killing off moss.
 
GigiR March 15, 2020
In a 4 cup Pyrex style glass measuring cup, I squeeze the juice of 4 or more lemons. I then put in enough water to make 2 cups of liquid.
Then I put this in the microwave. Yes, I use one. Set the time for 8 minutes on high and let ‘er rip.
When time’s up, open the door carefully, so as not to get a steam burn. Remove the measuring cup. Wipe clean the ceiling and walls and any removable gear like turntable and ring. Any hidden caked on detritus will come off easily, especially the inside ceiling of the m.o. And, bonus, will likely smell lovely.
 
catedecor March 6, 2020
Spring cleaning is coming up soon and I want to be prepared this year. Thanks for the great tips I will have to use them. I found another post with some great tips https://www.regionchemdry.com/healthy-hotspots/
 
Smaug January 10, 2020
Orange oil mixed with water makes a great, non toxic all around cleaner- 2Tb/ 1qt. water. It needs to be shaken every time you use it, but keeps fine. It is also extremely effective at stopping ants in their tracks.
 
towanda January 5, 2019
How about a printer-friendly version of this?
 
Robin M. June 27, 2018
Half-Pint is wrong. Vinegar DOES cut grease; it does NOT clean dirt.

With that said, mixing acidic vinegar with alkaline soap causes neutralization and “unsoaponification.” So you should use soap to remove dirt, then vinegar to remove the “soap scum.” :)

- Also a chemist (& pharmacist)
 
Jeanette M. January 31, 2016
Do you have a receipe to clean the non smooth side of frosted glass! Thanks
Or what is your method and what solution to use to clean the nonsmooth side of frosted glass without leaving streaks?
 
Laura415 January 15, 2016
Thanks for these links and recipes. I've been using vinegar and water as a glass cleaner and although it seems to work I will try the recipe here. It's cool that borax, washing soda, vinegar, water, and various non toxic soaps and oils are all you need. I can't believe I actually have all those ingredients in my cupboard. Just need to combine them in different ways. Now if somebody can help come up with something other than bleach to really whiten my linen sheets and white towels. Homemade laundry soap is good but not that good. Hanging these things in the sun helps but doesn't keep the dinginess from creeping in.
 
GigiR April 19, 2020
One trick with fabric items Is to wash them when they arrive home new. They typically have sizing in them. As you probably know, sizing helps the woven fibres align and garments to keep their intended shape. What happens over time is that the sizing yellows. And it’s a battle to rid of that dinge.
When washing the first time, see if the item can take hot water. If so, then pre-soak and wash in hot water. Sure, use detergent & bleach if it won’t ruin the texture etc.
You can also boil them in water etc on the stove if you have a roasting pan large enough with washing soda. You could transfer what you’ve washed to a washer for the rest of the cycle. Worth a try.
Sometimes with pillow cases, the yellow comes from urea in perspiration. Its hard to get rid of. Try an enzyme treatment if you use that kind of thing, or a peroxide based stain remover to pretreat.
Another possibility is that your domestic water supply has a lot of dissolved mineral in it, and it deposits itself on your sheets and towels and oxidizes over time, discolouring things. Truly annoying. We have iron in our water. It tends to leave a pink, then rust coloured stain.
Wish I had a solution for you. Perhaps pun intended.
 
Emi L. January 6, 2016
can any of these be made in advance and put aside until ready to be used? (shelf stable?)
 
Laura415 January 15, 2016
I don't know if this will appeal to you but you can put the dry constituents together in labelled jars. When it's time to use the cleaner add the water, vinegar, oil etc. This is not ready to use but it will save a little time. I do this with my homemade laundry detergent. I mix borax, washing soda and grated castile soap and leave it dry in a jar. When it's time to wash clothes I just add water and dissolve the dry in the wet. Takes 5 minutes.
 
Jack G. January 5, 2016
what is the best natural cleaner for dirty grout?
 
GigiR April 19, 2020
One answer is to not use too strong a cleaner like bleach. My experience with bleach was that the originally white grout was bleached out (water, detergent and bleach) by scrubbing. No dirt left, but my formerly white grout has lot it’s pigment and is now a uniform light beige colour. Whatever made it white was removed by accident.

One tip to those contemplating a new tile backsplash or other small tile job, mix the grout powder with distilled water.

It has no nasty mineral content to discolour the grout over time. Typically you can get distilled water at the drugstore. We get it in gallons at the grocery store.
 
Georgia S. November 29, 2015
Half-pint, would you comment on the toilet cleaner? I've seen a mix of vinegar and baking soda recommended many times for cleaning toilets or drains. But just because the combo bubbles and fizzes doesn't mean any cleaning is going on. In fact either one alone, a strong acid or a strong base, would be more likely to be an effective cleaner. When mixed wouldn't they just interact to form a neutral ph solution with no particular cleaning power?
 
Sara August 21, 2015
Chemically you may be right but vinegar has cleaned up every greasy mess I've ever had to clean. So how do we explain that?
 
Jenn July 25, 2015
And you should not mix vinegar with Castile soap, so I would edit the wood cleaning one!
 
Laura415 January 15, 2016
Why not please:)
 
Robin July 25, 2015
There is a Tea Tree oil liquid soap available made by Dr Bronner. It is the only soap I use when I shower.
 
Smaug July 24, 2015
What on earth is Tea Tree oil? I've seen various tree oils (Teak, Eucalyptus etc.) sold as wood finishes, but not this one. The tea plant (Camelia Sinensis) is by no stretch of the imagination a tree, so I suppose it refers to the Australian Tea Tree (Leptospermum Laevigatum).
 
Author Comment
Sarah E. July 24, 2015
Good question! You're right that it comes from Australia. Tea tree oil is super versatile. Some people also like to use it as an antiseptic or for skin infections. You can find it in drugstores or on Amazon.
 
chris July 25, 2015
Check the "country of origin" before you buy tea tree oil. I found myself with a bottle of TTO from China, and it is definitely inferior. I wouldn't use Chinese TTO on my skin, but I'm delighted to use it for a batch of mildew remover! Wiki says: Tea tree oil is an essential oil taken from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia.
 
designforsolar July 23, 2015
Thanks for this simple post! You mentioned that the lemon-based wood cleaner should be made anew for each batch, and the toilet cleaner, obviously as well. But will the others be okay to make in big batch and store, or do they need to be made just prior to using them?
 
Author Comment
Sarah E. July 23, 2015
The soft scrubber might dry out a bit, but I bet you could reinvigorate it with a little more liquid soap. The rest can definitely be made in big batches. Just shake them up before using them again like you would a salad dressing.
 
HalfPint July 23, 2015
Ok, the snotty little chemist in me has to debunk the vinegar cutting grease myth. It can't. I mean chemically, it's not possible. Vinegar is mostly water, very polar, hydrophillic (water-loving). Grease isand is non-polar, & hydrophobic (not water-loving). These two things are not going to interact with each other. The acetic acid in the vinegar cannot dissolve grease either. Unless there is a surfactant (e.g. dish detergent), the grease is going nowhere. Vinegar can remove dirt and it can remove soap scum (because it's acetic and the soap scum is an alkali, basic acid-base reaction).
 
Amanda S. July 23, 2015
Thanks for clarifying! Updated above.
 
GigiR April 19, 2020
If you are cleaning painted trim and cupboard doors, ammonia and dish detergent in hot water works well to get grease off. Smells very sharp, but does a good job.