The One-Ingredient Eco-Friendly Cleaner That Gets Me Excited to Scrub My Floors

You probably already have the one ingredient...

March 20, 2019

When it comes to keeping my apartment clean, I am all about the minor victories.

Like, cleaning out a single crisper drawer. Or making the bed. Or reuniting just one pair from my ever-growing bag of errant socks.

So you can imagine my delight when, just this past weekend, I achieved the minor-cleaning-victory trifecta: finding a way to scrub my bathroom floors that's at once more eco-friendly, less expensive, and just as effective as buying a fancy name-brand cleanser.

Like most almost no important discoveries, mine was born out of not wanting to put on pants to go to the grocery store. And a bunch of Google-ing. What I found was a basic formula for a household cleaner that can tackle most surfaces, minus marble and granite: one part white vinegar, to one part water. Aka, one ingredient I already had in my pantry, plus some water straight from the tap.

I wrangled a dusty glass spray bottle from the back of my cleaning supplies stash, filled it accordingly, and got scrubbing with a rag. Not only did it leave my tiled floor squeaky clean—even that one spot where the tiles meets the corner and cleaning dreams typically go to die—but it also worked well on the rest of my bathroom, like the tub, the shower head, the toilet, and the sink. Meanwhile, I felt great about using fewer chemicals and reducing my single-use plastic purchases to complete a cleaning task I face regularly.

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Top Comment:
“I applaud your do it yourself approach, but for those not so rich in citrus peels or determination, orange oil and orange oil cleaners are increasingly available at pretty good prices. Orange oil, which is now a popular termite treatment, is also very effective against ants.”
— Smaug

While the vinegary scent dissipated not long after thanks to an open window, some sites (like Trash is for Tossers, a great resource for eco-friendly living) suggest adding a few drops of an essential oil to the concoction as well.

I have yet to try my new favorite green cleaner on hardwood floors, but I've read that the same vinegar-water duo is effective at a different ratio on certain finishes, to avoid stripping the wood: about 1/2 cup vinegar per gallon of water. Similarly, for tougher cleaning jobs on non-wood surfaces, the ratio should be adjusted to include more than one part vinegar to one part water.

All of which is information I've filed under "minor victories for next weekend."

Got a favorite green cleaner formula up your sleeve? Let us know in the comments.


PJ April 20, 2019
Most if not all wood floors are coated with polyurethane, so unless they are heavily worn, you are cleaning a durable plasticized surface. No worries about stripping the wood’s natural oils or water logging or warping the wood. Go for the vinegar and water in the recommended ratios, but be aware that you aren’t applying the mixture to bare wood .
Smaug April 20, 2019
Not by any means all are coated with polyurethane; shellac is still used, and polymerizing oil finishes are increasingly popular. Also, "pre finished" floors have become quite popular because of price, and with those the seams aren't finished, so can trap moisture. Polyurethane is by no means immune to moisture penetration- treated floors will still swell and shrink with humidity or other moisture, leaving seams vulnerable, moisture trapped in seams will make it's way through, likely causing shapes to change, and possibly even rot, and floors that are unfinished on the bottom, or less finished than the top, will tend to cup.
Tom S. March 21, 2019
I have been in the floor covering business for 49 years, and have used white vinegar with water exclusively for all cleaning tasks. The ratio I use is one cup of white vinegar to one gallon on clean, potable water. Tap water is fine. To use the 50-50 ratio is a little overkill, in my view, though on a super, super dirty floor, yes I would use that.

Do not add oils, or any form of liquid soap to the vinegar and water mix. The reason I told my many customers that is best illustrated like this. If you use soap, or oils, on any floor, you will have to use a garden hose and rinse off to floor to get all the soap residue off. Of course that is just an illustration to penetrate our thought processes to never put any soap on floors. You cannot get all the soap residue off, and it will act like a magnet and attract, grab, dirt going forward. Same process for cleaning carpets. No 'steam' and soap. Dry chemical cleaning only. That's why a freshly 'steamed' clean floor with a soap based product will soil so fast after. Soap residue is left on the carpet fibers. It's literally impossible to remove all the soap.

In showers, the white vinegar-water solution is likewise great, and since the tiles in a shower are collectors of soap in all its forms, shampoos, etc, I use a slightly stronger mix than the one cup white vinegar to a gallon of water. 2 cups white vinegar.

I keep saying white vinegar. Never, ever use yellow vinegar and water as a cleaning solution.

Experiment some with my ratios. Enjoy your clean floors, and showers! On marble and quartz, experiment a little on a hidden area. Not all quartz and marble type products are the same. For those, go with the manufacturers recommendations only. That way if something goes wrong, you might be covered.
PJ April 20, 2019
I do use s “steam “ cleaner with carpet cleaning solution on my carpeting, BUT I folllw up with one or two plain water rinses, until the stuff I pour out of the tank is clear, no visible soap residue, no black yuck.
BerryBaby March 21, 2019
Also don't use vinegar on quartz.
BerryBaby March 21, 2019
I only use cold water when cleaning our hardwood floor. It's the only recommended care by the floor specialist. Any chemicals would ruin them. Over 25 years and they are as stunning today as when we we moved in.
Shawn T. March 24, 2019
I was a hardwood flooring rep. We deny claims if you use water on your hardwood floors. I recommend Bona
Sue E. March 20, 2019
Vinegar plays havoc on grout. Don’t wash tile using vinegar and water!!
Elana A. March 20, 2019
I use lemon and orange peels soak them in cleaning vinegar for 30 days in a big Mason jar. Then add later add essential oil to boost up the scent; then add a squirt of liquid dishwashing detergent. For windows/glass cleaner/ stove tops/outside of toilet, I add some rubbing alcohol to the concoction and it works awesome!
Smaug March 21, 2019
I applaud your do it yourself approach, but for those not so rich in citrus peels or determination, orange oil and orange oil cleaners are increasingly available at pretty good prices. Orange oil, which is now a popular termite treatment, is also very effective against ants.
Smaug March 20, 2019
For what it's worth, white vinegar can also be a moderately effective herbicide- mostly good for small green weeds. I would be leery of using it on wood because the acidity can strip oils from wood, but I have no proof of actual damage done.
Cheryl R. March 20, 2019
I’ve been using this formula for years thanks to my mom but have added a few others to my repertoire. Add a drop of Dawn dishwashing liquid to the mix and you have a cleaner that leaves glass sparkling. I also put baking soda down a sink drain and pour vinegar into it to get a drain cleaner that isn’t caustic to pipes. I recommend the book “Organic Housekeeping” by Ellen Sandbeck. So useful.
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 20, 2019
So good to know! Thanks for sharing.
anne W. March 20, 2019
Be careful with vinegar on hardwood floors. It is not recommended.