If you've ever been concerned that the chemicals in your household cleaners might not be good for you or the environment, your concern is justified. I was programmed to think that if my house smelled like bleach or certain other well-known cleaning products, it was clean. It may have been clean, but the fumes were toxic to my body and the environment. There are various ways that many of today's household cleaners cause harm, but in the name of a clean house I was turning a blind eye. That is, until 10 months ago.

Over the course of several months, beginning last summer, I completely altered my diet in the name of health. Admittedly my diet is extreme, but simple and natural. I cook from scratch and consume a non-toxic diet. So it felt natural for me to next consider the toxicity of the cleaning products I was using. While the initial motivation to discontinue the use of toxic cleaning products was health-driven, it clearly benefits the environment by decreasing ground water contamination, air pollution, and package waste. Added benefits include cost and effectiveness. Many homemade cleaning products can be made from ingredients already in your pantry or from ingredients found at the supermarket, health food store or drug store. Many of these products work just as well, or sometimes better, than their store-bought counterparts.

The cleaning products I use can be made from the following ingredients:

  • Baking Soda is a very simple and effective surface cleaner. It is similar to commercial powdered abrasive cleaners and has the added benefit of being an odor absorber. Baking soda can be used alone or with water and a sponge to scrub out tough stains like a scouring powder. You can leave baking soda on particularly tough stains (even pots and pans) for 15-20 minutes before wiping away.
  • White Vinegar is another all-purpose cleaner. Vinegar is a deodorizer, like baking soda, and is also a disinfectant. Because it is colorless and contains no colorants, it will not stain. Vinegar does not work well on marble or on grout, where vinegar's acidity may cause damage. The vinegar smell lingers while wet, but quickly dissipates while drying. Vinegar is also an effective stain remover on sinks, floors, stovetops, chrome and countertops, and can even be used to remove rings from your toilet bowl. Finally, adding half a cup of vinegar to your rinse cycle acts as a natural fabric softener.
  • Lemon Juice, another highly acidic liquid, works extremely well on hard-water stains and on built-up soap scum. You can mix lemon juice with vinegar and/or baking soda to make a paste similar to the Soft Scrub brand cleaning scrub or mix it with olive oil for a wood-furniture polish.
  • Borax (sodium borate) works as a laundry soap but is a great disinfectant and all-purpose cleaner and can be mixed with water baking soda or white vinegar. 

Here are basic recipes I use for cleaning (I clean and reuse spray bottles and glass jars for storage and label all of my products):

  • Soft Scrubber
    Mix baking soda and water, vinegar or lemon juice to form a creamy paste.
    For tougher jobs, mix ¼ cup borax, ½ teaspoon lemon oil and enough vegetable oil-based liquid soap (such as Murphys Oil Soap) to form a creamy paste. 
    Glass Cleaner
    Mix 1/8 cup vinegar with 1 quart of water. 
  • Toilet Bowl Cleaner
    Sprinkle baking soda and lemon juice into the toilet and walk away. Later scrub with a toilet brush. 
    For bachelor pad toilets, spray vinegar around the bowl, sprinkle with baking soda and scrub. 
  • All-purpose Cleaner
    Dilute equal parts water and vinegar. Vinegar can also be used straight from the bottle on tough stains and mineral deposits.
  • Automatic Dishwasher Detergent
    1 ½ tablespoon baking soda
    1 tablespoon Borax

For laundry, I use:

  • Borax
  • Fels Naptha Soap as a stain remover. 

I think I may tackle personal hygiene products next. I currently use Kirk's Castile soap (biodegradable), but would like to explore homemade shampoos, conditioners, deodorant and toothpaste.

Rose Marie Wetterau
Health and Counseling Center