Home Health: Guide to Natural and Greener Cleaning

You can make your own non-toxic cleaning products at home using a few simple ingredients.

What You Need

With a few simple recipes, you can save money and get a greener cleaning routine. You may already have many ingredients. A basic natural cleaning toolkit includes white vinegar, baking soda, borax, citrus fruit, and empty spray bottles. You may also want hydrogen peroxide, cornstarch, castile soap, tea tree oil, and other essential oils for scent. Add microfiber cloths or old cotton T-shirts instead of paper towels for less waste.

Vinegar is a natural disinfectant with many uses.

White Vinegar

Vinegar is a natural disinfectant and has many uses in home cleaning. Since it's acidic, it's great for getting rid of gummy buildup, rust, and hard water stains. Try using vinegar to remove buildup from your coffee pot. You can use lemon juice the same way as vinegar, but since it goes bad quickly, you can't store cleaners made with lemon juice for more than a few days.

Baking soda is a mild abrasive that can be used to clean counters, sinks, stoves, tubs, and ovens.

Baking Soda

Baking soda absorbs odors in the air and works well for many cleaning tasks. Use it in litter boxes, garbage cans, and diaper pails to keep the stink down. Sprinkle it on a damp cloth to use as a gentle surface cleaner on counters, sinks, ovens, stoves, and tubs. Find baking soda in the baking aisle of your grocery store.

Borax is stronger than baking soda so use it with caution when you clean.

Borax

Borax, or sodium borate, is similar to baking soda, but stronger. It's a natural bleach and is good for removing dirt and stains from laundry and surfaces. Although it's natural, borax could irritate your skin, eyes, or breathing, so use it with caution, and keep it away from children and pets. Find it in your store's laundry section.

Mix your own cleaners with hot water and label them right away.

Mixing Your Own Cleaners

When making your own cleaning mixtures, use spray bottles or containers that you won't confuse with food containers. Label them right away. Hot water will clean better than cold, so in most cases, fresh-made cleaners with hot water will work the best. You may need to scrub a little harder or let cleaning mixtures sit a little longer than you would with store-bought cleaners.

The following cleaners are able to disinfect if you make them fresh and use them right away.

Clean or Disinfect?

For most cleaning around the house, the goal is to remove germs and dirt. All of the following homemade natural cleaners will do that. Certain natural cleaners can also disinfect, or kill germs, but you must make them fresh. If stored, they still will clean, but they won't disinfect as well.

You can add essential oil to all-purpose cleaner to give it a pleasant scent.

All-Purpose Cleaner

For mild cleaning, mix 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup baking soda, and 4 to 8 cups hot water in a spray bottle. For a stronger solution, use 2 tablespoons borax, 1/4 cup vinegar, and 2 cups hot water. Add a few drops of essential oil to any mixture to give it a fresh scent.

Vinegar and water makes a good streak-free glass cleaner.

Glass and Mirror Cleaner

Combine 3 tablespoons vinegar with 4 cups water for a mild cleaner. Make it stronger by using half vinegar and half water; or 1/4 cup vinegar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, and 4 cups warm water. Shake to dissolve the cornstarch before spraying. Wipe clean with a microfiber cloth, then do a final wipe with a dry cloth to avoid streaks.

Hot vinegar and hydrogen peroxide can be used to sanitize kitchen surfaces.

Kitchen Sanitizer

Soap and warm water will clean dirt from surfaces in the kitchen, but if you want to sanitize to kill harmful germs like salmonella and E. coli, you'll need to use hot vinegar or hydrogen peroxide and let it sit on the surface for at least 1 minute. Here's how: Heat 1/2 cup white vinegar (5%) or hydrogen peroxide (3%) to 150 F, put the mixture into an empty spray bottle, and spray it onto surfaces. Let it sit for 1 minute, then wipe dry.

A fresh batch of vinegar, club soda, and tea tree oil can be used to disinfect surfaces.

Another Kitchen Sanitizer

Here's a different way to sanitize surfaces: Combine 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup club soda, and 2 drops tea tree oil. Spray it onto surfaces and wipe clean. This mixture works to disinfect only if it's made fresh. Even 24 hours later, it doesn't kill as many germs.

Use ice and citrus to freshen the garbage disposal and sharpen the blades.

Freshen Up the Garbage Disposal

If your garbage disposal is starting to smell, run it with some ice and a squeezed orange, lemon, or lime. The ice will help sharpen the blade, and the citrus peels will give off a fresh scent.

Use baking soda, lemon juice, and water to clean the microwave.

Microwave Cleaner

To get rid of food odors or hardened food splatters in the microwave, mix 6 tablespoons baking soda or 1/2 cup lemon juice with 1 cup water in a microwave-safe glass container. Microwave the mixture until it boils, then leave it inside with the door closed until it cools. The steam will loosen the grime and make it easy to wipe down the inside of the microwave.

You can use baking soda, vinegar, and boiling water to unclog a drain.

Clean Your Drains

To prevent or clear out backups in your drains, dump 1/4 cup baking soda down the drain followed by 1/2 cup vinegar. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes, then uncover and pour in 8 cups boiling water. You could also use 1/2 cup borax followed by 8 cups boiling water. For a bad clog, use a plumber's snake tool with boiling water.

For light cleaning, mix 1/4 cup baking soda with 1 cup vinegar and pour it into the toilet bowl.

Scrub the Toilet

For light cleaning, mix 1/4 cup baking soda with 1 cup vinegar and pour it into the toilet bowl. Let it sit for 3 to 30 minutes, scrub with a toilet brush, and flush. Scrub with 1/2 cup borax mixed with 1 gallon hot water to get out tougher stains. For heavy-duty cleaning, sprinkle 1 cup borax around the basin and spray with 1/2 cup vinegar. Let it sit overnight, then scrub and flush.

Put 1/2 cup borax and 1/2 cup vinegar into a spray bottle and fill it with hot water, then spray it in the shower or bathtub and scrub.

Tackle Mildew in the Shower

Put 1/2 cup borax and 1/2 cup vinegar into a spray bottle and fill it with hot water, then spray it in the shower or bathtub and scrub. For a daily spray to prevent mold in the shower, mix 1/3 cup rubbing alcohol with 1 cup water. Shake it up, and spray it on without rinsing.

For bathtub and tile, use a sponge to wipe the surface with vinegar, then sprinkle baking soda or non-iodized salt, scrub with a damp sponge, and rinse well with water.

Scrub the Tub and Tile

Use a sponge to wipe the surface with vinegar, then sprinkle baking soda or non-iodized salt, scrub with a damp sponge, and rinse well with water. For another option, combine 1 2/3 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup castile soap (liquid), and 1/2 cup water. Add 2 tablespoons vinegar and use the mixture to scrub the bathtub or tile area.

Although vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are great sanitizers on their own, never combine the two in a container.

Don’t Mix These

Although vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are great sanitizers on their own, never combine the two in a container. This creates a chemical called peracetic acid, which can burn your skin and is dangerous to breathe in. The same goes for ammonia and bleach -- mixing them or using them in the same space can create toxic fumes.

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REFERENCES:

  • Utah State University Extension: "Home Cleaning Chemistry."
  • University of Arkansas Extension: "Clean and Green."
  • CDC: "How to Clean and Disinfect Schools to Help Slow the Spread of Flu."
  • Journal of Applied Microbiology: "The effectiveness of three home products in cleaning and disinfection of Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli on home environmental surfaces."
  • West Virginia University Extension Service: "Homemade Cleaning Products."
  • The Ohio State University Extension: "Cleaning and Sanitizing the Kitchen Using Inexpensive Household Food-Safe Products."
  • Journal of Food Protection: "Inactivation of Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Salmonella typhimurium with compounds available in households."
  • University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension: "Save Time Microwave It!"
  • Winnebago County University of Wisconsin Extension: "Green Cleaning 2016."
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Peracetic Acid."
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine PubChem: "Peracetic Acid."
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