When guests begin making their way to my humble home, I start getting serious about cleaning. I look at my house through the eyes of my mother, remembering Saturday mornings spent deep cleaning before going outside to play. I also enjoy having a clean home but I know many homes today are filled with toxic chemicals that were designed to make domestic life easier. I also realize that one in three of us suffer from allergies, asthma, sinusitis, or chronic bronchitis and that these conditions are worsened by the use of synthetic chemicals. There are numerous scientific studies you can read affirming this is true, or you can prop your feet up and watch Lily Tomlin in The Incredible Shrinking Woman. It’s not a documentary, but it’s pretty frightening.
Fortunately, there are many inexpensive, natural alternatives that you probably already have in your home. You can enjoy your clean home knowing you are not negatively impacting the health of all who live there.
Check your pantry and laundry rooms for the following ingredients. They can be used alone or in certain combinations to tackle any cleaning project you can think of.
Soap: unscented soap—either liquid, flake, powder, or bar—is biodegradable and will clean just about anything. Avoid using soaps which contain petroleum distillates.
Lemon: one of the strongest food acids, effective against most household bacteria.
Borax (sodium borate): cleans, deodorizes, disinfects, softens water, cleans wallpaper, painted walls, and floors.
White Vinegar: cuts grease, removes mildew, odors, some stains and wax build-up.
Washing Soda: or SAL Soda is sodium carbonate decahydrate, a mineral. It cuts grease, removes stains, softens water, cleans walls, tiles, sinks and tubs. Use care, as washing soda can irritate mucous membranes.
Cornstarch: can be used to clean windows, polish furniture, shampoo carpets, and rugs.
As with any cleaning product, results may vary. Before using any cleaning formula test in a small, hidden area. Make sure to keep all cleaning products, commercial or homemade, well-labeled and out of the reach of children.
We all want the place where we prepare and serve food to be clean so we will start our natural and non-toxic cleaning in the kitchen.
Stove-top Cleaner — Mix one part olive oil to two parts baking soda to make a paste. Apply to stove-top and allow to sit overnight for tough stains. Wipe away paste using the citrus-vinegar cleaner.
Citrus-Vinegar Cleaner — Put citrus peels in a jar and cover with white vinegar. Let the citrus peels infuse the vinegar for two weeks. Strain and dilute with water by half. Pour into a spray bottle. This makes a good all-purpose cleaner and if your family eats any amount of citrus, you will never run out.
Oven Cleaner — Moisten oven surfaces with a sponge and water. Mix ¾ cup baking soda, ¼ cup salt, and ¼ cup water to make a thick paste. Spread in the interior of your oven, avoiding any bare metal. Let sit overnight. Remove with a spatula and wipe clean. If you have any tough stains, rub gently with fine steel wool.
Scouring Powder — For any surfaces that should not be scratched, such as the top of your stove or your refrigerator, apply baking soda directly with a damp sponge.
Drain Cleaner — For light drain cleaning, simply mix ½ cup salt in one gallon of water. Heat, but not to a boil, and pour down the drain.
For stronger drain cleaning, pour ½ cup baking soda down the drain followed by ½ cup vinegar. This breaks down any fatty acids and allows the clog to wash down the drain. Wait 15 minutes and pour boiling water down the drain. Only use this method if you have metal pipes and do not use after trying a commercial drain opener, as it will create dangerous fumes.
To disinfect kitchen sponges, put them in the dishwasher when running a load.
To deodorize plastic food storage containers, soak them overnight in a solution of baking soda and warm water.
Coffee and Tea Stains — Remove stains in cups by applying vinegar to a sponge and wiping. To clean a tea kettle or coffee maker, put two cups of water and ¼ cup vinegar in the appliance and bring to a boil. Let cool. Wipe with a clean cloth and rinse thoroughly.
Cutting Boards — Rub a slice of lemon across the cutting board to disinfect the surface. For tough stains on the cutting board, squeeze some of the lemon juice directly on the stain. Let sit for 10 minutes before rinsing.
Next, let’s move to the laundry room. One of the best things you can do for fresh-smelling clothes is to hang them on an outside line. Not only do your clothes smell great, it’s environmentally friendly.
Laundry Detergent — Mix one cup Ivory soap, ½ cup washing soda and ½ cup borax. Use one tablespoon for light loads and two tablespoons for heavy loads.
Fabric Softener — Combine 1 ½ gallons of white vinegar with 30-40 drops of the essential oil of your choice. Shake well. For small to average loads, add ½ cup to the rinse cycle.
Mothballs — Mothballs are made of paradichlorobenzene, which is harmful to the liver and kidneys. You can place cedar chips in a square of cheesecloth or cedar oil in an absorbent cloth instead of mothballs. The cedar should be “aromatic cedar.” You can also make moth repellent sachets with rosemary, lavender, and rose petals. Dried lemon peels are also a natural moth deterrent.
Shoe Polish — Olive oil with a few drops of lemon juice can be applied to shoes with a thick cotton or terry rag. Rub polish on in a circular motion and let sit for a few minutes. Wipe and buff with a clean, dry rag.
The bathroom is certainly a place where we can be tempted to use stronger chemicals for cleaning. But not only is it unnecessary, it quite possibly is worse for your health.
Toilet Bowl Cleaner — Combine one cup vinegar with ¼ cup baking soda. Let sit in the toilet bowl for 15 minutes. Scrub and flush.
Bathroom Mold — Mold in bathroom tile grout is common and it can be a health concern. Mix one part hydrogen peroxide with two parts water in a spray bottle. Shake to mix and spray on the mold. Wait one hour before rinsing.
Disinfectant — Mix two teaspoons borax and four tablespoons vinegar into three cups hot water. For stronger cleaning power you can add ¼ teaspoon liquid Castile soap. Wipe on surfaces with a damp cloth.
If your home is anything like mine, you are constantly cleaning your floors. Between the humans and the animals, a lot of the outside gets tracked inside. Because they get cleaned so much, the floors were the first place I made the switch from commercial to natural cleaning products. Here are a few that work well for me.
Wood Floor Cleaner — Fill a gallon jug ¾ full with water. Add ¼ cup white vinegar, 8 tablespoons liquid Castile soap, and 30 drops of your favorite citrus essential oil. Cap the jug and shake really well before each use. To use, add one cup cleaner to one gallon of hot water.
Vinyl and Linoleum Floors — Mix one cup vinegar and a few drops of baby oil in one gallon of warm water. For tougher jobs you can add ¼ cup of borax to the mix. Use the borax blend sparingly on linoleum floors.
Wood Floor Polish — Apply a thin coat of one part vegetable oil to one part vinegar to the floor. Rub in well.
Painted Wood Floors — Mix one teaspoon of washing soda in one gallon of hot water.
Brick and Stone Tiles — Mix One cup white vinegar in one gallon of water. Rinse with clear water.
Carpet Stain Remover — Sprinkle baking soda over the stain and wait for ten minutes. While waiting, mix one tablespoon white vinegar and one tablespoon dish soap in two cups of warm water. Sponge on the stain, blotting until the stain is removed.
Fresh Grease Carpet Stains — Sprinkle cornstarch on the grease stain. Wait 15-30 minutes before vacuuming.
Heavy Duty Carpet Cleaner — Mix ¼ cup each: salt, borax, and vinegar. Rub paste into carpet and let sit for a few hours before vacuuming.
Carpet Deodorizer — Sprinkle baking soda over carpet several hours before vacuuming.
When I was little, I used to love dusting the furniture, mainly because I loved the smell of Pledge. I have found a natural solution that works and smells just as good.
Wood Polish — Combine one tablespoon olive oil, the juice of one lemon and one tablespoon water. Mix well. Dip a clean cloth in mixture and wipe clean wood.
I used to buy the air fresheners at the dollar store. I also loved the plug-ins until I learned that commercial air fresheners mask odors and coat the nasal passages to weaken our sense of smell.
The best and most natural way to enjoy fresh air is to allow fresh air into your home. Open the windows as often as possible. During cold weather, open the windows and doors for five minutes to let fresh air in quickly. There are several other easy and natural ways to eliminate odors.
Baking soda or a combination of vinegar and lemon juice in a small bowl on the counter will absorb odors.
Houseplants in every room will reduce odors in the home.
Prevent cooking odors by simmering one tablespoon vinegar in one cup of water on the stove whilecooking. To get food smells off utensils and cutting boards, wipe them with vinegar and wash in soapy water.
Grind a slice of lemon in the garbage disposal to eliminate odors.
Simmer a small pan of water, cinnamon, citrus slices, and other spices on the stove.
Homemade Freshener — Combine one tablespoon baking soda and 20 drops of your favorite essential oil in a large bowl and mix well. Add two cups water and stir until the baking soda has completely dissolved. Transfer to a spray bottle.
There are a couple of difficult problems when it comes to cleaning walls. If you have children, you may know them. Stickers and marks on the walls can be tough if you are looking for something tough enough to clean the problem but gentle enough to leave the paint. Worry no more.
Marks on walls and painted surfaces — Many ink, crayon, and pencil marks can be removed from painted surfaces by applying baking soda to a damp sponge and gently rubbing the marked area. Wipe clean and then rinse.
Stickers on Walls — Sponge vinegar over stickers several times. Wait 15 minutes and the stickers will rub off. This also works for price tags.
Wallpaper Remover — Mix equal parts of white vinegar and hot water. Apply over old wallpaper with a sponge to soften the adhesive. Peel off paper, reapplying the formula to tough patches as needed. Open the windows or use a fan when removing wallpaper this way. The vinegar smell can quickly become overwhelming.
With almost everyone having some type of electronic device, we need a natural cleaning solution for our touch screens. Regular household cleaners, such as window cleaner, should never be used. They have an ammonia base which will eventually damage your screen. The alternative is simple. Mix one part white vinegar to one part distilled water and store in a spray bottle. Turn your device off and let it cool down. Dust the screen with a soft cloth. Spray a mist of the solution onto the soft cloth and gently wipe the screen. Do not spray directly onto the screen. You do not want any liquid to drip down into the device.
If you find that cleaning chores are taking up too much of your time, or if you are concerned about the chemicals you are using in your house, give one or more of these natural and non-toxic cleaning solutions a try.