Make it Yourself Mom: Eco-Friendly Household Cleaners

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During the summer and its heat, most of us don't do any thorough cleaning and get by with an occasional wipe of the dust cloth and quick swipe over the mirrors. Who has the energy when it's so hot? When Fall comes, I have this need to open the windows to let in the morning, cool(ish) breezes and do a good scrubbing of the house. Over the years, I have become an advocate of using homemade products during these cleaning frenzies. As a result, I have found it cheaper and much, much safer for our home environment. 

Have you actually looked at the labels of those common cleaners you buy at the grocery store? I can't pronounce most of the ingredients but they include, and are not limited to, ammonia, bleach, butylcellosolve, cresol, dye, ethanol, formaldehyde, glycol, hyzenes, perchloroethlylene, petroleeum distillates, phenol, phosphoric acid, propellants, sulfuric acid and trichloroethlylene.

Whew. Instead, you can use natural ingredients you find easily at the store or are already in your cupboard or pantry. The most common are: baking soda, white vinegar, unscented liquid castile soap, borax, olive and almond oils, and pumice. If you have these, you will be able to make all the products I am recommending. 

Going from store-bought to green cleaning was not an easy transition for me. My name is Sherry, and I'm addicted to bleach and Windex. There. I said it. I didn't know what to do during cleaning if I didn't have those two products in my possession. Right along with all the other products I couldn't live without: foaming tub cleaner, mildew spray (so toxic!), get rid of lime spray (even more toxic!), Ajax, bleach countertop cleaner, regular countertop cleaner, bathroom countertop cleaner, etc. etc. etc. And let's not forget the cost of those items. The average price is $4-8 dollars EACH and if you're anything like me, it seems they run out at the same time and the grocery bill is outrageous. There are multiple choices when it comes to Natural cleaners but, again, they are very, very pricey. 

Since it's getting a little cooler out there and it finally feels like Fall, the cold and flu season is just around the corner. Germs, bacteria and viruses are going to be everywhere. However, what we need is worry less and learn more. When it comes to our homes, there are places that are notorious for having places the germs love to live in. Here are the 10 most common places they linger and the simple steps you can take to eliminate them.


1. Sponges and rags. When you wipe down a dish or counter, you're simply transferring bacteria from one place to another. Launder sponges and rags with soap and hot water between uses and replace these items often; wash your hands after touching sponges. You can also place the sponges in the dishwasher every time you run it, using the anti-bacterial setting. Zapping a wet sponge in the microwave for 4 minutes will kill most disease-causing germs. It'll be hot, so be careful when removing it. Start collecting rags made from old t-shirts and underwear to use for wiping down counters. I have a bucket in my laundry room where I throw in the used rags and when it's full, I run them through the washing machine with the water set on a high temperature and with about 2 cups of vinegar in addition to the laundry soap. 


2.  Cutting boards. Use caution if you cut different types of food on the same cutting board. It is recommended that you have different cutting boards for different products; one for proteins (beef, chicken, fish, shellfish, etc), one for fruits and vegetables and another for breads and rolls. This helps prevent the transferring of salmonella, staph and E.coli between the foods you are preparing. With all boards, keeping them clean is important and usually scrubbing with hot water and soap is enough although you may want to use undiluted vinegar for a more thorough cleaning. Replace wooden boards that become deeply scratched.


3. Kitchen surfaces. Just because the counter looks clean, doesn't mean it's free of bacteria. We are good about wiping down the surfaces with a sponge but it needs a bit more than that to make sure all the germs are gone. Spray down the surfaces with an anti-bacterial cleaner, homemade or store-bought, and be sure to pay attention to your faucet, sink and knobs, too.


4.  Doorknobs.  When you touch a doorknob, you touch the hand of everyone who was there before you. Wash your hands after touching a public doorknob, and regularly clean your own doorknobs with a nontoxic, all-purpose cleaner, homemade or store-bought.


5.  Toothbrushes.  Brushing transfers plaque, bacteria and more to your toothbrush. After each use, rinse the toothbrush with tap water and shake several times. Store upright to allow the toothbrush to air dry. Replace it every three months, not just for making sure there are no lingering germs, but also because it's recommended by most dentists.


6.  Shared phones. Many cleaners are safe to use on electronic devices. Unplug or turn off the phone, then spray a cloth with all-purpose cleaner and wipe down the phone. Thoroughly clean the mouthpiece, the germy-est part. Use a cotton swab, lightly dipped in alcohol, to clean the number buttons and the spaces between them.


7.  Washers and dryers.  Because clothes are often laundered in cold or warm water and without bleach, germs can multiply in the washer. These germs are then transferred when clothes are moved into the dryer. To thoroughly clean the washer, start a warm wash cycle (with no clothes) and add 5 cups of white vinegar. Run the cycle as normal. Repeat every six months.


8.  The remote. Just like the phones, these devices are rarely cleaned. This object can be full of germs, especially if you have kids. Using an all-purpose cleaner or white vinegar in warm water, wet a soft cloth with the solution and wipe the remote, then dry with another soft cloth.


9.  Shower curtain.  Bacteria and germs breed on vinyl, cloth and other curtains, and the constant influx of hot water doesn't help, Spray down vinyl curtains regularly with a solution of equal parts white vinegar and warm water; wash cloth curtains according to label instructions at least once a month.


10. Mold. This can be a small problem but can also become a very big problem. Small spots here or there can be easily removed with vinegar or tea tree oil. If you have an area that is larger than 3-4 inches in diameter and is very stubborn about being removed, you may consider calling in a professional. There are biocides that can be purchased at your local hardware store, but these are very toxic. Try to use caution when cleaning mold; some may even consider using a mask and gloves so you aren't exposed to any of the spores. 


11.  The vacuum. Vacuum brushes, bags and filters make a great hiding place for germs. Because food is sucked into the vacuum, bacteria can survive for a long time inside. Change the bags often, and remove the brushes and filters for a quick cleaning monthly. Clean the cavity of a bag-less vacuum with all-purpose cleaner and let it air dry.

The ingredients I've listed are some of the least expensive items you can purchase. Bought in bulk, they're even cheaper. The essential oils, initially, can be a little pricey (average around $6 for1/2 ounce) but you use a few drops in each product, which means it lasts a long time. If you want to start small, you can add whichever essential oil you want to the recipes since they all have good cleaning properties. Start out with tea tree oil and another one to add a nice scent (I, personally, don't like tea tree oil by itself since it's a little too 'astringent' for me), like lemongrass or lavender. Purchase the rest of the essential oils a few at a time and in a very short while, you'll have a nice collection. Using these homemade products can take a little more elbow grease, I'll admit, but I feel good it's safe for me, my family and even pets. It's cheaper and there's more room under my kitchen sink. Bonus!


List of ingredients

baking soda

white vinegar


washing soda (Arm & Hammer makes this and you can find it at your local hardware store)

liquid castile soap (I found this by the gallon, at eBay, for around $25, plus shipping and handling)

almond oil

olive oil


Essential oils - only use the suggested drops in the recipes. Essential oils are a powerful ingredient and using too much can be irritating to the skin and eyes.

-lemon (degreaser, alleviates depression & fatigue)

-cedar (disinfects, provides uplifting scent)

-orange (degreaser, alleviates depression & fatigue)

-tea tree oil (effective against bacteria, fungus-good cleaner when there's illness in the house)

-eucalyptus (disinfects while helping stuffy noses-good when you're cleaning while fighting off a cold!)

-peppermint (uplifting)

-rosemary (antiseptic, good for headaches)

-lavender (antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal)

-cinnamon (disinfectant, clean smell)

-clove (antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, antiseptic)

-thyme (strong antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal, excellent disinfectant)

-geranium (astringent, mosquito repellant, too!)

-grapefruit (disinfectant, stimulating and energizing)


Countertop Cleaner

32-ounce spray bottle (I find these at WalMart for around $1.00)

2 cups water

1/2 cup white vinegar

3/4 cup peroxide (I find this at the dollar store for, yeah, you guessed it, a dollar!)

1 tsp liquid castile soap

20 drops tea tree oil

20 drops lavender or lemongrass-I use lemongrass in the kitchen and lavender in the bathrooms

Combine ingredients in spray bottle. Label and shake during use. I use this on all surfaces in my house and it works beautifully. And smells so good.


Kitchen Sink Scrub

1/2 cup baking soda

1/8 cup vinegar

5 drops lemon

5 drops orange

Combine all ingredients and use on sink. It's best to use this as you make it since the baking soda will dry into a hard lump. It only takes a few seconds and works real well. The vinegar acts as a great antibacterial.


Sink Scrubber for Stains

1/4 cup washing soda

1/4 cup baking soda

8 drops rosemary, eucalyptus or tea tree oil

3/4 cup vinegar, for rinsing

Combine ingredients, other than vinegar, in an airtight container (like a squeeze bottle) and shake well to blend. Sprinkle a small amount into sink and scrub with damp sponge. Rinse with vinegar and then with hot water. For stubborn stains, allow this formula to rest on the stain for several minutes, then scrub and rinse with vinegar and hot water. 


Tub and Shower Scrub

(also a good mold prevention)

1/2 cup baking soda

10 drops tea tree oil

10 drops lavender

10 drops geranium

You can make this in bulk. Put baking soda in air-tight container. Place drops of essential oils on cotton pad and put it in the baking soda. The essential oils will be infused into the baking soda. The recipe helps to remove and prevent mold and mildew buildup. For serious mildew, combine 20 drops of tea tree oil and water in a spray bottle; spray area every day for 5 days, let dry and scrub with sponge. Use 2 times a week from then on.


Mold Remover Spray

2 cups water

1 cup white vinegar

20 drops tea tree essential oil

Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle. Apply to mold, let sit for an hour or so, then scrub with brush or sponge to remove mold. For molds that seem to not respond to any of your best efforts, consider calling in an expert to assess the situation.


Germs-Be-Gone Toilet Cleaner

2 cups water

1/4 cup liquid castile soap

1 TBS tea tree oil

10 drops eucalyptus or peppermint

Combine all ingredients in spray bottle; shake well. Spray on toilet surfaces and wipe clean with damp cloth or sponge. For extra tough stains, use a pumice stone along with some good, old-fashioned elbow grease and scrub away. If you do this once to get rid of all the stains, it will be easy to maintain. 


Toilet Soak

To soak the toilet for extra cleaning, put baking soda in the bowl, let it stand for an hour or so, then flush. Add vinegar for a bigger boost.


Furniture Polish

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup white vinegar

3-4 TBS almond or olive oil

40-60 drops lemon

20-30 drops cedar

20-30 drops orange

Put all ingredients in spray bottle. Shake well before and during the time you're using it. Spray furniture and use a clean cloth to wipe.

For wooden floors, spray duster and wipe down floors as usual. 

For extra thirsty furniture, use 3/4 cup of oil (don't add any water), place the ingredients in a squeeze bottle and shake well before use. Put oil on clean cloth and wipe over furniture. Use a second clean cloth to wipe up any residual oil. 


Hot Tub Cleaner

To disinfect and fragrance the water in a hot tub, add 3 drops of lavender, cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, thyme or grapefruit per person that uses the tub. You can use any combination of oils for this.