Non-Toxic Cleaners You Can Make at Home
Written by Stacy Karen, Contributing Writer
Advertisers everywhere proclaim the germ fighting power of chemical-filled cleaners. Many would have us believe that there is no way to clean and disinfect without a chemical product. And doesn’t every good mother want to rid her home of germs and dirt?
May I encourage you not to buy into these messages? A little dirt won’t kill you or your children.
While it is true that some germs can be dangerous, so are the chemicals in the cleaners that claim to eradicate said germs! The toxins contained in most commercial cleaners are unhealthy for us and the environment.
In her book, The Naturally Clean Home, Karyn Siegel-Maier states:
“A study by the Toronto Indoor Air Commission concluded that, due to increased exposure to household carcinogens, women who work at home have a 55 percent greater chance of developing cancer than women who spend the majority of their time outside the home.”
This is a sobering reminder that we should not be adding to our toxic load by using chemical laden cleaners day after day.
Thankfully more and more non-toxic cleaners are becoming available. However, these new choices can be expensive (and many are still not entirely safe). Lucky for us, it is easy and inexpensive to make cleaners at home. And you don’t need a bunch of fancy ingredients to do it. Keeping vinegar, Castile soap, baking soda, and essential oils on hand will enable you to make just about every cleaner you need.
Today I’d like to show you how to make a variety of non-toxic cleaners using these four ingredients.
But first, here is a brief overview of each ingredient:
White, distilled vinegar is great for deodorizing, degreasing and general cleaning. It’s also extremely inexpensive and readily available.
The smell of vinegar does dissipate fairly quickly, but if you dislike it a great deal, try scenting it. To create scented vinegar, simply add 75 drops of lavender or tea tree essential oil to a one gallon jug of white vinegar (this combination came from Clean House, Clean Planet by Karen Logan, page 254-255).
This gentle soap is made from vegetable fat/oil such as hemp, palm or olive (opposed to tallow). It is a versatile cleaner that works well with other ingredients as well as alone.
The texture of baking soda makes it useful as a mild abrasive. It is also an excellent deodorizer.Many of us already have an open box of baking soda in the fridge to absorb smells, but it can also be used to scrub sinks and clean toilets!
To freshen carpets, add a few drops of essential oil to a box of baking soda, stir to combine, sprinkle on the carpet and allow to sit for 30 minutes. Then vacuum.
These concentrated plant oils contain powerful anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-biotic and anti-fungal properties. While they can sometimes be expensive, one small bottle will last a long time. They add a lovely fragrance to your homemade cleaners, which provides psychological benefits too!
My favorite essential oils for cleaning are: lemon, orange, peppermint, lavender, and tea tree.
Image by Rowdy Kittens
Simple Recipes to Clean the Whole House
My favorite floor cleaner is made by adding 2 to 4 tablespoons of Castile soap and 10 drops of lemon essential oil to a large container. Fill with 1 gallon of hot water and stir to mix. If the floor is greasy, add up to 1/8 cup of vinegar.
The above floor cleaner will work well on walls too. If you wish to disinfect walls (or door knobs, crib rails, and so on), mix equal parts vinegar and water. Add 5 to 10 drops of essential oil, per 16 oz of mixture, if desired.
Mirrors can be cleaned well with water and a microfiber cloth. If you are looking for more shine (and germ killing power), combine 1 ½ cups of water with ½ cup of vinegar in a spray bottle and shake to mix. Add 5 to 10 drops of orange or lemon essential oil for extra cleaning power and added fragrance.
I often keep leftover floor cleaner in a spray bottle and use it on the counter tops. It works very well.
If this is not available I will make some disinfecting spray with lavender and peppermint essential oil and water. Adding two tablespoons of Castile soap to this mix will help loosen dirt or grime if necessary.
Pouring a little straight or scented vinegar into the toilet bowl is a great way to clean and deodorize. For regular toilet seat wipe downs, keep some vinegar in a spray bottle. (Because it’s non-toxic and safe to use, why not give kids the job of swishing and swiping each day!)
Sprinkling baking soda into the bowl and scrubbing with a sturdy toilet brush is another good way to keep the toilet clean and fresh.
Bath and shower
The best way to keep the shower clean is to regularly spray the walls with vinegar, this helps prevent soap and scum from building up. Using a squeegee to remove excess water (a few times each week) is also very effective, especially on glass doors.
For a thorough cleaning, it is easy to make your own soft soap cleaner with baking soda and Castile soap.
The recipes shared here today are just a sampling of the natural, non-toxic cleaners that can be made with four basic ingredients (or less). There are many other possibilities.
It is always a good idea to label your homemade cleaners. Writing the recipe on the container also helps make refills a breeze.
Further reading here at Keeper of the Home:
Natural Solutions for Cleaning Tough Stuff
Back to the Basics: Frugal, Non-Toxic Green Cleaning
Do you have any tried and true non-toxic cleaning recipes to share?
Other Related Posts You May Enjoy
- Back to the Basics: Frugal, Non-Toxic Green Cleaning
- Baby Steps: Going More Natural, One Cleaner at a Time
- Better, Cheaper, Safer 4-Way Soft-Scrubber
- Clean Your Shower or Bathtub Simply
- Natural and Eco-Friendly Laundry Soap Reviews: 5 Moms Test and Compare
- Non-Toxic Disinfectants
- Carefree Cleaning
- Price Comparisons on Homemade Cleaners
- Two Recipes for Odor Eliminating, Air Freshening Sprays!
- A Natural Stain Remover that Really Works!
- Charting the Way To Successful Stain Removal
- The Stain Removal Trick that Saves Kids Clothes, Money, and My Sanity
- How to Get Set In Stains Out of (Almost) Everything
I have to share an observation a friend and I have made about the shower. By going poo free and/or switching to natural products (miessence and soap from Krug’s Ecologic), we have noticed our showers are much easier to clean. You just don’t get the same kind of soap and scum buildup like before. Just one more reason to go natural in beauty/skin care too – easier cleaning! 🙂
Awesome list but the “make your own soft soap cleaner” link didn’t work. Thanks
@shannon, Not sure what happened with the link. Here is the correct one:
Got it. Thank you! I’ve got peppermint Bronner’s at home!
I have been slowly switching to natural cleaning products (vinegar, essential oils, baking soda and borax) over the past 6 years and have appreciated not having to keep it under lock and key for the children’s sake. The other day my 16 month old was “helping” me clean the bathroom and accidentally sprayed vinegar water in his eye. It was nice to know that, though it was uncomfortable, it wasn’t going to kill him.
I have so much more space on my laundry room shelves now too! It’s nice not having to have a cleaner for each individual type of cleaning. I love basics and simplicity!
@Katie, Simplicity and safety are two awesome reasons for using natural, homemade cleaners!
I’ve never been too worried about germs in my house so we’ve been using vinegar, hydrogen-peroxide (if we really need disinfection), soap and water for years. I do use Bon Ami when I need an abrasive (because baking soda never worked for me) but it’s just powdered feldspar. I use essential oils on the counters for scent not disinfection (because bacteria will become resistant to whatever antibacterial you use regularly, whether it’s natural or not)… I just don’t think my house is covered in dangerous bacteria and needs regular disinfection.
Home made cleaners are the best! Not only are they cheaper, but I can breathe while using them! I have asthma, and the really chemical-y fumes and strong fragrances really upset my lungs. Thanks for sharing your recipes!
Another way to get great smelling cleaning products that I love is to make citrus vinegar. Instead of essential oils I save the peels from citrus fruit and soak them in white vinegar. I did this with orange peels (for at least a month) and then drained off the vinegar to use for cleaning. Now I have a great orange vinegar that works great in all my cleaning mixtures. Especially on our dining room table and wood floors.
Great idea, Jessica! TFS. 🙂
@Jessica Klanderud, That is a wonderful idea! I can’t wait to try it.
Thanks for the idea…Great
I use my own cleaners. In the shower we have found, though, that vinegar can slowly eat through the caulking so we don’t use it there anymore. My ‘natural’ dish soap actually is my favorite tub cleaner. Also, for the inside of toilet bowls I’ve switched back to a healthier buy store brand of toilet cleaner as I found the homemade versions didn’t work superbly. Otherwise, I love vinegar/bkg soda/tea tree oil and norwex clothes for most of my regular cleaning.
We use vinegar for just about everything. I too use lemon or lavendar oils ot add a nice scent to my newly cleaned house. Never tried the castile soap – but I may the next time I need to shop for cleaning supplies.
I love using baking soda in my bathtub. Its just about all I use. I make a paste and add some warm water. I love that we can eat it so its obviously good to use. I also use a lot of vinegar. I mainly use those two things.
Kika mentioned Norwex cloths. If you are interested in chemical-free cleaning you should really check them out. They work AMAZINGLY well, they last for years, they are self-sanitizing and you use them with just water. Really, they are amazing! And they make my cleaning time so much faster because all I need is my damp cloth- no spray bottles or paper towels or anything.
I like to spray hydrogen peroxide on my kitchen counters when I have been cooking with raw eggs or raw chicken – where you want more disinfection. Hydrogen peroxide is safe to use and breaks down to be just plain water. Also good on doorknobs during cold and flu season.
Where do you get your essential oils? Are they always food-grade? I have heard you can add them to baking soda to make toothpaste if you are concerned about adding fluoride to your system with regular toothpaste. Is there a preferred brand?
I use a mix of Salt and bicarb when I really need to scrub something. This is good for grubby grouting and getting the stains off a metal sink.
We use several of these in our home. The soft scrub cleaner mix is wonderful!! Its great for scrubbing tubs/showers, sinks, toilets, everything.
When we moved into this apartment in November, I bought one bottle of a ‘natural’ cleanser (for the ease of use right after a move). I refused to buy any other chemicals to use in the house (and now that one bottle has been tucked away!). We’ve been using 1/2 Vinegar & 1/2 Water for most general cleaning around the house. With baking soda being used for scrubbing.
One of my favorite things is that I feel comfortable leaving my spray bottle out on the counter! I don’t have to worry about what might get contaminated by spraying it. It’s just vinegar! I also spray my dish rack (no dishwasher) a few times a week to keep the mildew growth down. Works like a charm!
Concerning vinegar to clean bath/shower: I have been doing this for years, but we replaced grout on our tiled shower wall recently, and somewhere (on the container?) we read that vinegar should NOT be used on grout. Anyone else know about this?
I recently starting using white vinegar in place of liquid fabric softener in my washing machine. It softens, removes hard to eliminate “gym” odors, and does *not* leave clothes smelling like vinegar! So cheap and easy–I keep a gallon right in my washroom!
Fab post!! Just in time for spring cleaning season! I don’t know if anyone lives in or around Orlando, FL, but my husband (a Maximized Living doctor) and I are hosting a toxicity workshop titled Defeating Toxicity on Tuesday March 15th @ 6pm. We’ll not only be covering cleaning products, but also personal care, make up, food, water, heavy metals, and vaccine toxicity — how these affect our health and how to detox safely, easily, and effectively. Email if interested! Or look up your local Maximized Living Health Center for your local date and time! 🙂 Keep greening your routines everyone!!
Does anyone know of a safe (but effective) homemade cleaner to use on hardwood floors?
olive oil and lemon juice!!
Thanks for all of the tips in the original post and in the comments.
An additional challenge for me is that I’m not bringing hard plastics into my home or life. So I have to buy items packaged only in cardboard or glass.
For washing dishes by hand, I use a mixture of scented castile soap (Dr. Bronner’s in peppermint and eucalyptus) that I buy in bulk at my health-food store and baking soda. For hardwood floors, I use water and vinegar along with elbow grease as needed.
My next challenge is making homemade mouthwash! 🙂
Just read somewhere you can make a mouthwash with tea tree oil and water.
Does anyone know of a natural granite cleaner? Granite is so prissy, and there are so many things you can’t put on it. I miss my laminate countertops!
Whenever I cleaned the granite tops in my old house, I found that using just water (and of course a clean cloth for wiping and a dry towel!) in a spray bottle cleaned rather well. If there’s more grease in some areas, you may have to repeat it but it worked rather well for me. Not to mention that if you use a cloth to wipe and a towel to dry, you won’t get those pesky smear marks!
You don’t need those special granite top cleaners dealers might try selling to you!
Mel – have you tried e-cloth microfiber? My mom has a granite countertop and she swears by it. The General Purpose cloth is good for the main cleaning (it has been proven to pick up over 99% of bacteria so it’s great for any job, even if you’ve got raw meat juices to deal with). Or if you’ve got some sticky stuff on it, the kitchen e-cloth has a little scrubber on it. You use both of these cloths with just water. But they will leave a bit of moisture behind so if you’ve got a counter that shows streaks, the Glass & Polishing cloth will take care of that (also great for windows, mirrors, glass stovetops, stainless appliances, etc.). Here are some links to the cloths I mentioned:
General Purpose e-cloth – http://eclothusa.com/General-Purpose-Cloth.html
Kitchen e-cloth – http://eclothusa.com/Kitchen-Cloth.html
Glass & Polishing e-cloth – http://eclothusa.com/Glass-Polishing-Cloth.html
My son loves cleaning with his vinegar and water mix spray cleaner. Thank goodness he cleans with safe cleaner because he “cleaned” his 9 month old brother’s head with it.
CREAMY SOFT SCRUBBER recipe
Simply pour about 1/2 cup of baking soda into a bowl and add only enough liquid detergent to make a texture like frosting. Stir well to mix. A bit of water helps make it creamy.
Scoop a small amount of the mixture onto a sponge to wash a surface.
The perfect product for cleaning the bathtub -it rinses easily and doesn’t leave grit.
***Note: To keep the product moist add 1 teaspoon of vegetable glycerin to the mixture and store in a sealed glass jar. Otherwise just make as much as you need at a time.
I love this! Non toxic cleaners can be so expensive – so if I can make them at home and save the $5/bottle that sounds good to me. Thanks for the tips.
Instead of essential oils has anyone tried pure lemon extract in any homemade cleaners?
Not lemon extract but I’ve used a simple mix of fresh lemon juice and salt to scrub away mould from bathroom walls & ceilings. The salt is abrasive and lemon juice kills the mould from returning (and smells great). Very little scrubbing needed, just rinse clean.
I use a thick past of water and baking soda
on the oven – wherever it needs cleaning.
Allow this t almost dry -then – wearing gloves please
spray pure white vinegar heavily onto the baking sodal
Your worst stains (old over thick with stuff when given to me)]
will disappear. The oven I mentioned took two applications but
no odour no residue.
Rinse with hot water after this cleaning has been done.