In my experience, most folks don’t give a lot of thought to the chemicals that they use inside their homes. They tend to go to the store and buy the glass cleaner, the tub and tile cleaner, the toilet bowl cleaner, the floor cleaner, the furniture polish, the surface disinfectant, and the air fresheners. They spend a lot of time and money on task-specific products. If I were to approach these same folks and ask them about “natural cleaning supplies”, very few would consider the option of homemade cleaning solutions. Most would think about rushing back to the store to get the “green” versions of all the products in their extensive cleaners stash.
It doesn’t have to be that way though! In our home, we protect the environment, our health, our septic system, and our bank account by using natural alternatives to those expensive, purpose-built cleaners. Now, I’d be lying if I said that we don’t buy a single “cleaning chemical”, but I can’t tell you how much money we’ve saved by using baking soda, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and dish soap in various combinations.
The going rate for a 13.5lb bag of Arm & Hammer baking soda at Sam’s Club is $6.16, and you can bet that we extract the value from every last bit of this amazing “chemical”. Here, we use it to:
- clean sinks and tubs — It won’t poison our septic system (our water supply if you’re hooked to a municipal sanitary sewer system.) For most jobs, just sprinkle some baking soda onto the surface and scrub with a damp sponge. In most cases, I don’t have to use any more effort that I’d use with a traditional scouring powder. And for messier jobs, add just a little dish soap to make a paste. This will work like a soft-scrubbing cleanser.
- carpet and room deodorizing — I have pets and children, and rather than buying expensive carpet fresheners for use between cleanings, I’ll sprinkle baking soda onto the carpet, let it sit for 15-30 minutes and then vacuum. It makes a huge difference.
- clean the toilet bowl — I use a small bucket to “bucket-flush” the toilet. Then I sprinkle about a cup of baking soda into the bowl and scrub with a toilet brush. A pumice stone or hot vinegar works for lime scale, and the baking soda cleans and deodorizes nicely.
- eliminate odors in the air — I think everyone knows about baking soda as an air freshener. Whether it’s a stinky fridge, closet, car, or lunch box, it’s odor-absorbing power is exceptionally helpful in a busy home with pets and children.
- help with strong odors in laundry — I always used baking soda with cloth diapers or linens when my young children had nighttime accidents. Just remember that if you use baking soda in the laundry, add you vinegar “fabric softener” in the rinse cycle.
A favorite resource among baking soda enthusiasts is Baking Soda: Over 500 Fabulous, Fun, and Frugal Uses You’ve Probably Never Thought Of. My list just hits some of the more common highlights.
White vinegar is another indispensible item in our home. Not only can it be used in a myriad of food applications, its uses for cleaning tasks are equally numerous. Some of my favorite uses include:
- vinegar as a lime descaler — Since we use water from a reverse-osmosis system, we don’t have to worry about lime scale in our teapot or electric food steamer. Since we don’t have a water softener though, we battle lime scale in faucet aerators, shower heads, the toilet bowls, tubs, sinks, the dishwasher, and the washing machine. Just last night, in fact, my husband took apart our kitchen faucet to soak the aerator in hot vinegar. Hot vinegar works best for lime scale since you can dissolve more solid in hot liquids. (Think about making tea. It’s a lot easier to dissolve the sugar when it’s hot.)
- daily shower cleaner — Keep a spray bottle of vinegar in the corner of your shower or tub. After showering or bathing, give a good spritzing to the tub and walls. It helps prevent lime scale and soap scum buildup which makes shower/tub cleaning much easier.
- fabric softener — Add a cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle when you wash laundry. Vinegar leaves your clothes soft and fresh-smelling once they’ve dried.
- surface disinfectant — Several years ago, I remember reading a study which compared a bleach solution to vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. Apparently, if you spray a surface with vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, you get the same disinfecting power as you would with bleach without the carcinogenic chemicals. (You’re not supposed to mix vinegar and hydrogen peroxide in the same bottle; you’re supposed to apply them with two different spray bottles. Also, don’t forget that hydrogen peroxide stores best in cold, dark places, so I store mine in the fridge.)
- glass and surface cleaners — I’ve run across many recipes for glass cleaner that call for vinegar. I’ve done fine cleaning my glass with straight vinegar without any added ingredients.
- cleaning pet accidents — The vinegar is supposed to neutralize the urine, and I’ve used this effectively on dog urine accidents for 20 years. I can’t say that it’s as effective on male cat urine though. Anyone who owns a male cat probably knows exactly what I mean.
- carpet deodorizer — I have a carpet cleaner and I always use vinegar when rinsing the carpets. It’s really effective.
A lot of folks don’t like the strong smell of vinegar, and they’re afraid to use it as a cleaner for fear that it’ll always stink. The smell lasts just as long as the surface or object is wet. Once it’s dry, the smell is gone, and it doesn’t magically return once the surface or object gets wet again.
If you’re the sort that wants to read a book, a good reference is Vinegar: Over 400 Various, Versatile, and Very Good Uses You’ve Probably Never Thought Of.
Other Odds and Ends
Don’t forget about items like essential oils, rubbing alcohol, good old-fashioned dish soap, and bleach (used very sparingly). Consider microfiber towels instead of paper towels, and of course, don’t forget about my homemade laundry detergent recipe!
As you might guess, a person could write several volumes on this topic, so go, explore, and try a few things. It’ll help keep the toxic chemicals out of your home, it’ll save you some money, and it’ll certainly simplify your life!