Spring is in the air and that is giving me a serious case of the cleanings! I’m opening the windows, airing out the house, and sweeping away dust bunnies from underneath the furniture. This season, as I run through my cleaning supplies, I’m restocking with more natural, DIY cleaning products. Exploring the world of homemade cleaning products has been fun and inspiring, and I’m excited to share my new passion with all of you.
There are lots of great reasons to make household cleaning products yourself.
#1: Save Money
Let’s be real—even with coupons and sales cleaning products (especially organic, sustainably made ones) are expensive! All of the recipes I share in this article cost a fraction of the cost, work fabulously, and are truly sustainable.
#2: Complete Ingredient Transparency and Control
This is the most foundational appeal of the entire DIY movement for me—you know exactly what is going into what you’re making, because you’re the one putting it there. In today’s world of mystery ingredients and overly prevalent chemicals, it is a relief to take control by mixing simple well-known substances into highly effective (and safe) scrubbing, sudsing and sparkling agents for my home.
#3: Personalize Your Products
This goes hand in hand with reason #2. Hate the smell of grapefruit? Don’t use it! Don’t like the way a certain kind of soap dries out your skin? Swap it for something else! Making cleaning products at home is simple and allows for creativity and personalization. And the real miracle of personalized cleaning products? Sometimes they can actually make chores more enjoyable. I, for instance, am a sucker for lavender and put it in everything. It makes cleaning a lot nicer when I smell something I really like the whole time.
#4: Give Mother Earth a Hand
How many empty bottles of toilet bowl cleaner, dish soap, etc end up going into landfills each year? How are those products made, and how many miles did they travel to get to you? When you pour dirty mop water in the sink, what exactly is going down the drain? When you make your cleaning products at home, you can reuse the same containers again and again, preventing additional waste. You are making them at home, so you know where and how each concoction is made, and exactly what is going down the drain, or absorbing into your skin. Multiple wins for sweet Mother Earth.
#5: Self Sufficiency is Awesome!
Knowing how to make more things is useful and awesome. True story.
#6: Have Fun
This ties in with reasons #3 and #5. DIY is fun! Being creative in more aspects of our lives, even in the rather humdrum (for me, anyway) land of housework is great. Throwing a brunch potluck and bringing all your friends together for a massive detergent making party is a fantastic way to spend a Sunday morning (and yes, I do speak from personal experience). Build community, share knowledge, make feel good products and eat coffee cake—if making cleaning supplies were any more fun, it might be illegal.
Hopefully I now have you at least curious about DIY household cleaners. Below I share some of my favorite recipes.
Most of the ingredients used in this article can be found in your pantry or refrigerator, or are essential oils that might already be in your bathroom or favorite massage studio. Here’s a rundown of the few that might be less familiar and their various uses.
- Borax: Disinfects, bleaches and deodorizes. Borax is an all-around handy addition to any household.
- Washing Soda: Stain remover, general cleaner and helpful laundry soap addition.
- Hydrogen Peroxide: Disinfects and bleaches.
- Liquid Castile Soap: Vegetable-based soap that is a fab non-petroleum, all-purpose cleaner.
This is the first DIY household-cleaning product that I ever made, and it has been one of my best investments. I used the second recipe listed below, and it made between 3-4 gallons of detergent. Yes—3-4 GALLONS. For a household of two with weekly laundry, it lasted about 12 months. Other friends of mine have used the first recipe and rave about it! Note: Homemade laundry soap is low-sudsing and safe for use in most high efficiency washing machines.
Rachel from LuSa Organic’s laundry soap
(Makes 2 cups)
- Well-cured, high-quality soap (4-5 oz) (I recommend Lusa lavender soap!)
- 2/3 c. baking soda
- 1 c. borax
- 1 1/3 c. washing soda
- Essential oils (optional)
- Box grater
- Jar for storing soap
- Mixing bowl and spoon
- Grate your bars of soap on the fine site of the box grater. (If you have a food processor with a fine grater attachment, that will make even quicker work of it all). 4 oz of soap will make around 2 c. of grated soap.
- Pour the shredded soap into your mixing bowl and add the additional ingredients. If using essential oils, start with very little, check the scent, and add more as desired. A few drops are plenty! Stir well to combine.
- Transfer to a storage jar.
- Shake the jar from time to time to keep the powder from separating from the soap. Use 2-3 Tbs. per load, and add a splash of vinegar to your washer in the fabric softener cup for even fresher clothes.
(For more fabulous DIY homemaking ideas, check out Rachel’s blog at lusaorganics.typepad.com.)
Jillian’s Liquid Laundry Soap
(Makes ~ 3-4 gallons.)
- 4 c. very hot tap water (boil and then set aside)
- 1-2 5.5 oz bars of Fels Naptha Soap or other, non-dyed soap of your choice
- 1 c. washing soda
- 1/2 c. borax
- Grate 1-2 bars of soap (the larger side of a box grater is fine).
- Combine with the 4 c. of very hot tap water in a saucepan on the stove. Stir over medium heat until the soap dissolves and is melted.
- After the soap is melted, fill a 5-gallon bucket halfway with very hot water. Add the melted soap, washing soda and borax to the bucket. Stir well, until all the powder is dissolved.
- Fill the bucket to within four inches of the top with additional hot water. Stir, cover and let the solution sit overnight to thicken. Store with the cover on.
The following morning, you will find that the detergent has gelled. It is now ready for your laundry! Use 1/4-1/2 c. of the liquid soap per load. Add additional as needed for especially dirty clothing. I also recommend pre-soaking the clothes a bit, to make sure the detergent fully dissolves in the wash.
Nothing satisfies my spring-cleaning itch quite like a sparkling, clear window or a spot-free mirror. I store both of these cleaners in spray bottles underneath my sink, along with an absorbent and clean rag for wiping down the glass. Paper towels tend to leave tiny bits of fuzz, so I avoid using them. Plus, let’s be real—paper towels can be expensive, especially the kinds that I like to support with my ideological dollars. Both of the recipes below are adapted from a totally fabulous book called Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs. For many more excellent ideas on DIY homemaking, check out the Additional Resources list at the end of this article.
Basic Window Cleaner
- 3 tsp. liquid soap (I recommend Dr. Bronners)
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 3/4 c. white vinegar
- 4-8 drops lemon essential oil
Combine all of the ingredients listed above into a spray bottle. Shake vigorously until fully combined. (Also, be sure to give the bottle a good shake before using, to make sure everything is still well combined.) A little bit goes a long way!
Clean as a Whistle Mirror Cleaner
- 1 1/2 c. white vinegar
- 1/2 c. water
- 4-8 drops orange, lemon or grapefruit essential oil
Combine your three ingredients in a spray bottle, starting first with just 4 drops of essential oil. Add more if you desire a stronger scent. Shake vigorously until well combined. Shake again just prior to use.
When I was young, my mom would always put me in charge of mopping the kitchen floor (we had carpets elsewhere). She was a fan of the vinegar mop—a mix of equal parts white vinegar and hot water. The vinegar and hot water act as powerful disinfectants, and leaves wood or linoleum with a nice shine. This was perhaps my very first introduction to the power of DIY cleaning ingredients, and a trick that I continue to use today.
If you’re looking for a little extra shine for your wood floors, I recommend the following, adapted from Organic Authority (www.organicauthority.com):
- A gallon of hot water
- 3/4 c. olive oil
- 1/2 c. lemon juice
The hot water and lemon juice clean the floor, while the oil gives the wood a gorgeous sheen. Apply to your floors and allow to air dry and voila!
If you’re eyeing up a mess that needs some extra disinfecting oomph, try mixing 1 gallon of hot water with a 1/4 of Borax (perhaps leftover from making laundry soap). Borax absorbs odors and is a powerful disinfectant, and with some elbow grease will get rid of most messes. No need to rinse after this either!
Ugh. If there’s one chore I truly despise, it’s cleaning the bathroom, especially the toilet. The payback of a fabulously clean bowl is always worth it though. Since toilet bowl cleaner can be pricey, I love this simpler and much cheaper solution.
Sprinkle 1/4 c. of Borax into the toilet bowl. Scrub with the brush, adding more if needed. Let sit for around 30 minutes then flush.
General Cleaning Spray
This is SO HANDY to have around the house. If you’re like me, and are inherently messy, the bottle of general cleaning spray gets pulled out on a daily basis. Here are two excellent DIY recipes for a bottle of cleanliness that won’t break your bank.
General Spray #1, adapted from Raleigh Briggs:
- 1 tsp. liquid castile soap
- 1 tsp. borax
- 2 Tbs. white vinegar
- 2 c. hot water
- 1/8 tsp. each eucalyptus and lavender oil
- 3 drops tea tree oil
- Select a spray bottle. Pour all of the ingredients listed above into the bottle.
- Shake until well combined
- Use on anything besides glass! Spray on, scrub and rinse off with a clean and damp cloth or sponge.
General Spray #2, adapted from Elana’s Pantry:
- 1 (16 oz.) spray bottle
- 16 oz. Hydrogen Peroxide (3%)
- 5 drops tea tree oil
- 5 drops lemon oil
Pour all of the ingredients listed above into your spray bottle. Shake well and you’re ready to go! Spray on surfaces and wipe clean with a rag.
I love me some yoga, especially during the hot summer months. But all that sweating can really leave a mat smelling less than pleasant. If there were ever a product that struck me as a superfluous expense, it’s yoga mat spray. That stuff is expensive. Instead I opt to make my own. Here are two recipes, adapted from Apartment Therapy (www.apartmenttherapy.com):
Recipe #1, for a lighter clean:
- 3 drops tea tree oil
- 2 drops peppermint oil
- 2 drops lavender oil
- Distilled water
Combine the essential oils in a 12 oz spray bottle and fill 1/2 of the way with water. Shake well to combine. Spray mat generously with cleanser and wipe with damp cloth/sponge. Once your mat is cleared of cleanser, dry with a soft clean towel. Allow mat to air out 5-10 minutes until completely dry.
Recipe #2 for a more intense clean:
- 1 part warm water with 3 parts white vinegar
- 8-12 drops of essential oil like eucalyptus, lemongrass, lavender, mint or tea tree oil
Follow the same directions as above, but allow the cleanser to sit on the may for a minute or two prior to wiping down with the damp cloth/sponge.
- Dryer sheets can be used multiple times. When they finally are too worn out, they make for excellent counter/floor scrubbers, with just enough abrasion to get those stickier spots.
- Newspapers with water-based inks make excellent window cleaners.
- Dirty tiles? Cut a lemon in half and dip the cut side of the lemon in borax. You now have an excellent handheld scrubber, ready to get that dirt gone. Rinse and dry your tiles after using.
- Spill something in your oven? While it’s still hot, sprinkle with salt. When the oven cools, you’ll be able to more easily scrape up and brush out the spill.
- For a full oven cleaning, make a paste of baking soda and water. Coat the inside of your oven and let sit overnight. In the morning, get your scrubbing gloves on and scour off any grime. Finish up with a moist cloth for a spotless finish!
- Ketchup is an excellent copper polishing agent (who knew?).
- I wish you all a very happy spring full of sunshine, good friends and DIY cleaner potlucks. If you have any resources, recipes, tips or tricks to share (or want to invite me to those potlucks!) please share them on our Facebook page. For more great ideas, check out some of the books and blogs listed below. Cheers!
- Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living by Annie Berthhold-Bond
- Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs
- Clean: the Blog of Lusa Organics—www.lusaorganics.typepadcom
- Elana’s Pantry—www.elanaspantry.com
- Apartment Therapy—www.apartmenttherapy.com