The first thing to keep in mind when creating your own cleaners is to never mix ammonia and bleach because the resulting fumes are toxic. Baking soda and salt are mild abrasives that can easily take the place of commercial scrubbing powders. Salt is slightly more abrasive but still gentle enough for most surfaces.
To mix your own general-use scented cleanser, stir a drop or two of essential oil into baking soda or salt using a wire whisk. Store the mixture in a small glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. As the fragrance fades, refresh it with another drop of oil.
Borax and lemons are known for their cleaning and whitening powers, but each works differently. Because it is an alkali, borax is good for cutting grease, oil, and dirt. Lemons are slightly acidic, so they work well at eliminating soap scum and hard-water deposits. To get the benefits of both, dip a lemon half in borax and use it as a scrubber for the bathroom, kitchen counters, cupboards, and appliances -- any surface that is likely to have both alkali and acidic dirt.
To remove rust or food stains on countertops, rub a cut lemon over the spot or squeeze fresh lemon juice onto the area and let it sit for up to 30 minutes.
Make your own streak-free glass cleaner by mixing a solution of 2 cups water, 2 cups rubbing alcohol, and 1/2 cup ammonia. Put the mixture in a spray bottle (32 ounces or larger) and use a clean, absorbent lint-free rag (soft cotton is ideal) to wipe the glass. The ammonia does most of the cleaning and the alcohol speeds up the drying time to help eliminate streaks.
This works best on proteins, grease, and animal messes. Because it's slightly abrasive, it can be used for scouring -- and, of course, it's a natural deodorizer. Sprinkle baking soda directly onto the soiled area and scrub with a damp cloth. For added cleaning power, mix it with water to form a paste the consistency of peanut butter, then scrub.
Distilled White Vinegar
This mild acid works on alkaline substances, dissolving scale, inhibiting mold, and cutting soap scum. It's terrific for stains such as coffee, rust, and tea. Dilute distilled white vinegar in water to cut through tacky dirt, soap scum, mineral deposits, or wax buildup. (Add a drop of essential oil to diffuse the vinegar odor.) For heavy buildup, soak a rag in vinegar, lay it over the area, leave it for an hour, and then scrub.
Try cleaning with castile soap made with olive oil, or a vegetable-based soap. Both attach to soil at the molecular level, so you can rinse dirt away with water.
More Natural Cleaning Ingredients
Ammonia: Dilute 1 tablespoon of ammonia in a pint of water for a strong grease-cutting solution.
Liquid Dish Soap: To create a single-use cleaning solution, dissolve a teaspoon of liquid dish soap in a quart of water, then add a teaspoon of vinegar. (Do not add the two at the same time; the acid in the vinegar will neutralize the alkali in the soap.)
Salt: For a paste that removes hard-water stains, mix 1/4 cup salt with 2 tablespoons vinegar.
More Natural Cleaning Ideas
It's simple to clean the natural way. Check out more recipes and green product ideas from eco-friendly home expert, Linda Mason Hunter.
Check out a few of our favorite green cleaning supplies, and learn what makes a product eco-friendly.