Clean Green: Natural Cleaning Products

When it comes to cleaning house, it's tempting to enlist off-the-shelf products with ingredients like bleach and ammonia. They get the job done-but not without also doing a number on your eyes, airways, and, with enough exposure, your nervous system. Ironically, these cleaners also pollute: Disinfectants and other chemicals washing down drains now contaminate more than two-thirds of U.S. streams. Largely because of these same products, our indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than the air outside. But you don't have to sacrifice health for a clean home. Nontoxic DIY cleaners deliver considerable power at minimal cost. "Making your own is easy," says Annie Bond, author of "Better Basics for the Home." "All you need is a little trust in yourself and six ingredients." We worked with Bond to gather these easy, essential recipes, so you can start green cleaning today.

What You'll Need
Baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate) A deodorizer and gentle scrub; softens hard water, removes acidic stains, and polishes shiny surfaces like stainless steel without scratching.

Distilled white vinegar A deodorizer, disinfectant, mild acid, and preserv­ative; breaks up dirt, grease, mineral deposits, mold, and soap scum.

Essential oils Aromatic plant oils; some, including eucalyptus, lavender, and tea tree, are natural disinfec­tants and antifungals. Pure essential oils can irritate eyes and skin upon contact, so handle carefully. Pregnant women should consult a health-care practitioner before using. Available from mountainroseherbs.com and natural foods stores.

Lemon A deodorizer, stain remover, and grease cutter; acts as a mild bleach when exposed to sunlight.

Olive oil A natural oil that helps to nourish and polish wood.

Plant-based liquid soap Gentle soap made with oils such as olive ("Castile soap"), palm, and coconut, rather than petroleum derivatives or animal fat. Available from natural foods stores and drbronner.com.

All-Purpose Scrub
1/2 cup baking soda
Plant-based liquid soap
1/2 of a lemon

Pour baking soda into a bowl. Add just enough liquid soap to make a creamy paste. Spread mixture on the flat side of lemon and scrub. The lemon acts as a sponge and leaves a natural citrus scent. Use a damp rag or sponge to wipe away any residue. You'll find the paste will stay moist for a few hours.

Helpful Hint To save leftover scrub, add in a few drops of vegetable glycerin (a thick, clear syrup derived from plant oils, available from mountainroseherbs.com) and seal in a glass jar.

Window Cleaner
1/2 teaspoon Castile or plant-based liquid soap
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
2 cups water

Pour all ingredients into a spray bottle and shake. Spray onto window and wipe clean with newspaper or a 100 percent cotton cloth.

Helpful Hint The liquid soap included in this recipe helps remove any streak-causing wax left on the window from commercial cleaners used in the past. You can eliminate the soap after a few washings. Safety note: Always be careful to label containers of homemade cleaners intended for storage and keep them well out of the reach of children.

Floor Cleaner
1/8 cup plant-based liquid soap
1/8 cup distilled white vinegar
1 gallon water
10 drops essential oil (scent of your choice)

Mix all ingredients in a bucket and mop as usual.

Helpful Hint For ceramic and stone floors, eliminate soap (which leaves a film) and use 1/4 cup of vinegar with 1 gallon of water. Don't use water on unsealed wood floors. Instead, combine 2 cups of vinegar with 1 tablespoon of olive or jojoba oil in a bucket. Spread a thin coat over the floor with a mop or soft cloth. Let it soak in for 20 minutes; dry mop to absorb excess liquid. Open windows to air out the vinegar smell.

Mold + Mildew Spray
2 cups distilled white vinegar

Pour vinegar into a spray bottle and spray on infected area. The smell will dissipate in a few hours (open a window to speed up the process).

Helpful Hint For areas with persistent mold problems, use tea tree oil instead of vinegar, combining 2 drops of tea tree oil with 1 cup of water in a spray bottle. A natural antiseptic and fungicide, tea tree oil costs more than vinegar but will kill most types of mold and help prevent new growth. kristen pakonis is a freelance writer with a master's degree in environmental education. She lives in San Francisco.

Text by Kristen Pakonis

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Comments (24)

  • Kathy Stevens 18 Feb, 2014

    I want 2 know how I can get a musty smell out of my sons baby clothes so I can pass them down 2 family cause they haven't canged much in style ? I take care of a 3 yr old girl and I think she might be able 2 were them . But I need 2 know how 2 get that smell out ? I was told by a friend 2 ask u how 2do this . I have tried bleach,baking soda, how im asking 4 ur help Martha please give me a helping hand
    thank u Kathy a stevens
    email is pooh14001@hotmail.com

  • Karrue 11 Jan, 2013

    To learn more benefits of therapeutic grade essential oils and free essential oil newsletter visit www.kthompson.vibrantscents.com

  • BrendaL2000 8 Jan, 2011

    What is best for dusting and polishing wood surfaces?

  • BrendaL2000 8 Jan, 2011

    What is best for dusting and polishing wood surfaces?

  • cecilgrass 30 Aug, 2010

    Great tips, there are also some great <a href="http://www.enviroproductsworld.com/hocl.html">eco-friendly cleaning
    products</a> over at http://www.enviroproductsworld.com/hocl.html that are very affordable.

  • flutti 13 Jul, 2009

    Would an orange work too?

  • evy104 21 Mar, 2009

    Looking for safer products! For your home, family and pets and even kids.

  • nannybags 27 Feb, 2009

    looking a good natural over cleaner any ideas

  • mtndew22 19 Jan, 2009

    Lavender oil is a good natural pesticide for ants. If you have an ant problem, you can use this in the floor cleaning mixture. It will not only smell nice, but keep ants away!

  • vcmlive2 21 Sep, 2008

    I love Dr. Bronner products. Especially the eucylyptus oil.

  • janfaye48 9 Aug, 2008

    Michelle9410...a few drops of grapefruit seed extract, found in healthfood stores, mixed into any mild green cleaner will disinfect your baby's toys very safely. Leave on for several minutes before rinsing. This works great in bathrooms and kitchens also.

  • CJStewart 3 Aug, 2008

    You can absolutely use the baking soda paste on the toilet/sink/shower (at least I do--all the time). I add essential oils that have antibacterial properties.

  • missymcneer 12 Jun, 2008

    I can't wait to start trying these cleaners. I have VERY sensitive skin and respitory passages, so I am hoping that these will be easier for me to use. I also reciently purchased a steam cleaner. The steam cleans really well, and the only cleaner used is distilled water. It takes a bit more time, but well worth the effort.

  • mis_cue 7 May, 2008

    this is awesome, since i've been wanting to "green" my household cleaners. especially since i have a three year that has asthma - i want stuff that's easy on his lungs...
    one quick question: i'm guessing i could use the baking soda paste on the toilet/sink/shower also?

  • ddaiseygirl 6 May, 2008

    Just tried cleaning my showers, with this stuff. I am amazed!! It worked great.
    With the other ones, it would take me hours to clean. First i would have to spray everything down, then I would have to let it sit awhile. when it was finally time to scrub, my nose throat and lungs would start to burn. And my eyes would water.
    With these, Nothing hurt, and I didn't have to hold my breath!!
    I love it!!! ;)

  • Alabaxter 30 Apr, 2008

    Good thing I learned this stuff when I was leaning toward being a hippie-chick, cause it's saved us loads.

  • Mrs_Younger 22 Apr, 2008

    Wow, just cleaned my tub with the baking soda scrub. I didn't have a lemon, so it was just teh soap, baking soda and some water. Wow, the tub looks good! The soap scum came right off and it rinsed nice. And I don't have to worry if I didn't get all of it rinsed, 'cause if any is left in the tub for my bath... its only baking soda and a bit of dish soap!

  • teddybear605 16 Apr, 2008

    I have been looking into green cleaning or natural cleaning products lately. Thanks to you all I found them and can't wait to try them !!!!!

  • 2BLUCKY 14 Apr, 2008

    I have marble surrond gas fireplace that has a white haze on the tiles top of
    the opening (I assume from the gas that may have affected the sealer). Any ideas how to safely restore?

  • DiannaZ 3 Apr, 2008

    When I lived in Spain, our house had ceramic floors throughout and the kitchen and bathrooms were also ceramic tile on the walls to the 10 foot ceilings. Our maid always used HOT water and salt with a rag mop to clean the floors. The floors always sparkled and even the children's socks didn't pick up much grime or dust. She used the same mixture to wipe down the walls in the kitchen and bathrooms, but added vinegar to the mix when wiping down the shower.

  • AH1162 28 Mar, 2008

    For stains in your carpet: I used vinagar poured full strength on-to a red pop stain and then sprinkled baking soda over the top; watch the chemical reaction; it bubbles up and then pulls the stain up into the baking soda! It's amazing! Also, I have used this method recommended by a dog trainer when house training my puppy. IT WORKS! It will take the order and stain out so that your puppy won't return to the spot to recreate.

  • cheveuxrouge 6 Mar, 2008

    Michelle9410: I think adding certain essential oils to your homemade cleaner of choice will disinfect nicely, plus you will can rest easy that your baby won't be playing with toys that have been exposed to the dangerous, carcinogenic chemicals found in most commercial cleaners. Do an internet search on the properties of essential oils. Many have anti-bacterial, anti-microbial,

  • Michelle9410 29 Dec, 2007

    Can anyone tell me if any of these indredients make a natural cleaner/disinfectanct for baby toys? If not, any other suggestions?

  • grace71 16 Nov, 2007

    I have used white vinegar also for cleaning stains out of carpet as well. Check in an inconspicuous area first to make sure that the carpet won't be discolored.

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