I was in college when I finally made the connection that perhaps the headaches I got every time I cleaned were caused by the toxic chemicals I was using. I started to do some research and picked up the book Green Clean by Linda Mason Hunter and Mikki Halpin. The first time I wiped down my bathroom with nothing but vinegar, baking soda and carbonated water I was STUNNED. They worked! And just as well as the expensive and toxic cleaners I thought for so long were necessary!
Only a few basic ingredients are necessary:
Vinegar is truly a versatile ingredient and can be used to clean nearly anything in your home, from counter tops to floors to the laundry. It is a safe and effective antiseptic agent, as demonstrated in this peer-reviewed study at concentrations as low as 3%. Most store-bought concentrations are 5%.
I use vinegar as my general all-purpose cleaner, pouring it undiluted into a spray bottle (though many recipes I find do call for diluting it). I use it to wipe down and disinfect counter tops and to clean glass and mirrors. It takes soap scum right off your bathroom sink and tub basin. It can also be used to clean and disinfect your toilet. You can use it to mop floors. Rinsing your glassware in vinegar after washing will make them spot-free. It is also an effective deodorizer and whitening agent, and so I frequently toss a cup in during the rinse cycle of the laundry. Pretty much anything cleaning in your home can be done simply with vinegar.
I use this as a scouring agent for bathroom or counter top cleaning. Sprinkle on surfaces and scrub, followed by a generous spray of vinegar. It is also great for anything that needs to be deodorized. Sprinkle on carpets or furniture, let sit and vacuum up. Add to the laundry to brighten whites and remove odors. It can also clean up hard, cooked-on messes on your stove or oven: sprinkle over spill, spray with water and let harden overnight. Then chip off the baking soda, which will take the mess right with it.
This is a type of pure, highly-concentrated, vegetable-based soap that comes in bar or liquid formulas. Dr. Bronner’s seems to be the largest brand, but there are others. I recently noticed that Whole Foods has a store brand as well.
This soap is a very versatile ingredient. It can be mixed with water to create an all-purpose cleaner that is especially great for greasy messes. I usually use vinegar as my all-purpose cleaner, but for particularly tough jobs a few added drops of castile soap help tremendously.
Castile soap is pure and vegetable-based, with no added detergents or surfactants, so it is extremely gentle and ideal for your skin as well. I use it to wash my hands, and it can be used as a face or body wash as well. I dilute liquid castile soap in a foaming hand soap dispenser at a concentration of about 10 parts water to 1 part soap. That is a major approximation, so experiment on your own — the point being that a little really goes a long way.
Other cleaning recipes/ingredients
Basic club soda works great to clean windows. It is also great for lifting stains from furniture or carpet — the carbonation brings the stain to the surface and it can be more easily blotted up. For stain emergencies, ginger ale or other light-colored sodas can be used in a pinch.
You can also use corn meal to absorb stains on carpet or furniture. Add it immediately atop the stain , let sit for about 10 minutes, and vacuum up.
Lemons are also a great disinfectant and deodorizer, and can be used to wipe up countertops. Zap half a lemon for a minute in your microwave — it will remove odors and you should be able to easily wipe it down (you may need to include a damp towel as well if the lemon is not juicy enough).
There are a multitude of powder and liquid homemade laundry detergents. The basic powdered recipe in Green Clean calls for one part washing soda and one part borax. You can also add some finely grated castile soap for the scent. There are some liquid detergent recipes as well — here are a few examples.
Store bought green cleaners
Most store offer green alternatives to conventional cleaners, but be careful — there are no standards for what is considered “green,” “natural” or “nontoxic” so it is important that you purchase only products that list all of their ingredients, and check that these ingredients are safe. Check if there are any warning labels on the packaging. Personally, I have used Seventh Generation products before and have liked them. They purport to list all of their ingredients and are non-toxic. This website has a fairly exhaustive list of ingredients to avoid, along with some additional homemade recipes.
There is an abundance of additional information on the internet for those curious about greening their cleaning. I hope you will soon discover that there is simply no reason to buy into the marketing of conventional, store-bought cleaners (if you haven’t already)!