It’s no secret that, collectively, we use far too many potentially toxic chemicals to clean our homes, our clothes, and ourselves. Natural cleaning products have become a popular alternative in recent years, and for good reason.
First, they’re not as harmful to the environment or to our homes and the people (and pets) who live there.
Second, they’re a lot simpler. Who wants a cleaning cupboard bursting at the seams with bottles that are good for only one job each? Instead, you can keep a small number of ingredients on hand and use them over and over to create safe DIY alternatives for just about anything you want to clean.
And third, while some individual ingredients (such as Castile soap and essential oils) may be pricey, most of the natural cleaning products listed below are a lot more affordable than commercial products. And they’ll last longer, too. Most DIY cleaning recipes consist mainly of cheaper ingredients (like vinegar), and use the more expensive ones (like essential oils) very sparingly, if at all.
Here are the 10 most basic natural cleaning products you should keep in your home at all times. You can combine them to make DIY cleaners that tackle dirt and germs on just about any surface.
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1. White vinegar
Distilled white vinegar is one of the most versatile ingredients in your cleaning arsenal. I buy it in the largest jugs I can find, because I use it just about every day. In a pinch, you could probably get by with just white vinegar and baking soda for most household cleaning tasks. Caution: As Bren of the Bren Did blog notes, you should NEVER combine vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. It results in a dangerous chemical (peracetic acid) that can irritate your skin, eyes, and respiratory system, as well as damage whatever you’re trying to clean. Bren also says mixing vinegar with baking soda or castile soap, as many websites recommend, is actually counterproductive (although it’s not outright dangerous).
2. Baking soda
Baking soda is another workhorse among natural cleaners. A quick search will turn up dozens, if not hundreds, of ingenious ways to use baking soda around the house, as well as for personal care. You can find it in some commercial brands of products like toothpaste, carpet freshener, laundry detergent, and more. But it’s usually more economical to buy it in bulk and either use it straight out of the box or combine it with compatible ingredients to make your own DIY homemade cleaning recipes.
3. Castile soap
Castile soap can be a bit pricey, but it’s worth it. The most versatile liquid castile soap, and the best one for sensitive noses, is the unscented variety (which is what I use). But it also comes in a range of scents, like citrus, lavender, and peppermint, so feel free to choose your favorite. Or you can get unscented castile soap and add different essential oils to create unique, customized cleaners for different household jobs. The Clean Mama blog offers advice on using castile soap, along with a number of DIY cleaning recipes that use it as a main ingredient.
4. Tea tree oil
If you invest in only one essential oil for cleaning, tea tree oil is the one to choose. Assuming you want to avoid harsh chemical disinfectants like bleach and ammonia, tea tree oil (also known as Melaleuca essential oil) can help. You can use it to disinfect problem areas like toilet bowls, as well as cooking areas that have come into contact with poultry and other potential contaminants. It’s expensive, but a little goes a long way. Check out the Detoxinista blog for a homemade all-purpose cleaner recipe that uses tea tree oil. Caution: Although natural, pure tea tree oil is highly toxic. Keep it and all other cleaning supplies locked safely away from pets and children at all times, and add only a few drops of tea tree oil per cup of liquid in any cleaning recipe.
5. Rubbing alcohol
Isopropyl (or “rubbing”) alcohol is a go-to disinfectant at hospitals and clinics. Mixed with distilled water, it’s also a great natural screen cleaner for all your electronic devices, from smart phones to TVs. It also works on eyeglasses. Be sure to use a clean, soft cloth that doesn’t have any residue (from dryer sheets, for example–but surely you don’t use those!)
Borax (sodium borate) is a mineral that was first discovered in ancient Tibet. It has been marketed in the U.S. as a household cleaner and laundry aid for well over a century. Borax is good at removing stains and cutting grease; as a laundry detergent booster, it raises pH levels in the water. Caution: Borax is highly toxic if ingested, so keep it away from children and pets. Wear nose and eye protection when handling powdered borax, and never use it in places (like carpeting) where others might inhale the dust.
7. Lemon juice
Lemons are always good to have around the kitchen, especially during the summer. You can add a lemon slice to perk up plain old ice water or your favorite cold beverage. But lemon juice–fresh or bottled–is also a versatile natural cleaning ingredient. It can add a refreshing scent to natural cleaning products from air fresheners to furniture polish. If you use fresh fruit, the peels are a bonus ingredient: Run them through the garbage disposal for a fresher-smelling kitchen.
8. Distilled water
Steam irons aren’t the only appliances in your house that will thank you for using distilled water. If you want to make your own screen cleaner using rubbing alcohol and water (see above), distilled water won’t leave any residue. It will also make any homemade cleaning solution last longer because there are no micro-organisms to multiply over time.
9. Hydrogen peroxide
If you need something whitened without using bleach, hydrogen peroxide is your natural cleaning product of choice. I’ve tried it on darkened bathroom tile grout with good results. You can use it full-strength or diluted with water. Exposure to light will rob hydrogen peroxide of its superpowers, so either leave it in the distinctive brown container it’s sold in or keep it in an opaque spray bottle. Caution: Again, as noted above, you should NEVER combine vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, because it forms highly toxic peracetic acid.
10. Olive oil
If you’re into healthy cooking, you probably have this cooking staple in your kitchen already. (If not, you should!). As a cleaning agent, it supplies the oil for DIY wood polish. If you’d like, you can substitute almond oil. (If you don’t own any wood furniture, feel free to skip this item–but you should still totally use olive oil for cooking!)