Any time you eliminate the middle man (the manufacturer) and just buy ingredients, your costs go down. Almost all of these ideas eliminate a product that costs more than the ingredients. They all eliminate toxins. In the cases where I do spend more money for a non-toxic product, I tell myself: “you are paying for a reduction of your cancer risk. You are paying for a reduction of the toxins in your bloodstream and liver. You are paying for a healthier endocrine system and a lower chance of infertility. You are paying for cleaner air in your home. You are paying for the future health of your babies. You are paying for fewer chemicals leaching into the groundwater you drink and bathe in.”
If you own these ingredients, you can clean almost anything toxin-free:
Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap. I love this stuff. It’s gentle, it works, it’s all-natural and fair-trade and comes in several good scents. A bottle of it will feel expensive, but it’s super concentrated and you can use it for practically everything: bathing, mopping, you name it. My current bottle cost $9, but it’s lasted over a year of weekly housecleaning. Don’t be scared of the hippie mumbo-jumbo all over the label (secretly, I kind of love it).
Vinegar— disinfects like crazy. I scrub my sink with it, especially after handling raw meat.
Baking Soda— a gentle abrasive and surfactant, good for scrubbing sinks, pans, tubs, etc.
A couple of essential oils you really like. I’m fond of Tea Tree, for its clean smell and antifungal/antibacterial properties.
Dishwashing Soap: I like Earth Friendly. It’s cheaper than most natural cleaning brands and has 3 ingredients. Look for soaps that are pthalate-free and use a safer version of Sodium Lauryth Sulfate derived from coconut oil. They won’t lather as well as ‘normal’ soaps, but that’s because they don’t have the bad stuff. And anyway, the only point of lather is to make you feel like you’re really getting stuff clean. If soap is in the water, it’s doing its job whether you see lather or not.
All-Purpose Cleaning Spray:
spray bottle— just save the next one you empty
a glug of vinegar— 2 Tbs. if you want to be exact
a squirt of Dr. Bronner’s or other natural soap— about 2 tsp.
a few drops of essential oil, if you like (it masks the vinegar smell). I use tea tree for disinfecting.
Just put this stuff in the spray bottle, fill the rest of the way with water, and shake it up. Ta-dah. It’s so super cheap, and I use it for literally everything— bathroom and kitchen countertops, toilets, sinks, and on brooms and dust rags. Shake it before you use it.
You may not feel like it’s getting stuff clean at first, but consider whether you’re basing this opinion on smell. We’re so conditioned to associate cleanliness with the smell of chemicals that if we don’t smell chemicals, we don’t think things are clean. I’ve been using it for a couple of years and we’ve never had problems. It’s effective because vinegar is a powerful disinfectant— it even kills e.coli. Dr. Bronner’s provides just enough surfactant to get stuff clean (a surfactant is an agent that makes stuff lathery and slippery; basically, it slips between molecules so they scrub off more easily).
Laundry Detergent: Homemade is super easy and so cheap. You’ll need
1 bar of Fels-Naptha laundry soap
1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda (NOT Baking Soda) (this can all be found on the laundry aisle at most stores, but you may have to look carefully)
3 empty and washed gallon milk jugs
Grate the soap into a large stock pot, add 8 cups water, and bring to a boil over medium heat while stirring constantly so that the soap dissolves. Turn off heat, add Borax and Washing Soda, and stir. Let it cool. I recommend adding a few drops of essential oil here for scent. When cool, it may have gelled up or separated, so give it a stir and then split the mixture between the jugs and fill up the rest of the way with water. Pour slowly or it’ll foam up all over the place. Let the pot soak in hot water and wash and rinse it a couple of times before you cook in it again or your food may taste a bit soapy.
I use about a third cup of this in my loads. f you have an HE, use less. It separates in the bottle, but a quick shake fixes that. I’ve been using this for about six months and I’m very happy with it— it takes ten minutes to make and it costs about 2 cents a load instead of crazy high store-bought prices. And it’s completely non-toxic. My only reservation is that I suspect it fades reds a little faster than store-bought.
For stain treatment, Washing Soda and Borax work just as well as most commercial products, and are literally cents on the dollar cheaper. As soon as possible after you stain something, soak it in a mixture of water and either Soda or Borax before you wash. I’m still experimenting with which one works better, but both work well.
Toilets: At some point I realized that toilet bowl cleaner is just glorified disinfecting soap. I pour just a little Dr. Bronner’s around under the rim and scrub it and flush. Then I pour in a good glug of vinegar, scrub again, and let it sit for as long as possible. I clean the outside with the cleaning spray above.
Showers: For really grimy showers, I adapted Bekah’s drain-cleaning method. First, I sprinkle baking soda over the tub, then I splash vinegar on it and let it fizz up and sit while I clean the rest of the bathroom, then scrub. Meanwhile, I boil a kettle of water. When it boils, I use it to rinse. It seriously works so well, but I only do all that when the shower is really dirty. If I’m cleaning it once a week like I mean to, it only takes a good scrubbing with Dr. Bronner’s. I’ve heard that a baking soda and vinegar paste is fantastic for scrubbing grout, but I’ve never tried it.
Air fresheners: Most of them use chemical fragrances. I seriously don’t want to breathe that stuff. My mom taught me a clever (and free) alternative: just save back citrus rinds, apple peelings, leftover herbs, used tea bags, etc. and simmer them in a small pot of water over very low heat. My favorite combination is a sprig of rosemary, lemon rind, and a drop or two of vanilla. Also good is lemon balm and lime. For winter, leftover citrus or apple peels and cinnamon. Just plain lemon is nice too. It won’t be super strong, but it’s enough to freshen a smelly kitchen.
Another option is to put a few sprigs of a fragrant herb in a small vase. I do this with rosemary in our bathroom and bedroom. You’d be surprised how effective it is in a small room, especially if you remember to squeeze the leaves every now and then to release the scent.
Please, tell me your tricks and facts and recipes. There’s so much more to learn.