When choosing products to clean your home, you want something that will get rid of the gunk and grime, but will also keep your family safe.
Cleaning shouldn't be dangerous, but a March 2018 study found that women who used sprays or other cleaning products at least once a week had a steeper decline in lung function over time than women who didn’t. Makes you want to let those dust bunnies accumulate.
But since most of us want a relatively clean home, we reach for products to wash away the dirt and germs. If you don't want to take a chance with chemicals, you can find lots of recipes online for making your own cleaners with inexpensive, readily available, and natural ingredients. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Sure, it's key for cookies and cakes, but baking soda is also an effective, mild abrasive and natural deodorizer and can replace commercial scouring products. You can make a paste of baking soda and water for scrubbing jobs, or sprinkle it on carpets and fabrics to absorb odors. Mix four tablespoons of baking soda in one quart of warm water and use it to clean everything from kitchen counters and appliances to the inside of your refrigerator. "It makes a great deodorizer and can be used to shine stainless steel sinks and appliances," says Carolyn Forte, director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab. Just pour the solution on a clean sponge and wipe.
The mildly acidic nature of this handy cleaning product dissolves dirt, soap scum and hard water deposits. It can be used for anything from cleaning hardwood floors and eliminating mildew to replacing fabric softeners. Just add about 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the final rinse cycle: It neutralizes the pH of laundry cleaners without giving your clothes a vinegary smell. In fact, vinegar is a natural deodorizer, absorbing odors instead of covering them up. A vinegar-and-water spray can clean countertops, ovens and toilets and is a good glass cleaner, too.
Mix 1/4 cup of vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon natural liquid soap and 2 cups of water in a spray bottle, suggests Rodale's Organic Life, and you have an inexpensive, natural, effective window cleaner.
Lemon oil is used in many commercial products because of its effective cleaning properties. Lemons also have antibacterial qualities, a great smell, and can dissolve all sorts of grime. They're particularly effective when mixed with salt. Try sprinkling salt on chopping boards, then scrubbing them down with leftover lemon halves.
Rodale's suggests a mixture of 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 10 drops lemon oil and a few drops of olive oil for a great dusting spray. Lemon juice plus table salt is also a great brass cleaner.
This nontoxic plant-based soap is gentler than traditional soap. You can use it to wash your dishes, your clothes, all your surfaces, and even yourself.
Sodium tetraborate or sodium borate (a salt of boric acid, but not boric acid itself) is sold in the laundry detergent aisle. Use it to make all-purpose cleaner, oven scrub and laundry detergent. For a heavy-duty scrub, Good Housekeeping suggests simply dipping half a lemon into half a cup of borax. Rub, then rinse. It'll remove rust stains on porcelain or enamel sinks and tubs. (This isn't safe on marble or granite.)
Olive, sunflower and other vegetable and plant oil can help dislodge dirt, hide scratches and hydrate aged or dried-out wood, according to Real Simple. Use them to clean wood furniture, cast-iron pans, stainless-steel surfaces and wicker furniture. In most cases, rub in a light layer of oil and buff.
You can skip the special whitening, tartar-control and gel versions, but standard toothpaste has a combination of mild abrasive, detergent and antibacterial agent that make it great at fighting stains, according to Real Simple. Squeeze some onto a dry cloth to clean chrome fixtures in the bathroom and kitchen, tarnished silverware and the plate of your steam iron. It can also remove marks on scuffed linoleum and brighten piano keys.
Note: For the times you want to clean the traditional way, the Environmental Protection Agency offers the Safer Choice seal. Products with this label are screened by EPA scientists for any health or environmental risks, and are considered free of substances that can be harmful to your health and the environment. They cannot contain potentially harmful ingredients such as triclosan.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in August 2009.