My favorite ingredient for house cleaning is grease – elbow grease, that is. I’m a firm believer that an extra bit of effort works as well as or better than most of the fancy and expensive products on the market. It’s cheaper, less wasteful, and completely non-toxic as well.
However, some household cleaning problems really do require a bit of outside help. Tough fabric stains, calcification, and other determined deposits can be impossible to remove with nothing but water and grunt work. Water is also insufficient to get rid of harmful bacteria on surfaces that need to be disinfected.
In those cases, I’ve found the best solution to be homemade cleaning products. Everything from air freshener to dishwashing soap can be made from items most of us have around the house, meaning little to no financial investment is required. These solutions are also completely natural – and since you’ve made them yourself, you know exactly what ingredients they contain.
The Big Three: Vinegar, Lemon Juice, and Baking Soda
These three ingredients, used together or alone, are great solutions to the vast majority of house cleaning tasks. Each has the ability to break down dirt, disinfect, and absorb foul odors. Slightly different methods and combinations are more appropriate for certain situations, but once you get the hang of their uses, you will be well on your way to a sparkling and clean-smelling home.
Making an All-Purpose Household Cleaner
As mentioned above, ordinary white vinegar is a great natural cleaning and disinfecting agent. A one-to-one mixture of water and vinegar in a spray bottle may be used to clean appliances, wipe down kitchen surfaces and wash floors, and clean sinks and toilets in the bathroom. Undiluted vinegar can eat away at things like tile grout due to its acidic properties, but when diluted with water, those same properties go to work on dirt and grime.
Baking soda is also a natural cleaning agent, and is particularly effective at deodorizing. Adding baking soda to your vinegar solution can give even more punch to your natural all-purpose cleaner. Baking soda has the advantage of being gritty and abrasive, which is great for scrubbing away caked dirt and other deposits.
If you want to use a vinegar and baking soda formula, a recommended mixture is ½ cup vinegar and ¼ cup baking soda in 2 liters of water. Hydrogen peroxide is another great substance for all-purpose cleaning – one of the best ways to tackle bathroom mold is to spray affected areas with a one-to-two H202-to-water solution.
Tackling Tough Stains
Quite a few of the inevitable stains that attack our carpets, clothing, and dishes can be removed with simple, natural remedies. Return to the water and vinegar solution for minor carpet stains. Let the solution sit for several minutes after application, and then use a brush or cloth to scrub it with warm, soapy water.
Many of us have hydrogen peroxide in our medicine cabinets for disinfecting cuts and scrapes, but this liquid is also an unbeatable agent for removing fresh (still wet) blood stains. If you do get blood on fabric, immediately apply some hydrogen peroxide before the blood has the chance to dry and set, and it will bubble and fizz away right before your eyes. It’s interesting to note that vinegar, in spite of its many excellent cleaning uses, is NOT effective for blood stains. Vinegar will set iron-based stains such as blood or rust rather than removing them.
Red wine is another feared stain producer around the house, and there are a few great ways to combat it. Hydrogen peroxide can also be effective in these cases, as well as, somewhat surprisingly, white wine. Pouring white wine over a red wine stain should cause the red stain to completely disappear. Salt poured over a red wine stain is another effective method – the salt absorbs the majority of the stain, after which a run through the wash should leave the fabric looking like new (or at least like it looked before!)
For most laundry stains, ¼ cup liquid laundry detergent (which you can find out how to make if you keep reading), ¼ cup glycerin, and 1 ½ water makes an effective spray-on stain remover. For best results, allow the stain to soak in the solution for several minutes before immediately putting it through the wash.
Most commercial air fresheners simply try to overwhelm unpleasant smells with stronger, more enjoyable scents. If you want to thoroughly remove bad smells from around your house, then natural solutions are your best bet.
Baking soda is a star in this arena. A bit of baking soda and lemon juice in small dishes around your house will absorb odors of all descriptions. You can also place plain baking soda in anything that needs some serious odor neutralization – garbage cans, stinky shoes, or even your refrigerator to rid it of lingering smells if something has soured or gone moldy.
If you want to reduce strong smells from cooking, simmer a small amount of vinegar in water over the stove while you are cooking. You can also use vinegar to clean utensils, cutting boards, or pots and pans. A quick wipe with vinegar and a wash in soapy water will get rid of smells like fish that otherwise stick around for ages. When using vinegar to reduce odors, don’t worry that you will end up with an unpleasant vinegar odor instead because the smell of vinegar vanishes after it dries.
Lemon peel and coffee grounds are other ways to help your kitchen smell terrific. If you have a garbage disposal, running a bit of lemon peel through will eliminate any smells that may start to build up. Freshly ground coffee on your counter top not only gives off a nice smell of its own, it traps other smells at the same time.
Dishwashing Liquid and Laundry Detergent
A simple equal-parts mixture of borax and washing soda (sodium carbonate) makes an effective dish cleaning solution, appropriate for dishwashers. Simple liquid soap is great for most hand dish washing, while adding a few tablespoons of vinegar to soapy water will help you to scrub off tough residues.
For laundry detergent, you will need a whole bar of plain homemade soap (no color or fragrance added) or 1/3 bar of Fels Naptha or other commercial soap. You will combine the soap with ½ cup washing soda and ½ cup borax. For a very simple powder soap, simply grate the bar of soap into fine pieces and mix them with the other two ingredients.
You can also make a liquid detergent with a few additional steps. Melt the soap over a stove in six cups of water, and then stir in the soda and borax. Add your mixture to four cups of hot water, stir, and then add a final one gallon and six cups of water. Allow the detergent to cool for 24 hours until it has gelled.
In addition to the uses we have already discussed, here are a few more ways to put vinegar to use. Adding ½ cup of vinegar to your washing machine’s rinse cycle is an effective fabric softener. Hard water stains and soap scum on bathroom and kitchen fixtures are no match for vinegar, and toilet rings don’t stand a chance. You can even use vinegar to polish floors in conjunction with a little bit of baby oil.
Lemon Juice Comes Back Around
Lemon juice is a natural bleaching agent, so keep some on hand for stains to white clothing and other fabric. This juice can also be used to clean and shine brass or copper pieces, or mixed with baking soda to make an abrasive cleaning paste. Finally, it makes a great disinfectant for cutting boards and other kitchen surfaces.
A Source for More Ideas
There are many other home cleaning remedies that people who use them have come to swear by. The DIY Network has a whole article with suggestions from viewers – some of them are already identified in this article, but there are a few other ideas that sound like they are well worth a try. Eartheasy also has many suggestions, including solutions for specific items such as lime deposit or paintbrush cleaners and homemade mothballs. Check them out if you are interested!
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