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spring cleaning
photo by bies

I have a love affair with vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. My husband loves bleach. My husband is more than used to me suggesting what would be better to use when it comes to anything related to going green. I’ve eased our family through the switch to cloth diapers, napkins, towels and washcloths, stockpiling recyclables, reusing glass food jars–you name it, it’s either underway or on my inner list of green living improvements. Household cleaners are the newest frontier.

Like many people, I was happy using mainstream cleaning products without knowing about their effects on my home and the world. I have to admit that the bigger reason I started looking into making my own cleaning products was to cut down on our monthly spending. Along with living green, I’m a big fan of living within our means, as well–and my husband has no arguments against that!

I’ve devoured tutorials and articles about homemade green cleaners for a while now. There were so many different recipes with some ingredients I had no idea where to get, and you seemed to need just as many different homemade cleaners as store bought to be able to clean your entire house. And I wasn’t convinced they’d be all that effective and I wasn’t sure I wanted to mess with trying to figure it all out anyway. So I stuck with what I knew.

I think it began to seem simpler once I saw my friend Jessica using her own homemade cleaners last summer. And after picking up a copy of Jeffrey Hollender’s Planet Home, and reading more about the harmful chemicals found in your average store-bought cleaners, I was set on making the transition to greener cleaners in our own home. I bought myself some empty spray bottles (at my local Home Depot) and mixed up the simplest recipes I could find.

And now it’s old hat. I wash mirrors and windows with a half and half mixture of water and vinegar; I use a half hydrogen peroxide, half water solution as an all-purpose cleaner for both the bathroom, kitchen, and general surfaces, and I clean the toilet with washing or baking soda and vinegar. These are pretty basic, non-scented cleaners, but you could easily kick it up with some essential oils or other natural cleaning agents like borax.

Cleaning Supplies for Spring Cleaning
photo by Chiot’s Run

Here are the 8 Essentials you should have in your home for green cleaning:

  • Baking soda: a great replacement for scrubbing products, and you can mix it with water, vinegar, or lemon juice to create a faster fizzy cleaner.

  • Borax: disinfects, bleaches and deodorizes; very handy as a laundry booster, too.

  • Distilled white vinegar: disinfects and breaks up dirt; choose white vinegar over apple cider or red vinegars, which can stain surface. 

  • Hydrogen peroxide: disinfects and bleaches–I use it instead of bleach when washing whites (hp is safe for colors, too), and it can also be used as a mouthwash or to clean your toothbrush.

  • Lemons: cut grease; bottled lemon juice also works well, although you might need to use a bit more to get the same result. 

  • Olive oil: picks up dirt and polishes wood; cheaper grades work well–you can also mix it with a little lemon juice for a fresh scent.

  • Vegetable based (liquid castile) soap: non-petroleum all-purpose cleaner–you usually need just a small amount when making your own cleaners, so it goes a long way!

  • Washing soda: stain remover, general cleaner, helps unblock pipes. You can find it in the laundry aisle at your local grocery store (along with Borax).

white distilled vinegar ready to create clean, bathroom sink
photo by cafemama

Vinegar has got to be my favorite household staple simply because it has so many uses–not only for cleaning just about everything, but also for cooking, laundry, keeping pests away, soothing sore throats and sunburns, and even making homemade volcanoes (which I tried out with the boys the other day–it was a big hit!). For more cleaning tips on using vinegar (and just about every other way you can use it), check out The Vinegar Institute.

I’m not a cleaning freak–I have four kids to keep me busy–trust me, housecleaning is kept to a minimum (although my husband is wonderful at helping out with all things domestic), but I do feel much better about trading out some of the products we use. We do still have a bottle of bleach around somewhere (my husband uses it from time to time when I’m not looking).

House Of Horrors
photo by Brittney Bush

I do buy green cleaning products from time to time, but I definitely prefer to make my own when I can (I usually have most of the ingredients, anyway). If you’re not quite ready to make the switch, here are some of the common ingredients found in mainstream cleaners that you should definitely avoid:

  • Sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) found in bleaches and whitening detergents. Not only is it corrosive to your skin and eyes, but it also produces toxic non-biodegradable pollutants that linger in your home.
  •  Synthetic fragrances are used in all synthetically scented products including deodorizers and air fresheners, as well as perfumes, diapers, and feminine care products. They disrupt hormones, cause headaches and asthma-like symptoms; they may cause diarrhea or vomiting in infants; they irritate the lungs, eyes, nose, and skin; they are petroleum-derivied, non-biodegradable, and contribute to indoor and outdoor air pollution. 
  •  Triclosan is the “wonderful” antibacterial chemical found in disinfectants, antibacterial hand soaps, detergents, and many personal products. It encourages bacterial resistance to antibiotics, is a reproductive toxicant, is toxic to aquatic life; and not only is it petroleum-derived and non-biodegradable, but it is also persistent in the environment through our food chain.  
(chemical information from the extensive toxic ingredient guide in Planet Home)

These are just a small sampling of the chemicals found in household cleaning products. For information about the chemicals that may be in your cleaners, and what to look for in store-bought green cleaners, check out The Good Guide’s Shopping Tips for Household Cleaners. Their Household Cleaners Product Ratings database also includes info and reviews of over 800 cleaning products.

Do you use green cleaning products in your home already? Ready to give it a try? Share your favorite tips, recipes, or cleaning woes in the comments below–I can’t wait to hear them!

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