Raising eco-consciousness one week at a time

Friday, March 18, 2011

Effective, inexpensive, eco-friendly cleaners you can make at home

We didn’t always have aisles upon aisles of cleaning products at the store, with different cleaners for toilets, showers, sinks, floors, windows, kitchen counters…you get the picture. Our grandmothers didn’t have to buy 10 different products to clean 1 house.

And grandma’s house wasn’t any less clean. In fact, numerous studies have shown that vinegar and hydrogen peroxide in particular are as effective or more effective than conventional “anti-bacterial” cleaners and disinfectants you’d find at the store.

Plus, by making your own cleaners, you'll prevent single-use plastic bottle waste.

Getting Back to Granny’s Basics

So let’s get back to the good ol’ days when having a clean home wouldn’t give you asthma, cancer or poison our water systems.

Open your cupboards to find these basic ingredients (or purchase them in bulk—they’re really inexpensive!) to make some non-toxic and effective cleaners.

Basic Cleaning Ingredients


White Vinegar is a proven natural disinfectant. It cleans, deodorizes, and while it has that unmistakable smell while it’s wet, it’s odorless when dry. NOTE: Never use vinegar on marble as it will corrode the surface.

Hydrogen Peroxide is a proven disinfectant and can also be used instead of bleach to whiten. Hydrogen peroxide breaks down to water and oxygen in waste water. NOTE: Don’t use Hydrogen peroxide on brass, zinc, copper, nickel/silver plating.

Washing Soda is another naturally-occurring cleaner. It softens water, disinfects, cuts grease and removes stains. Look for it in the laundry section of most grocery stores or in pure form from chemical supply houses as "sodium carbonate."

Borax is a naturally-occurring mineral and is much stronger than baking soda as a cleaner. It also kills mold and mildew, deodorizes and acts as a fungicide. It is often sold in stores as a “laundry booster” as it softens water. 20 Mule Team is a popular brand and can be found at at these stores. Caution: Borax is harmful when ingested, so be sure to keep it out of reach of children and pets.

General Cleaners:

Baking Soda is a naturally-occurring mineral. It cleans, deodorizes, softens water (to increase sudsing and the cleaning power of soap) and is a good scouring powder, especially in the bathroom.

Castile Soap biodegrades safely, is non-toxic and is available in grocery stores and health food stores. Look for plant-based castile soaps, which are NOT the same as many “liquid soaps” out there that are made from petroleum-based detergents and no actual soap. We like Dr. Bronner’s fair-trade, organic castile soap, packaged in 100% post-consumer recycled plastic. It’s also concentrated, so a little bit goes a long way.

Lemon Juice cleans, cuts grease and freshens.

Tried and True Non-Toxic Cleaning Recipes

Household Cleaner
Mix in a spray bottle:

2 Tbsp baking soda
1 pint warm water
Add a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar to cut grease.

1/4 cup baking soda
1/2 cup borax
1/2 cup vinegar
1 gal. water

1/4 cup baking soda
1/2 cup borax
1/2 cup vinegar
1 gal. water

For surfaces that need scouring, try moist salt or baking soda and a green scouring pad.

Window Cleaner
Mix in a spray bottle:
2 tsp. vinegar
1 qt. warm water

2 tbsp. borax
3 cups water
Rub dry with newspaper to avoid streaking.

General Disinfectant
Spray undiluted hydrogen peroxide OR undiluted vinegar to clean and disinfect. To sanitize, leave it on the surface for a few minutes.

NOTE: Never mix hydrogen peroxide and vinegar together.

Bathroom Disinfectant
Mix together:
1/4 cup borax
1/2 gal. hot water (hot water helps activate the cleaning properties of borax)

Basin, Tub, and Tile Cleaner
Mix together: 1/2 cup baking soda
2-3 tbsp. liquid castile soap

Toilet Bowls
Pour: 1/4 cup baking soda into bowl and drizzle with vinegar.
Let sit for 1/2 hour. Scrub and flush. Add borax for stains.

LOTS More Recipes
Get more recipes for everything from oven cleaners to metal polishes to spot removers on Eco-Cycle’s website.

Eco Cleaning Tools

Spray bottles - You can reuse old ones if the previous product was non-toxic, or purchase some good-quality spray bottles from a local hardware store that you can label and use over and over

Plant-based sponges you can compost. Or better yet, long-lasting scour pads and brushes.

Rags instead of paper towels

A bucket or reused plastic tub

Next week, we’ll show you how to cut through the greenwashing of product labels to find truly eco-friendly cleaners (if you want to purchase some, instead).

We want to hear from you! Was this post helpful? What are your favorite DIY cleaners? Let us know below.


  1. this is sweet! very helpful and practical.

    it's amazing that my grandma was getting zero-wasted long before i started getting eco-buzzed

  2. Thanks for new recipes I can add to my arsenal!

  3. Be mindful of what products you direct your readers to buy. 20 Mule Team Borax gets an "F" in The Better World Shopping Guide, which means the company that makes it (Dial Corp.) is harming social and environmental sustainability.

  4. I like to add tea tree oil to recipes like these for its disinfecting properties and fresh scent!

  5. Anonymous - Thank you for bringing up the Dial connection as we created the blog to encourage these very conversations!

    Unfortunately, we can't seem to find another company that sells pure borax (as opposed to "borax soap"). Dial seems to have a monopoly on the product. That said, I think it's up to each of us to weigh the pluses (it's a great eco-cleaner) and minuses (it's made by Dial) with each product and decide for ourselves what we're most comfortable using. Fortunately, if you'd rather not support Dial, it's easy to have a green and clean home without using borax at all! - Iris

  6. Caring for the environment can start at home. Simple acts like substituting ready-to-use cleaning products with everyday household staples like vinegar and baking soda go a long way in helping preserve the environment.

  7. Thanks for this eco friendly cleaners!! :)

  8. I am finding that more customers are asking about safe cleaning products. As a service provider whose employees are exposed to many cleaning products, I am happy about this trend. These types of articles help raise awareness.

  9. No matter if people are utilizing non-poisonous spray solutions or all-pure oven cleaners, they need to depart the cleaning agent inside of of the stove overnight. While some merchandise are intended to loosen and remove grease in as small as two hours, leaving the cleansing remedy on overnight is the greatest way to deep clear an oven. Some regions of the stove might need a lot of scrubbing motion or a second treatment session.

    Oven Cleaning Gold Coast
    BBQ Cleaning Gold Coast

  10. I must agree that cleaning with eco friendly products will save the world one day. I personally love cleaning with vinegar and baking soda. If you want something to be white and clean once again - this is the solution! Just don't try the soda on clothes, because it has an erosive effect and your clothes will tear a lot easier after that.

  11. I don't believe the Dial Corporation that makes Borax is a cruelty free company. Until they are, I won't buy their products. Animal testing is a horrible thing.