Natural cleaning…without vinegar!

Especially on blogs focused on natural living, a popular topic is natural cleaning…i.e. cleaning without the use of toxic (and expensive!) chemicals.  Many people don’t realize just what are in the substances that they regularly spray, wash and scrub their homes with.  And even when you rinse or wipe most of the cleaner off, some will inevitably get left behind and your whole family is exposed to these chemicals.  There a myriad of articles and blog posts you can find on the different toxic chemicals found in common household cleaners, so I won’t go into it here, but suffice to say, this is not stuff you want in your house, or around your children.  But don’t despair…there are many natural and safe alternatives to the common chemical household cleaners, and most of them can be made right at home with minimal ingredients or effort.

In my late teen years, I had a job doing weekly house-cleaning for several young families that we knew.  Depending on the mother’s preference, I would do or help with whatever cleaning projects were priority, be it weekly maintenance cleaning or deep-cleaning a certain area of the house.  I remember coming home from these jobs and just feeling dirty…not necessarily from the dirt and grime I had helped to remove that day, but from the cleaning products!   Regularly experiencing that renewed my desire to make sure to use natural cleaning products whenever I had my own home.

However, after I got married and I was so joyously setting up my first home, I came across a little piece of information that threw me for a bit of a loop: my husband hates the smell of vinegar.  Hmmm…generally that’s not a big deal, but vinegar is one of the most common natural cleaning agents and is in many “recipes” for natural cleaners.  And yes, I know that the smell eventually dissipates as it dries, but I wanted to be able to use my cleaners around my husband and not have him hate the smell (the same reason I don’t use it in my hair anymore…but that’s another post!).  Fortunately, after some experimenting, it wasn’t that hard to find another natural alternative.

In transitioning to natural cleaners, many people are unsure of where to start, so I’ll share what has worked for me in the last couple years.  A little disclaimer though: I’m very much a minimalist, and this definitely applies to my cleaning supplies as well.  I’ve seen natural cleaning blog posts with many different recipes for specific floor cleaners, sink cleaners, counter sprays, etc.  If people want that many different cleaners floating around their house, that’s totally their call, but that’s not for me.  My one bottle of homemade all-purpose cleaner does many different jobs and if I feel I need to “tailor” the cleaning to a specific issue, I do that while I’m cleaning, adding whatever ingredients I need.

That being said, my natural cleaning “arsenal” includes:

Dr. Bronner’s unscented pure castile soap
Baking soda (I buy the big bag at Costco since I use it so much)
Essential oils
A natural dish soap
A Scotch-Brite pad (making sure to delegate one for cleaning so it doesn’t get confused with the one used for dishes!)

Other than laundry soap (BioKleen Laundry Powder for normal laundry, Nellie’s Laundry Soda for diapers, and oxygen bleach to add to whites), the one cleaner that I do buy is BioKleen Bac-Out.  It’s all natural and I can identify everything on the ingredient list so I feel fine about having it in my home.  It’s amazing stuff!  Because it contains live enzymes, it dissolves left-on gunk really well…which is why Cedar’s high-chair gets wiped down with it regularly.  I mostly use it as a spot-cleaner for laundry though, and I have yet to find something that works better on sap and resin.

My all-purpose cleaner is very basic and, as the name indicates, I use it for pretty much everything: cleaning bathrooms, wiping up messy spills (i.e. ones that require more than just plain water), doing “wet dusting” (I usually just dust with my lambswool duster), etc.  In a large spray bottle I combine a good-sized squirt of Dr. Bronner’s (you don’t want too much or else the cleaner will be too sudsy when you try to wipe it off stuff…remember that Dr. Bronner’s is very concentrated), about ten or so drops of lemon essential oil, and then fill the rest up with water.  The essential oil isn’t absolutely necessary, but it adds disenfecting power to the cleaner which is great for cleaning bathrooms.

(August 2012 update: I changed the recipe for the my all-purpose cleaner to make it even more germ-killing.  Find the new recipe here!)

As stated earlier, my all-purpose cleaner is the only thing that I pre-combine.  For scrubbing sinks and the tub/shower, I spray the surface with the cleaner, and then sprinkle it with a generous amount of baking soda…and scrub away with my Scotch-Brite pad.  Sometimes our kitchen sink can get discoloured and when that happens, I usually scrub the baking soda with some left-over lemon rinds and then follow that with the Scotch-Brite pad.

For mopping my floors, I have a microfiber mop which cleans using only water.  However, for disinfecting and also just to make things smell good, I often add several drops of some kind of essential oil (most commonly lemon, orange and/or clove) to the water I’m using.

And that’s about it!  If I forgot some major type of cleaning, chances are I just use soap and/or baking soda on it.  I love cleaning naturally…so much safer for my family and so simple as well.


21 thoughts on “Natural cleaning…without vinegar!

  1. I love the idea of adding an essential oil to your cleaner; esp. the lemon one.
    and I really want to try the Bio-Kleen-Bac-Out! I’d never heard of it before.

    Using all those cleaners bothers me too; esp when we clean other people’s houses all the time on a regular schedule. I wonder how much it is affecting me?
    Most of the time, we have to use what they want us to use.

    But here at home, we do have a choice!! (and I’m not fond of the smell of vinegar myself so your recipe sounds amazing)

  2. Like Sam said, I think it is great, what and want to try! And yes, I’ve come home many a time from housecleaning, feeling grimy and not great about breathing all that in.
    I do have one concern though, what about toilets: major germ areas? I assume the Bio Kleen is best for that too?

    Have your heard of Myers Clean Day (or something like that), I know some people use that and was wondering how good of a product those are.

    1. With “major germ areas”, if I feel the need, I just up the essential oil content of the cleaner and that seems to work fine. Compared to how I was about ten years ago, I’m not really super concerned about disinfecting everything anymore…I think that regular exposure to common germs builds up the immune system. Certain things, like raw meat juices, still bother me and I sometimes disinfect the area that was covered with them, but to do that, I usually just put a couple drops of lemon essential oil on my soapy rag and wipe it clean.

      Yes, I have heard of the Myers cleaners…but, like most natural store-bought cleaners, they seemed rather expensive to me so I’ve never tried them. I would be interested to know how well they work too.

  3. Yes, I would imagine that it would be expensive-The Myers cleaners. I do use some at a house we clean, the ingredients seemed good and they smell great! 🙂

    I agree too about how exposure builds up our immune systems….we do on occasion use a light bleach in soapy water solution though when dealing with chicken (ie. when we’ve butchered and are processing them on the counters)

  4. Hi Jessica! What a great post. For the most part I just use vinegar, water, and baking soda to clean around my home. The one area I can never seem to figure out how to clean naturally though is in my bathroom, specifically with my toilet. Any ideas? I’ve tried baking soda before and it didn’t leave it very clean. I really want to get rid of the nasty chemicals in my bathroom, so if you have any ideas please send them my way! Thanks! 🙂

    1. Hello Vanessa,

      I know…I too haven’t yet figured out anything to super effectively clean my toilet bowl. 😛 Baking soda coupled with a Scotch-brite pad works great for so many other “scrubbing” jobs, but thus far it hasn’t worked that well with the inevitable toilet bowl ring. For the rest of my toilet, I usually just wipe it down with my all-purpose cleaner made from Dr. Bronner’s soap, lemon essential oil and water. I also use that cleaner, with baking soda and a Scotch-brite pad to scrub down my sink and tub/shower. Hope that helps!

      1. Vanessa- I know Jessica doesn’t want to clean w/any vinegar, but if you aren’t opposed to it, I dump some in my toilet bowl (maybe 1/2 c.), dump some baking soda, let it sit for a few and scrub it. Vinegar is the most amazing thing (sorry, J! :-)) on rust….something we deal with a TON of. I can’t find anything else that works nearly so well. I also have another recipe (I’d have to dig it up, but can if you want it) that is a little more involved to make (but still easy- it has baking soda, vinegar, borax and some essential oils, I think) and sits overnight that I do occasionally when the toilet needs more than my scrubbing can do.

        I enjoyed this post, Jessica! Have you found the Bak-Out to work well on virtually all stains….like food stains on clothing, specifically? I don’t need to use stain stuff very often, but now that Vivi’s feeding herself, even though she’s covered in a huge bib, she still manages to get food on her clothes. 🙂 I have a (gasp!) bottle of standard stain remover someone gave me when we got married and I’ve ended up just using that when I absolutely had to. Did you use the Bak-Out on milk/spit up stains? That’s another one taht was difficult, ’cause I didn’t want to use chemicals on baby clothes, but colustrum really stains. And for a while, there, I was spraying all my shirts. Anyway- I’m placing an order from a natural company today where I’m planning on getting Bak-Out….so hopefully, I”ll be throwing out/giving away the rest of my stain remover. 🙂

        And- how do you clean windows?

        Your all-purpose cleaner sounds pretty similar to mine…. 🙂 I have a good bit of tea tree oil for disinfecting.


      2. Brianna – Don’t worry, I know and agree that vinegar is an amazing cleaner (and I do occasionally use it)…I just don’t like to use it on a regular basis. 🙂 I might have to try the vinegar and baking soda thing in our toilet bowl though and see if that helps.

        I laughed when I read about Vivi still managing to get food on her clothes despite using a huge bib…Cedar was (and still is sometimes) the same way, and that’s around the time that I first started using Bac-Out. In general in works really well on food stains – even tomato stains on white clothing – as long as you make sure to treat it when it’s still fresh. Like pretty much any stain remover, if you let the stain sit for a couple days and then try to treat it, it doesn’t work nearly as well. The only type of stain that I haven’t been really happy with how Bac-Out handles are oil stains (from butter, olive oil, etc.). Especially when I very pregnant, it seems like I ALWAYS manage to splatter the front of my shirts with something :P, and if it’s oil-based, sometimes Bac-Out doesn’t get it out completely. But I prefer dish soap for oil stains anyway, so it’s not a huge deal. 🙂 I wasn’t using Bac-Out yet when Cedar in the spit-up stage or when I was majorly leaking while nursing…BUT, I will be in that stage again very soon so I’ll let you know how it works. 🙂

        As for windows…I’m a bad housekeeper and hardly ever wash my windows, but when we do, that’s one of the few jobs that we do use vinegar for. 🙂 I have yet to find something better for cleaning really well and not streaking. 🙂

  5. We’ve used a pumice stone before to get rid of the toliet bowl ring… it works great, although it isn’t the most fun to do!

    1. Hmmm…I might have to try that…did it leave the inside of your toilet bowl all scratched where you used it though? And was it just a normal pumice stone like you would use on your feet?

    1. A great all purpose cleaner is: 3 c. water, 1 c. vodka & 1 T. Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Liquid soap. Also, add 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide to 1 gallon hot water for all surface mopping solution..the best part is there is no rinsing required! I have also been working on just the right quantities for laundry detergent recipe and I think this is the best: 4 C. pure soap flakes, 1 1/2 C. borax, 1 1/8 C. Washing Soda. ( 3T. each load for top loading washers). Start filling washer with water and add OXO Brite 1-2 scoops, let dissolve before adding detergent, then add clothes. Tip: I always dissolve my detergent in 2 cups hot water, then I add 5 drops lemon oil and use a hand blender to mix well. The lemon oil is a good degreaser and smell fantastic! Just be sure you buy oil that has not been chemically extracted. I use Aura Cacia from After the washer gets started, prepare for your next load by adding the detergent to 2 cups hot water.

  6. Another reason to avoid vinegar and other acidic ingredients is if you have natural stone. Acids etch the stone and based on personal experience of a cleaning service that used a diluted vinegar based glass cleaner, it doesn’t take much to do permanent and irreversible damage. Just a light spray intended for mirrors destroyed several natural marble vanities.

  7. Thankyou!!!! Thankyou!!
    It is time for my children to take on some cleaning responsibilities and my husband does not want vinegar (even when he can’t smell it! ). He even told me once how something smelled good and asked how I did it. When I told him I used vinegar, he said that it is a food and not meant for cleaning! aaackkk!! So I am glad that I found your blog!

  8. I don’t know if it’s natural, but seems it would be. A pumice stone from the dollar store will remove the ring in the toilet and won’t damage the toilet either. Military house cleaning trick.

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