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)
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.