Safe, Effective, and Inexpensive Ingredients for All Homemade Cleaning Recipes
DISTILLED WHITE VINEGAR (Acetic Acid 4-5%)
Vinegar is the most widespread cleaning agent used by green. It is plant based (if it is made from grains, as most vinegar in the United States is). In chemistry terms “vinegar is an acid made from the fermentation of dilute alcoholic liquids”. (Berthold-Bond in Better Basics for the Home p. 21).
Vinegar neutralizes alkaline stains, residues, and all kinds of greasy build-ups and films. It works on Scale, the white streaky film that those with heavily mineralized water (hard water) see on dark surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom.
Distilled white vinegar also
- Disinfects – Sanitizes
- Dissolves gummy gunk
- Removes tarnish
- Removes dirt from wood surfaces
ALKALINE MINERAL CLEANERS
BAKING SODA (sodium bicarbonate)
Baking soda is slightly alkaline pH 8.1. It neutralizes acid based odors in water, and it absorbs odors from the air. Probably everybody knows that baking soda deodorizes refrigerators and cat boxes—who hasn’t seen the topless box of baking soda lurking in the back of the fridge? Baking soda is also widely known as a mild abrasive that won’t scratch surfaces. Many types of toothpaste contain baking soda for both its abrasive and deodorizing attributes.
For cleaning purposes green cleaners use baking soda to clean counters, sinks, bathtubs, ovens, and fiberglass. Any leftover residue can be rinsed away with you guessed it, vinegar! For laundry it works on perspiration odor, and for porous surfaces like rugs and carpets it is a super all-purpose deodorizer. Also useful for soaking up spilled liquids and grease.
Baking soda is made from a mineral found mainly in a 50 million year old dried up lake in Wyoming. You can now buy it (Arm & Hammer brand, is there any other?) in handy shaker containers in the cleaning aisle of the grocery store.
Borax is an alkaline mineral. It is toxic in large doses. I you don’t feel comfortable having borax around in your cupboard, then when a homemade cleaning recipe calls for Borax, feel free to replace the borax with baking soda.Borax can be used to kill cockroaches if sprinkled along roach travel routes it gets on their legs and bodies and they end up eating it and dying. Berthold-Bond says that some borax can be contaminated with traces of arsenic right at the source, the mine, so use with caution.
WASHING SODA (sodium carbonate)
I don’t use washing soda because I think it is a little too caustic. But it is considered to be a green cleaner. It is a mineral substance closely related to baking soda. It is more alkaline that baking soda at pH 11. This high pH is the reason is way more caustic than baking soda. Even though it is much safer than commercial solvents, you should still always use gloves when handling it.
Washing soda is a grease cutter, removes petroleum oil, wax, lipstick. It can actually strip the wax right off you floor as well as strip paint. It is a powerful natural solvent to be careful with washing soda and only use it when you need some really strong solvent action.
Warning: Don’t use washing soda on fiberglass or aluminum.
EPSOM SALTS (magnesium sulfate)
Epsom salts are another alkaline, mineral substance used for cleaning. You may have used Epsom Salts in a bath as a soak for sore muscles, or perhaps as a laxative. But dissolved it makes an effective ingredient in cleaning recipes. If you need an alkaline cleaner without the abrasive or caustic qualities of baking soda or borax, try adding some dissolved Epsom salts.
LIQUID DETERGENT and LIQUID SOAP
Use soap over detergent whenever you can. Your liquid soap can be Castile, glycerin or vegetable based, whichever you prefer or find is more available or is cheaper. Liquid soap can be expensive but it is concentrated. Two excellent makers of pure soaps are Dr. Bronners and Desert Essence. I use both these brands ad highly recommend both. Incidentally, Desert Essence makes incredible shampoos and conditioners.
Detergent and soap are different chemically. They do the same thing—lift dirt off of surfaces—but are manufactured differently. Let me again quote Berthold-Bond about this, she says it so well,
“Both soaps and detergents are surfactants, or surface active agents, which basically means a washing compound that mixes with grease and water. Soaps are made of materials found in nature. Detergents are synthetic (although some of the ingredients are natural); . . .”
The reason we prefer detergents to soap to wash laundry and dishes is that detergents don’t leave a residue on clothes, glasses and dishes like soap does. With soap, you need a rinsing agent. With detergent, you don’t need rinsing agents.
For cleaning surfaces in your home, mild soap is often strong enough to get the job done. When a recipe calls for a few drops of dish soap or detergent, use either one. Look for a detergent that is made with lots of ‘natural’ ingredients to replace a more commercial, heavily petroleum based detergent. But for truly sensitive people stick with castile soap. It is one of the greenest cleaning ingredients around!
HYDROGEN PEROXIDE 3%
Antiseptic alternative to chlorine bleach. Use the peroxide you find in the brown bottle sold at drugstores and grocery stores. It has a chemical nature so close to water that it can easily convert to water if handled improperly. Hydrogen peroxide needs to be kept in a cool, dark place, and replaced after several months. So don’t stock up on this particular green cleaning ingredient!
It is used as a mild bleaching agent but also used alone or in addition to vinegar for sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces.
Essential Oils are the fragrance used by greener cleaners. Make sure you buy pure essential oils derived from plants and not made from petroleum oil. If you take a sniff before you buy, you can tell straight away if the oil base is synthetic. It will smell like motor oil! Another way to test oils for purity is by leaving a drop on paper. When the drop dries there should be no leftover solvent (petroleum product) residue on the paper. If there is, don’t use it.
Good quality essential oils smell wonderful. The most common ones used in many recipes are Peppermint, Lavender, Lemon, and Tea Tree oil. But there are many others that you’ve probably seen in alternative cleaning products. Not all essential oils are pleasing to everybody, and some have stronger antiseptic qualities than others. To use essential oils will be mainly for the fragrance and aromatherapy benefits.
Other times you may need to use an essential oil that is not that pleasing but has proven results as a disinfectant, for example. Take the case of Thymol for example. It is made from the herb Thyme and is very useful for disinfecting surfaces. Seventh Generation has formulated an environmentally friendly disinfecting spray made from Thyme that they claim, “kills 99.99% of germs botanically”. It is ‘natural’ but still potentially harmful to humans if handled carelessly.
DISTILLED WATER or PURIFIED WATER
Always use distilled or purified water when mixing up recipes.
These totally safe, environmentally friendly green cleaning ingredients are the basic building blocks of all the homemade cleaning recipes in this blog. Get some spray bottles and have fun!