A practical guide to making your own green cleaning products
by Patricia Boutin, EcoDesigner
May this journey I share to uplift you beyond the mundane and toxic world of household cleaning! In this article I am sharing tips and recipes I have adapted from many years of my personal adventure in switching over to green cleaning. This collection is intended to inspire you with tried and true solutions for reducing your toxic exposure. Move beyond traditional vinegar to aromatherapy treatment s for you and your whole home-cleaning concept. May the journey begin with you and end up in your neighbour’s homes and if you are like me, my mother`s home.
Making your own natural cleaners: the basics
Prior to the chemical revolution starting post World War II, people used a limited number of simple substances to keep their house clean and pest free. They used what they had available to them; soap, baking soda, washing soda, borax, alcohol, and many other food ingredients. With these ingredients they were able to clean, deodorise, disinfect, remove stains, wash and starch clothes and linen, and many other domestic jobs. The wisdom of our grandparents is passed down decades to us as we choose a path in selecting fewer substances to clean our houses safely.
Here are the basic ingredients needed to make your own natural cleaners.
Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate mostly common found today in our refrigerators and has been used for more than 150 years from the kitchen to the pharmacy to cleaning properties. It is made from a mineral found primarily in a 50 million years old dried out lake in Wyoming, US. It is inexpensive, versatile and non toxic to humans; it deodorizes, soften clothes and acts as a mild abrasive to clean sink, pots and pans, bathtub and so much more.
White distilled vinegar
Vinegar is made from soured apple juice, grain or wine, and contains approximately five per cent acetic acid, which makes it a mild acid. Not all vinegars are created equal; from earl y accidental discovery from an old barrel of fermented wine to pure white vinegar being made from corn alcohol and today some being made using petroleum by-products. When choosing vinegar make sure it is completely natural to ensure optimum benefit for dissolving mineral deposits, grease, removing traces of soap, mildew or wax build-up, polishing some metals and to deodorise.
The magic ingredient in Club Soda is sodium citrate, which helps soften water for a more efficient cleaning. It easy to find, inexpensive, biodegradable and non-toxic. Use it to clean and shine any glass or chrome surfaces to new again.
(Vegetable Oil Based, Castile or Glycerin)
Liquid soap is a natural detergent resulting from the saponification of an oil or a grease. It was invented 3000 years ago in Syria; it does not pollute the environment and is completely biodegradable. Commercial synthetic detergents are made using petroleum by-products and are found in the majority of cleaning products today. Very versatile, it has been used for centuries of cleaning.
Distilled or purified water
Water; the universal solvent is one of the best cleaning product to mankind. Meanwhile, minerals found in water can inhibit the cleaning power of soaps, especially hard water. It is recommended to use distilled or purified water when making your natural cleaners.
Essential oils invigorate the feelings, treatment and calming of aromatherapy. They are not essential, but they certainly are a wonderful attribute to eco-friendly cleaning! Let their aromatic properties invigorate your senses while you clean… sounds tacky to some….try any of the following to uplift your spirit.
- Lavender (Lavendula vera):
Antibacterial action, antiseptic, antiviral, relaxing scent.
- Lemon (Citrus limonum):
Antibacterial action, antiseptic, antiviral, fresh clean scent.
- Peppermint (Mentha piperita):
Antiseptic, fresh uplifting scent.
- Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia):
Powerful antibacterial action, fungicide, antiviral, clean scent.
- Thuja (Thuja occidentalis):
Powerful antibacterial action, fungicide, antiviral, clean scent. Prioritize because it grows in Canada (kind of cedar) and is more harmonious with our body chemistry. (Use with caution as it contains thujone, a neurotoxin.)
CAUTION: Essential oil may be naturally derived, but they can be very powerful. Handle them with caution. Use only 100% pure and natural essential oils and respect quantities in recipes. Keep away from eyes and nasal and out of reach of children. If you are hypersensitive, asthmatic or pregnant, please inform yourself with a professional concerning the risks. You can also consult books on the properties of essentials oils.
Hints for making your own products:
- Properly label your cleaners: in case of an accident you need to know what’s in them.
- Keep them out of reach of children: even if they are natural cleaners they must not be ingested, some can be harmful if swallowed by children or pets. They can also be irritating to the eyes.
- Do not reuse commercial containers (an old bottle of Windex for example): certain chemical residue could be present and contaminate your product.
- Make your cleaners in advance and buy ingredients in bulk: you’ll save time, money and avoid excess packaging.
- Choose the right containers: when purchasing spray bottles or containers make sure they are good quality, they work better and last longer. Opt for the ones with a high recycled plastic content.
- Use stainless steel tools; put aside a metal bowl, spoon and fork for making your products only.
The following recipes are inspired from Karen Logan’s book: Clean House, Clean planet.
Chrome and Glass Cleaner
Fill any size spray bottle with flat club soda:
- 10 to 15 drops of your favourite essential oil (optional)
- Shake well before use.
Uses: Chrome, mirrors, glass.
In a 16oz spray bottle mix the following ingredients in this order:
- Fill bottle with purified water leaving enough space for:
- 3 table spoons of liquid soap (vegetable oil based)
- 40 drops of tea tree or thuja essential oil (optional, for antiseptic power)
- Shake well before use.
Uses (with antiseptic): Kitchen and bathroom floor, counters, doors handles, phones, toilets seats and garbage. Shake well before use.
Uses (without antiseptic): Window sills, trims and mouldings, floors and walls.
In a glass and stainless steel shaker mix together:
- Approximately 2 cups of sodium bicarbonate
- 15 to 20 drops of lemon essential oil (optional)
Uses: Kitchen sink or any stainless steel surface deodorizes carpets and garbage. Do not use on aluminum.
In a sealed glass container mix in the following order:
- 1 2/3 cup of sodium bicarbonate
- ½ cup liquid soap (vegetable oil based)
- 2 tablespoon of white distilled vinegar
- 50 drops of tea tree or thuja essential oil (optional, for antiseptic power)
Uses: Bathtubs, sinks, garbage, counter tops, very dirty floors, toilet bowls and any greasy surface.
The Ultimate Tools
This is one of my favourite tools for an effective eco-friendly cleaning; it will save you time and money.
It is synthetic, made of two polymers weaved finely together 100 times smaller than a human hair. Because of its unique structure it traps dirt and dust without or very little detergent. It can be used dry or wet; dry it will trap dust compared to a traditional cloth that will only move the dust around. That becomes possible because of its positive charge that attracts dirt like a magnet. It is machine washable, non abrasive and very resistant, a good quality cloth will last you for years.
Wood fiber cloth
Perfect for the kitchen, this cloth is made with 100 per cent natural wood fibre that resist staining and bacteria. Its unique weave pattern and multiple layers give this cloth a texture that is full, soft and that doesn’t retain dirt. Bye, bye smelly cloths! It is durable, biodegradable and compostable. (www.mabu-natural.com)
It is important to properly dispose of any leftover toxic cleaning products after switching over to nontoxic. Improper disposal, such as pouring them down the drain, on the ground outside, into storm sewers, or throwing them out in the trash can pollute the environment and pose a threat to human health. Many communities across the country offer options for safely disposing of toxic cleaning products, known also as “household hazardous waste.” Check with your local environmental, health, or solid waste agency for information. Make sure to read product labels for proper disposal instructions.
There you have it! Everything you need to know to start making your own green cleaners today. Happy Green Cleaning!
Clean House, Clean Planet by Karen Logan