Most of us would agree that a clean home is a more pleasant — and healthier — place to live than one with dirt, mold and funky smells.
Yet the cost of making your home sparkle is daunting if you rely on products from the cleaning supplies aisle of the supermarket or discount store.
The truth is, you can easily do most cleaning jobs just as well using a few inexpensive household products rather than buying their mass-manufactured counterparts — and save a lot. Here are nine costly products you’ll never have to buy again:
1. Swiffer WetJet refill
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Face it: A mop and a bucket are soooo much cheaper, but not everyone is going to use them. A close relative of mine has chronic health conditions and loves the easy-to-use Swiffer WetJet.
What doesn’t she love? The cost of the refills. Every time a bottle runs dry, she pays anywhere from $9 to $14 to replace it.
On a recent visit, I freed her from refill tyranny, with help from an article on Lifehacker. It was pretty simple:
- Briefly (about 90 seconds) immerse the bottle that holds the WetJet cleaning solution, upside-down, in a pan of boiling water far enough to cover the cap.
- Remove the cap with a good, hard twist. Use nail clippers to snip off the locking tabs inside the cap.
- Refill the bottle with water and a small amount of your favorite cleaning agent: white vinegar, a few drops of your favorite soap, lemon juice, bleach or tea tree oil.
- Put the cap back on. You’re done.
Cost: Probably a couple of cents.
2. Swiffer replacement pads (wet or dry)
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These paper pads cost anywhere from 24 to 62 cents each — and they get thrown away after one use! Fortunately, reusable replacements are easy to make.
For dry sweeper pads, substitute microfiber cloths from the dollar store. Secure them on a dry Swiffer sweeper with rubber bands, or with clothespins holding the ends of the cloth together on top of the sweeper head.
Once the floor has been swept, attach DIY replacements for the wet pads to the Swiffer WetJet that you’ve filled with DIY cleaning solution. You can make the pads for the wet work from worn washcloths or pieces cut from old towels. You’ll need to cut an “X” in the fabric near the spray head so that it can do its job.
Count on making a half-dozen or more, because these cloths need to be taken off as they become wet and dirty, just like the throwaway kind. The difference is that you’ll be washing and reusing these until they fall apart.
Cost: Microfiber cloths are 50 cents to $1 each; worn washcloths or towels don’t cost you anything.
3. Dishwasher or washing-machine cleaner
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Does your dishwasher seem a little sniffy? If so, it’s because bits of food, grease and soap can build up inside the appliance and provide a place for bacteria to grab hold. As they grow, so does the unpleasant smell.
There are two ways to deal with this:
- Run a cycle with an empty machine and a special “dishwasher cleaner.” I priced this at $2.33 per application.
- Run a cycle with a DIY product.
White vinegar is an easy, effective solution. Use 1 cup, and don’t add soap. According to Better Homes and Gardens, you can also use a packet of unsweetened lemonade mix (again, with no soap).
The vinegar works on stinky clothes washing machines, too. Just use 2 cups instead of one.
Cost: Vinegar is a buck a pint (or 50 cents per cup) at the dollar store, and cheaper at a warehouse club. If you buy the lemonade drink mix at a place like Aldi, you’ll pay less than 17 cents per packet.
4. Foaming bathroom cleaner
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Scrubbing Bubbles-type products are great. They melt the soap scum off in minutes!
Here’s a frugal clone: Mix one part white vinegar to one part blue Dawn dish detergent in a spray bottle and shake well. Spray it on, wait a few minutes and rinse clean.
Does it stink? Oh, yes. But like the smell of commercially produced cleaners, the aroma does disappear. (Bonus for me: The homemade cleaner doesn’t trigger my asthma like the commercial products.)
Cost: I’ve paid as little as 8 cents an ounce for Dawn detergent. You would probably pay less at a warehouse club. Vinegar is between 6 and 7 cents per ounce — probably less at Costco and other warehouse clubs. So you’re paying 14 cents or less per ounce, and a little of this stuff goes a long way.
Pro tip: Use the “fine spray” adjustment on the bottle.
5. All-purpose cleaner
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This one is sooo easy: Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle.
The mixture will take care of bacon spatters on the stove top, jelly drips on the kitchen counter, toothpaste smears on bathroom fixtures, and the streaks on windows and mirrors.
My partner calls vinegar “nature’s Clorox.” He’s right.
Cost: About 7 cents per ounce or less, depending on where you buy it. And since you’re diluting it with water, we’re talking 3 to 4 cents per ounce. The all-purpose cleaners at a discount department store run from about 6 to 8 cents per ounce. Bonus: When you make your own, you don’t have to keep going back to the store, or throwing away all those empty bottles.
Pro tip: The smell really will go away, but if you like, you can add a drop of scented essential oil to the bottle.
6. Fabric softener
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Sometimes a home’s towels, sheets or curtains smell mildewed even after being laundered. (Shout-out to the Pacific Northwest!) But some people develop rashes from the ingredients in commercial fabric softeners.
A few possible solutions:
- Add ½ cup to 1 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle. Don’t worry, you can’t smell it.
- For a “clean, subtle fragrance,” frugal expert Mary Hunt offers this hack: Blend six parts water, three parts white vinegar and two parts hair conditioner in a resealable container. Use the same amount in the wash as you would use of a commercial fabric softener.
- Hunt also suggests making your own dryer sheets. Mix ½ cup of vinegar and eight drops of essential oil in a jar or container that seals tightly. Add small squares of soft fabric — an old T-shirt or a worn baby blanket both work well. To use, squeeze the liquid from one square back into the jar, and toss the cloth in with the dryer load.
Cost: Vinegar, as we’ve established, is less than 7 cents an ounce. Hair conditioner is about the same — cheaper or free if you match coupons to sales. Essential oil can be pricey, but that stuff goes a long way when you use just a few drops at a time.
7. Cat box deodorizer
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Sometimes you walk into someone’s home and know immediately that a cat also lives there.
Other times you can’t tell, which has a lot to do with how well the owner cares for the kitty toilet. Clumping litter is a marvel, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Here’s how a site called The Nest suggests you do things:
- Every few weeks, empty the box entirely and scrape off any dried litter. Scrub it with hot water, then fill with a mixture of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of hot water. Empty and rinse after five minutes, then dry thoroughly with paper towels.
- Cover the bottom of the box with a thin layer of baking soda before refilling with litter. Of course, you could also use a commercial litter-box deodorizer. A quick peek on Amazon showed prices ranging from 20 cents $1.27 per ounce.
Cost: 6 or 7 cents per ounce for the baking soda, or less if you buy in bulk.
8. Hard-water stain remover
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Mineral-saturated water can make some really ugly stains on bathroom porcelain. Once again, it’s white vinegar to the rescue.
The process is super-simple: Apply vinegar, let sit for a few minutes, scrub and then rinse. If it’s a toilet, turn off the water supply and flush until the bowl is mostly drained, then pour in a lot of vinegar and start scrubbing after a few minutes.
I performed this chore for my chronically ill relative. She was delighted, going so far as to say that the newly sparkling porcelain provided “a great sense of peace.”
Cost: Again, between 6 and 7 cents per ounce, or less at a warehouse store. Of course, you could also buy a hard-water-stain removal product that runs anywhere from 50 cents to almost $5 per ounce. Your choice.
9. Fabric freshener
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You love your golden retriever. You do! But that eau de canine tends to cling to his doggy bed, and to the sofa he knows he’s not supposed to lie on.
You love your preteen hockey player. You do! But that gear bag just plain stinks, even when the uniform has been freshly laundered.
The list of potentially smelly household items could go on and on. Commercials would have you believe that spraying on a “fabric refresher” makes the world brand-new again.
But have you priced that stuff lately? It runs anywhere from 32 to 74 cents per ounce on Amazon.
Instead, search online for “homemade fabric freshener” or “homemade Febreze” and you’ll see plenty of DIY recipes that use ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, fabric softener, essential oils, rubbing alcohol, distilled water and — my favorite — cheap vodka.
Cost: Varies depending on ingredients. But since the recipes are often mostly water, they’re bound to be cheaper than commercial fabric fresheners, even if you add a little vodka. Spritz away, and save.
What frugal cleaning hacks do you use? Share your tips in the comments section or on our Facebook page.