Save $300 a Year on Cleaning Supplies and Cut Out Toxins at the Same Time

Some homemade cleaners perform better than commercial products and are made from ingredients that are whole lot cheaper. Here's how to make them and how they stack up to store-bought versions in tests.

You’ve probably heard that you can make cleaning products from ingredients found around the house. But how do they stack up against commercial cleaners?

The good and green news is that such products allow you to clean your home effectively, killing germs and bacteria while protecting your health and caring for the environment, for about half of what you’re probably paying now.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent survey of consumer expenditures says U.S. households spent an average of $645 on housekeeping supplies in 2013.

Not only do homemade cleaners cut that cost in half, they’re also safer, because many commercial cleaning products contain toxic ingredients, Jessica Kellner, editor-in-chief of Mother Earth Living, tells Money Talks News.

Head-to-head comparisons

But do DIY cleaners work? Lifehacker’s Annie Hauser compared homemade cleaners with commercial products. She says she was skeptical at first.

The idea that you can clean your house or apartment and dress your salad with many of the same products seems a little weird – and mixing up a fresh batch of furniture polish seems a little “Little House on the Prairie.”

But her results were surprising. Here are her four tests and conclusions:

  • Test 1: Mixture of liquid dish soap and baking soda vs. multi-surface cleaner. Winner: Dish soap and baking soda.
  • Test 2: A mix of one part olive oil and one part vinegar vs. wood polish spray. Winner: Wood polish spray.
  • Test 3: Solution of one part rubbing alcohol, one part white vinegar and two parts water vs. glass cleaner. Winner: Rubbing alcohol mix.
  • Test 4: One cup vinegar in a gallon of water vs. wood floor polish. Winner: Tie.

Vinegar: Queen of green clean

Vinegar (white vinegar runs about $4 to $5 a gallon) is an “incredibly effective” cleaner, Kellner finds. It will kill about 90 percent of household germs, according to some estimates.

White vinegar typically is used for cleaning. Look for vinegar with 5 percent acidity.

Rodale News compares vinegar with bleach:

[Vinegar] is probably strong enough to handle most germy tasks, and when it doesn’t work, resort to hot soapy water. Use bleach as a last resort, use it sparingly (follow the 1:4 ratio), and make sure the room is well-ventilated so you don’t hurt your lungs.

Rodale adds that studies indicate vinegar — typically combined with table salt or hydrogen peroxide — fights the growth of some strains of E. coli and kills mold.

Caution: Don’t mix vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. Mixing reduces the effectiveness of both. Instead, spray or wash first with vinegar, then peroxide, letting the last spray air dry.

In a test by Cook’s Illustrated magazine, a solution of one part vinegar to three parts water removed 98 percent of bacteria from the surface of fruits and vegetables, National Public Radio reports.

However, the NPR report also stated that researchers at the Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at Tennessee State University found that “water can remove 98 percent of bacteria when it’s used to rinse and soak produce.” Rubbing or brushing helps in cleaning.

Testing household products

Not everyone is thrilled with the results of homemade cleaners, though. Wellness Mama blogger finds vinegar, basic to many DIY products, smelly and less-effective. Homemade cleaning products didn’t earn the highest marks in a Consumer Reports test either. “Most made-at-home brews often are effective, though they don’t perform as well as the products you’ll find in stores,” CR concludes.

CR does give high marks to a glass-cleaning solution of soapy ammonia, water and rubbing alcohol. (Find the recipe in the article.)

Homemade cleaners may not always beat commercial products for effectiveness, but they are better overall because they are safer for human health and for the environment, Kellner says.

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