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.
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.
9 other powerful ingredients
Here are nine more ingredients used in safe, effective green cleaning, along with a few of their many uses. Some can be used alone. Often, they’re combined. You’ll find links to recipes and more uses at the end of this article.
- Lemons: Lemon juice cuts grease, removes stains, brightens laundry, cleans surfaces (including tile grout) and neutralizes odors. Grind half a lemon in your kitchen sink disposal to deodorize it.
- Salt: Some prefer coarse sea salt, but table salt also is used for scrubbing. It is abrasive but doesn’t scratch surfaces. Salt can remove red wine stains, as this Real Simple video demonstrates.
- Castile soap: Castile is an olive oil-based soap. Dr. Bronner’s is one popular brand. Castile soap is gentle but effective in a solution with warm or hot water at removing grease. Use it for cleaning floors and cars.
- Pure essential oils: Extracted from plants, these oils are powerful, so research first and use carefully. Extracts of thyme, origanum, mint, cinnamon, salvia and clove “were found to possess the strongest antimicrobial properties among many tested,” according to research.
- Borax: Household borax (not the same as boric acid) is sodium tetraborate, “a naturally occurring substance produced by the repeated evaporation of seasonal lakes,” says the website of 20 Mule Team Borax. Among other things, it’s used to boost laundry detergents (1/2 cup per load), control odors, clean toilet bowls and brighten grout. It also deodorizes carpets, pet beds and dishwashers; removes soap scum and hard water deposits; and functions as an all-purpose cleaner. The 20 Mule Team label cautions to avoid contact with eyes and not to take it internally. It contains no phosphates and is safe for washers, septic tanks and plumbing.
- Baking soda: An effective odor neutralizer, sodium bicarbonate and its stronger relative washing soda (sodium carbonate) also cut grease. Wear gloves when using washing soda. Unlike baking soda, washing soda is not edible.
- Rubbing alcohol: Reader’s Digest recommends rubbing alcohol for cleaning blinds, windows, ink stains and bathroom fixtures; removing ticks, and melting windshield frost. In a 1-to-1 mixture with water, it prevents ice bags from freezing completely, so you can mold them around the surface you want to chill.
- Cooking oil: Vegetable and other plant-based oils can bring moisture back to dried-out wood, rattan and wicker. These oils moisturize skin and leather, and they polish wood, stainless steel, pots and pans.
- Hydrogen peroxide: After cleaning a sink, disinfect it by misting separately with vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, says Today.com. (Remember, mixing vinegar and hydrogen peroxide reduces the effectiveness of both.)
Now, get started
If you’re ready to give homemade cleaners a try, here are tips and resources for getting started:
- Start by experimenting with vinegar and baking soda, Kellner suggests. Here are Mother Earth News magazine’s all-purpose cleaning solution and tips for using vinegar and baking soda.
- Expensive “produce wash” products are unnecessary. “Don’t use soap, detergent, bleach or commercial produce washes,” says FoodSafety.gov.
- This Colorado State University Extension guide gives instructions for washing individual types of produce. Produce lasts longer if you wait and wash it just before use, it says.
- Real Simple magazine has uses and recipes for household cleaners.
- Here are 18 cheap stain removers you can make at home.
- Check out how to make dishwasher detergent and more.
Do you have homemade cleaning solutions? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.
Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.