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As Mike and Martha Robinson baby-proofed their house before their first child’s birth, they tackled bottles stashed under the kitchen sink. The sprays, cleaners, and other formulas were labeled as dangerous to toddlers. If these chemicals had to be locked away from children, they wondered, why spray the products around the house?
“If you have some harmless crumbs on the table, why use nasty chemicals to clean them up? Why not reduce exposure to toxins where you can?” says Mike Robinson. After researching and testing recipes for various homemade cleaning products, they launched a business called Cleaning Essentials to help people make quick, simple, do-it-yourself formulas.
Cleaning expert Jolie Kerr, author of the New York Times bestselling book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag ... And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha, also dispenses advice on creating basic, budget-friendly, natural alternatives. “With the exception of homemade laundry detergent, which involves boiling ingredients on the stovetop, most DIY cleaners are very simple to make and involve nothing more than measuring and mixing. The extra work comes when it’s time to clean: DIY cleaners can just require more elbow grease than their less eco-friendly counterparts,” Kerr says.
Here's how to get cleaning the natural way.
Arm Yourself With Safe But Powerful Ingredients
Pazargic Liviu/ Shutterstock
Before blending your own cleaning formulas, stock up on a few basics. Kerr recommends starting with white vinegar, baking soda, lemon, and salt. (Check out these 9 surprising uses for baking soda that go way beyond cleaning.) The big four, as she calls them, are affordable and easy to find on store shelves. “The great thing about white vinegar—which is so versatile that it can be used, in concert with baking soda, to clear a drain or to take a lingering smell out of laundry that’s been forgotten in the machine after washing—is that it’s incredibly inexpensive,” she says. “I have a huge jug under my sink that cost less than two dollars.”
Essential oils add fresh scents and boost the cleaning power of your formulas, explains Mike Robinson. “One of the biggest complaints about plain water and vinegar mixes is the vinegar smell. By stirring in 12 to 24 drops of lavender or lemon oils, you’ll have a nicer scent,” he says. “And, essential oils have natural antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Tea tree oil is especially good for that, as are peppermint and lavender.” (Be mindful of these 6 times you should never use essential oils.)
This simple spray keeps your sheets and your bedroom smelling spectacular on non-laundry days, explains Kerr. “I use this to keep our duvet cover and pillowcases fresh-smelling and wrinkle-free in between weekly washes,” she says. The flexible formula also lets you match scents to your mood. Swirl in a little lavender essential oil, for example, to create a soothing, sleep-friendly environment.
2 cups distilled water
4 ounces vodka or isopropyl alcohol
10-30 drops essential oil (use more drops if you prefer a stronger scent)
Combine in a spray bottle, shake, and spritz.
“Cheap vodka is so simple, and it works as well as or better than a basic glass cleaner,” says Mike Robinson. Just spritz a little mix on the glass and wipe with a clean towel. Or, try crumpled newspaper instead of cloth—it’s an old-school method that leaves glass clear and free of streaks.
1 part vodka
2 parts water
12-24 drops of essential oil
Cleaning the shower doesn’t get much easier than this. You’ll be left with clear glass and film-free tiles, without turning to caustic cleansers or sprays. “It’s such a weird trick,” Kerr says, “but it totally works!” If your home is dryer sheet-free, try using an eco cleaning pad, like this one.
Dryer sheets (new or used)
A splash of water
To remove murky soap scum deposits from tile, glass, or fiberglass, just dip a dryer sheet (reach for used sheets to ease environmental impact) in a bit of water and then scrub.
Want More Simple Natural Cleaning Hacks?
Kerr’s book outlines many other creative cleaning tips. Here are four more super quick make-at-home options.
Scorched pots and pans: Sprinkle baking soda into the pan and cover it with boiling water. Once the water cools, stains should wipe out more easily. (You can also try one of these 2 ways to clean cast iron skillets.)
Red wine stains: Dab with white wine or isopropyl alcohol to lift stains.
Gunk inside narrow vases: Pop a denture tablet in the vase and dissolve with water.
Grimy coffee grinder: Fill the grinder half full with uncooked rice, grind, and toss. After unplugging the device, carefully wipe the inside clean.
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