The Best Herbs for Cleaning: Try These 9 Recipes

Save major money—and your health—by tapping into the powerful cleaning power of plants.

March 26, 2014

Adapted from Rodale's 21st-Century Herbal, an upcoming book by ethnobotanist Michael J. Balick, PhD, vice president for botanical science at The New York Botanical Garden. 


With just a few basic ingredients, you can make safer "green" cleaning products for a fraction of the cost of the commercial products and without the scary ingredients. 

For instance:
•    Distilled white vinegar (which contains acetic acid) has antifungal and antimicrobial properties and can eliminate mineral deposits from sink and bathtub fixtures, as well as cookware. 

•    Acidic lemon juice kills germs on countertops, cutting boards, and more. Baking soda deodorizes and dissolves grease and dirt. Mixed with other ingredients, it makes a gentle but effective scrub. 

•    All-natural castile soap, made for centuries with olive oil, not only washes dirt and grease from your body, but also from household surfaces and laundry. 

Many herbs have potent disinfectant properties, too. Basil, bay, cardamom, clove, coriander, eucalyptus, ginger, hyssop, lavender, lemongrass, oregano, peppermint, rose geranium, rosemary, sage, spearmint, and thyme are cleaning powerhouses. All contain a multitude of plant chemicals that possess antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, and antiviral actions. 

Related: The Only 10 Things You Need To Buy To Make All Your Own Cleaning Products

By adding a few drops of these essential oils to your homemade cleaning products, you can boost their cleaning power and impart a delightful fragrance that makes cleaning more pleasurable. (Always be sure to handle essential oils with care, following directions.

Kitchen Countertop Spray

Use this fragrant solution to disinfect countertops, refrigerator shelves, and painted surfaces, including walls and wood trim. Feel free to experiment with other antibacterial essential oils, such as basil, thyme, or lemon.


½ cup distilled white vinegar 
½ cup water 
10 to 12 drops rose geranium essential oil

In a small, dark glass jar, combine the vinegar, water, and oil. Stir. Pour small amounts into a spray bottle as necessary.

Gentle Spearmint Scrubber

This nonscratching, chlorine-free paste is perfect for cleaning cookware, countertops, and porcelain sinks and tubs. Lemon and lemon verbena essential oils also work well in place of the spearmint.

1 cup baking soda
1 Tablespoon liquid castile soap
10 to 12 drops spearmint essential oil
Warm water (90° to 110°F)

In a small, dark glass jar, combine the baking soda, soap, and enough warm water to form a thick but pourable paste. Stir in the essential oil. Apply to surfaces, wait for 5 minutes or more, then scrub with a sponge. Rinse off the residue with water.

Antibacterial Bathroom Cleaner

Use this fragrant spray to disinfect bathroom surfaces. Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil— which has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal powers—helps clean and control mildew. Lavender and hyssop, which were once used as disinfectant strewing herbs, have antibacterial and antiviral properties.

½ cup distilled white vinegar
1 ½ cups water
2 Tablespoons liquid castile soap
8 to 10 drops tea tree essential oil
8 to 10 drops lavender essential oil
8 to 10 drops hyssop essential oil

Combine the vinegar, water, soap, tea tree oil, lavender oil, and hyssop oil in a dark glass jar. Stir. Pour a small amount into a spray bottle to use as needed. Rinse off any residue with water.

Chlorine-Free Grout Cleaner

This all-natural paste removes mildew but has no harsh fumes.


1 cup baking soda
10 drops tea tree oil

In a dark glass jar, combine the baking soda and oil with enough water to make a thick paste. Apply the paste to grout, then wait 1 to 2 hours. Scrub with a stiff nylon brush, then rinse with water.

Fragrant Floor Cleaner

Mop floors with this fresh-smelling liquid; the eucalyptus and rosemary oils have antiviral properties. Make a fresh mixture each time you need it.

1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 gallon hot water (at least 130°F)
1 to 2 tablespoons liquid castile soap (optional)
1 teaspoon lavender or eucalyptus essential oil
1 teaspoon rosemary essential oil

In a bucket, combine the vinegar, hot water, soap (if using), and lavender or eucalyptus oil and rosemary oil. If you include the soap, rinse with clear water after using.

Lemon-Scented Furniture Polish

Remove dirt as you add shine to furniture with this naturally lemon-scented formula. Shake well before using; buff dry with a clean cloth.

1 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
½ cup water
1 teaspoon lemon or lemongrass essential oil

In a dark glass jar, combine the olive oil, vinegar, water, and lemon or lemongrass oil. Pour a small amount into a spray bottle to use as needed.

Magic Carpet Deodorizer

The spicy fragrance of this deodorizer will remind you of an island breeze.

1 cup baking soda
10 drops grapefruit essential oil
10 drops ginger essential oil

In a dark glass jar, combine the baking soda, grapefruit oil, and ginger oil. Sprinkle the mix over your carpet, wait an hour, and then vacuum.

Fresh Air Laundry Detergent

This powdered mix will clean and brighten your laundry naturally and give it a fresh outdoor scent. The recipe makes enough to last several months.

8 cups baking soda
6 cups borax
4 cups grated castile soap
1 tablespoon lavender essential oil
1 teaspoon clary sage essential oil

In a large bucket, combine the baking soda, borax, and soap. Whisk in the lavender and clary sage oils. Store in a dark, covered container in a cool, dark location. Use 
 1/8 cup per medium-size load.

Aromatic Fabric Spray

Refresh upholstered furniture, drapes, linens, and mattresses with this herbal spray.

15 drops lavender, lemongrass, patchouli, orother fragrant essential oil
1 ½ cups distilled water

In a dark glass jar, combine the essential oil and water. Pour a small amount into a spray bottle to use as needed.

Herbal Cleaning Bonus Tips

•    Because essential oils break down plastic over time, it's best to store your homemade cleaning products in labeled, dark glass containers
•    Plastic spray bottles are fine for short-term storage of smaller quantities. 

•    Also, remember to store all cleaning products—even those made with natural ingredients—in a cool, dark location where children and pets cannot reach them.

•    Just remember that even plant products can be toxic under some circumstances, and the same cautions given for other herbal uses also apply when using herbal products in homemade cleaning products.

•    Not all essential oils are high quality. Some use harmful solvent chemicals to extract the oils Look for 100 percent pure, essential organic oils from trusted suppliers like Mountain Rose Herbs.

Rodale's 21-st Century Herbal is a fabulous, practical guide that will help you harness the incredible power of plants. The book will teach you everything from how to grow herbs that promote healing to how to create your own nontoxic, herbal beauty products. Secure your copy today from your favorite bookseller! 
•    Rodale Store
•    Amazon
•    Barnes & Noble
•    IndieBound