One of the things that started me thinking about how what we do day in and day out really affects us happened during a particularly thorough cleaning spree. I’d been using a supermarket own brand general cleaner for a while and as I was cleaning the kitchen worktops I accidentally inhaled some spray and had a coughing fit. Fortunately I don’t have asthma or anything like that, because I was properly fighting for breath and I could really taste the chemicals in my mouth – it felt like they were burning my insides as they made their way down to my lungs. This prompted me to do a bit of research on the ingredients listed on the back of some of the products I was using. I won’t go into the details of how the harsh chemicals commonly found in cleaning products are affecting our health (although if you’d like to find out more then this is a very informative article), but I was alarmed by the amount known carcinogens and irritants that I discovered were in the products I was using on a regular basis. And it’s not just own our health that we’re damaging but also the environment, with chemicals like ammonia and nitrogen building up in water systems and damaging marine life.
Do we really need to be putting ourselves and the world around us at risk to get our houses clean? The truth is that most cleaning products can easily be replaced with homemade cleaners that are just as effective but are free from harsh chemicals and made entirely from natural ingredients.
Green cleaning basic ingredients
To get started, there are just a few simple things you need, some of which you might well have already, and these will cover you for most of the natural cleaning recipes out there.
Also known as sodium bicarbonate. You may be more familiar with this as an ingredient put into cakes to make them rise but it’s also a very effective at scouring and absorbing smells.
Being very acidic, lemon juice is great at cutting through grease, dirt and mould and is antibacterial. And it leaves things smelling lemon-y fresh!
Vinegar is a surprisingly powerful cleaner. Also very acidic, it’s used as a window cleaner, toilet cleaner, fabric softener, stain remover and descaler. It’s incredibly effective but the smell isn’t for everyone. It does tend to dissipate once whatever you’ve cleaned is dry but if you have a sensitive nose (or live with someone who does) then you may need to take additional steps, like adding essential oils, to cover the smell.
This is an oil-based soap that’s tough on dirt and gentle on the skin.
Rather than buying new ones, you can just reuse spray bottles from your store-bought household cleaners once they’ve run out (and you’ve given them a good rinse!) Or you could put the spray heads from those bottles onto any glass bottles that you would have otherwise thrown away – in fact, most of my cleaning solutions now are in old vinegar bottles! You can get replacement spray heads online for cheap. If you do need to buy new bottles then I suggest getting glass ones rather than plastic ones because then not only are you reducing the amount of plastic in your life but also glass is less reactive so won’t affect or be affected by whatever cleaning solution you’re storing in it.
A few drops of these highly concentrated fragrances can leave your house smelling beautiful. There’s a massive range of essential oils out there, from subtler ones like pine to powerful one like peppermint. The process to make them is very labour-intensive so they are quite expensive but they pack such a punch that cleaning recipes only call for a small amount of them, meaning that a tiny bottle will last you a long time. Be aware that some products sold as essential oils are actually blends containing a cocktail of added chemicals, so always make sure to get ones that say ‘pure’ on the label so that you know they’re made from 100% natural ingredients.
General cleaner recipe
If you think you might like to give making your own cleaners a go then you might be wondering which of the many different types of cleaner you should start with. My recommendation is to keep it simple, because for all of the different products out there, there is always a go-to solution when you’re cleaning – the general cleaner. Yes, there are some things that can only be tackled with specific cleaners (I’m thinking of those jobs that, thankfully, you don’t have to do every day, like cleaning the oven or getting rid of mould from bathroom grouting), but when there’s a food spillage or a dirty kitchen surface – or any surface that needs bit of a spruce up, for that matter – then this is the one you immediately grab. It’s the one you use and rely on the most, making it the most effective choice to replace with a natural alternative.
I’ve tried a fair few different recipes and some, it has to be said, have worked better than others, but this is one of my favourites.
Lemon and lime general cleaner
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon castile soap
- 500ml water
- Boil 500ml water and allow it to cool (this gets rid of bacteria and helps it to keep for longer).
- Add the baking soda and castile soap and stir.
- Add 15 drops lemon essential oil and 15 drops lime essential oil (this can be substituted for any essential oils you like but I like the citrus-y freshness of this combo!) Mix well.
- Pour into a spray bottle.
As with any new cleaning product, it’s always best to test it out on an inconspicuous area first (although I’ve never had any problem cleaning any hard surface with this solution), and take care handling the essential oils, particularly if you have sensitive skin – those oils may be natural but they are super concentrated and can dry your skin out.
The thing that I love about making your own cleaning products is that you know exactly what goes into them, so there are no hidden surprises. Plus they cost a fraction of the price of store-bought cleaners. All in all, natural cleaning products are better for your health, better for the environment and – always an important one for me – better for your bank balance 🙂
If you’ve got a favourite DIY cleaning recipe using natural ingredients, I’d love to hear it – send me a message or leave a comment below!