Reusable Household Wipes

Reader Contribution by Carole Coates
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These homemade household cleaning wipes look downright cheery on a kitchen or bathroom counter. Photo by Ron Wynn

We’ve grown accustomed to associating the smell of bleach with cleanliness. But clean isn’t a smell, and bleach can be problematic: its fumes irritate eyes and respiratory systems; it can both trigger an asthmatic attack and cause asthma.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to bleach when it comes to housecleaning. Here’s one I picked up from my natural-ingredient-loving sister-in-law: reusable household wipes. They’re environmentally friendly, inexpensive, convenient, and pretty on a kitchen or bathroom shelf. They smell good, too.


• 1 cup water
• 1 capful liquid castile soap
• 15-30 drops (any combination) of your favorite essential oils


Wide-mouth glass jar; fabric scraps made of t-shirts, preferably 100% cotton. If you don’t have discarded ones at home, try a local thrift shop or a t-shirt-quilt-making friend. You can by new ones on the cheap from certain big-box craft stores. Use multiple colors for a bright, colorful effect. I like mine about five or six inches square—about the size of a potholder, but any size that works for you will do.


1. Layer ten or more folded cloths into the jar.

2. Combine ingredients and pour over cloths. If you have more than ten, try filling the jar with half the cloths, then add half the mixture; repeat.

For a quick daily rubdown, simply pull out a cloth and wipe. It takes just seconds. When you’re done, you can hang your cloth over the faucet to dry, where it will continue to release a subtle fragrance. Throw it in the next washload, then reuse. Easy peasy.

Three Caveats

It is not recommended to use essential oils on granite or marble.

Some essential oils can be toxic to cats. 

My sister-in-law has more cats than I can count (seriously—they’re in and out of the room with such frequency that I never know how many there are), and they’ve not had any problems. It’s probably a matter of concentration, but to be on the safe side, check with your vet if you live with cats.

To qualify as an EPA-certified disinfectant, a product must be 100% effective against pathogens. Essential oils don’t meet that definition, though they come pretty darned close. Rather, they’re best described as anti-microbial, very effective ones. Combine the cleaning power of soap and water with essential oils’ antimicrobial properties and your own elbow grease for an excellent kitchen and bathroom cleaner.

What You Need to Know

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted a study to determine antibacterial and antifungal activity of ten essential oils against twenty-two bacteria and twelve fungi. The ten oils were aegle, ageratum, citronella, eucalyptus, geranium, lemongrass, orange, palmarosa, patchouli, and peppermint.

Lemongrass, eucalyptus, peppermint, and orange were effective against all twenty-two of the bacterial strains tested. Aegle came in with twenty-one, while patchouli and ageratum were effective against twenty, citronella against fifteen, and geranium against twelve.

Aegle, citronella, geranium, lemongrass, orange, palmarosa, and patchouli inhibited all twelve fungi tested. Eucalyptus and peppermint were effective against eleven fungi, and ageratum inhibited four.

NIH also reviewed antimicrobial properties of plant essential oils against human pathogens and concluded that essential oils “possess strong antimicrobial activity against various bacterial, fungal, and viral pathogens.” 

The Atlanticeven published an article on the likelihood that essential oils might become our new antibiotics. 

All in all, using homemade reusable wipes for household cleaning chores rates an A in my book. You might even want to give a colorful jarful of wipes as a gift.

Carole Coatesis a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here.

You can also find Carole atLiving On the Diagonalwhere she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.

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