Green Household Cleaners: Clean Your Home Naturally

Stop using harsh chemical cleaning products in your house and replace them with these natural cleaning recipes that use common household ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, borax and ammonia.

| July/August 1990

Green Detergent and Flower

The indiscriminate use of toxic chemicals in commercial cleaning products has negative effects on both our personal health and the health of the environment.


When I decided to stop using harsh chemical cleaning products in my house and to find environmentally safe alternatives, I didn't have to look far. I just called my mother. People who have been cleaning since before synthetic formulas became widely available (after World War II) know what works.

My town's library proved to be a big help too: An entire section is devoted to household hints and advice, much of it from before the '50s ushered in "better living through modern chemistry."

But I also knew that many of the old-time cleaning recipes I'd found were never intended for use with today's synthetic materials and household appliances. Over the past 50 years we've opened our homes to the likes of polyester, Formica, vinyl and myriad other forms of plastic, and we've enlisted the aid of dishwashers and automatic washing machines and dryers.

So, with help from my mother, the library, various environmental groups and some recent, ecologically conscious household-hints books, I experimented. I adapted. I experimented some more. And eventually I came up with my own arsenal of formulas for modern-day green household cleaners.

Seven Natural Cleaning Essentials

Believe it or not, you can handle all your day-to-day cleaning with just seven easily available, inexpensive, environmentally benign substances. Baking soda, washing soda, soap flakes, oil soap, vinegar, borax and ammonia will take care of just about any mess. (Ammonia is, of course, dangerous in its concentrated form, when skin contact or breathing the fumes can cause injury. But it's an extremely effective cleaner, and it is not harmful to the environment. Just store it in a safe place well out of the reach of children and use it with care and a clean conscience.)

Cleaning Sinks, Faucets, and Drains

The first commercial cleaning product I replaced was scouring powder. I use baking soda instead, applied just as you would any of the store-bought products, dampened with a little water. Many commercial scouring powders contain both bleach and phosphates. Bleach, whether chlorine or non-chlorine, contains halogen compounds, which are persistent and toxic in the environment. The stuff may kill germs in the toilet bowl, but it also kills the bacteria that sewage and septic systems need to work properly. Phosphates create foaming in lakes and streams and stimulate algae growth that chokes out other aquatic life.

atara horowitz
3/28/2013 3:16:29 AM

Borax is poisonous to plants and therefore to ground water. it is either banned or very much limited from cleaning products in Israel.

3/27/2013 10:08:31 PM

my favorite - Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap, for all and every purpose. We use it on ourselves the dog, the counters, the floors, and the laundry.

va branden
3/27/2013 3:19:31 PM

Murphy's Oil Soap in the dish washer?? I'd love to have that recipe!!

hugh campbell
3/27/2013 12:51:11 PM

"harmless carbon dioxide gas" ... might want to adjust that wording, given what we know about AGW 23 years later.

bill soukup
3/6/2013 9:57:24 PM is a new "green" cleaning manufacturer. They have discovered how to dissolve soap scum with a corn based cleaner. I tried it on my glass shower door. This was the only cleaner that worked. I must have tried at least 10 different shower cleaners all of which claimed to remove soap scum. Yea, a nice clean shower.

12/18/2012 12:48:09 AM

I use a laundry detergent recipe that's nearly the same as mentioned in the article, but I only use about a tablespoon per load in my front-loader. (Maybe two, if the clothes are really dirty.) Vinegar is good to use in the rinse, too. I've been using these for a couple of years and I haven't noticed any yellowing yet. Could it be that you're using too much detergent?

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