Natural and Homemade Cleaners

Check out these effective, safe and eco-friendly cleaners made from simple and natural ingredients.

| August 1, 2008


Lemon juice can be used to make a floor shining solution, or to clean your hands.


You can make better alternatives to the harsh cleaners you default to every time you clean. Look at the ingredients in the cleaning products you routinely use. If the list is long and includes chemicals you can’t pronounce, it may be time to try some safer, more eco-friendly alternatives.

You can make cleaning solutions for most household applications with water and a few ingredients: castile soap, distilled white vinegar, baking soda, washing soda and borax. You also can use lemon juice, salt, tea tree oil, club soda and rubbing alcohol, depending on the stain or item you want to clean.

To learn more about the right proportions to use when making your own cleaners (and appropriate uses for each solution) read Recipes for Safer Cleaners from the Children's Health Environmental Coalition. Greener Cleaners by Annie Berthold-Bond, an expert on the subject, includes recipes for toothpaste, lotion, shampoo and more. You’ll need a few more ingredients for some of those recipes.

Of course, even simple ingredients can cause skin irritation, so wear gloves when using them — especially washing soda and borax. And borax, though found in nature, can be toxic if ingested. Keep all cleaners safely away from children.

You may need to be a bit more patient when using natural cleaners. They’re not as potent as many commercial chemicals. For tough stains, leave the solution in place and let it work for you. Then apply a little “elbow grease.” You may not be able to simply wipe away the stain without scrubbing.

Share your own recipes, suggestions and experiences with homemade cleaners in the comments section below.
10/7/2013 7:55:08 AM

I really love using straight hydrogen peroxide on carpet for my cat's accidents. The peroxide takes out all traces of any stain. I follow up cleaning the area of the accident with an essential oil; sometimes lemon, sometimes lavender/basil or just straight tea tree oil.

1/21/2011 11:13:23 AM

I have been using soap nuts for a few years now for laundry. They've got to be the most affordable, effective and natural cleaner available. Most laundry soap sensitivity is due to additives. You can try them for cheap- go to an online store and purchase a small amount that comes with a bag. I've recommended to many and no complaints- only "I wish I'd known sooner".

10/30/2010 12:00:07 PM

What would be your suggestions for cleaning Terrazzo floors?

7/20/2010 11:25:59 PM

I have used soap nuts for three years. They last me 5 months in a starter kit I purchase on line. A soap nut bag is included and a small bottle of essential oil. I feel great when I see my machine water going into the garden. I know my worms love it. Just google Washberry soap nuts and you'll soon find them. My favourite cleaners are lemons, vinegar, baking soda, washing soda, lavender essential oil or soaked lavender flower water, and washing soda. I use spiced vinegar in the bathroom and white vinegar in the laundry and for general cleaning jobs. My favourite? Lemon juice and grated peel.

7/20/2010 10:10:33 AM

I have 2 favorite natural cleaners. Water and Vinegar as mentioned by several other people for cleaning counters, windows, etc. My 2nd, discovered by accident, is Bon Ami. I have always used it to clean the s/s sink and wanted to completely clean the s/s grill and get rid of some of the baked on grime and grit from being outside and covered. While I was cleaning the grill, I thought, why don't I use this on the s/s appliances? Now, when I clean the front of the fridge, dishwasher, and oven, I wet a sponge or cloth, sprinkle on some BonAmi and then get to 'polishing' my beautiful stainless steel appliances. The cloth or sponge gets rinsed along w/the front of the appliances and voilà, they all sparkle and I am not using anything that sprays from a can or contains silicones, etc.

7/20/2010 3:29:14 AM

I have used soap nuts for three years. They last me 5 months in a starter kit I purchase on line. A soap nut bag is included and a small bottle of essential oil. I feel great when I see my machine water going into the garden. I know my worms love it. Just google Washberry soap nuts and you'll soon find them. My favourite cleaners are lemons, vinegar, baking soda, washing soda, lavender essential oil or soaked lavender flower water, and washing soda. I use spiced vinegar in the bathroom and white vinegar in the laundry and for general cleaning jobs. My favourite? Lemon juice and grated peel.

7/19/2010 10:54:53 AM

We live at 9,244 above sea level. The water here sucks. 3 laundry mats have gone out of business due to water eating up the machines. Sad. We go through a great deal of filters and buy 10 gallons of water to drink and make tea with. But we pay an exorbitant amount for our water bills. ?? Water/government sucks !!

7/19/2010 9:55:23 AM

do all my cleaning with vinegar, lemon juice, homemade soap and laundry detergent, using essential oils. been doing this for years. no one has gotten sick yet! use borax and washing soda also. now my budgeted food money is used for food and not cleaning products. skip over whole aisles in the store too!

2/2/2010 10:53:21 PM

I would love to have any ideas on cleaning as in homemade. thanks, Ronda

8/7/2009 10:47:34 PM

To All, Please use Essential Oils properly in your cleaning products, as adding a drop or two to liven things up a little can be quite HARMFUL to the user! Just a few extra drops can cause cause acute skin irritation, peeling and even chemical burns. Please recearch Essential Oils thoroughly before using. Take a class if you have to. It is important. Thank You, Aurealia

p stinson
4/27/2009 2:47:33 PM

I stopped getting hives on my arms after I switched to Moon Works laundry soap years ago. They're a small company that cares about what goes into their products. The nonscented version doesn't bother my nose. You only need to use 2 tbsp. in the wash. It doesn't lather much and also rinses easily.

jennifer borkovich
2/14/2009 9:30:32 PM

I did a lot of research on natural laundry products after my daughter had strange allergic reactions that led to hives. Found out that there is no regulation on using the word "green" or "natural" in detergents and cleaners and that many of the products labeled that way are not really natural. Also, just because an ingredient is natural doesn't mean that you would want it to be left on fabrics that will be in contact with your skin for long periods of time. We have been using Selestial Soap, a new natural laundry detergent. The ingredients are all natural, but just as important, the non-sudsing formulation rinses cleanly without leaving behind a residue on fabrics that can irritate skin, attract dirt and grime or affect the fabric's breathability. Many natural cleaners still contain sodium laureth sulfate (SLS) - a controversial ingredient that is sometimes listed as coconut oil derivative on ingredient lists. Selestial Soap does not contain SLS.

12/23/2008 1:40:51 PM

I just wanted to share my bad experience with bleach. I was using a 1:10 solution for everything. I thought it removed stains, killed germs and left a nice smell. I also washed my hands in it before I baked for other people. I know I should have known better. My fingers started going numb after awhile and I developed a sharp pain in one, I think from the bleach. I stopped using it and they are healing but I actually crave it or its cleaning effect. I've got a greener cleaner now that uses ethanol. Does anyone have experience with that. I'm working on working toward the really natural cleansers. Thanks for all the recipes.

april _1
12/23/2008 12:22:10 PM

According to, it is considered safe because it breaks down quickly. According to Arm & Hammer, it is an all natural product. I'm sure it is much like Borax, which is mined right out of the ground in Boron, CA. Washing Soda is a simple Sodium Carbonate--in otherwords, it's only 1 chemical compound, not a mixture of many things with many different impacts on the environment.

12/18/2008 7:10:17 PM

One other thought: I have a great deal of trouble believing that anything as caustic as washing soda is actually any safer or healthier for us or the planet. Can anyone supply hard information one way or the other??? And how do I use it with a washing machine; ie, is it necessary to throughly wash it from the clothing before putting it in the machine??? I'm not ready to start hand-washing everything yet (it's a goal, but right now there are too many other necessary projects to make the time), and cannot afford to replace my washer should the cleaning agents I use damage parts (as I have been told washing soda will).

12/18/2008 7:01:31 PM

Vinegar leaves a light smell; I find it pleasant as it is reminiscent of good homemade Italian dressing. I also find it fades quickly, though this may be due to the fact that I live in a drafty cabin with five litter pans. Can anyone tell me where else I might try to obtain washing soda?? The only cleaner I have yet to green is my laundry stain remover. I have been told that washing soda will remove stains that vinegar, peroxide, borax, lemon juice, and strong sunlight leave behind, but have been unable to find it at my natural foods store, Harp's Grocery, Target, or WalMart (which pretty throughly exhausts the known shopping possibilities of Northwest Arkansas). Until I find it, I'm stuck with the good old Shout Stick, as my husband will not accept sending our kids to school with stains on their clothing or wearing stained clothing himself and I cannot afford to replace the numerous articles of clothing that would otherwise be ruined on a frequent enough basis to keep them in clothes, even at thrift shop prices.

8/21/2008 9:34:16 PM

I'm all for this stuff, but doesn't the Vinegar leave a smell? I smoke so I guess the smell would help dissipate the tobacco smell right? Now I just have to convince the cleaning lady to use this stuff instead of the store bought junk ;-) Going shopping for soap nuts and EOs on google.

8/17/2008 5:43:58 PM

You can do a Google search on Soap Nuts and find an abundance of information and many sources for their purchase. Wikipedia says that "soap nuts contain saponin, a natural detergent which is used to clean clothes. Soap nuts, especially Sapindus mukorossi, have become popular as an environmentally friendly alternative to manufactured, chemical detergents . A few nuts can be placed in a cotton drawstring bag in with a washload and reused several times. Soap nuts are safe for washing silk, woolens and other delicate fabrics". I just recently found out about these too and plan to purchase some soon.

8/17/2008 11:06:19 AM

What are soap nuts and where would I get them? Thanks for the help. Peace

8/12/2008 12:40:03 PM

Well, if the materials are still toxic, and can still cause skin irritation, why use them if they are less effective?

8/11/2008 5:57:11 PM

I've replaced all the harmful and toxic packaged chemicals in our home with soap nuts, vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice. I use the soap nuts in the laundry, to wash the car, in the dishwasher, as hand soap, as shampoo, a bath soak, and I mix a combination of soap nuts tea (easy to make yourself), with vinegar and water to clean counters, stove, car windows, glass doors, and about anything else I can think of. My dishes sparkle, my silverware and glasses are spotless, and my house is clean and chemical free! They are natural, chemical free, non-toxic, hypoallergenic,unscented, safe for sensitive skin, babies, and pets. They remove residue that's built up in your laundry and on dishes and the harvesting is 100% zero carbon. They are compostable and 100% bio-degradable and there is not packaging to recycle. No need for dryer sheets, fabric softener either. I actually enjoy cleaning and laundry now that I know I'm not polluting my family's environment inside the house or the planet outside my house. What a great feeling.

8/11/2008 5:53:22 PM

I make most of my cleaning products. My All Purpose Cleaner is vinegar and water with either Tea Tree Oil or Eucalyptus oil for their disenfecting properties. If I am going to be cleaning stains, I will add Hydrogen Peroxide as a bleach substitute. So many Essential Oils not only smell good but have antibacterial properties. My Laundry Powder is (I think) fantastic: One bar of Castille Soap (4 0z.) Grated 1 Cup Borax 1 Cup washing Soda Esential Oils Grate the soap (I use my food processor to save my knuckles) Add the Borax, then the Washing Powder. Then add your EOs to you liking and continue mixing until all ingrediants look like they are evenly distributed. If you make this in a food processor, it takes out all of that mixing and even distributes the oils better. Use about 2 TBSP per load of laundry. This is such an inexpesive recipe! Fabric Softener: I have a recycled Downy ball. I fill it to the fill line with white vinegar and add Essential Oils for the aroma. You don't have to but it is so nice if you do! I get my white vinegar in gallons and have a quart glass jar so I can premix my vinger and EO's and leave it by the washer. I try to line dry everything to save on energy and this softerner works well even when you do line dry. I love getting in the kitchen and figuring out how to make something that I like to use! It is so much better for the planet as everything is natural, organic, and biodegradable! Not to mention the money that is saved!

8/7/2008 5:02:42 AM

I use natural cleaners in our household as I am very sensitive to inhaled chemicals and my skin reacts to cleansers like Comet, etc. Who wants that?! My favorite cleaners are vinegar, baking soda, and rubbing alcohol. We have a glass-top electric range (these are notoriously hard to clean) that we keep in great shape with soda and vinegar, which works much better than the expensive chemicals we could buy formulated for these stoves (how silly!). I also use vinegar as a laundry booster instead of bleach or those "oxy" cleansers. Patience is important--but just let things sit for a little bit and the cleanup is easy! I much prefer this to toxins...for me, my partner, and our doggy!

david baker_1
8/4/2008 1:07:10 PM

My wife and I do 95% of our cleaning with Vinegar and baking soda. Our house is wonderfully clean, we save a ton of money and we feel better about cleaning around our kids

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