The Very Best Homemade Cleaning Recipes

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Basic ingredients such as baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice form the backbone of any DIY home cleaning arsenal.
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Detox your cleaning routine with the best homemade cleaners.

We have more reasons than ever to make our own cleaning products: By choosing homemade cleaners, we can avoid bringing into our homes the many harmful chemicals found in commercial products; homemade cleaners are incredibly economical and simple to make; and many natural options work better than their chemical counterparts.

Conventional cleaning products contain harmful ingredients. In a recent study, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested 21 common cleaning products and identified 457 air pollutants that can be released into the air through normal product use. Comet Disinfectant Powder Cleanser emitted the most, at 146 contaminants. The study also identified 24 chemicals in cleaning products with well-established links to asthma, cancer and other health disorders—12 of the chemicals are on California’s list of chemicals linked to birth defects, reproductive problems and cancer. Many of the products we rely upon simply aren’t safe enough for daily use inside our homes.

To help you detox your home and the air you breathe, we’ve compiled a list of the most common cleaning products; the worst offending chemicals typically found in each; the best all-natural ingredients you can use in place of the chemicals; and a recipe for each product so you can make your home as healthy as possible.

All-Purpose Cleaner

Uses: Typically used to clean countertops, sinks, tiles, tubs and floors, “all-purpose” cleaners (despite the name) aren’t suitable for floors, windows, glass or mirrors.

Worst Ingredients: Butyl cellosolve—common in all-purpose, window and other types of cleaners—is a suspected carcinogen potentially damaging to bone marrow, the nervous system, the kidneys and the liver.

Best Alternative: Castile soap and hot water

Notes: Named after an olive-growing region in Spain, castile soap was traditionally made with olive oil and animal fat but newer, superior varieties contain coconut, hemp or jojoba oil. Not all castile soap is created equal, so be sure to choose a product that is free from processed detergents and animal products, which should be indicated on the package label.

Natural All-Purpose Cleaner

• 1 gallon hot water
• 1⁄2 cup liquid castile soap
• 10 drops thyme essential oil

Combine all ingredients and pour into a spray bottle. Shake before using.

Laundry Soap

Uses: Used to wash everything from our undergarments to our sheets, laundry soap residue is in contact with our skin nearly all of the time.

Worst Ingredients:Nonylphenol ethoxylate, a common surfactant in laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners, degrades into a powerful bioaccumulating endocrine-disruptor that’s banned in Europe.

Best Alternative: Washing soda

Notes: Washing soda is a more-alkaline relative of baking soda. Borax is an alkaline mineral salt. Both are natural, but can be harmful if ingested. Clearly label products made with these ingredients, and keep away from children and pets.

Natural Laundry Soap

• 7 quarts hot water, divided
• 1 cup soap granules, available in most health-food stores
• 1⁄2 cup borax
• 1⁄2 cup washing soda (for hard water, double the amount of washing soda)
• 20 drops lavender or lemon essential oils, optional (choose essential oils, not “fragrance oils,” which are synthetic)

In a pot, mix 1 quart water with soap granules until diluted. In a clean bucket, add remaining 6 quarts water, borax and washing soda. Add water-soap granule mixture and stir until dissolved. Add essential oil if using. Soap will thicken as it cools. Store in a large jar and use within 6 months.

Bonus tip: Orange oil (not orange essential oil; look in the cleaning products section) makes an excellent natural stain remover; mix 1⁄2 cup with a cup of water and spray on stains before washing.

All-Purpose Scrub

Uses: Powdered or foaming all-purpose scrubs are typically used for cleaning sinks, tiles and bathtubs.

Worst Ingredients: Chlorinated phenols, also called chlorophenols, found in bathroom scrubs and toilet bowl cleaners, are toxic to the respiratory and circulatory systems; may damage the liver and bone marrow; and are suspected carcinogens.

Best Alternative: Baking soda

Notes: Baking soda is a type of salt known as sodium bicarbonate. It can lift dirt, deodorize, and whiten fabrics or household surfaces, making it a great choice for an all-purpose scrub. Its gritty texture makes it perfect when you need a scouring scrub.

Natural All-Purpose Scrub

• 2 cups baking soda
• 1⁄2 cup liquid castile soap
• 1⁄2 cup water

Mix all ingredients together. Pour into a squirt bottle and shake before each use. Rinse well after use.

Glass & Window Cleaner

Uses: As the name suggests, these products are used for windows, glass tabletops, mirrors and windshields.

Worst Ingredients: Glycol ethers (including diethylene glycol and 2-butoxyethanol) may adversely affect the kidneys and liver.

Best Alternative: White vinegar

Notes: White vinegar is a natural disinfectant, deodorizer and grease cutter that kills Salmonella and other bacteria.

Natural Glass Cleaner

• 1 cup white vinegar
• 1 cup water

Mix together. Pour into a spray bottle. Shake before using.

Room Deodorizer

Uses: Room deodorizers are used to eliminate household odors; some also claim to disinfect air.

Worst Ingredients: Formaldehyde, found in spray and wick deodorizers, is a respiratory irritant and carcinogen. Benzene in air “fresheners” has been linked to leukemia and nervous system damage. And butane (yes, lighter fluid) is found in many air fresheners and disinfecting sprays. It’s a brain and nervous system toxin.

Best Alternatives: Essential oils of thyme, oregano and tea tree

Notes: Thyme and oregano show antimicrobial activity against a number of illnesses, including pneumonia, strep and staphylococcus bacteria. Tea tree oil has strong antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties.

Natural Room Disinfectant

• 2 cups water
• 15 drops thyme essential oil
• 15 drops tea tree essential oil
• 10 drops oregano essential oil (has a pungent aroma; optional)

Place all ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake before use. Spray into the air but not directly onto furniture or fabrics. Do not spray into the eyes. Keep away from children and pets.

Find green cleaning tools for your homemade cleaners in Dirty Deeds: Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products.

Get a Green Clean

When you don’t DIY, you can still avoid toxic chemicals by choosing among the offerings from these companies.

Better Life
an array of cleaners

laundry supplies & more

an array of cleaners

cleaning products subscription service

Grab Green
an array of cleaners

Green Forest
paper products

Green Shield Organic
laundry supplies & more

The Honest Co.
cleaning products subscription service

Howard Products
granite & marble cleaner, wood cleaner and other specialty cleaning products

J.R. Watkins
an array of cleaners

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day
an array of cleaners

The New Clothesline Company
laundry detergents

Seventh Generation
an array of cleaners

Michelle Schoffro Cook is the international best-selling author of 60 Seconds to Slim, Weekend Wonder Detox and The Probiotic Promise. Visit her website and The Probiotic Promise to learn more.