I Need...Household Cleaners

>> Sunday, September 28, 2008

A friend asked me to describe my homemade household cleaners in more detail. So first off, why I switched...

When Second Son was about a year old, he developed a terrible case of eczema all along the backside of his legs. After I eliminated possible food allergies, someone suggested that the likely culprit might be household cleaners. But there was a problem with this suggestion. If you've ever looked at the back of a typical bottle of all-purpose cleaner, you may have noticed that they don't list their ingredients, or if they do, it's one or two "active" ingredients. When you're trying to figure out what your kid might be allergic to, you kind of need to know what's in the products you're using.

I began doing some research on what I could do (this was before I started shopping at Whole Foods regularly, and long before I ever heard of companies like Seventh Generation and Ecover), and I came across a great book called
Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living by Annie Berthold-Bond. This book is a great resource for homemade non-toxic living, including recipes for everything from toilet cleaner to facial lotion.

Annie Berthold-Bond lists five essential ingredients for less toxic cleaning: baking soda, borax, liquid soap, vinegar, and essential oils. Except for the essential oils, all of these ingredients are super cheap and can be found at any grocery store. I bought a box of borax when I first started making my own cleaners, and at the rate I've been going, I'll have to buy another one when I'm 50. Basically, that puts the cost of making your own cleaners at almost nothing. (Annie Berthold-Bond says that on average the recipes in her book cost 10% the cost of the commercial product.)

According to the Story of Stuff, "there are over 100,000 synthetic chemicals in commerce today. Only a handful of these have ever been tested for human health impacts and NONE of them have been tested for synergistic health impacts, that means when they interact with all the other chemicals we’re exposed to every day." I don't know how many of those chemicals are in typical household cleaners, but I do know that it really bothers me that they don't even tell us what's in the stuff we're using. I like that with my homemade cleaners, I know exactly what I'm using, I know that inhaling it is not going to harm anyone in my family, and I know that throwing a bucket of mop water out my back door is not going to harm my plants or contaminate the water.

So here are the recipes:

All-Purpose Window Cleaner

  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. liquid soap
  • 2 cups of water
Combine the ingredients in a spray bottle, and shake well to blend.

All-Purpose Cleanser
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. borax
  • 1/2 tsp. liquid soap
  • 2 c. hot water
  • up to 1 tsp. antiseptic essential oil (I use tea tree oil)
Combine the ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake to dissolve and blend the minerals.

Basic Floor Cleaner
  • 1/4 c. liquid soap
  • 1/2 c. vinegar
  • 2 gallons warm water
Combine the ingredients in a large plastic bucket.

Wood Furniture Duster
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • a few drops olive oil (or jojoba oil, which is more expensive)
  • 3-5 drops essential oil for fragrance
Combine the ingredients in a bowl, dab some on a rag, and use it to dust.

I didn't ever solve Second Son's eczema (though it did eventually go away), but I've been happily making my own cleaners for two years now. If you're wondering if they work, the short answer is yes. The long answer is that sometimes (like if I've put off cleaning the bathroom too long) they do require a little bit more elbow grease than I would have to use if I just bought a bottle of Formula 409. But for me, the cost and the environmental impact make it worth it.


LeGrand October 1, 2008 at 1:16 AM  

At work whenever the fancy expensive chemicals fail, my boss always resorts to vinegar. It does a pretty good job, and is a very nice substitute for the heavy chemicals that are deadly. I'm pretty sure I've increased my chances of getting cancer by 500% after working custodial for 3 years.

I don't know what Borax is or essential oils. I would think lemon juice might be a good ingredient too for its acidic nature and maybe would even smell good.

Conscious Shopper,  October 1, 2008 at 9:11 PM  

You can find borax in the laundry section of the grocery story. Essential oils are not necessary - they are mainly for fragrance, though some of them like tea tree oil are naturally antiseptic. I get mine from Whole Foods.

Lemon juice is a good choice for cleaning also, but it needs to be refrigerated unlike vinegar.

Chery K. January 6, 2010 at 1:29 PM  

What kind/brand of "liquid soap" are you using in your cleaner recipes? Don't most liquid soaps have a bunch of 'bad-for-the-environment' stuff in them too? I've found Shaklee has wonderful products that are naturally made and work wonderfully too! Check out their "Basic H" cleaner...

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