Smarter Living: Stuff

We clean our kitchens and bathrooms constantly--as we should--but that doesn't mean we have to expose ourselves to lung irritants like ammonia and chlorine bleach or the hormone-disrupting phthalates in scented fresheners. Instead, make your own cleaners from healthier, least-toxic ingredients.

Eight Essentials

Circumvent the armada of commercial cleaners by keeping an ample supply of these eight items, which make up the basic ingredients for nearly every do-it-yourself cleaning recipe.

Baking soda: provides grit for scrubbing and reacts with water, vinegar or lemon juice by fizzing, which speeds up cleaning time
Borax: disinfects, bleaches and deodorizes; very handy in laundry mixes
Distilled white vinegar: disinfects and breaks up dirt; choose white vinegar over apple cider or red vinegars, which can stain surfaces
Hydrogen peroxide: disinfects and bleaches
Lemons: cut grease; bottled lemon juice also works well, although you might need to use a bit more to get the same results
Olive oil: picks up dirt and polishes wood; cheaper grades work well
Vegetable based (liquid castile) soap: non-petroleum all-purpose cleaner
Washing soda: stain remover, general cleaner, helps unblock pipes; should be handled with gloves due to its caustic nature. Usually found in the laundry aisle of grocery and drug stores.

Pick up an empty spray bottle at the hardware store, and keep those old rags and used toothbrushes for wiping up and scrubbing.

Bathroom

Toilet Bowl
Baking soda
White vinegar

To clean and deodorize, sprinkle toilet bowl with baking soda, add white vinegar and scrub with a toilet brush.

Tub and Tile

1/2 lemon
Borax

Dip the face of the lemon half in borax to create a handheld scrubber for dirty areas. Rinse and dry the surface afterward.

Drains
1 cup baking soda
1 cup vinegar

Add baking soda and vinegar to a pot of boiled water and pour down the drain, then flush with tap water.
For more stubborn clogs, use a "snake" plumbing tool to manually remove blockage, or try suction removal with a plunger.

To prevent clogs, install inexpensive mesh screen, available at home improvement and hardware stores.

Glass
1/4 cup vinegar or 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2+ cups water

Fill a clean spray bottle with water and either white vinegar or lemon juice; wipe with a rag or old newspaper.

Kitchen

Countertops
Marble: Mix one Tbsp. castile soap with a quart of warm water. Rinse well after using, then dry with a warm cloth.

Oven
Baking soda
Water

Sprinkle baking soda on surfaces, spray water, then let soak several hours or overnight. Rinse with water.

Stovetop and Oven Grease Remover
1/2 tsp. washing soda
1/4 tsp. liquid soap
2 cups hot water

Add washing soda and soap to hot water in a spray bottle. Since washing soda is caustic, wear gloves when using.

Other Surfaces
Use a halved lemon dipped in baking soda to scrub off residues. Follow up by spraying with glass cleaner mix (below).

Dishwashing
Castile soap
White vinegar

Wash your dishes in one dishpan filled with a mix of water and castile soap, then rinse in a separate pan containing a mix of water and vinegar (a 3-to-1 water-to-vinegar ratio works well).

last revised 1/10/2012

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