Safer Cleaning Solutions

By Kristen
Updated November 24, 2007

If you're trying to keep toxic cleaners in your home to a minimum, here are some safe alternatives you can try. Some of these I learned in chemistry classes while others I've picked up from friends. I've tested most of them, and they do work, but because these cleaning solutions aren't as harsh as many of the brand name cleaners you'll find at the grocery store or advertised on television, you may need to let the solutions sit for awhile or use a little extra elbow grease to scrub things. The extra time and effort is worth the health of your family, though.

General Cleaners

  • Put full strength vinegar in a spray bottle. Spray and clean. (If the smell is too strong. try 1/2 vinegar mixed with 1/2 water. Add several drops of your favorite essential oil to make it smell pretty.)
  • Make a soap solution with 2 tablespoons of oil soap mixed with 1 pint of water. Shake, spray, and clean. (Add several drops of your favorite essential oil to make it smell pretty.)

Disinfectants

  • Use the microwave to disinfect sponges, rags, etc.
  • Use a dishwasher that heats up to at least 170 degrees F to disinfect cutting boards, toys, etc.
  • Spray surfaces with full strength vinegar. (Vinegar won't kill everything, though, so rely on it only for general cleaning. Examples, don't use it to sterilize doctor offices or disinfect surfaces contaminated with raw chicken and such.)

Deodorizing / Air Fresheners

  • Use vinegar to deodorize everything from drains and refrigerators to cigarette smoke scented drapes and cloth baby diapers. (The vinegar smell goes away when it dries.)
  • Make a solution of 1 qt. warm water and 1/4 c. of baking soda. Spray the solution on any surface that needs to be deodorized (including fabric). If any white precipitate forms after the area dries, simply wipe it off or vacuum it up. If that doesn't work, try making a paste with baking soda and water to wash the item.
  • Sprinkle baking soda in the bottom of your cat's litter box, trash can, diaper pail, etc. to get rid of odors.
  • Sprinkle baking soda on rugs, carpets, upholstery, pet beds, automobile interiors, and even stuffed animals and let it sit (the longer the better). Then vacuum up to deodorize carpets.
  • When running your dishwasher using a setting that has multiple cycles put baking soda in one detergent tray (usually the one without the lid) and dishwasher detergent in the other. The baking soda will get rid of any odors from smelly foods. (Usually the "light wash" setting only runs one cycle while other settings run two or more cycles.)
  • Put a bowl, box, or sachet of baking soda in any place that tends to get smelly (e.g. refrigerators, freezers, closets, etc.). (When the baking soda starts to stink or seems to stop working, use it to clean your drains.)
  • To get rid of smells in baby bottles, fill the bottle with warm water, add 1 teaspoon of baking soda, shake it up and let it sit (the longer the better). Then clean as usual. You can also soak pacifiers, nipples, etc. in the solution.
  • Use potpourri (you can make your own), turn on an aromatic oil diffuser, put some vanilla on a cotton ball and hide it, cut up some citrus fruits and display them in a bowl, or boil some of your favorite scented herbs and spices (such as cinnamon or cloves) to cover up any bad odors quickly.
  • Don't forget to open those windows for good ventilation.

Scrubbing

  • Use baking soda as an abrasive instead of cleanser for scrubbing sinks, tile, showers, and bathtubs, grills, and cast iron.
  • Use a baking soda paste to scrub crayon marks off of the wall.

Degreasers

  • Use full strength vinegar for grease buildups.
  • For stubborn grease, switch back and forth between vinegar and baking soda while cleaning.
  • Mix vinegar with hot soapy water to break apart tough greases. (Work great on greasy dishes and in microwaves.)

Dissolving Minerals

  • Run a solution of 1/2 water and 1/2 vinegar through your coffee maker, tea maker, steam iron, dishwasher (in the detergent trays), washing machine, etc. to get rid of built up mineral deposits inside of the appliance.  Follow up by running pure water through the appliance two or three times before using it normally. Let the solution soak coffee pots, tea kettles, tea pots, etc. and rinse
  • Use full strength vinegar to dissolve rust.
  • Use full strength vinegar to get rid of hard water buildup in your bathtubs, sinks, showers, faucets, showerheads, etc.
  • Soak your drinking glasses in vinegar to get rid of that cloudy build up.
  • Make a solution from baking soda and water and spray it in your car's battery to break down oxidized minerals. Then just scrub or wipe the corrosion off. (Make sure the battery is disconnected.)

Stain Removers

  • Use vinegar to pre-treat stains from fruit, mustard, coffee, and tea. Then just wash as usual.
  • Boil a solution of 1 part vinegar to 8 parts water in pots with stains to get rid of the stains.
  • Use a solution of 1/4 cup baking soda to 1 quart of warm water and use it to wash tea pots, coffee pots, mugs, etc. to remove coffee and tea stains. Soak them in the solution for heavy stains.
  • Use baking soda to absorb grease stains on your garage floor or driveway. Just sprinkle it on, let it sit for a short time, and scrub with a wet brush.
  • Use lemon juice to lighten most stains.
  • Mix lemon juice with salt and put the solution on rust stains on fabric. Then put the fabric in the sunlight.

Mold and Mildew

  • Spray mold and mildew with full strength vinegar.

Windows, Mirrors, and Glass

  • Use vinegar diluted with water or full strength for cleaning glass of all sorts.
  • Use lemon juice diluted with water for cleaning glass of all sorts.
  • Mix the vinegar and lemon juice solutions for an even stronger cleaner.

Polishing Metals

  • Full strength vinegar is great for polishing chrome.
  • Line a large dish with aluminum foil. Then put your tarnished silver in the dish, making sure that it touches the aluminum. Make a baking soda solution by using 1 cup of baking soda per 1 gallon of hot or boiling water. Pour the baking soda solution into the large dish with the tarnished silver, making sure the silver is completely covered by the solution. You'll see the tarnish start to disappear after only a few seconds. The more tarnish you have, though, the longer it will take, and in some cases you may need to do this several times if it's extremely bad. (I actually saw someone trying to sell this on an infomercial. They called the baking soda their "tarnish removing powder," and the aluminum was their "activation plate." I can't believe people actually bought it for $19.99.)
  • Sprinkle some baking soda on sliced lemons and rub them on brass, copper, bronze, and aluminum to remove tarnish and polish the metal.

Wood Polish

  • Mix 1 part vegetable oil to 1 part lemon juice or vinegar to polish wood.
  • Mix 1 part vinegar to 1 part vegetable oil.

Floors / Mopping

  • Use a solution of 1/2 cup of baking soda mixed with 1 gallon of warm water to clean your no-wax floor.
  • Spray your floor with full-strength vinegar (or 1/2 vinegar + 1/2 water) and clean away. (Don't use on marble floors.)

Unclogging Drains

  • Put strainers on all of your drains to keep them from getting clogged in the first place.
  • Always try to unclog a drain using a plunger first.
  • Pour 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain followed by 1/2 cup to 2 cups of vinegar. After it stops fizzing, pour down a pot of boiling water. (Do this once per month with all of your drains whether or not they're clogged to keep them from getting clogged. Plus, it's good for your septic system.)
  • Use a plumber's snake.

Laundry

  • Use 1/4 - 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide instead of bleach in your wash cycle.
  • Add 1/2 cup of baking soda or borax to your laundry along with your laundry detergent (and bleach if necessary) to boost your detergent's cleaning power, boost your bleach's whitening power, and eliminate odors on clothes.
  • Sprinkle baking soda in your hamper to get rid of the odor from smelly, dirty clothes.
  • Use vinegar to get pre-treat perspiration stains.
  • Use a paste made from baking soda, detergent, and water to pre-treat stains from coffee, chocolate, tea, gravy, urine, stool, vomit / spit-up, baby formula, make-up, mildew, mud, and rust.
  • Add 1/2 cup of lemon juice or white vinegar to the rinse cycle to brighten your laundry soften clothes, remove detergent residues, and reduce lint.
  • Mix 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to 2 cups of water and use instead of laundry starch. (I know it's not exactly a cleaner.)

Oven Cleaners

  • Use a self-cleaning oven, which cleans itself by heating up to a very high temperature and burning away the spills.
  • Spray full strength vinegar on on the spills. Heat up the oven to 200 degrees F then let the oven cool down to a temperature that won't burn you. Scrape off any burnt spills with a spatula. Wipe it all up. Then make a paste of baking soda and water and scrub tough spills away with a stiff brush or scrub pad. For extra stubborn grease, alternate with baking soda paste and full strength vinegar. For extra tough burnt on spills, repeat the entire process and use steel wool.