Homemade cleaners are not only less toxic, they're also less expensive. Why wait until spring cleaning when you probably have many of these green cleaners in your house right now? From the kitchen sink to the bathroom shower, these natural cleaners will get the job done -- just be aware that some might take a little more time and a little more effort. And if you have a favorite natural or non-toxic cleaner, share your green cleaning tip.
1. Baking Soda
Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is an abrasive cleaner and deodorizer with dozens of uses. It scours sinks, pots, pans, tile surfaces, stainless steel, fiberglass and more. It may take more "elbow grease" to scrub with baking soda than with bleach-based commerical scrubs, but it's a safe green cleaner. Because it's an alkaline, baking soda reacts with acids like lemon juice or vinegar; use this to your advantage if your drain needs unclogging -- pour some baking soda down the drain, add a few splashes of vinegar, then cover the drain to let the foaming action push out the clog. If your carpet needs deodorizing, sprinkle baking soda on it before vaccuming.
Distilled white vinegar is an acidic liquid that's a natural disinfectant. A 50/50 mix of vinegar and water in a repurposed spray bottle is a great way to clean glass, cutting boards and other surfaces -- but don't use it on marble or other polished stone, as it can leave an indelible mark. It's also useful as a deodorizing green cleaner for mildewed bathroom surfaces; the smell of vinegar dissipates quickly, leaving a clean, fresh bathroom behind. And vinegar diluted with hot water can clean most hardwood floors quickly and easily.
3. Washing Soda
Washing soda, or sodium carbonate, is a somewhat caustic green cleaner -- wear gloves if you're using this to scour out the stains and mildew in your shower, sink or other wet tiled places. This powerhouse natural cleaner can beat up just about any household crud you can throw at it -- it cuts through grease and oils, it pulverizes waxes like lipstick, and can even strip the wax off wood surfaces. It also removes stains, disinfects, and boosts the cleaning power of laundry and dishwashing soaps. Look for it in the detergent aisle of most grocery stores.
Lemon juice and fresh cut lemons are a good way to clean with a strong acid that leaves a fresh scent behind. Cut a lemon in half and rub it on a barbecue grill, or dip it in salt to remove stains from metal surfaces like copper and brass. It also breaks up soap residue and mineral deposits from hard water. A natural deodorizer and green cleaner, use it anywhere you need an acid that smells better than vinegar.
5. Castile Soap
There are times when you just need a foaming natural cleaner, and all-natural castile soap, made from vegetables like olives, coconuts, palm, hemp or other plant-based ingredients, does the trick. Diluted, it's an ideal green cleaner for wood surfaces, and can double as a body cleanser and shampoo for you and your whole family -- even your pet!
Another strong alkaline, borax is an all-purpose green cleaner and disinfectant that cuts through grease, removes rust stains, whitens and deodorizes. It makes detergents more effective and is a favorite additive to laundry soaps and dishwashing liquid.
7. Olive Oil
No, not Popeye's girlfriend -- plain olive oil is great for natural cleaning and for polishing wood surfaces, though you can use a cheaper grade than what's used for cooking. Most green cleaning recipes call for some combination of olive oil and lemon or vinegar (yes, you're cleaning with salad dressing -- for a floor you could eat off). The ratio of vinegar, oil and water will vary depending on the the type of wood and the finish you have on top of it. For wood floors, try 1/4 cup of vinegar in 1 gallon of hot water. For wood furniture, start with 1 cup vinegar with 1 teaspoon oil. For both homemade cleaners, "adjust to taste."
8. And All the Rest
Some folks swear by tea tree oil -- just a few drops -- as an additive to plain water to deodorize and wipe out mildew and fungus. Ordinary table salt can help to scour out oven residue, and remove iron-based stains like red wine, blood and chocolate. Reuse old cotton clothing as cleaning rags, since few fabrics are more absorbtive. You can store these homemade cleaners in old spray bottles, but make sure they're labeled and carefully stored away from kids and pets, since even all-natural green cleaners aren't usually safe to ingest.