Taming the Toxic Beast: Easy Ways to Make Your Own Cleaning Products

by Devin Corrigan   |   August 6, 2012

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I knew it was time to kick my Windex habit when I ran out of one bottle and went under the sink to look for another. I didn’t find one—I found dozens. Dozens of Windex-like products crammed into an overflowing milk crate under the sink.

They weren’t all the same brand, so I started to compare the active chemicals on the bottles to just go by that. Pretty clever, right? Wrong. Turns out it’s hard to know if the Isopropanol in one bottle is similar to the Dimethyl Benzyl Ammonium Chloride in another. And, if I couldn’t make sense of these ingredients, should I really be dousing my kitchen in them, pouring them down my drains, and letting them seep into my rivers and landfills?

I needed a simpler, greener way. I was making a change—I was a girl on a mission! I headed to Google.

It turns out that I had totally overcomplicated the whole cleaning-up thing. I didn’t need all—or even any—of those harsh chemicals manufactured in a lab somewhere. Most of the materials I needed were already lying around my house, and all of them were produced by good old Mother Nature. Cleaners are cleaners, and if they work, it doesn’t matter if they’re missing the well-known brand name and pretty packaging.

Fast forward three weeks, and I’m still loving it. I have fewer harmful toxins in my home, I’ve reduced my ecological footprint, and I spend less money on cleaning products (always a plus for a broke college student). For once, I have actually tamed that beast under the sink.  

Below, I list the ingredients that I used, as well as a few basic cleaner recipes, in case you want to try this too. Sure, cleaning greener is a small thing, but that’s what makes it attainable. And I’m a firm believer in a bunch of small changes adding up to a big change.

The ingredients I used to green my cleaning:

  1. Recycled-plastic spray bottles – luckily, I had a few on hand
  2. Baking soda – it cleans, deodorizes, and scours
  3. Distilled white vinegar – it kills 99% of bacteria, inhibits mold, and cuts grease
  4. Lemons – their acidity kills bacteria and mold, bleaches, and removes stains
  5. Olive oil – it polishes wood and stainless steel, and makes scrubbing pastes
  6. Water!
  7. Natural soap – my only real purchase. I went with castile soap, which is made from olive oil and comes in a couple of different scents.
  8. Rags cut from old t-shirts – take that, paper towels!

You can also add a few drops of essential oils to any of these if you want. I don’t really like a lot of smells going on at my house, but to each his own.

The cleaners you can make:

  • All Purpose: Add a few drops of liquid castile soap to two cups hot water. Stir! Don’t shake. Add 30 drops of an essential oil, if desired. Pour into a spray bottle. Use on anything besides glass. (It will streak.)
  • Toilet: Mix 1/4 cup baking soda with 1 cup vinegar. Pour into bowl and let sit for 15 min. Scrub and flush.
  • Bathtub/ Shower: Combine equal parts vinegar and baking soda with a squirt of castile soap to form a thick paste. Apply the paste to the flesh of a lemon and clean using a circular motion. Squeeze the fruit slightly while washing. Rinse with warm water.
  • Glass: Combine 1/3 cup vinegar with 3/4 cup water. Clean glass using old newspaper. Try cleaning on a cloudy day! Streaks occur when the sun dries the cleaner too fast. If you really hate the smell of vinegar, you can also just put club soda in a spray bottle and clean using that and old newspaper. Works like a charm.
  • Wood Polish: Combine the juice from one lemon, 1 Tbsp. olive oil, and 1 Tbsp. water in a bottle or jar. Shake vigorously until well combined. Apply using a soft rag.

Devin Corrigan is a student at the University of North Carolina ­– Asheville and a guest blogger for New Dream.