How to make your own homemade all-purpose cleaner – and why you want to!
I’ve always been careful to avoid germs and unnecessary chemical exposure, but now that I have a toddler and a baby in utero, I’m downright paranoid about it.
When I used store-bought cleaners, this was kind of a vicious circle of worrying. I would slice up some raw chicken for supper and could practically see the salmonella parading around the counter, so I’d shoot it with all-purpose cleaner. Toby would pat his grinning reflection in the window with sticky fingers and the dog would helpfully lick it “clean”, so I’d grab a bottle of window cleaner and give it a swipe. I’d gotten rid of the germs, but then I’d potentially covered the counter where I prep food and the window that the dog –and probably the kid– lick in harmful chemicals.
Once upon a time, my solution to this conundrum was to buy a “green” cleaner from the grocery store. Sure, they were a little more expensive, but they were totally worth the extra price to breathe a little easier, right? Well… maybe not so much. Often these products are just “greenwashed“, or spun to appear more environmentally friendly than the alternative. The ingredient list will show you that most items are plant derived, but things like sodium lauryl sulfate or silicone antifoaming agents are still not wildly desirable. The bottom line is that I do believe them to be the lesser of two evils if you are buying a commercial cleaner, but I don’t even bother buying commercial cleaners anymore. Homemade is best!
But do homemade cleaners really get things clean?
Short answer? YES. Yes they do!
The main ingredient that I use — and most people use, for that matter — is vinegar. White vinegar is not only inexpensive but also a natural cleaning superhero: it disinfects, deodorizes and cuts grease, mainly by way of its acetic acid content (which is generally 5%).
Vinegar “crosses the cell membrane of bacteria then prompts a release of protons, which causes the cell to die”, hence its disinfecting power. Apparently, odor-causing molecules are made up of double bonds which are susceptible to being broken, and the acidity of vinegar will crack them open for you, which is a very small-scale explanation of how deodorizing works. This same acid content is what eats through grease. Since you can also use it to season salads, I’d say vinegar is a nice, versatile thing to keep in your kitchen and clean it with.
Now, I know a lot of folks, my husband especially, will say, “But vinegar stinks!” When I first started making my own cleaners, I got a lot of black looks because of the vinegar-y pall that hung over me during cleaning sessions. But the good news is that when vinegar dries, the scent virtually disappears. Even better than that news is this tip: if you infuse your vinegar with lemon rinds, it smells lovely and lemony and like the cleaners you might be used to! All you have to do is stick a few lemon rinds in a jar, pour some white vinegar over them and let it sit for about two weeks, shaking the jar every now and again. If you just use a little at a time and keep adding more vinegar, this jar will last you for months and will get more lemony as time goes on. When the peels start to disintegrate (which hasn’t happened to me yet), chuck them and start fresh. Since I’ve started doing this, I have had zero complaints about vinegar smell and so… Yay! Success! Now you’ve got a germ killer that also smells nice.
So now that you know why you want to clean with vinegar (and how to set it up to smell nicer), I will tell you my favorite all-purpose cleaner recipe. This is a recipe that I posted once in my old blog, but then I suggested using castile soap and I’ve since found out that because that type of soap is oil-based, it’s not recommended to mix vinegar and castile together. You can just use a environmentally friendly dish soap in its stead. I also used to add borax but although it is a fantastic alternative to bleach and other cleaners, it can be harmful if ingested and so I decided it was better to keep it out of the spray I tend to use in the kitchen. So here it is, my newly adjusted recipe for…
Lemony Vinegar Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner
- 1 L water
- A squirt of dishwashing liquid (About a teaspoon or so. Go enviro-friendly if you can help it!)
- 1/4 cup lemon-peel infused white vinegar
- 10 drops of tea tree oil (Tea tree is another staple in my house used for a multitude of purposes. It contains compounds which make it antiseptic and antimicrobial and it also makes the cleaner smell more like… well, more like a cleaner.)
- 10 drops of lemon essential oil (You can really use whatever kind of essential oil you want here. Lavender, sweet orange or rosemary are all good scents to combine with the lemon vinegar, if you ask me.)
All you have to do is mix the whole works up in a jug and pour it into a spray bottle. Or if you have a big enough spray bottle, pour all the ingredients in there and give it a shake. Spray onto any surface you want to clean and wipe it down with a damp cloth, just like you would with store-bought stuff.
This stuff does a great job anywhere in the kitchen. I spritz Toby’s little table (generally covered in a concoction of milk, peanut butter and play doh) and his plastic toys with it when they get grubby. I use it in the bathroom and it does a fantastic job on shower doors, sinks and toilets (you may need to give a dirty tub a scrub down with baking soda to get rid of the ring, first). I’ve even used it on windows and mirrors! I love how easy it is to make and how useful it is, and I love that if Toby gets a hold of it (and he has his ways), I don’t have to go into panic mode.
I feel like it’s important to note, however, that although this recipe is non-toxic, it still should not be consumed! The tea tree oil, essential oil and dish soap are quite diluted in this recipe, but they are not edible (I’m looking at you, brother-in-law who thinks natural = edible). While it’s safer to use around your kids than, say, Lysol, you should still keep it out of reach!
What kinds of homemade cleaners do you use? And do you have any other favorite uses for vinegar?