The Five Basics for Non-toxic Cleaning
Learning to clean from scratch—making home-made recipes—can truly work if you take time to understand a bit about the chemistry behind how the materials work. Here are the five ingredients that I find to be the safest, most effective, and useful for cleaning.
A commonly available mineral full of many cleaning attributes, baking soda is made from soda ash, and is slightly alkaline (it’s pH is around 8.1; 7 is neutral). It neutralizes acid-based odors in water, and adsorbs odors from the air. Sprinkled on a damp sponge or cloth, baking soda can be used as a gentle nonabrasive cleanser for kitchen counter tops, sinks, bathtubs, ovens, and fiberglass. It will eliminate perspiration odors and even neutralize the smell of many chemicals if you add up to a cup per load to the laundry. It is a useful air freshener, and a fine carpet deodorizer.
A chemical neighbor of baking soda, washing soda (sodium carbonate) is much more strongly alkaline, with a pH around 11. It releases no harmful fumes and is far safer than a commercial solvent formula, but you should wear gloves when using it because it is caustic. Washing soda cuts grease, cleans petroleum oil, removes wax or lipstick, and neutralizes odors in the same way that baking soda does. Don’t use it on fiberglass, aluminum or waxed floors—unless you intend to remove the wax.
White Vinegar and Lemon Juice
White vinegar and lemon juice are acidic—they neutralize alkaline substances such as scale from hard water. Acids dissolve gummy buildup, eat away tarnish, and remove dirt from wood surfaces.
Liquid Soaps and Detergent Liquid soaps and detergents are necessary for cutting grease, and they are not the same thing. Soap is made from fats and lye. Detergents are synthetic materials discovered and synthesized early in this century. Unlike soap, detergents are designed specifically so that they don’t react with hard water minerals and cause soap scum. If you have hard water buy a biodegradable detergent without perfumes; if you have soft water you can use liquid soap (both are available in health food stores).
Mold Killers and Disinfectants For a substance to be registered by the EPA as a disinfectant it must go through extensive and expensive tests. EPA recommends simple soap to use as a disinfectant There are many essential oils, such as lavender, clove, and tea tree oil (an excellent natural fungicide), that are very antiseptic, as is grapefruit seed extract, even though they aren’t registered as such. Use one teaspoon of essential oil to 2 cups of water in a spray bottle (make sure to avoid eyes). A grapefruit seed extract spray can be made by adding 20 drops of extract to a quart of water.
Make sure to keep all home-made formulas well-labeled, and out of the reach of children.
Better Basics for the Home
Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living
By Annie Berthold-Bond
The entire book is available and published by Three Rivers Press, New York
½ teaspoon each dried eucalyptus, fennel or rosemary, and pennyroyal
¼ cup cornstarch
Grind the herbs into a powder in a spice mill or a blender. Combine with the cornstarch in a glass jar. Shake to blend. Sprinkle on the pet and work into the fur. Makes ¼ cup. Preparation Time: About 15 minutes. Shelf Life: Indefinite, although the herbs will lose their potency in a few weeks. Storage: Glass jar.
½ teaspoon each dried eucalyptus, fennel or rosemary, and pennyroyal ¼ cup cornstarch. Grind the herbs into a powder in a spice mill or a blender. Combine with the cornstarch in a glass jar. Shake to blend. Sprinkle on the pet and work into the fur. Makes ¼ cup. About 15 minutes. Indefinite, although the herbs will lose their potency in a few weeks. Glass jar.
The best choice for tick repellent Essential Oils
Other herbs and essential oils: Bay, Eucalyptus, European Pennyroyal, lavender, lemon balm(citronella), myrrh, rosemary or tickweed (American Pennyroyal). Caution: Pregnant women should avoid pennyroyal
General Bug Repellant for People:
Garlic, chives, leeks, onions. These work best when eaten raw in a salad or just slightly cooked. Also, there are three different versions for each. You can buy it from the conventional store, organic food store or eat homegrown from the garden. The best of the 3 choices is homegrown, these foods contain a lot more nutrition in them and a little goes a long way. Garlic, especially, has antifungal, antivirus, antimicrobial and antibacterial powers.
(This is the all-purpose cleanser you should reach for first, because it works on most dirt)
½ teaspoon washing soda
2 teaspoons borax
½ teaspoon liquid soap or detergent
2 cups hot water
Combine the washing soda, borax and soap in a spray bottle. Pour in the hot water (it will dissolve the minerals), screw on the lid, and shake to completely blend and dissolve. Sprits every 6 inches or so of surface once or twice wiping off the cleanser with a rag as you go. For tough dirt, leave the cleaner on for a few minutes before wiping it off. Shake the bottle each time before using. Makes 2 cups Preparation time: About 1 minute. Shelf Life: Indefinite Storage: Leave in a labeled spray bottle.
Basic Borax Spray: Eliminate the washing soda.
Baking Soda Spray: Substitute baking soda for the washing soda for a gentler, less caustic spray cleaner.
Epsom Salt Spray: To make a spray full of alkaline but non-caustic minerals, substitute Epsom salts for the washing soda.
Club Soda Spray: Use only enough hot water as needed to dissolve the minerals, and substitute club soda for the rest of the water. Club soda is rich in alkaline minerals.
(If you have hard water, pets, young children, or an ill person in your home, this all-purpose cleaner will be useful. The acid will dissolve mineral buildup and neutralize and deodorize many body fluid odors.)
¼ cup white distilled vinegar or lemon juice
½ teaspoon liquid detergent
¾ cup warm water
Combine the ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake to blend before use. Spray the problem area generously (three or four sprites per foot), then wipe with a clean cloth. Makes 1 cup, Preparation Time: Less than 1 minute, Shelf Life: Indefinite with vinegar, a few days with lemon juice. Storage: Leave in the labeled spray bottle, or store in a labeled glass jar with a spray top. If the cleaner is made with lemon juice, store it in the refrigerator.
Basic Formula for Antiseptic All-Purpose Cleanser
(Not only does this preparation clean, but also the essential oils disinfect and provide a natural fragrance.)
Up to 1-teaspoon antiseptic essential oil (thyme, sweet orange, lemongrass, rose, clove, eucalyptus, cinnamon, rosemary, birch, lavender or tea tree)
1-teaspoon washing soda
2 teaspoons borax
½ teaspoon liquid soap or detergent
2 cups hot water
Combine the ingredients in a labeled spray bottle. Shake to dissolve and blend the minerals. Spray onto surface and leave for 15 minutes or so before wiping with a clean rag. Makes 2 cups. Preparation Time: about 1 minute. Shelf Life: Indefinite. Storage: Leave in the spray bottle, or store in a glass jar with a screw top.
Variations:Clove and Cinnamon Holiday Cleanser: use ½ teaspoon each clove and cinnamon essential oils.
Lightly Lavender Antiseptic Spray: Use 1 teaspoon lavender essential oil.
Sweet Orange: Use 1-teaspoon sweet orange oil.
Note: Pine oil is an essential oil disinfectant, and you can use that here instead of other essential oils. However, many people are allergic to pine, so use with caution.
Basic Carpet Cleaner
(Many hardware stores and even large supermarkets rent steam extraction carpet cleaners, which can be used with this formula)
¼ cup concentrated all-purpose liquid detergent (perfume free and biodegradable)
4 gallons water. Fill the machine's water and detergent dispenser. Follow the manufacturer's directions. Makes 4 gallons. Preparation Time: a few minutes. Shelf life: Use it all up each time it is mixed. Do not store.
Heavy-Duty Cleaner: Sometimes the addition of alkaline minerals helps remove dirt. Dissolve 2 teaspoons each borax and washing soda in about 4 cups of hot water, and then add the mixture to the water dispenser in the machine. Be sure not to add too many minerals; they can leave a white residue that will require extra rinsing to remove.
Basic Floor Cleaner Formula
(You can use this preparation on all floors except when directed by the manufacturer to avoid even mild detergent)
¼ cup liquid soap or detergent (perfume free and biodegradable)
Up to ½ cup white distilled vinegar or lemon juice
2 gallons warm water
Combine the ingredients in a large plastic bucket. Use with a mop or sponge. Makes about 2 gallons. Preparation Time: About 1 minute. Shelf Life: Discard unused portion.
Heavy-Duty Grease-Cutting Floor Cleaner: Add ¼ cup washing soda to the bucket before adding the warm water. Stir to dissolve. Do not use on waxed floors.
Antiseptic Floor Cleaner: Add 10 to 20 drops (depending on how strong a fragrance you want) lavender, rosemary or tea tree oil.
Deodorizing Floor Cleaner: Borax helps eradicate musty odors and lift dirt. Add ¼ cup borax to the bucket before adding the warm water. Stir to dissolve.
Herbal Tea Floor Soap For scent, add a few cups strong peppermint tea or lavender infusion.
Small to medium box baking soda
Sprinkle the bottom of the oven with baking soda to cover. Spray with water until very damp, and keep moist by spraying every few hours. Let set overnight. In the morning, simply scoop out the baking soda – all the grime will be loosened – and rinse the oven well. Baking soda needs lots of rinsing, but it is well worth the effort because it produces no toxic fumes.
Washing Soda for Tough Jobs: Substitute half washing soda for half the baking soda. Washing soda is a little more heavy-duty than baking soda, but it needs more rinsing, so bring it out just for really tough jobs.
(Keep a spray bottle with this mixture near the cutting board, thoroughly clean the board, then spray it two or three times a week)
1 cup water
20 drops sweet orange essential oil
10 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops eucalyptus essential oil
Pour water into a labeled spray bottle. Blend the essential oils in a glass jar. With an eyedropper, add 8 drops of the essential oil base to the spray bottle. Spray on and let set for at least 15 minutes, or don't rise at all. Makes 1 cup of spray and enough essential oil base mixture for 5 cups spray. Preparation Time: A few minutes. Shelf Life of Base Mixture: Indefinite (if properly stored, essential oils last for years). Shelf Life of Spray: Indefinite. Storage of Base Mixture and Spray Bottle: In a cool, dark place; screw tops on securely and label accordingly.
Antibacterial Spray II: For a different blend of essential oils, substitute 20 drops sweet orange oil, 10 drops lavender, 5 drops eucalyptus oil, and 5 drops lemongrass oil.
Basic Soft Scrubber Formula
(Use it on the bathtub, sinks, Formica countertops, and the shower stall.)
½ cup baking soda
Enough liquid soap or detergent to make a frosting-like consistency
5 to 10 drops fragrant essential oil such as 5 drops each rose and lavender (optional)
Place the baking soda in a bowl; slowly pour in the liquid soap, stirring all the while, until the consistency reaches that of frosting. Add a few drops of essential oil (if using). Scoop the creamy mixture onto a sponge, wash the surface, and rinse. Makes ½ cup. Preparation Time: About 1 minute. Shelf Life: Make only as much as you need at a time.