One thing we probably all have in common is a hatred of cleaning the house. Sure, it’s fine if everything’s already tidy and you’re just wiping down a counter here or there, but no one’s elbowing to be first in line for scrubbing tile grout.
So, it’s no surprise that many off-the-shelf cleaning solutions claim to be shortcuts, promising to save you energy and time. Store-bought cleaners often rely on ingredients like bleach and ammonia. They might get the job done—but not without also doing a number on your eyes, airways, and wallet.
Ironically, these cleaners also pollute: Disinfectants and other chemicals washing down drains now contaminate more than two-thirds of U.S. streams. Largely because of these same products, our indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than the air outside.
The good news? Alternatives to store-bought cleaning products are likely already in your kitchen or bathroom cupboards. Armed with just a few ingredients and a little know-how, you can make some of our favorite easy, essential solutions that are effective at cleaning up everyday grime.
You likely already have a 3% hydrogen peroxide bottle in your medicine cabinet—on hand to disinfect cuts, burns, and other wounds. Not only highly useful for first aid, this odorless, non toxic sanitizer can also kill mold, break up grime, and lighten linens—saving you money when compared to more expensive off-the-shelf solutions, like Amish Cleaning Tonic, it works better, too.
Here are some ways to take advantage of hydrogen peroxide around your home:
Cleaning Countertops & Cutting Boards
Next time you’re making dinner and decide to slap that raw chicken on your kitchen counter, make sure you have a bottle of hydrogen peroxide on hand to kill any residual bacteria, like salmonella.
To use, just pour a small amount on a clean rag and wipe away. You can also attach a handy spritzing nozzle to hydrogen peroxide’s brown bottle. Just be sure not to switch the liquid into a clear container instead, as exposure to light breaks down the solution and makes hydrogen peroxide ineffective.
Extra Tip: You don’t have to dilute hydrogen peroxide before use. Instead, simply wipe on or spray, then wait for about two minutes before wiping off the excess.
Washing Your Fruits & Veggies
With today’s emphasis on getting foods as germ- and pesticide-free as possible, there are plenty of commercial fruit and vegetable washes available. The trouble is that they’re pretty expensive and mean just one more plastic bottle that eventually goes into the wastebasket.
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Instead, fill your sink with water, then add a half a cup of hydrogen peroxide. Allow your fruits and vegetables to soak for two minutes before gently rubbing off any remaining dirt with your hands or a soft nylon bristle brush. To finish, simply towel dry.
Cleaning Your Bathroom
Hydrogen peroxide is a great substitute for off-the-shelf bathroom cleaners. It’s a disinfectant, plus it’s effective at making glass and tile shine. However, unlike commercial cleaners, hydrogen peroxide is odorless and non-toxic—important when you’re trapped in a small space with limited ventilation.
You can purchase a separate spray nozzle to use hydrogen peroxide in your bathroom. However, the solution doesn’t become any less effective if only dabbed on a rag before wiping your bathroom floor to ceiling. As always, give hydrogen peroxide a good two minutes before wiping clean.
Extra Tip: You can stop buying window cleaner, too. Hydrogen peroxide will leave bathroom mirrors and glass shower stalls sparkling.
Hydrogen peroxide is pretty much the cleansing super-trifecta: antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal, which already makes it great to have on hand. However, you’re hard-pressed to find a safer solution to eradicate mold.
To use, spray or pour hydrogen peroxide onto the moldy area, making sure it’s fully saturated. Then, wait for at least ten minutes before thoroughly scrubbing the area to get rid of any last bits and spores.
Bonus? The bleaching effect of hydrogen peroxide also helps to get rid of any stains left by mold.
Brighten Old Linens & Tablecloths
Sometimes the nice linens end up yellow or dingy from months of disuse. If they’re older or delicate fabrics, even diluted bleach can be too harsh to use when lightening is needed.
Instead, fill your sink with warm water, then add two cups of hydrogen peroxide. Allow linens, tablecloths, or even your favorite delicate whites to soak for an hour or so, before air-drying.
Vinegar should rank right up there with diamonds when it comes to durable value: you can store large bottles because it keeps for such a long time, it’s an effective natural cleaner, and it’s inexpensive.
However, for all vinegar’s virtues, there are a few things you should know:
- Do not ever combine vinegar with bleach. When the two come together, they create a dangerous chlorine gas. You might be tempted to do so with the idea that mixing these two powerful cleaners will get a job done even faster, but instead, you risk chemical burns to your eyes, throat, and lungs.
- There are a few places you don’t want to use vinegar. Granite, marble, and stone floor tiles are too porous. Use a mild liquid detergent and warm water, instead. Also, never try to use vinegar to clean up a broken egg—you’ll be left with a near-petrified mess.
Those warnings aside, vinegar remains an easy, non-toxic (when un-mixed), and inexpensive cleaner. Here are a few ways to use distilled vinegar around your home:
Get Rid of Odors
Have a cabbage in the slow cooker or fresh paint on the wall? You could spend over twenty dollars on Clean and Green. Or, just fill a bowl to the top with distilled white vinegar, then place it in the center of the room. By morning, the area will be free of any offending smells.
Garbage disposal in need of cleaning? Pour a heaping cup of vinegar down the drain and wait for at least an hour before rinsing.
Extra Tip: If your pet is super smelly, there’s a quicker fix than a full shampoo. Just mix one cup of vinegar with a gallon of warm water, give Fido a rinse, then wipe him down with the solution before allowing your pet to air dry.
Eliminate Soap Scum
Want an easy way to get rid of soap scum residue in the sink, shower, or bathtub? Vinegar is cheap, fast, effective, and kills 99% of germs and bacteria in the process.
To use, grab a small bucket or bowl and fill to the halfway point with vinegar. Then, toss in your drain plugs, shower accessories, or anything that’s covered in slimy soap scum or grime.
After about ten minutes, remove the items and place aside to air dry before taking the same solution and pouring it straight into the sink or offending area. Completely removing soap scum does take a little scrubbing action. However, there’s no need to rinse, since vinegar is a strong antibacterial and the longer it stays on any surface, the better. Instead, just use a clean cloth to wipe dry.
While the smell of vinegar is strong while it’s in action, it will dissipate once the liquid is wiped up and allowed to dry—taking any other offending smells away, too.
Rid Your Home of Fruit Flies
Did you accidently leave a fruit bowl out too long? There’s no need to chase fruit flies down one by one. Instead, grab the following:
- Cling wrap
- A cup
- A pen
- A rubber band
- Apple cider vinegar
Pour about one inch of apple cider vinegar into the glass, then place a large square of cling wrap over the top, with plenty of excess left around the sides. Use the rubber band to secure the clear wrap, and then poke a tiny hole in the middle of your makeshift lid. Be sure the hole is small enough to allow fruit flies to pass through, but not so large that they can exit. Finally, push the hole down so that it creates a funnel.
Flies will be drawn to the vinegar, but unable to escape. Just place your trap wherever fruit flies are gathering and refresh the solution if any remain after several days.
Extra Tip: If you can’t seem to beat your fruit fly problem, be sure to throw out old sponges, since fruit flies are attracted to the moist surface.
A Non-Toxic, All-Purpose Scrub
While hydrogen peroxide and vinegar can be used to tackle many tasks, neither offer the same scrubbing option that you might get from Ajax or Comet. Here’s an effective, inexpensive, and non-toxic alternative that uses baking soda to remove acidic stains and polish shiny surfaces, instead of harsher chemical cleaners.
- 1/2 cup baking soda
- Mild liquid soap
- 1/2 of a lemon
When baking soda is combined with the grease-cutting power of lemon and your favorite mild soap—we prefer a gentle soap made with oils such as olive, palm, or coconut, rather than one made from petroleum derivatives or animal fat—it makes a creamy paste that can effectively clean almost any surface around your home.
To make, pour baking soda into a bowl. Add just enough liquid soap to turn the solution to a creamy consistency. Spread mixture on the flat side of lemon and scrub. The lemon acts as a sponge and leaves a natural citrus scent. Use a damp rag or sponge to wipe away any residue. You'll find the paste will stay moist for a few hours.
Extra Tip: To save leftover scrub, add in a few drops of vegetable glycerin (a thick, clear syrup derived from plant oils) and seal in a glass jar.
Less Is More When Safely Beating Dirt & Grime
You actually need very few products to clean any given room. Although there will certainly be instances where specialized cleaners are necessary, the natural alternatives provided above will more than suffice for most tasks.
Rethink What Your Idea of “Clean” Really Means
Many of us associate fragrance or bleach with sanitation because we're so used to the odor of the chemicals in commercial cleaning agents. Yet, a truly clean house smells air-fresh, not odor-laden.
Be aware that many manufacturers of "unscented" cleaners use chemical fragrance to mask the scent of the active ingredients in their products. So, while your laundry detergent might not smell like roses, it may be scented to smell unscented.
Homemade Solutions Should Still Be Kept Away From Children
It’s worth noting that while switching to natural alternatives, such as vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, can make you feel more comfortable asking children to help out with chores, they can still be irritating to the skin.
Always wear rubber gloves while cleaning and ventilate the area whenever possible. And don’t forget to label homemade cleaning solutions clearly, keeping them out of the of curious hands.
Bottom Line? Use Homemade Cleaners Whenever Possible
When it comes to germs, anyone who's taken high school biology knows that microorganisms, including beneficial ones that live inside us, are omnipresent.
When cleaning your home, of course, you want to eliminate E. coli from countertops, clean bacteria from bathroom fixtures, and minimize the spread of viruses.
But, it doesn’t take harsh chemical cleaners to get the job done. Studies have shown that unless someone in your home is severely immunosuppressed, all you need is soap, warm water, and a little scrubbing to keep your family members from getting an infectious disease.
Water is often effective on its own. Cold water is all you need to rinse off bowls used for flour when baking, or to wipe up many spills. Likewise, warm water is adequate for cleaning most floors, and hot water works for a sink or a toilet seat.
When more cleaning power is needed, look in the kitchen for a few very basic ingredients such as baking soda, liquid soap, and borax, a naturally occurring mineral. With these, you can tackle every room in the house.
Bottom line? Modern cleaning products are designed so you don't have to do anything but wipe. However, a little scrubbing is usually preferable to breathing in a lot of nasty fumes.