Because off-the-shelf cleaning solutions usually rely on harsh ingredients like bleach and ammonia to deliver quick results, they also pollute.
Inside our home, they can worsen air quality, resulting in side effects like eye and airway irritation. And washing them down the drain means they ultimately end up in our streams, lakes, and other bodies of water.
The good news? You probably already have several alternatives in your kitchen and bathroom cupboards that can address everyday grime equally as well as store-bought formulations—but without the health and environmental concerns.
In this article, we’ll arm you with the know-how to make it happen, starting with perhaps your most pressing question.
Are Natural Cleaners Effective for Beating Dirt & Grime?
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 spotless house smells air-fresh, not odor-laden.
Pro tip: 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.
Instead, the reality is that very few products are needed to clean any given room effectively. Although there will certainly be instances where specialized cleaners are necessary, the natural alternatives discussed in this article will more than suffice for most tasks.
A Quick Note About Safety
Just keep in mind that while natural alternatives are often safer than off-the-shelf options, this doesn't mean they can't irritate—especially if you're asking children to help out with chores.
Always wear rubber gloves while cleaning and properly ventilate the area whenever possible. And don’t forget to label homemade cleaning solutions clearly, keeping them out of curious hands.
Hydrogen Peroxide: The Powerhouse of Natural Cleaners
You likely already have a bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide sitting in your medicine cabinet, which is useful for disinfecting cuts, burns, and other wounds.
But 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.
Here are some ways to take advantage of its sanitizing abilities around your home:
Cleaning Countertops and 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 washcloth and wipe away. You can also attach a handy spritzing nozzle to the brown bottle. Just be sure to avoid using a clear spray bottle or another container, as exposure to light makes hydrogen peroxide ineffective.
Extra Tip: You don't have to dilute hydrogen peroxide before use. Instead, merely pour or spray on, then wait about two minutes before wiping away.
Washing Your Fruits and 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 (or the recycling bin, in a best-case scenario).
Instead, fill your sink with water and 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 using a soft nylon bristle brush. To finish, just towel dry.
Cleaning Your Bathroom
Because hydrogen peroxide is a disinfectant and is effective at making glass and tile shine, it can work as a tremendous odorless, non-toxic substitute for off-the-shelf bathroom and window cleaners. This can be especially important when you’re trapped in a small space with limited ventilation.
As with its other uses around your home, you can purchase a separate spray nozzle or dab onto a washcloth for application. You’ll want to wait a full two minutes before wiping clean.
Hydrogen peroxide’s natural antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties also make it a safe solution for eradicating mold.
Start by spraying or pouring hydrogen peroxide onto the moldy area, making sure it’s fully saturated. Then, wait 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 remove any stains left by mold.
Brighten Old Linens and Tablecloths
Sometimes 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 and 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.
The Many Natural Cleaning Uses for Vinegar
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.
A Quick Word of Caution
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 into contact, they create 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 use vinegar to clean up a broken egg—you’ll be left with a near-petrified mess.
Those warnings aside, it 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 save money and 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, and then wipe them down with the solution before allowing their fur 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 potent 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 during application, it will dissipate once the liquid is wiped up and allowed to dry—taking any other offending odors away, too.
Rid Your Home of Fruit Flies
Did you accidentally 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 the insects are attracted to moist surfaces.
How to Create a Non-Toxic All-Purpose Scrub
While hydrogen peroxide and vinegar can be used to tackle many tasks, neither offers the same scrubbing option that you might get from Ajax or Comet.
Here's a practical, inexpensive, and non-toxic alternative that uses baking soda to remove acidic stains and polish shiny surfaces, instead of relying on 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 soap—we’d recommend options made from olive, palm, or coconut oils, which will moisturize your skin and help you avoid harsher moisturizers like petroleum derivatives or animal fat—it makes a creamy paste that can effectively clean almost any surface around your home.
Just combine the baking soda and liquid soap in a bowl. Then, cut a lemon in half, spread the paste on the side, and start scrubbing. Together, the lemon works like a sponge, its natural citrus content will help penetrate dirt and leave behind a pleasant scent, while the baking soda will act as a mild abrasive.
The paste will remain moist for a few hours, giving you plenty of time to clean even a relatively large area. When you’re finished, just wipe away any residue using a damp rag or sponge.
Extra Tip: If you have a leftover paste that you don’t want to toss, place it inside a jar, add a few drops of vegetable glycerin, and then seal. This way, it’ll remain usable until it’s time to clean again.
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.
In fact, cold water alone is suitable for rinsing flour out of bowls and for wiping up most spills. You can effectively clean and sufficiently sanitize most floors with warm water, as well as sinks and toilet seats using only hot water.
And in instances when water by itself won’t cut the mustard (so to speak), many ingredients already in your kitchen—such as baking soda, liquid soap, and borax—can help turn the cleaning power up a notch for any room in your house.
Bottom line? While modern products are designed to make cleaning a one-wipe process, they could release potentially worrisome fumes, especially for children, those with breathing concerns, and the elderly.
But the reality is that if you’re willing to put up with a little scrubbing, there are plenty of natural products sitting in your kitchen that could help you avoid these concerns, while still effectively cleaning your home.
» For Further Reading: Easy Homemade Cleaning Solutions to Treat Common Carpet Stains