Switch to non-toxic cleaners

We’re working through Tsh’s ebook One Bite at a Time together. Join in any time! You don’t have to do the tasks in any specific order, so even though we are on Project 24, you can easily jump in now. We’re taking it slow, and I’m always honest about what works for me and my family.  Buy the ebook here for only $5 and play along!

Having grown up in a culturally traditional Portuguese home, I was raised on the notion that nothing smelled quite so sweet as the scent of bleach and Pine Sol wafting through the house. The only thing better was the smell of bleach, Pine Sol, and some kind of soup boiling on the stove, wafting through the house.

So, when I grew up and had a place of my own, I adopted a similar principal. The harsher the chemical the better, right? My college apartment was probably the cleanest and most sanitized apartment in town. Mind you, I didn’t have kids yet, so this wasn’t a difficult task. Or at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

In college, I was friends with the naturally gorgeous and hipster-granola Brianna.  Brianna was that girl you wanted to hate because she basically rolled out of bed every morning without a stitch of make up on and looked like a model for a J. Crew catalog.  Plus, she drank chai and knew about organic before it was hip to buy organic, and talked about flax seed before anyone had even heard of flax seed.

When I turned 21, while my other friends were buying me drinks, or the ever classic martini shaker, Brianna bought me a book filled with non-toxic cleaner recipes. The inscription on the inside cover read: “I know this isn’t the most glamorous of birthday gifts, but I hope it proves useful. My regards, Brie.”  What college student do you know signs with “my regards“? Brianna did. Because Brianna was hip and cool like that.

I thanked her for my unorthodox gift, flipped through the pages once, and then shoved it in a drawer.  The book moved with me from home to home, pretty much accumulating dust in each different space.

Until one day, many years later, when I wiped off my kitchen counter with some kind of bleach-based cleaner, and then set up my infant son with some Cheerios right on the same counter I had just wiped down with enough chemicals liable to kill a horse.

And I realized something… Why on earth do I find it necessary to do daily maintenance housekeeping with cleaners that were so harsh?  Did my counter really get so gross in 24 hours that it was deemed “bleach-worthy”?  And then I watched my son crawl away, on floors where I had used some kind of fake pine-scented fluid all over… and then sit up and begin sucking his fingers.  So so so gross.

It was then, seven years later, that I pulled out that old birthday gift. I assembled my supplies and hunkered down. Turns out, all I really needed was baking soda, vinegar, and some scented oils, and within an hour I had everything made.

My son is now five, and guess what?  I still make a vast majority of my cleaning supplies. Granted, there were some recipes that I felt didn’t quite do the job I wanted, and every once in a while, I feel like a good scrubbing with store-bought stuff needs to happen. But for everyday use, I’m a baking soda and vinegar convert.

I don’t think I’ll ever be convinced to throw out the bottle of bleach completely, but it doesn’t get pulled out very often, and that’s gotta count for something, right?  I’ve also since become a huge fan of the steam mop.  No chemicals.  No cleaners. Just really hot water that dries really fast and keeps you from reusing nasty, dirty water that you have to wring out.

So thank you, Brianna, wherever you are. You and your granola, hipster ways are still alive and well in my home all these years later. And I still have that martini shaker too. Just so you know.

Have you tried making your own cleaners? 

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Jeannett Gibson is a mom to four and wife to one who loves color and believes in story. She loves to tell you hers and wants to hear yours, too...because there is really no sense in wasting our suffering or not sharing in each other's joy. She blogs, fund raises, and sometimes even gets her crafty pants on at Life Rearranged.

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  1. I love making my own cleaners. That is one of the first “green’ steps we took as a family, because unlike some things it actually saves you a ton of money really quickly.

  2. Every since my kids started being old enough to help with the cleaning I made the switch over to homemade natural cleaners. I just couldn’t stand the thought of them breathing in the fumes but with natural cleaners, I feel fine about them helping me clean and hey I need all the help I can get!

    • Jeannett says:

      Such a good point! I happily let my son help with cleaning baseboards when I know it’s just water, vinegar, and scented oil!

      • Morgane says:

        Hey Jeannett,

        just cause I couldn’t leave a comment on your website: are the Honest Company’s products certified organic?
        Thanks 🙂

  3. Creating your own cleaners is a great option! It is cheap, easy and eco-friendly. So why not do it? Thanks for this post!:)

  4. I’ve looked at these kinds of recipes for years now. But it seems so contrary to put oil in a cleanser – doesn’t it get the oil on everything? Yet I know I want it to smell good. Comments, please!

    • Jeannett says:

      You only put a few drops of oil in a spray bottle filled with water/vinegar. 10 drops of oil in a few cups of liquid doesn’t make anything yucky. 🙂

    • In ‘the old days’ soap was made from lard ‘soaponified’ by lye (made from ashes); many people still do this using vegetable oils. So, if soap is made from oil, why not put it in a cleaner?

    • Some oils blend into the water. Eucalyptus oil is one of these, leaves a very fresh clean scent and is anti bacterial disinfectant as well, so some of this in your spray bottle combined with water and vinegar will clean almost anything!

  5. I’ve been using baking soda and vinegar to clean just about everything in my house for the last five years. I switched because it seemed like my son was having allergies to the more harsh things I use to use. I can’t say I really “make” my cleaners. I do mix vinegar and water to make glass cleaner but that is about as far as the making goes. I have tried my hand at making laundry detergent, but my husband had a serious skin rash to the borax and after 2 years I am still trying to live that one down.

  6. LOVE making my own cleaners! It’s frugal, green and healthy.

    I clean most things with vinegar and bicarb, with salt thrown in if it needs a good solid scrub. I cleaned my oven with that this evening, and it took exactly the same time it used to take me with a “real” shop bought cleaner. But cost a bucket load less, and when the baby came over and started to “help” I wasn’t the least bit concerned.

    I also make my own laundry detergent. I love feeling horrendously smug as I bypass whole aisles at the shops 😉

  7. I use vinegar for my kitchen and bathrooms. I was a little skeptical at first, but after our Extension Officer showed me the official Ohio State Extension stance that vinegar worked- I was sold. So much cheaper and I don’t worry about my kiddos being in the area when I’m cleaning.

    One thing I tried and didn’t like though, was a Baking Soda/ Vinegar combo for the toilet bowls. It might work for some people, but with our hard well water, it just made the toilet bowl brush turn red and rust instantly. Same with the mop when I tried to clean the floors with vinegar.

  8. I completely agree that many of the cleaners on the market are unnecessary and harsh! I’m all about the simpler solutions- pardon the pun.

  9. I love making my own cleaners. I grew up with a mom that made good use of white vinegar and baking soda so it wasn’t new to me. However, I use it as my primary cleaner now. It is also nice to knwo that when my 4 year old wants to help clan, I don’t really have to worry about where the cleaner gets sprayed.

  10. I also love making my own cleaners! Makes me feel a bit like a mad scientist. 😉 The thing that helped me make the switch was going to a workshop where we got to make our own cleaners and take them home. Since that time (two years ago) I got rid of my harsh chemicals and use only natural cleaners for cleaning. I do miss oven cleaner though! Not the smell, but the power of cleaning off built-up oven gunk! Otherwise, I haven’t really had a job that my cleaners couldn’t handle!

  11. Does anyone know of a good homemade way to clean granite countertops? That is the one area where I’m stuck. So far, I’ve tried a couple of different “recipes” and cannot find anything that doesn’t streak! Thank you for suggestions!

  12. I have to share my bleach alternative that I found on an allergy website years ago and was confirmed by a biology professor! Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide kills more germs than bleach, is food safe, and will “bleach” things white. The only thing that makes it a little inconvenient is that you CAN NOT mix them in the same container. I have two different spray bottles; I first spray the vinegar and then I immediately spray the hydrogen peroxide over the same area. Love, love, love it!

    • Jeannett says:

      ohhhhhh, I need to try that!!! Awesome!

    • Ooooo, I’ve used these as cleaners before but no like you suggested. Good to know!

    • Yes. This is what I do too.

    • I use hydrogen peroxide on clothing stains as well. It totally works to get most things out (not all, but most). Just pour it right on your clothes. Works for getting blood out too — learned that from my midwife. 🙂

    • i have to try the vinegar/hydrogen peroxide thing! does it work on tile grout as well?

      • FOr me, I mix baking soda with hydrogen peroxide, leave it on for about an hour, then scrub off with dish soap. I was blown away how well it worked. We forgot to seal our grout when we built our island, so it gets so gross. I’ve cleaned it about 5 times, always with the intention to seal it afterwards, then something happens. However, it is nice to know that I can basically get it back to ‘new’ with a pretty simple formula!

  13. So glad you posted this. I’ve weaned my Caribbean-raised husband off of bleach and harsh cleaners (although occasionally we pull them out for big disinfection jobs). Instead we keep gallons of white distilled vinegar, soak pineneedles in it for scent and add some drops of teatree oil.

    Our house is clean and safe. And smells nice (when we take out the compost before too long!)

  14. Yes, we make our own cleaners but you are correct with baking soda and vinegar, you can really cover all your cleaning needs. Those 2 combined with a pot of boiling water also work wonders on plumbing in old houses, too.

  15. I do make my own cleaners – not all of them although I will eventually get there! In fact, I have a free e-book on my site that includes a few of my favorite cleaner recipes!

  16. Love the humor, great morning chuckle. 🙂

    We, too, use these cleaners. Can’t say I miss the toxic smells either. I can’t even stand certain disinfectant sprays anymore – it’s like we need gas masks to wear after spraying to prevent spreading the flu viruses (?)… Ironic!

  17. Thanks to Simple Mom, I make ALL my own cleaners except dishwasher detergent. I have tried EVERY recipe I can find on the interwebz, to no avail. Oh well. Also, baking soda & vinegar make up the majority of my cleaners. However, I’ve found two others that work much better for me here in Colorado, with our hard water.

    All-Purpose cleaner: Into a 1 liter spray bottle, put 50 drops grapefruit seed extract, and fill with hot water. Shake, and there you go. It’s AMAZING. Cuts through even that nasty grease on your stove hood. Let it sit for about 5 minutes, maybe, and it just wipes clean. Safe on wood, and doesn’t leave any baking soda residue.

    Bathroom Cleaner (I got this online, but don’t remember where): Into a 1 liter spray bottle, put 1/4c. Dawn original dishsoap, then fill with white vinegar. Spray onto hardwater and soap scum, let sit for 20 minutes, then use a scrub brush. Takes me 10 minutes, tops, to clean the HARD stains off my tub without nearly as much elbow grease as it used to.

  18. Great post! I HAVE tossed my bleach out! My family’s allergy problems convinced be how awful all the chemicals were. We use vinegar and baking soda and some Shaklee products – I don’t even use fabric softener anymore, just vinegar and some dryer balls and it does a pretty good job! We like a house and clothes that don’t smell like anything! My hubby can’t have a stitch of scented stuff or he’s a mess!

    Becky B.
    Organizing Made Fun

  19. I have made a few. My most common cleaner is just water and dish liquid, and of course water and vinegar for glass/mirrors. I starting doing my own laundry detergernt and I find that works really well. I also made my own dishwasher detergent but that was no go. left a TON of film on everything. Also used the vinegar and blue dawn solution for the bath tub. I want to start making more things but my husband protests a lot.

  20. I love that you honestly admit that the bleach still makes it way out from time to time! I also use the ol’ vinegar/water/baking soda/tea tree oil mix…combined with some over priced cleaning cloths from Norwex…but every six weeks or so, I still scrub the old tub with comet and wash the floors and toilet with diluted bleach! All things in moderation and moderation in all things, right?

  21. Teresa A says:

    What would you use if you were cleaning a house where the person that does all of the cooking didn’t wipe her hands before opening cupboards or the fridge?? I have been cleaning my boyfriend’s mom’s house, and I have witnessed her working with raw meats and then opening the cupboard to get out a seasoning or open the fridge WITHOUT wiping her hands first!! It totally grosses me out and I now will not eat there unless I have cleaned the kitchen before anything is prepared.

    She also “thinks” she is cleaning up after making dinner by using one clorox wipe to wipe down ALL the counters…which ends up just spreading the grease across all of them! EEEWWWWW!!!

    I know I am a little OCD about cleaning, but I just don’t know how to tell her that she is spreading grease, grossness and germs everywhere without sounding harsh or her getting upset. Any suggestions?? HELP!

    Teresa A.

  22. What would you use if you were cleaning a house where the person that does all of the cooking didn’t wipe her hands before opening cupboards or the fridge?? I have been cleaning my boyfriend’s mom’s house, and I have witnessed her working with raw meats and then opening the cupboard to get out a seasoning or open the fridge WITHOUT wiping her hands first!! It totally grosses me out and I now will not eat there unless I have cleaned the kitchen before anything is prepared.

    She also “thinks” she is cleaning up after making dinner by using one clorox wipe to wipe down ALL the counters…which ends up just spreading the grease across all of them! EEEWWWWW!!!

    I know I am a little OCD about cleaning, but I just don’t know how to tell her that she is spreading grease, grossness and germs everywhere without sounding harsh or her getting upset. Any suggestions?? HELP!

    Teresa A. Alness

  23. Can you share a couple of your go-t0 recipes? I’d like to make the switch.

  24. Now that I’ve got a baby, I’m hyper-aware of what’s in my cleaners, too. I’ve switched to all-natural (I hope) cleansers and detergents like Method, Mrs. Meyers, and Seventh Generation. I love all their scents!

    I have started making my own version of baking soda “carpet fresh” cleaner. I poked holes in the top of a clean Pringles can and mixed several drops of essential oils in with baking soda, and shake that over my carpet before cleaning.

    It’s so satisfying to make my own … I need to do more of it!

  25. Does anyone know how to naturally clean granite? I’ve tried several homemade recipes in the past and have never found one that leaves my counters streak free.

    • Cortney says:

      It’s not homemade, but Method’s Daily Granite (sold at Target) gets my granite shiny and streak-free (and it smells like apples). It’s the best of any traditional or natural product I’ve tried.

  26. I’ve been making my own cleaners for a while now. I’ve recently started mixing up even things like laundry and dishwasher soap and a bogus bleach that we use on whites. I’ll never go back…

  27. I live in Turkey and if I can ever find distilled white vinegar (without a huge hassle) then I will definitely be switching! Does anyone know if regular ‘grape’ vinegar works? The vinegars here are almost all fruit ones.

  28. I have switched to using vinegar and baking soda for all of the toilets in the house. (3!) Otherwise I tend to use the Shaklee line. I like their ultra concentrated formula since I can make my own bottles. I don’t need to buy any more plastic bottles and it’s earth friendly.

  29. I love the idea of natural and healthy cleaners… but *sigh. I love that Pine Sol smell. Some day…

    • Jeannett says:

      Have you thought about trying to add pine scented oils to your homemade stuff? that might work!

  30. I switched to making my own cleaners a couple of years ago when I just couldn’t get my indoor allergies under control. We had the air tested, and I was stunned by the chemicals that were floating around INSIDE my house! Well, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, since I was using bleach on the floors and in the bathrooms, 409 in the kitchen, Windex on the windows, and Febreze on anything that didn’t move.

    After making the switch, my allergies began to subside almost immediately. And our grocery bill started looking better, too. I’ve never looked back. Now I make not only my own kitchen and bathroom cleaners, but laundry soap, hand soap, air freshener, floor cleaner… you name it. Best yet: I can use the same essential oils in all of them, so my house is smell-coordinated. 😉

  31. Dear Jeannette,
    I used to think that if something didn’t smell like Pine-Sol, it wasn’t clean! Once I had kids and began to think about things a little more thought (in college I saw nothing wrong with the new ingredient Olestra–yikes!), I have tried to shift to non-toxic wherever I can. My favorite floor cleaner is a little white vinegar, warm water and a drop or two of lavender essential oil — a tip gleaned from Tsh’s book “Organized Simplicity”– my life manual when we moved last year! Some days are better than other in terms of organization and keeping things simple. Thanks of

  32. Ooh.. I love making my own cleaners and while I use dishwashing liquid to hand wash our dishes, every thing else is simple vinegar, water, baking soda, sometimes a bit of salt and lemons. Love how when I need to clean, I can head to the kitchen cabinet and not reach for chemical-laden aerosol sprays!

  33. I own a home cleaning business and we use these things! It’s ridiculous how much I cut down the overhead (or whatever it’s called). So so so cheap. And to me, it smells like clean. And like my great grandma :0)

  34. I have used vinegar for windows and mirrors. I keep a spray bottle of water for cleaning tables. I have tried 2 different recipe of laundry detergent.

    The other day, after I read ( or watched ) Cleaning the Microwave with Lemons, I tried it and also use the lemon the wipe down the grease on the outside of the microwave (it’s an over the stove one). I was pleasantly surprised that there’s no scrubbing involved. I only need to wipe it down once more with a wet towel to remove the pulps that the lemon left behind 🙂

    One of these days, I will also try using baking soda to clean the oven. I saw a video somewhere saying that it was pretty painless.

    I still have a lot of harsh cleaners at home. With my very infrequent cleaning schedule, just nothing really works well enough and so I keep buying. With this newer adventures, I do hope that I could stop buying more but work with different recipes 🙂

  35. I’ve been using cloth rags, vinegar, Murphy’s Oil Soap, #0000 steel wool and baking soda for most of my cleaning for years, even when I managed a 48 unit building in an urban center. (I, too, keep the chlorine bleach on hand for occasional disinfecting and bleaching.) I have shiny black marble counters that have to be sprayed and wiped at least once each day, so store-bought cleaners would be cost-prohibitive. Since I use these items for cleaning, the cost is negligible and I don’t have to fold it into my grocery budget. Now, I have a Shark for my wood floors, which requires no cleaner at all.

  36. I haven’t made my own cleaners in a while but I buy Mrs. Meyers or some other eco friendly cleaners. I had done it initially for the environment although once I got pregnant and had a son the reasons to buy eco friendly products became even more important.

  37. We’ve made our own non-toxic cleaners many times and have found recipes that work just as good as what you can buy at the store. It is a bit more work, and now that there are so many safe, effective options available that don’t cost a fortune, non-toxic cleaners are more accessible for everyone.

  38. I use some home made cleaners but for the simplest clean I use Norwex Microfiber. I love the idea of only using water with these cloths and it saves me a lot of time and money! I often have a little water and essential oil spray to use after just for that lovely clean smell.

  39. It is amazing what can be cleaned with such simple ingredients, but best, as you mentioned is that it saves ones family from the harsh chemicals so many of us take for granted that can make people sick.

    I had changed over to more natural cleaners a while back, then switched to baking soda and vinegar which helped with my allergy problem.

  40. Making your own cleaners is a great way to play a part of saving the envoriment.

    Pick the ingredients for the soap, look them up in a online catalog to determine thier effect and danger is a prerequisite, before mixing chemicals.


  41. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now. I’m excited to give it a try! Now that I have 2 young children, this is a priority.

  42. You can even track nutritional information and cost breakdown of all of your recipes and menus! And for those of you that love going paperless, you can use Plan to Eat’s mobile app to carry all your menu planning with you.

  43. Not only is going green with house cleaners better for your health and the environment it is actually a lot cheaper too. It fits in well with frugal living. You can make a scented house cleaning solution with some white vinegar and discarded orange peels.

  44. Yes, this is so true. You can make your own non-toxic cleaner to take care many of the daily cleaning needs, including your windows. Thanks for the helpful tips!

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