I completely geek out on cleaning. I love it. This book brings me untold joy, and taking something from dirty to clean is so satisfying. My other great love is making things from scratch, and so this subject makes me inordinately happy. I posted a picture of my freshly re-bottled cleaners over on Instagram, and received requests and messages asking for the recipes, so here they are!
This is part three in my Cleaning House series. Ha! That makes it sound official or something. Part One (clean air) is here, and Part Two (washing the dishes) is here; if you're into those, you may also appreciate the Foaming Hand Soap refill tips in this post that will save you a pretty penny. Since this is part three, I will take a minute to restate my principles of house cleaning. (I say this in complete seriousness, but I also see the hilarity and luxury in having principles of house cleaning.)
- Clean does not have a scent.
- Cleaning does not need to involve separate purchased products for every possible eventuality.
- Perfectly simple and effective ingredients that you probably already have on hand in your kitchen can clean your whole house effectively.
- Reusable is better than disposable.
- Soap and hot water will take care of pretty much everything.
I could write for days about why making your own cleaners is better than buying them (you're not paying for the weight of mostly water mixed with some potentially sketchy ingredients to be shipped around the world, you're saving gobs of money, you can customize them to your particular water and surfaces, they smell so much better, they're healthier for us and the planet, and they're so much prettier) but I will just say that it's better all around, and way more fun. And it is not difficult! Once you have a few basic ingredients (available at the grocery store) on hand, you can whip these up in no time.
First, the containers. I had been using dollar store plastic spray bottles to store my cleaners, but it wasn't ideal for a few reasons. Firstly, most of my cleaners contain essential oils, which are best stored in glass rather than plastic, which they can compromise. (Amber or dark glass would be ideal, but I had these clear glass ones on hand, and they're stored in a dark cupboard, so I'm fine with it.) Second, they get dented, and just aren't that pretty. Standard spray tops (from empty bottles of other cleaners, or from dollar store spray bottles) will fit on bottles with the standard size top. I ordered mine from Specialty Bottle several years ago when our dollar was comparable to the US dollar. Mine are these clear ones in the 16 oz size; these amber ones would be perfect for preserving essential oils for a longer period. Once more thing about glass: it's heavier than plastic, and may break if dropped. So if you have little ones helping you or getting into your cupboard, or if you're just clumsy, glass may not be the best option. But it's definitely the prettiest.
Bathroom Spray Cleaner
I've adapted this recipe from The Hands-On Home by Erica Strauss (more about the book below). It works really well on sinks, toilets, showers and tubs. And on the floor around the toilet, too, if like me, you also have young boys in your house.
In bottle, combine 2 cups warm water mixed with 1 tsp borax, shake gently until it dissolves. (The borax isn't absolutely necessary if you don't have any on hand, but it does seem to give an extra bit of oomph.) Add 2 tsp liquid castile soap* (see note below) and 30 drops essential oils (I use 10 each of lavender (lavandula augustofolia to be precise), tea tree, and lemon.
I got the idea of adding a drop of food colouring to the cleaner from The Hands-On Home, too. Now that I have labels, I probably won't bother. But that green is pretty!
Kitchen Spray Cleaner variation: I most often just use a hot soapy cloth for the counters and sink. I like a citrus-y vibe in the kitchen, though, so if I am using a spray cleaner, I use 30 drops of some combination of citrus essential oils (lemon, grapefruit, tangerine, orange) and a bit of tea tree oil.
*Castile soap notes: I love Dr. Bronner's liquid soaps as an ingredient in cleaners. (No one pays me for any recommendations.) They're super concentrated, vegetable-based liquid soaps that are pricey, but they go a looooong way. I found some of the peppermint soap at Costco last week for $12.99 for 1.18L. (Which is a steal of a deal as it's usually around $20.) If you're a bit soap-nerdy like I am, you can listen to this podcast with Lisa Bronner in which they discuss everything about their soap from ingredients to packaging to how their employees are treated, etc. Fascinating. (She also has a blog with lots of other suggested uses and other information, too, and if you want to use it for other things too, there's a dilution cheat sheet, here.) The one thing it does not work well for is directly as an undiluted hand soap; it dries and clogs the pump and shoots soap at your eyes. In a 3-1 or 4-1 water-to-Bronner's ratio, it's great to refill a foaming pump, though! There are other options that would also work in the spray cleaner; Nature Clean makes a decent liquid soap (not quite as concentrated as Dr Bronner's, but also less expensive) and if you're here in the Maritimes, Down East dishwashing liquid is even less expensive and is my favourite for washing dishes. (You can also use it undiluted as a hand soap.)
In the photo at the top of this post, from left to right:
Far left: My diffuser blend for my essential oil diffuser is 2 cups water with about 30 drops of essential oils. I make up all sorts of different blends; tea tree, lavender, and lemon is a favourite of mine. Grapefruit is also awesome. I mix it up when I have a minute, then just give it a shake before refilling the diffuser. You can search 'diffuser blends' for days and find one for any circumstance.
Second from left: Yoga Mat Cleaner: 2 cups water, 1 tsp witch hazel or vinegar, 10 drops each of lavender and tea tree essential oils. Sometimes if I'm feeling wild, I add a few drops of lemon. Honestly, I clean my mat regularly because this scent!
Third: Lavender Vanilla Linen Spray: To be honest, I can't remember exactly how I made this, and I wish I did - it smells amazing. I'm pretty sure I steeped some lavender buds and part of a vanilla bean in a bit of vodka for ages, and used a bit of that concentrate plus some lavender essential oil and water. It smells soooooo good. I'll just zip around the house every now and then and spray almost everything in sight. I did spray one of the boys yesterday. Heh heh.
Citrus Vinegar Cleaning Spray: I posted about this a few times on Instagram, here and here. Half and half white vinegar and water also works really well for a heavy-duty cleaning or on surfaces like glass. I don't use this too often in the house, but I'll use it in the coop on the chickens' waterer and the windows in the barn. It takes a bit of planning, but it smells lovely and works really well.
Here's what to do for the full citrus cleaner: Peel any languishing citrus (I used clementines this time around) and put the peels in a jar. Top with vinegar. Let it sit for 6 weeks or so, then you have a lovely citrus cleaning concentrate. When you've remembered about it, or discovered it in the back of a cupboard, strain out the peels and put them in the compost. Add an equal amount of water to your concentrate, and a tablespoon or so of liquid soap per 750mL-ish for a super surface cleaner.
*🍊 Do not use this cleaner on any surfaces you shouldn't use vinegar on (some stone countertops, some metals, etc.)*
Far right: 5% Hydrogen Peroxide: Any time there is blood on anything, give it a quick spray of hydrogen peroxide before putting it in the wash - you can literally watch as it consumes the blood. It's fascinating, and super effective! It may lighten darker fabrics, but I have never seen this happen since I'm not leaving it on for any length of time; I usually toss the item right in the wash. Just know that you should be a bit cautious with darker fabrics.
Where to buy ingredients: Borax and washing soda are often in homemade cleaner recipes. You can find these in the laundry aisle at the grocery or hardware store; usually way up at the top, or way down at the bottom. 5% hydrogen peroxide is sold in bottles in natural food stores and in the natural foods sections at some grocery stores; it should not be exposed to light for prolonged periods. You can buy white vinegar at the grocery store, of course, and you can buy essential oils at Hands on Crafts for great prices if you're local, or you can order online from any number of places. (Mountain Rose Herbs is great, other brands are sold on well.ca and at health food stores for you Canadians who aren't ordering from the US because of the exchange rate.)
Other awesome cleaning resources (wheeeeee!)
This is a beautiful post with 10 recipes to try, and a great list of some other things you may want to buy if you're really going to dive deep into making your own cleaners. I tend to always default to the simplest solution, but sometimes people like fancy options!
The Hands-On Home by Erica Strauss is an excellent resource. It's thorough, comprehensive, beautifully photographed, and has so very many excellent ideas, suggestions, recipes, and explanations in it. I LOVE it.
Martha's Homekeeping Handbook. Enough said.