Keeping your home clean can get expensive and complicated. Big box stores sell you a different solution to every scratch and square of scum you could possibly want to eradicate, and they tend to fill them with artificial fragrance and dangerous compounds. While convenient, these premade secret sauces can be deadly when mixed or accidentally consumed by children or pets, and tend to leave behind a chemical-ly scent. While companies will try to tout their products as cutting edge solutions to age old problems, the truth is you can maintain a beautiful, fresh home with very few ingredients. If you’re willing to learn about these eco friendly cleaners and how to use them, you can stock your cleaning cabinet for less! You can even customize your home’s scent, meaning you don’t have to ditch the delicious scents you are accustomed to.
If you haven’t already read my first post about using green cleaning products, check it out here! Not only does it discuss ingredient effectiveness, it also introduces the dos and don’ts of mixing them together and using them on different surfaces! I highly recommend reading that one before or after this post.
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So, you want your house to smell good…
I know a lot of us, including myself, want our homes to smell clean, fresh, and inviting. We all have our own ideas as to what home smells like, and I think that’s a beautiful part of domesticity. That said, I think we tend to forget that we don’t need fragrance in our cleaning products. It doesn’t boost the effectiveness or lasting power of a product. In fact, having too much fragrance in a cleaning routine can make allergies flare up and cause asthma attacks. However, there are some ways we can keep our homes smelling wonderful without fragranced cleaning products, and with more control over how strong the scents we use are!
A quick note on fragrance safety: not all fragrances, essential oils, or methods for dispersing your scents are pet, child, or allergy safe. Make sure to research the safety of a given method before using it in your home.
If you live in an area with clean, good quality air outside, consider opening your windows when weather permits. By circulating fresh air through your home, you can help reduce stagnant odors caused by living in tight, closed spaces. If you have a heating/cooling system, make sure to get your vents cleaned periodically and switch out your air filter as well. Make sure carpets, furniture, and rugs are cleaned often to prevent odors from lingering in the fabric. These practices are especially helpful if you have pets or children, but are useful for everyone!
You can make light room sprays using hydrosols, which are fragrant distillations of aromatic plants. They are typically a byproduct of essential oil distillation. They tend to be inexpensive options that last a long time in a cool, dark cabinet! They range in staying true to their original plant scent, but there are definitely a few that make perfect air refreshers. Hydrosols are much less concentrated than essential oils, making them better options for those of us with sensitivities. They can be sprayed on fabric, into the air, or onto skin (in most cases), providing a lovely array of usefulness in your cabinet outside of freshening up a room. A great option is rose! Rose hydrosol offers a softer, more muted fragrance than its essential oil counterpart, which tends to be overpowering if undiluted. I suggest starting with a couple small bottles of hydrosols from Mountain Rose Herbs to experiment with! They provide ethically sourced, sustainable herbal products with unsurpassed quality. I recommend looking at the rose hydrosol, blood orange hydrosol, and the eucalyptus hydrosol to get started!
Potpourri is another simple, cheap way to enhance a living space. Simply apply a bit of essential oil or another fragrant extract to a bowl of dried wood or plant material and touch it up as needed. If you’ve ever walked past cinnamon scented pinecones at the store and thought “yes, this is what I want my house to smell like”, consider making yourself a homemade batch of potpourri!
Sachets of aromatic herbs can be placed in drawers throughout a home to boost the scents you use! For example, I love lavender, and have made many lavender sachets over the years. Opening up a closet or drawer to a light wave of lavender is a joy I cannot overstate. It’s a simple way to bring something special to your daily routine. You can also make scented wax tablets with beeswax and essential oils! They can be hung up around a home or left in drawers like a sachet.
You can also make simmer pots if you’ll be in the kitchen for a fair portion of the day to keep watch of them. All you have to do is add your fragrant herbs to a pot of water and bring it to a low simmer. Your home will be full of lovely scents all day! Aromatic ingredients like cinnamon, star anise, clove, vanilla, and mint make lovely additions to a simmer pot. This option also humidifies the air in your home, so it’s best used in dry, cool climates.
Now, we’re ready to get cleaning!
There are a few ingredients I like to keep on hand for a wide variety of uses. They’re super basic and inexpensive, and can be bought in bulk amounts to reduce cost over time. Some of the links to these items are affiliate links! I may make a small commission if you choose to purchase them at no extra cost to you. I recommend having these ingredients and tools on hand for whatever mess comes your way:
- Baking soda – I prefer to buy this in a sealed container to prevent it from deactivating quickly and absorbing odors around it. You can always purchase baking soda in cardboard and move it to a sealed container. It’s great for removing some kinds of stains, eliminating odours, and adding an abrasive element when scrubbing tough surfaces. It makes a good addition to bathroom cleaning routines, especially when there is a build up of soap scum on tubs and toilets. You can mix it with a bit of water to form a paste, and wipe the area with your mixture. It can be too abrasive for some surfaces, so keep that in mind when deciding where to use baking soda.
- Biodegradable Scrub Brush – I prefer to use 100% biodegradable scrub brushes when cleaning so they can return to the Earth once I have used them up. They don’t last forever, especially when you use harsher ingredients with them, but they don’t disintegrate quickly, either. Keep them clean and dry, and rinse them after use to keep them for longer. You can also opt for loofah sponges instead of these, or use a bit of both! Find what works for you!
- Castile soap – you can make your own castile soap or purchase it at the store. I like to make my own to customize its cleaning abilities! If you want a soap with mild cleansing capacity, use 100% olive oil, which is a true castile soap, or a mix of gentle cleansing oils. For more of a cleansing boost, try using oils like coconut oil and palm oil in your recipe! You can add essential oils or fragrance oils to your castile soap if you’d like. Castile soap can be used on pretty much all sealed/treated surfaces. You can use it directly or dilute it when you need to wash down a surface. I like to wet a rag, add some castile soap, and wipe the surface, then follow that with a damp cloth to clean up the suds, and a dry cloth to finish up. You can also use it to clean carpets, hardwood floors, vinyl floors, and many other surfaces. It may leave behind a bit of buildup over time, which can be removed by using things like hydrogen peroxide or vinegar every so often.
- Citric Acid – this is unique in the sense that it is an amazing physical cleaning agent as well as a disinfectant. It’s perfect for bath tubs and showers! You can make a paste with water, just like baking soda, and gently wipe it around to help remove buildup. Because it is acidic and abrasive, it isn’t safe for all surfaces.
- Dish soap – you can get this in liquid form, block form (typically more of a detergent formula than soap), or a traditional bar form. You can also make your own dish soap! I recommend a recipe high in coconut oil to increase cleansing power. I like this recipe by Lovely Greens, which includes citric acid to boost its cleansing abilities! Read more about kitchen cleaning swaps here.
- Dusting Base and Reusable Cloths – if you find your home gets dusty quickly, consider getting something like this to use regularly on your surfaces.
- Hydrogen peroxide – typically you will find this as a 3% concentration, which is just fine for household cleaning. You can use hydrogen peroxide to clean hardwood floors, but you should spray and wipe as you go to avoid damage. It’s great for removing sticky messes and dusty surfaces. It can also be a good alternative to bleach; it is a disinfectant, can lift stains, and can lighten some fabrics and materials.
- Isopropyl or ethyl alcohol – go for 99.9% concentration of you can. It makes formulating disinfectants much simpler! At about 70% concentration, alcohol alone is a very useful disinfectant. It can damage some surfaces, so be wary when applying it to fragile materials. It is also good for cleaning mirrors, removing some types of stains, and stripping some buildup.
- Loofah (gourd) sponges – gentle enough for skin, great for scrubbing off dirty dishes and sticky, dried messes. You can buy them extremely cheaply on Bulk Apothecary! I recommend getting several gourds at a time and slicing them as you need them. Save the seeds to plant your own!
- Sodium Hydroxide Lye – caustic soda can clear a drain quite quickly and easily. However, it is caustic and can cause irritation and burns when handled without proper care, like most drain cleaning solutions. Always wear gloves when handling lye, and make sure to either wear a chemical respiration mask or ventilate the area well before using it. It’s the same chemical component used to make soap, so if you happen to have some on hand, consider adding a bit to your cleaning cabinet. Simply sprinkle a small amount down the drain, run the tap for a few seconds, and wait about 30-60 seconds for it to do its job. Then run the water for a minute to flush out any remaining lye from your pipes! It can be very useful when dealing with hair clogs.
- Pumice – while not the same as the stone you use for a pedicure, the action and idea is identical. On extremely grimy surfaces, it can help break up dirt before you use a disinfectant or cleaning solution. Be gentle and use it sparingly to avoid scratches, and never use it on delicate surfaces. It is commonly used to clean extremely dirty toilets and tubs. Be sure to do a test spot somewhere before using it all over!
- Silicone Squeegee – by using one of these after every shower, you can reduce hardwater stains and water spots in general.
- Spray Bottles – I like to use glass bottles between 16 and 32 oz. That keeps them from getting too heavy and they still hold a decent amount, so I don’t need to refill frequently. You can reuse bottles you have (after cleaning them out very, very well), or purchase some like the ones I linked.
- Swiffer style mop – you can totally use whatever you have on hand to create a mop base, but this one is a good option if you’d rather buy one.
- Swiffer-style reusable mop heads – I like terrycloth mop heads because they pick up debris as well as work well to scrub up wet or dry messes. They don’t stay wet, so they don’t harbor bacteria like traditional mops. They’re also super easy to clean.
- Biodegradable Toilet Brush – If you want a biodegradable option for cleaning your toilet, this one on etsy looks like an awesome one! I will say that I would probably replace this frequently to avoid bacteria build up on the wooden surface.
- White Vinegar – I use regular 5% acetic acid white vinegar from the grocery store. It is amazing in my window cleaning spray recipe, and adds a touch of grime-fighting power in my disinfectant spray recipe. It makes a good bathroom cleaner if you find your shower walls to be clouded by hard water. If you keep up with a diluted vinegar spray after every shower, you may be able to combat a bad buildup.
Let’s talk about disinfecting…
Disinfecting is the act of killing pathogens on a surface. Some common ecofriendly disinfectants include isopropyl or ethyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. It’s important to use these kinds of ingredients in the right percentage for them to be effective. For example, at 70% total concentration, ethyl and isopropyl alcohol are generally very effective at killing most pathogens! However, at too high of a concentration, alcohol evaporates before it can properly disinfect, and at too low of a percentage, can be ineffective. Because the overall percentage of alcohol needs to be so high in your final product, I recommend purchasing 99% alcohol to make formulating simpler. I like this brand on amazon, but you can use any brand of the same percentage!
It’s also important to disinfect regularly, but not constantly. I recommend disinfecting once a week and, of course, as needed to avoid over-sanitizing. Some research indicated that disinfectant compounds may have an impact on the rising number of superbugs in our world, and potentially have negative affects on our guts’ microbiomes. Disinfectants also tend to be harsh on surfaces, so it’s best to use them sparingly, and intentionally. This is true for both store-bought and homemade disinfectants! You can read more about disinfecting, what it is, and how it’s different from cleaning or sanitizing in my article about making and using green cleaning products! I break down what works and how well over there.
Is it safe to use green cleaning products on XYZ?
Okay, so now that you know how disinfecting works, let’s talk about what you can use and what surfaces require a little more attention than others.
I like to use alcohol on most surfaces when they need to be disinfected. While it can be harsh if left on a surface for too long and when used too frequently, I find that as long as you maintain the surface with conditioning oils, sealants, and daily wipe downs, you really won’t need to use much and won’t find it hurts your furniture. The exception to that rule is old unsealed wood and stone, and minimally sealed/treated furniture. Those kinds of pieces tend to require extra care when cleaning and maintaining.
For especially delicate and susceptible surfaces, I avoid disinfectants altogether (whenever I can). Soap and water is enough to clean the area in almost all cases. Simply wash it gently with a soapy rag and follow with a wet cloth to mop up the suds. Finish with a clean, dry rag. However, there will always be times when you absolutely need a disinfectant; in these instances, opt for a light hand of an alcohol based cleanser. Be sure to avoid scrubbing the surface, and use a spray and wipe technique to avoid letting the alcohol sit for too long. Keep in mind that most pathogens can’t survive on dry surfaces for very long, so by keeping spills at bay and surfaces dry, you can reduce the risk of disease.
For less delicate surfaces, such as well-sealed kitchen countertops, I like to use a blend of vinegar, water, and alcohol. While vinegar isn’t a true disinfectant, it does kill some common bugs associated with the kitchen, including salmonella and E. Coli. It also is a great cleaning agent and can help remove sticky, dried messes! I have used this on granite countertops by spraying it down and wiping it off with a soft cloth, and because it is well sealed and maintained, have not found any pitting or dullness. That said, I use it very sparingly on this surface, and never let it sit for more than a minute at a time. Granite and other stone counters are a big investment, and you should do what you feel is best for your pocket. You can definitely stick to soap and water every time your counter needs a cleaning! However, for anyone interested, I have a recipe that I modified from my mirror cleaning spray solution that I adore:
Kitchen Disinfectant Spray
When I made this recipe, I knew I needed to ensure that the percentage of alcohol in total is equal to at least 60% when combined with everything else. This doesn’t mean it equals 6 parts of alcohol out of ten, but that the total percentage of alcohol with everything else added is equal to 60% or more. For example, if I used 70% alcohol, I would have to use a lot more alcohol than I would water to keep it high enough. Because of this, I recommend using 99.9% isopropyl alcohol. It makes it much easier to calculate how much alcohol you need for a good disinfecting percentage, and it can be diluted to lower percentages if necessary. It’s cheaper than buying several bottles of pre-diluted alcohol, and more convenient for making your own cleaning blends.
So, the modified recipe for this disinfectant is as follows:
- 7 parts 99.9% alcohol
- 2 parts white vinegar (5% acetic acid)
- 1 part distilled water
Simply mix your solution together, spray your surface, and wipe it off. It leaves surfaces absolutely shining. Because of the high alcohol content and the acidity of the vinegar, it’s well preserved and shouldn’t spoil quickly, if ever. You can infuse this blend with citrus, eucalyptus, or other fragrant herbs, too, which I talk about in my mirror cleaning spray recipe below!
Mirror Cleaning Spray
Using the exact same ingredients as above, you can make a wonderful mirror cleaning spray. I wrote an entire post all about how I make mine, and how you can add a light scent to your solution here! Its one of my favourite additions to my green cleaning routine.
Floor Cleaning Routine
If you have carpets or rugs, aim to vacuum them twice a week to help reduce the amount of dust and allergens in your home. Carpets and rugs catch these particles and prevent them from floating in the air, but can only hold so much before they release them back into the atmosphere.
To wash carpets and rugs, sprinkle a small amount of castile soap and water over them followed by a rug cleaning machine full of clean water. Avoid getting your carpets and rugs too wet, and help them dry after you finish by pointing fans at them, opening up windows, and soaking up areas that feel excessively damp using towels. You can also opt to use a steam cleaner on these surfaces instead! Most people recommend deep cleaning your carpets and rugs at least once a year.
If you have hardwood flooring, tile, laminate, or another solid surface flooring, sweep daily to remove crumbs, dust, and allergens. I like to use a broom for big crumbs and messes followed by a Swiffer-style mop with a terry cloth head; this is a good example of a reusable pad from etsy! I suggest buying a few to have on hand for sweeping and mopping.
When it comes to solid floor types, you need to evaluate what is surface safe before mopping with any solution.
For hardwoods, soapy water and a Swiffer-style mop can clean most messes, but may leave behind a slippery residue if you don’t follow it up with something like hydrogen peroxide. You can also choose to use only hydrogen peroxide, and spray it as you go, mopping it up immediately. It’s important that you maintain your hardwood flooring based on the manufacturer’s recommendations, as well, which may include re-sealing it periodically. Keeping up with this process will reduce the likelihood that you will damage your flooring when cleaning it. Never use a steam mop or high heat on hardwoods, and avoid using large amounts of water or other liquid solutions to prevent warping.
Laminate flooring, vinyl flooring, linoleum flooring, and tile can be cleaned with diluted castile soap on a regular basis, followed by hydrogen peroxide diluted to 0.5% (can be used more frequently) or 3% (should only be used sparingly). Vinegar can be used sparingly on laminate, but should not be your main cleaning method. Do not use vinegar on grouted tile, as it can cause it to come apart. In some cases, a steam mop may be used on these kinds of floors, but you should refer to your manufacturer’s recommendations on this to avoid damaging them, and not use them around seams or damaged areas.
Bathroom Cleaning Routine
Try to clean your bathroom floors at least once a week, more if you find it getting grimy sooner.
Dust and dirt can build up on bathroom surfaces quickly when neglected, and gather around base boards and vents. To clean these areas, use diluted castile soap on a rag. Follow up with water, and add a touch of vinegar if you find it to be a bit grimy still. Some people find success in tying a rag or cloth to a mop handle or stick and run this cloth along the baseboards and vents from a standing position. If you can’t bend down or sit on the floor, this is a great option!
Wipe down your shower after every use with a bit of hydrogen peroxide (or vinegar diluted with water) in a spray bottle. You can use a silicone squeegee to help reduce water spots on glass doors, as well. Spend more time on this area periodically to reduce hard water and soap scum buildup. Before tossing loofahs from your shower, use them to scrub down the glass doors and walls with a bit of citric acid or baking soda paste (made with water to your desired consistency).
Periodically clean your toilet with soapy water on the outside, and disinfect it as you see fit. If you have kids, you may have to do this more regularly! Make sure to dust around the bottom to prevent glitter bunnies from building up and sticking to the tiny crevices. If your toilet has well water, or has got a bad buildup inside, you can use a pumice stone to break through the layers of grime. Be very careful as to avoid damaging the toilet itself, or making it more porous and likely to catch debris. Follow up with a weekly scrub using a toilet brush and citric acid. Let sit for a few minutes and then flush!
Wipe down your mirrors with my mirror cleaning spray recipe as you begin to notice they have water spots or are getting dingy. If you splash water on them or the counter, make sure to wipe up the mess as it happens.
Most faucets and metal appliances are sealed well, but will oxidize and/or corrode in contact with some cleaning agents. Castile soap and water is generally enough if used frequently to reduce germs. Aside from delicate faucets like brushed nickel, they can be cleaned with either alcohol or hydrogen peroxide very sparingly to increase shine, disinfect, and reduce buildup. If they have a buildup from hairspray and similar products, alcohol and a qtip or similar soft, small item can help remove it from crevices. Leave a cloth soaked with water over any areas afterwards if they are still stuck, and return in about thirty minutes and try again. Moisture can really help break up tough grime. Alternatively, try as touch of hydrogen peroxide, citric acid, or baking soda.
I hope this guide helps you get started on your green cleaning journey, and provides some helpful tips on using these ingredients! Feel free to let me know if you have any questions or want to share your own cleansing recipes!
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