Natural Household Cleaners
Many of the household cleaners we use every day contain toxic chemicals that may be harmful to you, your baby, and the environment. But there's little need for these harsh chemicals when effective and safe alternatives may already be sitting in your cabinets. Here are some common products that can be used for a variety of household jobs - safely and effectively.
Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate)
Baking soda is a mild alkaline that can be used to neutralize, shine and deodorize many items. It can deodorize the refrigerator, carpets, drains, upholstery, and vinyl, as well as your underarms. Use it to clean and polish aluminum, chrome, plastic, porcelain, silver, stainless steel, tin, counter tops, sinks, bathtubs, ovens and fiberglass and even your teeth when used as toothpaste. It is also useful as a fabric softener and stain remover, and can soften hard water and be used as a bath soak.
Borax (sodium borate)
Available at most supermarkets, Borax is an effective deodorizer, prevents mold and mildew growth, boosts the cleaning power of soap and detergent, and removes stains. Sprinkle about a half a cup of Borax in the bottom of your garbage and diaper pails to keep them clean and odorless. It can also be mixed with sugar to attract and kill cockroaches.
Cornstarch is made from the starch of corn kernels. It can be used to clean windows, polish furniture, shampoo carpets and rugs, and starch clothes. Look for baby powders that contain cornstarch as it is now used as an alternative to talc.
Isopropyl alcohol is an excellent disinfectant and strong degreaser, but be sure to use it in well-ventilated areas, wear gloves, and keep it away from children. Poisoning can occur from ingesting, inhaling, or absorbing it through prolonged contact with the skin. Symptoms of isopropyl alcohol poisoning include flushing, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and coma.
Lemon Juice (citric acid)
The juice of the common lemon can deodorize and remove greasy or sticky stains from aluminum, clothes and porcelain. It also can be used as a glass cleaner, but don't use it in direct sunlight as it can cause streaking.
Vegetable oil can be made out of several types of seeds and is an effective and safe furniture and wood floor polish.
An all-purpose liquid soap, which can be used for washing dishes or hands, can be made by simple dissolving the old ends of bar soap (or grated slivers of bar soap) in warm water.
TSP (trisodium phosphate - soda ash and phosphoric acid)
TSP is available at most hardware stores and is a powerful cleanser and degreaser. It is commonly used to clean and treat wood before painting, but is not recommended for use on metal as it can cause corrosion. It is harmful if swallowed.
Vinegar acts as a mild acid to dissolve mineral deposits and grease, remove traces of soap, remove mildew and wax buildup, polish some metals (stainless steel), and deodorize. It is useful for cleaning brick and stone, and can be mixed with water for a powerful carpet cleaner. It can remove the metallic taste in coffeepots and shine windows without streaking. Coat your hands in vinegar before and after slicing onions to remove the smell. Floor and furniture polish can be as simple as a few drops of vinegar in water mixed equally with olive oil. Any type of white vinegar will work well for household chores.
Washing Soda (sodium carbonate decahydrate)
Washing soda, also sold as sal soda, in chemical-supply and drug stores can cut grease on grills, broiler pans, and ovens. It does not emit any harmful fumes but it is caustic, so wear gloves while using it. It can remove petroleum oil, wax, lipstick from surfaces and neutralize odors; however, don't use it on fiberglass, aluminum or waxed floors, because it will take the top layer off. Mix a teaspoon washing soda with a gallon of hot water to clean painted wood floors.
Lavender, tea tree, pine, myrrh, sage, peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus, wormwood, thyme, and cloves are all essential oils you can add to homemade cleaning solutions. Each has antiseptic, anti-fungal or anti-bacterial properties.
Use the afore-mentioned ingredients for the following:
An all-purpose cleaner can be made with salt and vinegar or any combination of borax, baking soda, vinegar or lemon juice, and hot water. Add essential oil for fragrance.
Mix ½ cup Borax with a gallon of hot water (this solution satisfies a hospital's germicidal requirements). Isopropyl alcohol also works as a disinfectant but be sure to wear gloves and keep away from children.
To unclog a drain, try pouring ¼ cup of hydrogen peroxide down the drain and let it sit for 15 minutes before rinsing with boiling water. You can also pour ½ cup of baking soda into the drain, add ½ a cup of white vinegar, and then cover the drain. Rinse with boiling water after 15 minutes to clear residue. Don't ever try this combination after using a commercial drain cleaner - the vinegar will react with the cleaner and create dangerous fumes.
Metal Cleaner and Polish
To clean aluminum, mix a solution of cream of tartar and water and rub with a soft cloth. Polish brass by applying a mixture of vinegar and salt, or lemon and baking soda, with a soft cloth. Polish chrome using a soft cloth dipped in baby oil or vinegar, wipe wet chrome with newspaper. To clean copper, boil items in water with salt and vinegar added. Pewter can be cleaned with a salt-vinegar-flour paste, and gold with toothpaste. Silver can be polished by boiling with a teaspoon of baking soda and salt in a pan lined with aluminum.
Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Pure bleach and water is the best toilet bowl cleaner but be sure to wear gloves and don't mix in any other ingredient. Baking soda with vinegar, or Borax with lemon juice, can also both be used as a toilet cleaner.
Sprinkle a tiny bit of salt on rust and squeeze a lime over it until it's covered then let it sit for two or three hours. The leftover lime rind can be used as a scrubber.
If you have hard water or are cleaning synthetic fabrics, use a biodegradable detergent made without perfumes. For soft water you can use liquid soap. Regular bar soap is an effective cleaner for natural fabrics, leaving items such as diapers softer than detergent can. A cup of vinegar added to the wash can help keep colors bright (but DO NOT use vinegar if you are using bleach - the resulting fumes are hazardous). Less than a cup of baking soda will leave clothes soft and fresh. Silks and wools can be hand washed with mild soap or protein shampoo; down or feathers can be cleaned with mild soap or baking soda.