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This time of year can be more comfortable than the dog days of summer to work on cleaning projects around your home. There are many reasons that people choose to make their own cleaning mixtures. For some, it is the simple knowledge of what they are using. Unlike food labels, all ingredients on cleaning products are not required to be listed on the packaging.

Amber spray bottles with homemade cleaners

Some people are very sensitive to chemical compounds found in commercial cleaning products. According to University of Arkansas Extension Specialist Margaret Harris, about 16 percent of individuals are extremely sensitive to chemicals, easily breaking out in rashes or with other chronic ailments.

People may also be interested in making their own cleaners because of environmental concerns. There are certainly more “green” labeled products than there used to be. Unfortunately, they can also come with a hefty price tag. Therefore, another reason to make your own household cleaners is that the ingredients are relatively inexpensive.

There are several characteristics of different cleaner ingredients. One category is base or alkali, which are good for removing dirt, fat, and grease. In homemade cleaners, these ingredients are baking soda (mild), borax (moderate), and washing soda (strong).

Cleaners and ingredients including castille soap, hydrogen peroxide, salt, baking soda, borax, washing soda and a spray bottle

Acids are used to break down rust, mineral deposits, and hard water stains. They can also be good for glass, windows, and mold. Vinegar and lemon juice are common acids that can be used. Detergents loosen dirt and lift it up and out of the way. Washing soda and borax, as well as vegetable and coconut oils, act as detergents.

Just like they sound, abrasives wear off dirt by rubbing. Baking soda or salt can be used for this purpose. Bleaches and sanitizers can involve more than chlorine bleach. Milder sources that can whiten, remove stains, as well as reduce numbers of bacteria include sunlight, hydrogen peroxide, and tea tree oil.

One thing to remember with most homemade recipes is that they may take more contact time or elbow grease than some commercial cleaners. Patience and persistence are key. The University of Arkansas has several recipes available for a variety of cleaning purposes.

I appreciate that they have a mild, stronger, and strongest version for every situation. They recommend starting with the mildest formulation and increasing the strength of ingredients only when needed. Here is an example of all-purpose cleaners:

Mild All-Purpose Cleaner

½ cup white vinegar, ¼ cup baking soda, ½ gallon hot water. Mix ingredients and pour into a spray bottle.

Strong All-Purpose Cleaner

2 tablespoons borax, ¼ cup white vinegar, 2 cups hot water. Mix all ingredients in a spray bottle.

Our house is clean enough to be healthy, and dirty enough to be happy.”

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Extra Strength All-Purpose Cleaner

3 tablespoons white vinegar, ½ teaspoon washing soap, ½ teaspoon castile soap, 2 cups hot water. Mix all ingredients in a spray bottle.

A few drops of essential oils could be added to any of these.

It is also helpful to know where to purchase some of these ingredients that we may not be as familiar with. Washing soda and borax are powders and are both located in the laundry section of the grocery store. Castile soap comes in liquid and bar form and can be found either with shampoos and hand soaps or in natural/organic sections of supermarkets. Happy cleaning!

Written by: Emily Marrison, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension Coshocton County

Reviewed by: Melissa J. Rupp, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension Fulton County

Sources:

Harris, M. Clean and Green: Healthy Homes, Healthy People. University of Arkansas Extension Publication MP 492. https://www.uaex.edu/publications/pdf/MP492.pdf

Keel, M. and Hinds, B. (2015) Make Your Home Healthy – Keep It Clean. University of Tennessee Extension Publication W318-A. https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W318-A.pdf

Rabe, M. (2015). Fall Cleaning. Live Healthy, Live Well. https://livehealthyosu.com/2015/08/17/fall-cleaning/

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