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Using Fewer & Less-Toxic Cleaning Products

Many commercial cleaners on the market today contain harmful chemicals that are damaging not only to the environment, but to human health. It is common for households to contain a slew of cleaning chemicals. When unused, these products become Household Hazardous Waste, and CANNOT be poured down the drain or tossed in the trash. Instead, they must be brought to the HazWaste Center at the District Transfer Station for proper disposal. Luckily, there are alternatives! With just a few simple ingredients, you can make your own non-toxic cleaners right at home. Below are some tips and recipes to help you get started.

Essential ingredients:

  • Baking soda
  • Distilled white vinegar (great for almost any surface, but note that it can damage marble)
  • Unscented, vegetable-based soap (castile soap)
  • Lemons
  • Distilled water (or boiled water that has cooled)

Other great cleaning agents:

  • Salt
  • Borax
  • Rubbing alcohol or vodka
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Essential oils*

*A note about essential oils: Essential oils are highly concentrated and can be toxic when undiluted or misused. Make sure to only use a few drops per mixture. Also, avoid storing mixtures containing essential oils in plastic – some essential oils eat away at plastic, leaching chemicals from the container into your solution. Essential oils are best stored in amber or cobalt blue glass containers in a cool, dark place. Exposure to sunlight can cause essential oils to expire quicker. See the “Essential Oils for Cleaning” section below for more on essential oils.


Reusable disinfectant wipes

  • 1 cup distilled water
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 8-10 drops lemon essential oil
  • 8-10 drops eucalyptus essential oil
  • 5-7 drops tea tree essential oil

Mix ingredients together in a big jar, old baby wipes container, Lysol/Clorox wipes container, or any other airtight container you can find. Place a few washcloths or cut up fabric squares (an old t-shirt works great!) in the mixture and allow to soak. After use, discard in the laundry pile or in another jar/container. Launder the cloths, then repeat!

All-purpose surface cleaner #1

  • 1 cup distilled water
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 lemon juice (optional)
  • 15 drops essential oil (optional)

Pour all ingredients into a spray bottle, gently shake to mix. Spray directly on surface and wipe clean with cloth. Store in fridge if using lemon juice.

All-purpose surface cleaner #2

  • 2 cups distilled water
  • 2 Tbsp to ¼ cup castile soap (depending on desired concentration)
  • 15 drops essential oil (optional)

Pour water into spray bottle, followed by soap and essential oil. Gently shake to mix. Spray directly on surface and wipe clean with cloth. Store at room temperature.

Air freshener

  • 1 cup distilled water
  • 1 Tbsp rubbing alcohol
  • 10-20 drops essential oil

Mix essential oil into rubbing alcohol, add water, and stir. Pour into spritzer bottle.

Carpet cleaner

  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 15 drops clear essential oil (such as lavender)

Pour water and vinegar in spray bottle, then mix in salt and essential oil and shake. Spray liberally onto carpets, continually shaking between sprays. Allow to dry, then vacuum.

Carpet deodorizer

  • 1 lb baking soda
  • 1 tsp clear essential oil (such as lavender)

Mix with a fork to smooth out lumps. Sprinkle on carpet and let sit for 1 hour, then vacuum.

Drain cleaner

  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 1/2 cup vinegar

Pour baking soda down drain followed by vinegar. Let it bubble for 15 minutes, then pour down a teakettle full of boiling water. For stubborn clogs use a mechanical snake, or scrub pipes with an old toothbrush.

Fabric softener

  • 1-2 cups vinegar

Add to rinse cycle. This will also deodorize, whiten whites, and brighten colors.

Floor cleaner

Check out this article from Tips Bulletin: 6 Homemade Floor Cleaner Recipes.

Glass cleaner (simple)

  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup distilled water
  • 2 drops liquid soap

Mix in a spray bottle. Shake and apply. Wipe clean.

Glass cleaner (non-streak)

  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol
  • 1 Tbsp corn starch
  • 2 cups distilled water
  • 8-10 drops essential oil (optional)

Mix in a spray bottle, shake well before each use. Wipe using newspaper, coffee filters, or cotton cloth.

Mold and mildew remover

  • Option 1: Apply white vinegar or lemon juice (or a mixture of both!) with a sponge or cloth and scrub to remove mold/mildew.
  • Option 2: Dilute 10 drops tea tree oil into 1 cup distilled water and spray on mold/mildew. Let sit a few hours or overnight. Scrub with sponge and spray area with solution again.
  • Option 3: Mix one tsp hydrogen peroxide with 1 cup distilled water in spray bottle. Spray on mold/mildew and let sit for 10 minutes. Scrub with more hydrogen peroxide.

Baking soda finish (after any of the three options): Apply mixture of ½ tsp baking soda and 1 cup water, scrub clean, and rinse with water.

Oven cleaner

  • 3/4 cup baking soda
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup distilled water

Mix ingredients together and spread the paste inside oven. Let sit overnight, then remove with spatula and wipe clean.

Stain remover

  • Salt
  • Lemon or lime juice

Sprinkle surface with salt and squeeze lemon or lime juice over the area. Let sit and rub out. This can even remove rust if allowed to sit a few hours.

Toilet bowl cleaner

  • 1/4 cup to ½ cup hydrogen peroxide
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 3-5 drops disinfecting essential oil (such as lavender, tea tree, lemon, or clove)

Pour ingredients all around toilet bowl in the order listed above and let sit for 15 minutes. Scrub with toilet brush and flush.

Tub cleaner (simple)

  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar

Sprinkle entire tub with baking soda. Pour vinegar (either directly from container, or spritz with a spray bottle) over baking soda and allow to bubble for a minute or two. Scrub with moistened sponge. Rinse with water when finished.

Tub and tile cleaner

  • 1 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1/2 cup liquid soap
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • A few drops essential oil (optional)

Mix baking soda and soap. Then add water; then add vinegar. Store in a spray bottle and shake before using. Rinse thoroughly to avoid leaving a residue.

Wood furniture polish

  • 3/4 cup olive or mineral oil
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon oil (optional)

Mix thoroughly in a squirt bottle. Squirt on furniture or rag and rub into wood. Shake well before each application.

More recipes

The above recipes are just the tip of the iceberg—there are SO MANY recipes out there. For more great green cleaning tips, check out:

Purchasing non-toxic cleaners

Not into DIY? No problem! There are non-toxic cleaners you can purchase, as well. The Environmental Working Group can help you determine the healthiest and most environmentally friendly options. The U.S. EPA also has a guide for avoiding toxics. Additionally, there are cell phone apps you can use for similar purposes.

Essential Oils for Cleaning

Essential oils are liquids derived from plants through a process called distillation. The end result is a highly concentrated form of a plant’s natural oils. Essential oils contain natural properties that can be very useful – such as antibacterial and antifungal properties, which make certain essential oils great for cleaning! Because each type of essential oil comes from a different plant with different qualities, not every type of oil should be used for the same purpose. There are specific oils that are great for cleaning, the top ten of which are listed below:

  • Tea tree: antifungal and antiseptic, ideal for homemade disinfectants

  • Peppermint: antibacterial, cool and refreshing scent, and also deters ants and spiders
  • Lemon: antiviral and antibacterial, good for removing stains
  • Rosemary: antibacterial and antiseptic, awesome for dish soap and laundry detergent
  • Wild orange: grease fighting (good for dish soap)
  • Eucalyptus: natural germicide, great against dust mites and other pests
  • Cinnamon leaf: antibacterial and antiseptic, fights mold and deters pests
  • Pine: yeast killing, effective against E. coli and other germs. Fights mold and mildew
  • Thyme: powerful germ killer, effective against salmonella. Great for dish soap and cleaning surfaces in contact with raw meat

This list was modified from Hello Glow's article, "10 Best Essential Oils for Green Cleaning", and "The Best Essential Oils for Cleaning and Disinfecting" from Oh, the Things We'll Make!

Food scrap cleaning hacks

  • Lemon disposal cleaner: Drop cut up lemon, salt, and ice cubes in disposal, then run the disposal. You can also put lemon and/or orange peels in the disposal and run it to freshen up your drain’s scent.
  • Coffee grounds scrub: Scrub stinky cutting boards or grungy pots and pans with coffee grounds, then rinse with water.
  • Egg shells abrasive cleaner: Grind egg shells and mix with soapy water to clean stained pots and pans.
  • Apple peel stain remover: Remove stains in aluminum cookware by filling with water and adding apple peels, then let simmer for about a half hour.
  • Cucumbers can be used to deter bugs. See this website for more info.
  • Citrus peel all-purpose cleaner: Soak lemon, lime, and/or orange peels in vinegar to add extra strength to your all-purpose cleaner.
  • Banana peel shoe/leather polish: Rub the inside of banana peel on shoes to polish, then buff with cloth.
  • Onion deodorizer: To deodorize a room, slice an onion in half, place it on a plate, and leave in room overnight

Happy cleaning!