What’s Inside This Article: Non-toxic cleaning recipes that really work (ALL PURPOSE CLEANING, DISHES, LAUNDRY, GLASS/MIRRORS, TOILETS, and GRANITE COUNTERTOPS), plus what to buy when you don’t want to DIY.
Let’s play a game. You choose any cleaning product on the shelf at your local market and state what’s in it. Easy, right? All you need to do is read the label. There’s only one problem – ingredients are not required to be listed unless they’re already known to be harmful, and pretty much no one’s checking to find out if they are.
The government only requires companies to list ‘chemicals of known concern’ on their labels. The key word here is ‘known’,” consumer advocate Sloan Barnett told Scientific American. “The fact is that the government has no idea whether most of the chemicals used in everyday cleaning products are safe because it doesn’t test them, and it doesn’t require manufacturers to test them either.”
Here’s What We Do Know
A study done by the EPA found that about 85% of chemicals approved don’t come with any safety data. (Alderton et. al.) However, when evaluated by independent third parties, many of the cleaners on the grocery store shelves are found to contain neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, and carcinogens. (EWG) That’s not good for us our our environment, which is why there’s been so much demand for safer options lately.
Problem is, just because something has a green leaf or a recycle logo slapped on it does not mean it’s truly safe.
Natural Cleaners: How To Make And What To Buy
Below are some great recipes for cleaning, plus some of the best store-bought options around. As you’ll see, there are several brands represented because each product is chosen based on ingredients and not the manufacturer. Some of these companies include problematic ingredients in other products, so make sure to read the label before popping them in your cart.
These cleaners work great on kitchen counters, the dinner table, the bathroom counters, and for dusting.
How To Make:
DIY All-Purpose Cleaner With Lemon & Lavender
The bright, fresh scent of this all-purpose cleaner is perfect for everyday use and spring cleaning. It’s super easy to make, too. This recipe will make one 16 ounce bottle or two 8 ounce bottles of spray cleaner.
- 1 cup vinegar
- 1 cup distilled water
- 30 drops lemon essential oil (where to buy lemon essential oil)
- 10 drops lavender essential oil (where to buy lavender essential oil)
Add essential oils and vinegar to a glass spray bottle and shake well. Add water and shake again.
Shake before using, then spray on surface and wipe clean with a soft cloth.
Dark amber or cobalt blue glass spray bottles are ideal because they filter out UV light, which can damage essential oils.
DIY Citrus Splash All-Purpose Cleaner Recipe
Mood lifting, stress-busting citrus essential oils are the superstars of this formula, but the cheap- yet-effective white vinegar is a close second. Why? Because contrary to what chemical companies might like you to believe, humble vinegar has been proven to be effective against a variety of bacteria, viruses and mold, including E. coli and the flu virus.
Cost Savings Analysis
Store-bought “eco-friendly” cleaners – which sometimes contain questionable ingredients – cost an average of $0.12 per ounce.
Here’s the breakdown for this recipe:
- Water – Cost varies, but roughly $0.01 for the total recipe
- Vinegar – About $0.05 per ounce
- Essential oil – Prices will vary depending on brand and type, but mine came to about $0.01 total for the recipe
Total store bought cost – About $3.84 for 32 ounces
Total homemade cost – About $1.62 for 32 ounces
That’s a savings of 50%, and no questionable ingredients!
- 1 1⁄2 cups water
- 1 cup white vinegar or citrus infused white vinegar
- 20-40 drops citrus essential oil (sweet orange, lemon, lime or grapefruit)
To Make: Combine all ingredients in spray bottle.
To Use: Shake before using, then spray on surface and wipe clean with a soft cloth.
Storage: Store away from heat and sunlight.
What To Buy:
Meliora All-Purpose Cleaner – This company uses the absolute purest ingredients. When you buy the glass spray bottle found here it comes pre-loaded with one batch of powder, so all you have to do is add warm water and shake until dissolved. You can order 18 refills on the same page for the cost of about $0.71 per 16 ounce bottle including shipping.
Aunt Fannie’s Cleaning Vinegar – Like Meliora, this cleaner earns an A from the Environmental Working Group. It’s made from food-based ingredients and comes in four scents: Sweet Mandarin, Lavender, Fresh Lime Mint, and Eucalyptus
How To Make:
If you’ve ever tried making homemade dishwasher detergent and been disappointed with the results, chances are you were closer to a great recipe than you thought. Most DIY formulas use the same basic ingredients, but there’s a trick to getting them to work.
What makes a good dishwasher detergent recipe?
Most commercial detergents use at least 50% washing soda in their formulas, with the remaining ingredients usually being water softeners and rinse aids.
Unfortunately, the extra ingredients in most popular detergents – this one, for example – get an “F” from the EWG for things like developmental and reproductive toxicity, respiratory concerns, environmental toxicity and carcinogenicity. That’s not a problem that goes away when our dishwater flows back to the municipal treatment plant – many of these chemicals are not filtered out when the water is processed and sent back into our homes.
The reason companies use these chemicals is because they’re not acidic like most natural rinse aids and therefore won’t neutralize the washing soda. However, there’s another way to use washing soda without giving up a natural rinse aid, and that’s to introduce your cleanser and rinse aid during different points of the wash cycle so they don’t cancel each other out.
This detergent recipe calls for pure washing soda as the primary cleansing agent, which should be followed by one or both of the rinse aids.
Homemade Dishwasher Detergent Recipe
This is the recipe I use regularly because it’s simple and – more importantly – it works.
- 4 cups washing soda (here’s where to buy it)
- 15-30 drops grapefruit essential oil, optional (where to buy)
- 5-10 drops lemon essential oil, optional (where to buy)
Combine ingredients and stir until there are no clumps. Pour into a jar, add clay pouch if desired, and seal tightly with a lid.
Use about 2 tablespoons per load. See instructions on the next two pages for information on using this formula with a homemade rinse aid.
My dishwasher detergent is clumping. Help! – Add two tablespoons of bentonite clay in a pouch or small sock. This prevents the dishwasher detergent from clumping in high humidity areas. It’s placed in a pouch because it’s not meant to mix with the formula, just absorb excess moisture. However, it’s very rarely necessary. I never use the clay in my home and I have no issues with clumping.
I tried the homemade dishwasher detergent and I’m still experiencing hard water deposits. What do I do? – Instead of 4 cups washing soda, use just 2 cups washing soda and add in 2 cups powdered oxygen bleach that contains no fillers – you can buy this brand on Amazon. It says it’s 99% pure oxygen bleach (Sodium Percarbonate), but it’s totally pure, non-toxic sodium percarbonate with nothing added. The other 1% is moisture.
Homemade Natural Dishwasher Rinse Aid
Hard water deposits and sediment are no problem for this natural homemade dishwasher rinse aid. It’s easy to make, too – you only need ONE ingredient!
Preparing Your Dishwasher
Before using the citrus shine rinse aid for the first time it’s important to clear away deposits from your dishwasher. Otherwise, the citric acid will loosen them and they will redeposit on your dishes.
To prepare your dishwasher, place 1⁄4- 1⁄2 cup citric acid in the bottom of your empty dishwasher and start a cycle. Allow to run for 3-5 minutes and then turn the dishwasher off. Let the water/citric acid solution soak for 3-4 hours and then allow the cycle to resume.
It works best to keep one large Weck tulip jar full of homemade dishwasher detergent and one smaller Weck jar full of the natural rinse aid recipe below. You can keep a measuring spoon in the larger jar to scoop both into the dishwasher – super easy!
- 4 cups citric acid (this is what I use)
- 20 drops citrus essential oil, OPTIONAL (lemon and grapefruit are good options, but you definitely don’t need them)
Combine citric acid and essential oils and stir until there are no clumps. Pour into a jar and seal tightly with a lid.
If your dishwasher has a pre-rinse and main wash receptacle but not a rinse receptacle, place 1 tablespoon rinse aid in the main wash receptacle and place your detergent in the pre-wash receptacle. This ensures that the Citrus Shine Rinse Aid does not interfere with the cleaning power of your detergent, but instead activates after your dishes are clean to remove sediment/ hard water deposits.
If deposits remain, increase the amount used to 2 tablespoons and/or add the liquid rinse aid if recommended by your manufacturer.
Store in a dry place.
If you have very hard water, you may want to consider preventing future buildup by putting 1⁄4 cup citric through a wash cycle (while the dishwasher is empty) once-per-month.
If your rinse aid becomes clumpy, add two tablespoons of bentonite clay in a pouch or small sock. This prevents the citric acid from clumping in high humidity areas. It’s placed in a pouch because it’s not meant to mix with the citric, just absorb excess moisture. However, it’s very rarely necessary. I never use a clay pouch in the jar I keep next to my sink and I have no issues with clumping.
What To Buy:
Eco-Me Lemon Fresh Dish Soap – Not all homemade dish cleaners seem seem to produce consistent results due to regional variations in water types (hard water, soft water, pH, etc.) The Eco-Me liquid soap gets an A from the Environmental Working Group and works well on greasy pans and dishes.
Better Life Dishwasher Gel – When I set out to find a store-bought alternative to my homemade dishwasher detergent, I thought for sure the best option would be another powdered detergent. Turns out, though, that this liquid gel is one of the highest rated for both safety and performance.
Eco-Me Rinse Aid – This rinse aid is made with just four ingredients – vinegar, citric acid, coconut-derived soap and plant-derived solubilizer – the soap and stabilizer both score a “1” with the Environmental Working Group, which is the safest rating possible.
Ecover Rinse Aid – A lot of rinse aids get an “F” from the Environmental Working Group due to the use of toxic ingredients and not disclosing the full ingredient list. Ecover, on the other hand, earns an A.
How To Make:
How To Make Laundry Natural Laundry Detergent (Borax-Free)
- 6 cups washing soda (where to buy washing soda)
- Three bars of 4.5 – 5 ounce soap, finely grated (One made with coconut oil works best. (Here’s where to buy it, and here’s another brand that also works well))
- Optional – lemon essential oil (where to buy lemon essential oil)
ADDITIONAL ITEMS YOU’LL WANT TO HAVE ON HAND:
More on what to do with this stuff in the instructions below
- non-GMO white vinegar
- Powdered oxygen bleach without any additives (find it here)
- Downy ball, optional (where to buy a Downy ball)
- wool dryer balls (where to buy them)
- food processor (great option)
- Cut soap into small chunks. Add to the food processor along with the washing soda.
- Blend until you have a fine powder. You may want to lay a dish towel over the top of your food processor to prevent a fine mist of powder from floating into the air. Also, let it settle a bit before opening the container or the powder will float onto your kitchen counter!
- Pour into a clean container (keep the essential oil next to the jar and add 5 drops with each load)
These instructions are for a top loader. I don’t have any experience with front loaders, sorry!
- Add 2-3 tablespoons laundry detergent per load ( If you are washing in cold water, dissolve it in hot water before adding it in. I prefer to start each load with a little hot water to dissolve and then put my laundry in)
- If desired, add about five drops of lemon essential oil as a degreaser
- If washing whites, add a scoop of powdered oxygen bleach or pour 1/2 cup peroxide in the bleach compartment
- Add 1/2 cup vinegar to a Downy ball or the fabric softener compartment
- For extra fabric softening goodness and a shorter drying time, toss some wool dryer balls in the dryer with your clothes.
IS THIS HE SAFE?
This soap is low-sudsing, so theoretically it should be fine for HE washers. A very similar recipe found on the Kirk’s Castile Soap website is said to be safe and offers the following information and tips:
- “This powered recipe is great for High Efficiency washers because it is very low sudsing.
- It is important that you grate the bar soap very finely for HE washers.”[i]
- As with other detergents, it is recommended that you cut the amount used in half for HE machines.
- Be sure to check your owner’s manual – using certain types of products may void your warranty.
IS THIS SEPTIC SYSTEM SAFE?
Yes, all of the ingredients in this recipe are considered septic system safe.
Homemade Bleach Alternative Recipe
If finding a homemade bleach alternative that WORKS feels a little like hunting for a mythical laundry unicorn, we think you’ll like this simple recipe.
Why avoid bleach?
Here’s the deal: As mentioned in this article from certified Building Biology practitioner Andrea Fabry, a study conducted at the University of Leuven in Belgium – which included 9,000 children – concluded that:
“Passive exposure to cleaning bleach in the home may have adverse effects on school-age children’s health by increasing the risk of respiratory and other infections. The high frequency of use of disinfecting irritant cleaning products may be of public health concern, also when exposure occurs during childhood.”
The bottom line is this: There are a number of reasons to be concerned about the use of bleach, both in how it affects individuals and the environment. In contrast, the recipe I’m sharing with you contains only three simple ingredients:
- hydrogen peroxide, which breaks down into plain water after the extra oxygen atom is released
- washing soda, which breaks down into soda ash
- lemon essential oil
- 4 cups hot water
- 2/3 cup washing soda (this is a great option to use)
- 1-2 cups 3% hydrogen peroxide
- 10 drops lemon essential oil (find it here)
3-5 gallon bucket (optional)
HOW TO MAKE
Add essential oil to washing soda and stir thoroughly until the drops are well distributed. Add washing soda/lemon oil to hot water and stir until the washing soda is completely dissolved. In a separate container, measure out 1-2 cups hydrogen peroxide.
HOW TO USE
I prefer to use this bleach alternative in concentrated form, so I pour the hot washing soda mixture into a large bucket (3-5 gallons), then add 28 cups room temperature water and 1-2 cups of hydrogen peroxide. I place my laundry in the bucket and soak overnight, then wash as normal. If needed, I repeat the process – old, set-in stains sometimes need more time to loosen up.
For a less concentrated form, you could add the washing soda mixture to your washing machine and select the “small” setting for your load size. Cool/room temperature water is best, because heat degrades the hydrogen peroxide. When the cool water has mixed with the hot water, add in the hydrogen peroxide. Place clothes in the washing machine and allow to soak before washing as usual – overnight is best.
Because minerals found in water can accelerate the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide, we recommend making up batches as needed so that the hydrogen peroxide is as strong as possible.
About Wool Dryer Balls
They reduce drying time, soften clothes without chemicals, and save money.
Benefits Of Wool Dryer Balls
SAVES TIME AND MONEY
Each load is done faster, which reduces your energy costs. Plus unlike dryer sheets and fabric softener, they’re typically good for 1000+ loads of laundry.
SOFTENS AND FLUFFS WITHOUT TOXIC CHEMICALS
As I wrote about here, “when several top laundry products/ air fresheners were tested they were found to contain at least one chemical labeled as toxic or hazardous by federal law, including the active ingredient in paint thinner.” (source)
Interestingly, none of the chemicals were listed on the label, and five of the six products emitted chemicals which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to have no safe exposure level.”
Dryer balls soften clothes naturally as the felted wool gently rubs against garment fibers, and they fluff by separating clothes that would otherwise clump together.
If over time you notice that they’re not doing this as well, put them in a sock or pantyhose and run them through a wash cycle.
DOESN’T DIMINISH TOWEL ABSORBENCY + CLOTH DIAPER SAFE
Commercial fabric softeners coat fibers with a thin layer of chemicals, thus reducing the absorbency and performance of things like towels and cloth diapers. (source) Wool dryer balls soften without chemicals.
How Many Do I Need?
Wool dryer balls work by separating clothes so that warm air circulates better. The more you have the more pronounced the effects – faster drying time, softer clothes, less static cling, and lower energy usage. Some people use just two, while others use up to twelve for large loads. I use six, but how many you use is really up to you.
How To Make Wool Dryer Balls
Makes 2-4 medium-sized dryer balls
- 2 – 3 skeins of 100% wool yarn – I used roving yarn in dark gray, light gray and low tide because roving yarn felts really well. Make sure not to get “superwash” or washable yarn because it won’t felt.
- large-eyed felting needle or paint key (used to open paint cans – often free at hardware stores)
Budget Tip: A local mama told me that she picked up a 100% wool sweater at a thrift store, cut and wadded it up, then wrapped it in wool yarn using the technique below. This approach can be a very affordable way to make a lot of wool dryer balls with just a little yarn.
Step 1: Make a small “V” with your index and middle fingers, then wrap yarn around them 10- 15 times. Remove your fingers from the yarn.
Step 2: Pinch the middle of the coiled yarn and wrap the center 10-15 times.
Then change the direction you’re wrapping in and wrap some more. You should have something that more or less looks like a fuzzy lump of coal. (Unless you chose another color.)
Step 3: Continue wrapping until yarn forms a ball. Though it may seem more egg-shaped at first it will happen! Keep going until your dryer ball reaches the size you prefer. Mine a little bigger than tennis balls.
Step 4: When the ball is about the size you want, grab the loose end of yarn and weave it into the exterior of the ball using a paint key or felting needle. To do this, slide the key under a few threads, then take the tail and wrap it around the tip of the key a few times before pulling it through. Do that several times so that the tail is woven in well, then trim off any unused yarn. (See pictures below if that sounded confusing)
Step 5: Place dryer balls in pantyhose, making sure to tie a knot between each one so they have their own separate compartments, then toss them in the washing machine and run through a hot cycle two or three times, preferably with a load of towels or other laundry. Place them in the dryer and then remove from pantyhose. Voila, your dryer balls are ready!
HOW TO USE WOOL DRYER BALLS
Simply toss them into the dryer with your wet clothes – that’s it!
What To Buy:
Meliora Laundry Powder – Very similar to the formula above, comes in unscented and lavender.
Dryer Balls – Absolutely. I like these eco-friendly wool dryer balls because they’re well-made and affordable.
Stain Removers – It’s pretty challenging to formulate a really clean stain remover. Fit Organic Laundry & Carpet Stain Remover has the best ingredients that I know of but is not great at getting tough stains out.
Better Life is more effective, but it contains a tiny amount (0.01%) of a preservative, which is associated with allergic reactions. Attitude Stain Remover‘s ingredient looks a lot less natural than the others, but it’s actually rated higher than Better Life’s by the EWG and works pretty well. The only downside is that you’re supposed to treat the stain immediately, not spray it and set it aside to wash later.
Mirrors, Tubs & Toilet Bowls
How To Make:
Homemade Window Cleaner Recipe
It’s easy, it works, and the most popular store-bought brand gets a D from the Environmental Working Group.
Makes approximately 1.5 cups
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 3 tablespoons rubbing alcohol
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch or arrowroot powder
- 3/4 cup water
Pour all ingredients into a spray bottle and shake to mix.
Shake before using, then spray on surface and wipe until clean.
No special storage instructions.
Homemade Scouring Powder Recipe
When when the Environmental Working Group analyzed one of the most popular scouring powders on the market, they found that it “emitted 146 different chemicals, including some that have been linked to cancer, asthma and reproductive disorders. The most toxic chemicals detected – formaldehyde, benzene, chloroform and toluene – are not listed on the label.” (CBS News)
Skip it and make your own instead with this quick and easy recipe – or buy the safer option below!
The recipe below will fill two of these spice jars.
- 1/2 cup baking soda
- 1/2 cup washing soda
- 1-2 tablespoons diatomaceous earth (optional, helpful for polishing)
- 1.5 teaspoons cream of tartar (optional natural bleaching agent)
- 10-15 drops lemon essential oil (optional degreaser)
- 2-4 tablespoons ground lavender buds, rose petals, lemon/lime peel or rosemary (optional)
- Mix ingredients until well combined, then pour into a clean container. If using herbs in your mixture, I recommend grinding them in a coffee grinder before mixing them in – this is the one I use.
- Store in a clean jar or a spice shaker like this one.
Sprinkle on surface and scour with a moist sponge. Rinse thoroughly with warm water.
Homemade Soft Scrub Recipe
Wipe away grime and restore shine with this gentle soft scrub. It works just as well as store brands, and chances are you already have the ingredients to make it!
Toilet Scrub – Mix 1/2 cup baking soda with 8 drops lemon or tea tree essential oil (if desired) and sprinkle into toilet bowl. Allow the mixture to sit for about 30 minutes, then scrub.
HOMEMADE SOFT SCRUB RECIPE
For use on ceramic surfaces, sinks and countertops (except granite).
- 2 tablespoons castile soap
- 3⁄4 cup baking soda
- Just enough water to make a smooth, liquid paste (about 2-3 tablespoons)
- 10 drops grapefruit essential oil (or oil of choice)
Empty dish soap, ketchup or shampoo bottles make a great “squirt top” container for this scrub.
Combine baking soda, castile soap and essential oils. Add just enough water to make a smooth liquid paste, then transfer mixture to your chosen container.
Squirt a small amount on a damp sponge and massage into surface. Add more as needed. Rinse well with warm water.
Can be stored at room temperature for up to a year.
What To Buy:
Attitude Window & Mirror Cleaner – This brand gets an “A” from EWG and actually works.
Sonnet Organic Scouring Powder – Uses the gentle action pumice powder with sodium carbonate, clay, soap derived from plant oils, and natural essential oils of sage and cajeput to clean without causing scratches.
GreenShield Certified Organic Toilet Bowl Cleaner – Naturally scented with organic essential oils and gets an A from the Environmental Working Group.
How To Make:
Homemade Granite Cleaner Recipe
This natural homemade granite cleaner won’t etch countertops like vinegar or lemon juice, and works beautifully without leaving streaks or a filmy residue. So easy to make, too!
- 1/3 cup rubbing alcohol or vodka
- 1 2/3 cups purified water
- 20 drops essential oil (see options above)
Add the lemon essential oil to the rubbing alcohol and stir with a fork. Pour into your spray bottle and then add the water.
Spray granite and wipe with a clean cloth.
What To Buy:
Eco-Me Granite And Marble Cleaner – Although this one is not specifically rated by the EWG, it contains two plant-derived soaps that are rated as an A, plus aloe vera, radish root ferment (which is antimicrobial), and a food-grade preservative.
A few other very handy cleaning tools!
Twist Scrub Sponges – These natural, compostable sponges are great! They work well and be run through the dishwasher for easy cleaning.
Microfiber Cloths – Perfect for dusting, mirrors, countertops, everything!
Sources for this article:
1. Alderton, Steve. (2010, February) EPA Needs a Coordinated Plan to Oversee Its Toxic Substances Control Act Responsibilities. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-11/documents/20100217-10-p-0066.pdf.
2. Environmental Working Group. http://static.ewg.org/reports/2012/cleaners_hallofshame/cleaners_hallofshame.pdf
3. Mommypotamus.com (https://www.mommypotamus.com/)