Guide to Making Homemade Cleaners

The common kitchen ingredients and household items you can use to safely and effectively clean your home.

A person wearing cleaning gloves holds a sponge with baking soda on it in one hand, and a half of a lemon in the other, to show how to make natural homemade cleaning products.

Many cleaning products release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can irritate your eyes and lungs, throat, and skin, and some are known to cause cancer. Switching to homemade cleaning products helps reduce your exposure to VOCs while protecting your home’s air quality. Making your own natural cleaners is less expensive, too.

What You Need to Make Homemade Cleaners

You don’t need a lot of expensive things to make cleaning products at home. In fact, you probably have most of what you need in your kitchen or medicine cabinet. If not, you can find them in the grocery store’s first aid and laundry aisles. For even more significant savings, check stores like Dollar General or Poundland.

Distilled White Vinegar

The acetic acid in vinegar powers through grease and grime and has some antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. In cooking, people often swap lemon juice or apple cider (ACV) for white vinegar, but such substitutions aren’t a good idea in homemade cleaners.

Lemon juice contains citric acid, which chemically performs differently than white vinegar. Apple cider vinegar isn’t often used in homemade cleaners because it contains pectin that can cause streaks and attract household pests. For best results, if the ingredients for homemade cleaners specify white vinegar, stick with that.

Even though homemade cleaners use natural ingredients, you shouldn’t just throw things together. Avoiding dangerous cleaning combinations and using cleaning recipes suited to the surface you’re cleaning are crucial.

Essential Oils

Essential oils do more than add fragrance or offset the smell of vinegar — they also boost its germ-killing properties. Try using tea tree, peppermint, lemon, eucalyptus, or thyme in your cleaners. But, if you have a dog or cat, choose lavender or cedarwood oil. Both are pet-safe essential oils yet still have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.

Use essential oils in:

Baking Soda (Bicarbonate)

The box of baking soda in your kitchen is an excellent way to neutralize odors. It’s mildly abrasive, so it’s safe to use on many household surfaces. Since it’s powdery, baking soda also absorbs unwanted moisture. Sprinkle it in your running shoes after a jog, and it will get rid of bad shoe odors. Or add some to your cat’s litter box to safely deodorize it between changes.

Oxygen Bleach

Oxygen bleach is chlorine-free and color-safe. It works by releasing oxygen when exposed to water. The oxygen molecules rise and lift away the dirt from whatever you’re cleaning. This action makes it fantastic for laundry stains. You can find it under the brand name “Oxiclean,” but most store-brand versions work just as well.

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Hydrogen Peroxide 3%

There’s no need for high-strength peroxide for most household cleaning–the brown bottle from the store is fine. It is an effective way to eliminate mildew and disinfect many household surfaces. Be sure to follow the homemade cleaner recipe’s measurements and store it in a dark bottle. Exposure to light reduces hydrogen peroxide’s effectiveness.

Use hydrogen peroxide in:

Isopropyl (Rubbing) Alcohol 70%

You already know that rubbing alcohol kills bacteria and germs — that’s why doctors and hospitals rely on it. (And why it’s known as “surgical spirits” in the UK.) It’s also an excellent additive to homemade cleaner recipes.

Keep in mind that rubbing alcohol evaporates quickly, so you’ll find it in homemade cleaners designed for use on shiny surfaces since fast evaporation prevents streaks. Don’t bother with 90% strength for household use, though: it’ll evaporate too fast to disinfect properly.

A substitute for isopropyl rubbing alcohol: You can substitute neutral spirits or rectified spirits for isopropyl alcohol if needed — just make make sure it’s an unflavored, 120-proof product so it contains at least 60% ethanol alcohol, the minimum needed for disinfection.

Use isopropyl alcohol in:

Liquid Dish Soap

Soapy water should be your first choice to clean most masses. It’s not glamorous, but it’s good enough for daily soil. According to the CDC, you should use soap and water to clean hard surfaces before disinfection.

Dawn liquid dish soap is my favorite. It’s affordable, and I haven’t found any brand that competes with its grease-cutting abilities. It’s so effective that animal experts use it to clean wildlife after oil spills. The UK alternative is Fairy if you can’t find Dawn.

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