I have long been desiring to go to a greener household – not just in energy consumption, which we try to accomplish in ways like using a clothesline instead of dryer, letting dishes air dry instead of using the dry cycle and using natural daylight instead of electric lights, but in our cleaning products. As I would prepare to clean the bathroom, donning gloves to protect my skin and hands from corrosive cleaners, opening a window to minimize fumes, I would wonder why we were using such dangerous and harmful products. I wondered what the pioneers used before us to clean their homes. Probably just good ol’ lye soap and water. But, being a product of my generation, I had been taught to buy into the billion-dollar cleaning industry, being led to believe I needed a cleaner for my toilet bowl, a cleaner for my shower, a cleaner for my sinks and counter tops. All harmful – not just to humans, but to our environment.
What’s more, these cleaners all contain opposing ingredients, and mixing them, which can happen accidentally, can be extremely harmful, potentially fatal, by creating extremely toxic fumes. I had a small experience with this myself. We had bought one of those toilet pucks containing bleach and dumped it in the toilet tank. Only a week later when the bleach smell was still quite strong (meaning there was a decent concentration of it in the toilet), I went to clean the toilet. Listening to some music, singing along, not really thinking, I grabbed a bottle of bathroom cleaner and sprayed it in the bowl. The smell was instant and horrible. I plugged my nose, opened the window and got out, closing the door behind me. I had brought the bottle with me and there on the label was the warning: “Caution: Do not mix with bleach. Dangerous fumes can form.” Thankfully, we were fine. But I’ll admit it scared me, and, it also served as an eye-opening view into how easy it is to accidentally mix cleaners.
That was the last time we ever used a toilet bowl cleaner, from then on out I just used my all-purpose bathroom cleaner. However, I wasn’t really happy with that either, as it still had such a strong, chemical smell. I began thinking about green cleaners in earnest. I decided to do some “Google Research” and see what I could come up with. Originally, I was looking for a green product to buy so I did some research and found that the two leading “green” cleaners on the market were Green Works and Seventh Generation.
Both claim to be almost-all naturally derived, non-toxic and environmentally friendly. But upon researching their ingredients, I still found them to contain several hard-to-pronounce ingredients. My new mantra in cleaner shopping (and food shopping) is – the longer the word, especially if I do not instantly know what it is, the more I want to stay away from it. For being “green” both of these cleaners, still contain more chemicals than I want. The ingredients may have come from “natural sources”, but the processing they’ve undergone is not natural. Let me share the ingredients in these two green cleaners:
Seventh Generation All Purpose Cleaner Green Works All Purpose Cleaner
caprylyl/myristyl glucoside alkyl polyglucoside
lauramine oxide synthetic colorant
sodium gluconate ethanol
sodium carbonate synthetic fragrance
methylisothiazolinone potassium carbonate
benzisothiazolinone potassium citrate
So, they may be derived from natural sources, and they may be non-toxic, but given the list of ingredients, it’s plain to see that these are still far from being “natural” cleaners. Also, were they to get accidentally ingested (by perhaps an overly inquisitive three year old), they were still harmful. So, I started researching again, only this time looking for “natural” remedies. I thankfully stumbled upon a goldmine, a blog called My Merry Messy Life. On her blog, she has several truly natural cleaning remedies – laundry detergents, toilet bowl cleaners, disinfectants and more – all containing no more than a few ingredients, all cheap and easy to make, and all containing natural, pure ingredients. Two of the staple ingredients are none other than baking soda and vinegar.
I learned a lot from her blog including the fact that baking soda has been used as a cleaning products for thousands of years – starting with the Ancient Egyptians! Also, that distilled vinegar that you buy off the shelf at the grocery store has been in use as a remedy for fighting bacteria and diseases since the days of Hippocrates! Straight vinegar (at 5%) kills 99% of bacteria, 82% of mold, and 80% of germs.
Reading her recipes, seeing the simplicity of them, and knowing just how safe the ingredients were (and bonus, I could pronounce all the ingredients), I knew I had crossed a line we would never go back on. Before the changeover I had a total of 11 different cleaning products in my home (not including laundry and dish detergent), full of harmful chemicals.
Now, I have 3 products, all of them safe and natural. I use the following recipes which I found on her website:
Homemade Toilet Bowl Cleaner
1 3/4 c water
2 tbsp baking soda
Essential oils of choice for scent
- Mix all ingredients in a 16 oz. or larger squirt bottle and gently shake or swish.
- Squirt in the toilet bowl and use a brush to scrub it clean. (Shake before each use)
Citrus-Infused Vinegar Disinfectant Spray
After you eat your orange, save the peel and put it in a jar or other air-tight container and cover the peels with white vinegar. Let it sit for a couple of weeks (don’t need more than two), then strain out the peels and you have orange-scented vinegar, which is a bit easier on the nose than straight vinegar! Of course, lemons and limes also work very well for this.
Pour into 16 oz spray bottle and use as a disinfectant spray, cleaning counter tops, cutting boards, toilet seats, toys and more!
*Note: If you happen to have citrus-scented essential oils on hand, you could also just put some of the oils in the vinegar for the same effect. Also, vinegar is great for mopping floors. I normally mix about a 4 to 1 ratio of water and vinegar, add in a few drops of citrus essential oil, and away you go! You can also use vinegar and water (minus any oils) to clean glass.
1 tbsp baking soda
1/4 c hydrogen peroxide
Essential oils of choice for scent
Mix the soda and some hot water and lightly shake to dissolve the soda. Then, add the remaining ingredients and slowly fill the rest of the bottle (slowly because of the soap – it will get bubbly!) with filtered water (especially if you have hard tap water).
Safe, effective, natural and cheap. While the cost of the castile soap may seem expensive, consider this: each recipe only uses 1/4 c of the soap. Each bottle should last you a month (the toilet cleaner probably even longer). That means one $15 bottle of castile soap will last you at least 8 months. This is far cheaper than buying several different bottles of cleaner that cost $5-10 per bottle. As for the other ingredients, most of you will already have vinegar and baking soda on hand. Peroxide is easily picked up for $1.99 per bottle. You’re being healthier for yourself and the environment, and saving money!
There are other recipes on her website for you to browse through. There are also several recipes on the Dr. Bronner’s website for other uses for Castile soap, including bathing, shampooing, even brushing your teeth! There are also recipes for laundry detergent. I may eventually look into making the laundry detergent, however I have actually had wonderful luck using Eco- Nuts. Eco-Nuts are actually not a nut at all, but a fruit that contains the natural chemical saponin. They are non-toxic, natural and very cost-effective. For a 100 load box, Eco-Nuts cost $11.99. Compare that to Tide, which costs on average $20 for 90 loads. Also, instead of having a large, heavy jug to store, you will have a very light, 4″x2″ box. Not to mention the fact that you will no longer be washing your clothes in harmful chemicals that rub off on your skin. Our daughter is prone to skin rashes, and these nuts have proven to be excellent for her sensitive skin. For more information on Eco-Nuts, visit their FAQ page.
Our commitment to using safe, natural cleaners is just another step on our journey towards living a healthy, green, natural life. Our goal is to remove as many chemicals from our day to day life as possible. It’s a part of our “homesteading” life if you will – doing as much as we can for ourselves, naturally.