Last updated: February 2017
DIY non-toxic cleaning kit
There’s no need for a cupboard full of toxic cleaners for different rooms. A handful of essential ingredients will do all the cleaning jobs you need.
DIY cleaning cupboard essentials
Baking Soda: Otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate or bicarbonate of soda, this domestic wonder powder is a key ingredient in many homemade cleaning products. As a powder it’s a mild abrasive that can scratch off dirt and absorb odours. When dissolved in water it is a mild disinfectant, cuts through grease and softens water. Use it as a thick paste with water as an abrasive cleaner or sprinkle on carpets and vacuum up as a deodoriser. A dish of it in the fridge will absorb smells.
Soda crystals/washing soda: For a stronger version of soda, go for soda crystals (also known as washing soda), which are more effective at getting rid of grease. (Available online from Dri-pak, www.dri-pak.co.uk)
Borax substitute: The EU has reclassified the ‘Borate’ group of chemicals that borax belongs to, so it is no longer available as a cleaning and laundry product. Dri-Pak now make borax substitute which is a mineral compound, with the perfect pH for cleaning, and is gentler than Soda Crystals yet stronger than Bicarbonate of Soda.
Soap flakes: Pure vegetable soap flakes or liquid soap flakes made from rapeseed and sunflower oil (no palm oil).
White Vinegar: Simply made from the fermentation of ethanol, vinegar is a mild acid that cuts through grease and disinfects by killing many types of bacteria.
Lemons: Lemons are acidic and can provide some antibacterial and antiseptic properties for cleaning. Adding lemon juice to vinegar can help neutralise the vinegar smell.
Essential oils: can be used as a natural fragrance.
Elbow grease: the infinitely renewable cleaning product!
Bicarb, soda crystals, borax and soap flakes are all available online from Dri-pak or in some supermarkets.
Make your own ... laundry detergents
A quick and easy way to ensure a more ethical wash is to make your own. This is not only cheaper than buying ready-made detergent, it is also easy to do. There are multiple recipes online by Wellness Mama, Mommypotamus and DIY Natural, as well as The Guardian. All of these recipes are for laundry powder, which is simpler to make and to store than liquid detergent, and are based on a few simple and easily available ingredients:
- bar soap
- washing soda
- essential oils (if not already included in the bar soap)
- oxygen booster (optional).
Laundry brightener: Add 1/2 cup of strained lemon juice during the rinse cycle.
Fabric rinse/softener: Add 1/4 cup of white vinegar during the washing machine’s rinse cycle to remove detergent completely from clothes, eliminating that scratchy feel. (Note: This will not leave your clothes smelling like vinegar).
Bleach: Use hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine bleach. Sunlight is also an effective bleaching agent.
Dry cleaning: Many delicate “dry clean only” items can be washed at home by hand. In general, it’s best to use cool water and a mild liquid soap. Squeeze or wring gently and lay flat to dry.
Make your own ... household cleaners
General, all-purpose liquid cleaner: 1 cup vinegar, 2 cups water and ½ a lemon.
Air freshener: A simple recipe of 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon vinegar (or lemon juice), and 2 cups hot water in a spray bottle can be sprayed in the air to remove odours. Or sprinkle essential oil on a cloth and wipe it over a radiator.
Windows: Put 3 tablespoons vinegar 3 litres water in a spray bottle. Some recommend using half vinegar and half water. For extra-dirty windows try this: 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap, 3 tablespoons vinegar, and 2 cups of water. Shake well. The best way to get streak-free windows is to use newspaper to wipe them.
Toilet cleaner: Pour 1 cup of borax substitute into the toilet before going to bed. In the morning, scrub and flush. For an extra-strength cleaner, add 1/4 cup vinegar to the borax substitute.
Ovens: To clean extra-greasy ovens, mix together 1 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup of washing soda, then add enough water to make a paste; apply the paste to oven surfaces and let soak overnight.
The next morning, lift off soda mixture and grime; rinse surfaces well (gloves are recommended as washing soda may irritate skin).
Disinfect surfaces naturally by mixing two parts water to one part vinegar or lemon juice.
Make your own ... dishwashing detergent
Handwashing: Wash your dishes in soap flakes with a dash of white vinegar. Or use washing soda or borax substitute (with gloves!).
Dishwashers: use 1 cup borax substitute and 1 cup of baking soda. Use 2tbsp per load. Use white vinegar in the rinse cycle.
“I have used soapnuts, and really liked them; they definitely work quite well. I have also used homemade washing powder by using 3 equal parts soap flakes/soda crystals/bicarb of soda. I never use softeners - you can slosh a bit of vinegar in the drawer instead. And I always add a few drops of essential oil into the drawer - orange essence is nice, but I had many more essential oils that I play with! I use eco-balls, and generally wash at 30C.
The only downside to this is that I am now horribly sensitive to other people’s clothes that stink of high fragrance softeners/washing powders...!
I use Ecover washing up liquid, and dishwasher tabs; and I use Parsley Plus from Earth Friendly Products - but almost everything else, I make.
One of the most effective cleaners I use is a spray bottle of vinegar, and an old cake sprinkle tub (ie with little holes in the lid) for bicarbonate of soda. You spray the vinegar, then sprinkle on the bicarb and then scrub! It fizzes, which is much more fun than non-fizzing cleaners ;-)
I save toothbrushes and have a good selection of scrubbing brushes - old t-shirts which make good cleaning cloths.
My favourite cleaning solution recipe is a floor-cleaner: a bucket of equal parts vinegar and hot water, a small squirt of liquid castile soap (or your Ecover washing up liquid) and 20 drops of some really fresh essential oils - pine, eucalyptus, tea tree. Then mop and leave.
I have saved a fortune on cleaning products over the last few years - I do buy all my stuff in bulk from SummerNaturals, so my utility area resembles a chemical lab: and I have a couple of books which are my cleaning Bibles - Natural Stain Removers by Angela Martin is my favourite. She outlines your 12 basic ingredients, and then gives you a recipe for anything you could possibly want, including an excellent collars and cuffs prewash.
Just don’t throw any cleaning product bottles out - you’ll need them for all your recipes!”
“ Our homemade soap flake washing powder has started blocking up the tubes between the soap dispenser and the drum. Any ideas what I’m doing wrong?”
“ I’ve made my own washing powder for years now. I think it needs a hotter wash than 30o to stop it doing this. I never use soap flakes on anything under 40°C.
I do a regular 60°C nappy wash using electricity from the solar panels when the sun is shining. If it’s cloudy for a long time I’ll need to do a 30°C wash with ordinary detergent.
I know that Dri Pak have reduced the amount of soap flakes needed in their recommended recipe too. I use: 500g Borax, 500g Soda Crystals, 2 table spoons soap flakes.
Nappies can get a build up of ammonia if the detergent is not being washed away. With this mix you don’t get this build up.I also use white vinegar as a fabric conditioner. I just put it in the rinse cycle.”
“Ecoballs seem to need help with most stains, and due to the lack of scent from them, some people may prefer to add a source of scent to the wash. I think they perform well though and I’ve read reviews that agree. I give their cleaning power a boost with a Magno Ball and Pure Oxygen Whitener, also made by Ecozone.”