This blog will help guide you in making homemade, all-natural house cleaning products that will provide a safer environment for you and your families.
Part 1: Vinegar
**NOTE: Vinegar is NOT effective at killing the COVID-19 virus. For the latest research and guidelines regarding disinfection for COVID-19, please visit: CDC Guide to Cleaning and Disinfecting Households
Air quality is an issue in many cities, as research has found that 21% of our children age 2-8 growing up in the City of Cleveland have been diagnosed with asthma, compared to 8% in the suburbs. One way we can help our kids grow up healthier is to improve the air quality INSIDE our homes. Many household cleaners are chock full of synthetic chemicals that may set off respiratory and skin reactions in people who are sensitive and can actually cause new sensitivities to form. I am one of those people, so I have begun making my own household cleaners that do not irritate my respiratory system and skin.
Today we will begin with a product almost as old as humanity itself - vinegar. Vinegar has been used by humans for nearly as long as civilization itself, with evidence dating back 10,000 years. In addition to its earliest uses as a beverage, preservative, and medicine, it is also an effective general cleaning product. Vinegar is safe on many types of surfaces like wood, fabric, chrome, stainless steel – basically everywhere in your home that is not marble and/or granite.
Its properties are amazing - anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal, which make it a great all-purpose household cleaner. Vinegar (also called acetic acid) is good for breaking down fats and oils, so it’s a great first step in cleaning surfaces before you choose to disinfect. Many things can be added to help increase the efficacy of vinegar’s cleaning properties from oils, to salts, to food products like herbs or citrus fruit like oranges.
Orange rinds (the peels) accomplish many chores around the home such as neutralizing odors, shining stainless steel, and keeping pests away. Orange rinds contain citric acid which breaks down soap scum, dissolves minerals on faucets, and kills mold. Limonene is also in orange rinds and is toxic to mosquitoes, flies, and other bugs, so you are also helping to keep your home free of pests while you clean!
Putting these two powerhouses together creates an affordable, effective, all-natural household cleaner. It’s super simple to make, too. Next time you eat an orange just drop the rind into a glass jar, cover it with vinegar, put the lid on, and let it sit for about 10 days. That’s it - nothing fancy, just use the plain “white” vinegar that many people have in their homes and an old jar (like from pickles or jelly or a Mason jar) that would have otherwise ended up in the recycling bin.
You can add more orange rinds as often as you like, just be sure they are immersed in the vinegar. After 10 days, pull out the orange rinds and compost them in your yard. You now have an effective cleaner for practically any household chore. It is recommended to dilute your cleaner in half with water, though using it full strength is not detrimental, other than a powerful aroma of orange vinegar.
You can even make your own cleaning wipes with your orange vinegar. You can use paper towels or blue shop towels (they hold up a bit better than most paper towels) to make disposable wipes, which are great for cleaning up greasy or oily spills. If you are looking to take your sustainability efforts even further, you can make reusable wipes using an old shirt or towel cut into wipe-sized pieces. I happened to have the old container from wipes I purchased previously, but any type of container with a lid can work. Many restaurants are now using plastic trays for carry-out (not a fan of that trend), but those actually work great to hold wipes.
So, let’s do the math…Vinegar = $3/gallon + Oranges = ~$5.00/five pound bag = $8.00
$8.00 for a gallon of full strength, all natural, non-toxic cleaner! Other name brand natural cleaners cost over $20 per gallon.
So if you do not want to use harsh chemicals while performing household tasks, orange vinegar is one of the best natural ways to get them done.
Another variation that I am currently trying is lavender vinegar. Lavender is a natural anti-fungal with a scent that is calming and refreshing, helping to relieve anxiety or stress. It’s a natural bug-repellant, preventing household visitors like moths and fleas.
It’s just as easy to make as the orange cleaner, too. Just toss your flowers into the vinegar and let it steep for at least 10 days. I like to give the mixture a good shake each day, especially when you first add them in you will see the color change to a pretty shade of light purple immediately.
The math: Dried lavender flowers are sold by weight, around $3 an ounce. To make one full gallon of concentrate, 3 to 4 ounces of dried flowers are recommended. So, about $10 for the lavender plus $3 for a gallon of vinegar = $13 – still saving several dollars compared to store bought cleaners. When you are ready to use your lovely cleaner, use the same as your orange cleaner – dilute it with water as much as two parts water to one part vinegar. (If you want to try a small batch before committing to a full gallon since not everyone is a fan of lavender, use ¼ cup of flowers to one liquid measuring cup of vinegar.)
In most cases, vinegar is a great all-purpose cleaner, but there are some surfaces that you should NEVER use it on:
- any type of stone like granite, limestone, marble, or slate countertops and floors – it causes etching and damages the surface as vinegar dissolves stone.
- waxed furniture – the vinegar will break down the wax finish.
- hardwood floors - that depends on the finish, but it’s best to just avoid using vinegar and opt for a mild oil soap instead.
- pearl jewelry – pearls will dissolve in vinegar (same as stone above, as pearls are calcium carbonate, limestone, and marble).
NEVER mix vinegar with chlorine bleach as the mixture creates a highly toxic gas!
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these guidelines for household settings:
- Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces. Cleaning does not kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
- Disinfecting refers to using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
Stay tuned for more natural cleaning tips! Next up: Hydrogen peroxide!