A fresh start to the year means a fresh start to your home. It’s time to pack away the holiday decor, sweep out the nooks and crannies and get settled into a new routine for keeping your home clean. And if one of your resolutions was to be a little kinder to the environment this year — the world at large and your own personal environment — then you may be looking for health-friendly ways to clean your space.
We’re not going to use words like “nontoxic” because, when it comes to chemicals, the dose makes the poison. Even water can be toxic in some situations. And despite what marketing might say to the contrary, everything is made up of chemicals. Chemicals aren’t the enemy. How you use those chemicals is key.
That said, are you looking for a more — and we use this word gently — natural way to clean your home? We’ve got some tips. There are plenty of reasons to ditch your bleach for everyday cleaning. Here’s how to clean your home using safer natural products you probably already have on hand.
Before we get started, a disclaimer: We’re not anti-bleach in any way. Bleach is a powerful cleaner that can kill just about anything. If you’ve got a serious illness going on or a bacterial infection (like strep throat), a bleach-based cleaner is your best friend in stopping the spread of disease. This list is for everyday, run-of-the-mill cleaning.
Distilled white vinegar
If you’ve ever seen the gallon-sized jugs of distilled white vinegar at your local supermarket and wondered who would need that much, then be prepared to be amazed at white vinegar’s long list of uses. Aside from cooking and baking — you can use it to make buttermilk, among many other things, which comes in handy for pancakes, breads and more — distilled white vinegar can handle regular cleaning jobs with few (or no) modifications. Using a 50/50 mix of distilled white vinegar and water, you can clean:
- Your fridge, countertops, high chair surfaces, sink and other sensitive areas of the kitchen that come into contact with food
- Bathroom surfaces and the toilet bowl
- Windows, mirrors and other glass surfaces (use newsprint or a paper towel to avoid streaks on these surfaces)
- Baseboards, doorknobs, cabinet handles and other hard (nonporous) odds and ends around your home, including toys
You can also use white vinegar to wash your produce. A couple tablespoons per bowl of water is enough to take care of any lingering surface residue. If you’re worried about the smell or flavor, don’t. The beauty of white vinegar is that it evaporates quickly without an odor — and it takes odors with it. In fact, you can even use vinegar to freshen up appliances like your dishwasher, garbage disposal or washing machine, or pour a little into dishes that still smell funky after a wash.
Natural acid in vinegar is what makes it such a potent cleaning product. You can also buy a “cleaning vinegar” with higher acidity, but a large jug of distilled white vinegar is enough to handle regular cleaning. And if you want to boost white vinegar’s cleaning powers? Add it to baking soda.
Baking soda on its own is a handy cleaner, but mixing it with other natural products — like vinegar or hydrogen peroxide — really kicks things up a notch. You may already use a box in your fridge to deodorize, but baking soda can be used to clean and scrub a wide range of things. Better Homes & Gardens offers an in-depth list with instructions here. Some of our favorites:
- Kitchen: From scrubbing tough grease spots to freshening up funky smells, baking soda can tackle everyday kitchen cleaning with ease. Clogged drain? A combination of baking soda and vinegar can take care of mild to moderate clogs. Both ingredients are safer for your pipes than any of the popular declogging agents. Just run hot water down the drain afterwards to clear the pipes of any remaining debris.
- Bathroom: Mix up a paste of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide to clean tile grout. Use a cheap toothbrush and some elbow grease to make your bathroom shine again. Baking soda can also be used as an all-purpose scrubber for tubs, sinks and showers.
- Odds & ends: Not a fan of smelly oven cleaners or the chemical burning smell that comes from a self-cleaning oven? Mix up a paste of baking soda and water, then apply that paste with a scrub-brush to the sides and bottom of your oven. Spritz it with vinegar, then wipe down after the fizz takes care of stuck-on food. Easy oven cleaning without the wait (and the smell).
You can also use baking soda to clean up vomit from your carpet if you can’t get to it right away. Carefully wipe up any solids and excess liquid, then sprinkle baking soda generously over the mess. Let it dry for a few hours, then vacuum up the remnants. You’ll still need to spritz the area with cleaner, like vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. But using baking soda can save your sanity if you can’t deal with a messy carpet at 3 a.m. As a bonus, using baking soda and vinegar to clean vomit will eliminate any lingering smells.
It’s no coincidence that many cleaners use lemon as their default scent, and it’s no wonder a lemon-scented kitchen feels cleaner — it’s probably because it is. Thanks to natural acids, lemons make for excellent cleaning. Not only does the acid in lemons make them antibacterial and antiseptic, but lemons are also cheap (usually), readily available pretty much everywhere and can tackle a host of cleaning challenges, like:
- The garbage disposal: Toss some lemon peels into your garbage disposal and give it a whirr, along with running hot water. This simple approach will rid your disposal of any griminess and stuck-on smells
- Grease or linen stains: Rub lemons on greasy buildup on your countertops or stovetops, let the juice sit, then wipe down. You can also rub lemons on stained white clothing or linens, then hang the linens out to dry in the sun. The lemons will act as a natural bleach.
- Cutting the vinegar smell: If you’re using vinegar as a cleaner but hate the smell and don’t want to wait for it to evaporate, just add lemon juice. It’ll cut the vinegar smell down and leave a pleasant lemony scent instead. Plus, you’ll bulk up the cleaning power of both agents.
You can use bottled lemon juice if you can’t find fresh lemons, but the real thing will probably be more handy. And as The Spruce points out in the article we linked above, you don’t have to skip the bruised lemons if you’re only using them to clean. Brown spots won’t make a difference.
Rubbing alcohol, typically sold in the emergency aid section of the pharmacy, can sterilize, disinfect and clean. It’s good to have on hand for a variety of problems, everything from a small cut to permanent marker murals. Good hand sanitizers use alcohol as a base because it effectively disinfects, which means you can stop the spread of nasty illnesses like flu, norovirus and E. coli bacteria.
But before you start rubbing down all your things with this powerful cleaner, know that it’s not as environmentally-friendly as the other natural products listed here. Avoid:
- Mixing it with bleach, which creates a highly toxic compound called chloroform
- Ingesting rubbing alcohol at all, even in small amounts
- Pouring it over large or deep wounds
- Using it on painted, varnished, lacquered or other types of finished surfaces around your home, such as treated wood floors
- Using it to clean certain types of fabrics, such as silk and rayon
It’s best to use alcohol as a disinfecting agent. Just make sure that when you use it, you’re in a well-ventilated space. Open doors and windows as needed. And never store or use alcohol anywhere close to open flames — it’s highly flammable.