Natural cleaning- simple, safe and inexpensive

My grandmother was a great source of practical wisdom — born in the 1880’s she grew up in a world kept clean and hygienic with simple natural ingredients and common household items.  The world changed post WWII as we entered the era of booming corporations, consumption and petro-chemical products.  Suddenly the washing had to be whiter than white, houses disinfected to hospital sterility, and TV advertisements promoted a new wave of ‘germ-phobia’ accompanied by a plethora of new wonder cleaners.

Around 58000 harmful chemicals are now used in everyday cleaning products and air fresheners, which include carcinogens, endocrine / hormone disrupters and neurotoxins.  Ingredients in different cleaning products can react with each other creating dioxins and carcinogenic nitrosomines. Studies have linked household chemicals to respiratory problems, asthma attacks, headache, depression, skin and eye irritations, dizziness, and to increased incidence of ear infection and diarrhea in young children. Over-use of harsh chemical disinfectants, anti-bacterial and antiseptics are resulting in the emergence of resistant superbugs and impaired immune systems in children.  In the USA, over 13% of treated child accidental poisoning cases are from household cleaning products.

“In 1989, the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health evaluated 2,983 fragrance chemicals for health effects. They identified 884 of them as toxic substances. Synthetic fragrances are known to trigger asthma attacks. The US Environmental Protection Agency found that 100% of perfumes contain toluene, which can cause liver, kidney and brain damage as well as damage to a developing fetus. Symptoms reported to the FDA from fragrance exposure have included headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing and vomiting, and allergic skin irritation. Clinical observations  by medical doctors have shown that exposure to fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, irritability, inability to cope, and other behavioral changes. Fragrance is a common skin irritant.” – Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia

The good news is that most of our cleaning can be done safely, effectively and hygienically with simple things like vinegar, salt, natural soap, bi-carb soda, wood ash, lemon juice and vegetable oil, and in some situations hydrogen peroxide and borax.

It’s easy and fun to make your own soaps – a batch of homemade soap will last me a year and provides lovely gifts for family and friends. Creating simple cleaning products for the kitchen and bathroom is easy and not at all inconvenient using these cheap, safe ingredients. The benefits include saving money, reducing waste, and eliminating the toxic chemicals in commercial products from your home.  Using natural cleaning supports healthy people and a healthy environment — and that includes the beneficial organisms in on-site septic and grey water recycling systems.

Some tips for using white vinegar as a natural cleaner

Cheap white distilled vinegar is a safe and inexpensive all-purpose cleaner, disinfectant and deodoriser, and effective for killing mould and harmful bacteria due to its level of acidity.

A little lemon juice can be added to vinegar  to dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits. I like to infuse lemon, lime and orange peels in white vinegar, which gives it a clean citrus aroma as well as extra cleaning power. You can keep a jar 2/3 full of vinegar in the kitchen to pop your lemon and lime skins in as you finish juicing them, strain some off for use in a spray bottle and top up the vinegar in the lemon jar.

Aromatic and antiseptic herbs can be be infused in vinegar or simply pop a sprig or two of rosemary or lavender in your vinegar spray bottle.  Antiseptic herbs include pimento (all spice), Aniseed, Bergamot (monarda didyma), Calendula, cinnamon, cloves, eucalyptus, galangal, sacred basil, lemon, lime, lemongrass, lemon myrtle, neem, pine needles, sage, teatree, thyme and yarrow. To infuse herbs in vinegar, just bruise the fresh herbs or crush dried herbs, place in a wide-mouth jar, fill jar with vinegar, let stand for several days (up to a week or two), shake it every day, then strain it, bottle and use.

Undiluted – use full strength white vinegar to clean:

  • Counter tops and food preparation areas
  • Grease stains on oven doors – saturate stained areas, leave 10 mins before cleaning off with sponge or soft cloth
  • Grime on top of fridge and kitchen surfaces, grease off exhaust fans – soak cleaning cloth with vinegar and wipe
  • Stained and smelly plastic containers – wipe with vinegar soaked cloth, soak with diluted vinegar overnight
  • Toilets and bathroom surfaces – spray and wipe
  • Removing grime, mould, mildew and scum in showers, bathtubs, basins and bathroom tiles – spray and wipe
  • Glass shower doors – spray and wipe

Diluted: 1 part white vinegar with 1 part water to clean:

  • Refrigerator shelves and walls – clean with diluted vinegar
  • Greasy grills – spray on and let sit several minutes before wiping
  • Renew cleaning cloths and sponges – soak in diluted vinegar overnight, rinse, wring and dry.

Other white vinegar cleaning tips:

  • Cleaning tarnished brass, copper and pewter – make paste with equal parts white vinegar and table salt
  • Floor cleaner – add I cup white vinegar to 4 litres water.
  • Stubborn grease and grime on floors – spray with undiluted vinegar and sprinkle bi-carb soda on effected areas, leave 10 minutes before scrubbing
  • Grime and scum on bathtubs – wipe with undiluted vinegar then clean with some bi-carb soda on cleaning cloth or sponge
  • Remove white water rings from wood – mix equal parts white vinegar and vegetable oil, rub into wood along the grain
  • Removing stains from coffee and tea cups – mix equal parts white vinegar and bi-carb soda and scrub


Robyn Francis

Next Soap making and Natural Cleaning workshop with Robyn Francis

Sustainable Saturday Workshop 1.30-3.30pm Sat 24th March, 2012

Robyn Francis shares recipes and tips from making her own soaps and natural cleaning for most of her life, including over a decade of producing her own range of EarthWise herbal skincare and cleaning products.

Sources and further reading:

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