Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cleaning without harsh chemicals - Part one

Over the past few weeks, we've had some beautiful weather. We got what I thought was our Spring thaw on Friday and Saturday, only to be unpleasantly surprised when Winter re-established his rule Saturday night. It was a great reminder that until the crocuses, snowdrops, and daffodils begin to sprout, Spring is still a ways away (and even then, we often get one more snowstorm just for good measure!). But it go me thinking.

The house is almost due for it's thorough Spring-cleaning, but there's something I've wanted to try for a few years now: to make my own cleaning products from scratch. There are several reasons for this. For starters, I hate the idea of using any harsh chemicals because of the impact they have on our health and the environment. And secondly, so many cleaners can be made out of common household items (such as salt, baking soda, and vinegar) which end up costing less than purchasing pre-made cleaners.

Now we already use cleaners such as vinegar for glass, and baking soda as an abrasive counter and surface cleaners, and make sure that those cleaners we do purchase are phosphate-free and are made with plant-derived surfactants, but I've wanted to try my hand at making more complex solutions.

This has also been coupled with the fact that I've wanted to introduce essential oils into our home as well, but for the longest time didn't know where to get them in our area. I've since established a couple suppliers: If you want smaller two-dram bottles to try out new scents, or if you will not be using large quantities, check out my friend Bonnie over at The Hocus Pocus room. If you require larger quantities, Poya Naturals is a great place to get bottles as large as 500ml (that's two cups!).

So after a little research, I've put together a few recipes for general household cleaning. Now, I will mention that I still have not found substitutes for a few store-bought cleaners. Though salt and baking soda are great abrasives (especially on items that you do not want to use harsh chemicals on such as food preparation surfaces), I find that they still do not work as well as Vim or Comet on tough surfaces such as bathroom tile and counters. I do my best to use them sparingly, but I'll be honest; sometimes they're the only thing that will get the bathroom clean again!)

But apart from that, most of your daily cleaning can be easily accomplished with just these common household items:

All-purpose spray cleaner
1/2 tsp borax
1/2 tsp vegetable oil-based soap
2 tbsp vinegar
10 ml essential oil (use whatever one you prefer, I'll go into the benefits and properties of some common ones in the next post)
2 cups hot water
Combine into a spray bottle, and shake vigorously until all the solids are combined. Simply spray and wipe clean with a damp cloth or sponge.

Air freshener/deodorizer
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 tsp tea tree essential oil
1/4 tsp lavender essential oil
2 cups warm water
Combine and place in a spray bottle, and lightly mist the air or soft surfaces (furniture etc.), shaking before each use. Some say the tea tree and lavender have disinfectant properties, though I am unsure of this in such diluted proportions. It certainly cannot hurt, at least!

Floor cleaner (especially hardwood/laminate)
2 cups white vinegar
10 ml sweet orange essential oil
5 ml lavender essential oil
4 litres hot water
Though this works especially well for hardwood floors (because of the orange oil), it is safe for all floors, and works remarkably well. It also leaves your house smelling wonderful!

Some of these recipes were variations of ones found in the green clean recipe book, a great little go-to for cleaning that I found on sale at our local Coles a few years ago. Most of it is pretty basic, though it does have some neat recipes, organized into the various rooms of your home.

Certainly give these a try, and I'll work on a post that covers the basic ingredients and their properties (including the most common essential oils) to take the thinking right out of environmentally (and human!)-friendly cleaning!

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