A clean house is a happy house, or so some say. But several obstacles sometimes prevent homes from being as sparkling as they could be. What if you’ve run out of glass cleaner? Does the odor of bleach make you gag? Are name brands too expensive? Are you concerned about harsh chemicals?
Common kitchen items, like vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice, can help clean up a home with little effort and money. Your grandparents probably already know this. If you’re late to hopping on the homemade-cleaner wagon, though, it’s never too late to learn new tricks.
Tracy Allen, the Family and Consumer Sciences Department chairwoman at Benton High School in St. Joseph, says common household ingredients can be combined in many ways to perform the same tasks of chemical cleaners. The proof is in the science.
“Items such as vinegar and lemon juice are good cleaners because of their acid content. The chemical reaction when adding an acid to baking soda makes the combination a good choice for a gentle cleanser,” she says in an email interview.
Just like in science fair volcanoes, baking soda bubbles and foams when you add acid, which helps lift dirt and grime off of surfaces. The acid in vinegar and lemon juice acts as a natural disinfectant. Baking soda and salt are mildly abrasive, so they are handy when scrubbing tough stains out of tubs or countertops. Baking soda also absorbs odors in smelly closets and refrigerators. Vegetable, olive and coconut oils can bring some shine back to wood floors and furniture. There are endless uses for these items, so check the Internet or the library for more tips.
Allen says there are several reasons that people decide to make their own cleaners. Some want to save a little on their grocery bill and decide to buy less expensive items to compensate. Others are worried about the chemicals in store cleaners and how they will affect their indoor environment, especially if they’re allergic to certain chemical additives.
“We are much more aware of chemical effects on our environment than we used to be. So if we can be green in using more natural cleaners, it is of some benefit. I also think because of the number of families who have members with allergies and asthma, using natural ingredients is a safer option,” she says.
Something to consider when using homemade cleaners, though, is how much your time is worth. Amy Drost, of Merry Maids in St. Joseph, says some of her clients request using vinegar-based products in their homes for various reasons. But though these methods can be effective, it might take longer to mix them, more elbow grease to use them and more frequent applications to keep fixtures clean.
“You can save money making your own stuff … but time is worth a lot of money,” she says with a laugh.
She also says that with cold and flu season coming up, natural cleaners often don’t stand up to the germ-killing properties of commercial cleaners. If your main goal in cleaning your home is to rid it of germs, sometimes chemicals are a better option. She and Allen both think choosing the best types of cleaners for your family is a matter of individual preference and goals.
“Sometimes home cleaners are the better option than commercial cleaners. There are times though that commercial cleansers are still the best option. The consumer just needs to look at all of the pros and cons of each and decide for themselves what their best option is,” Allen says.
Allen shared a few homemade cleaning methods she has found helpful in her own home:
▪ Glass cleaner: 1 quart warm water, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1/4 cup vinegar. Spray on glass, but use newsprint or coffee filters to wipe glass for less streaking.
▪ Drain cleaner: 1/2 cup baking soda followed by 1/2 cup vinegar. Let sit for 20 to 25 minutes, then rinse with 1/2 gallon boiling water.
“A baking soda paste works well to clean ovens but requires some scrubbing. It lets you avoid those awful fumes and does not smell when using (the) oven after cleaning and rinsing,” she adds.
She also suggests using equal parts vegetable oil and vinegar to rub into hardwood floors as an effective way to clean and shine. She hasn’t tried it herself yet, though, so she says to test the solution on a small spot before treating the whole floor.