Illustration: James Lake - Studio Lowbrow
While chemical cleaning products do a good job at, well, cleaning, they’re often no more effective than time-tested natural formulas. In fact, studies have found products like vinegar to be as effective at killing the flu virus as harsher chemical agents. And they’re gentler on the environment.
Here are some of the best alternatives to chemical cleaners that you can make with ingredients from your cupboards.
Forget products that bleach patches on your bathmat if you accidentally spill a drop. Get your tiles and toilet sparkling with ½ cup baking soda, ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide, and a teaspoon of dishwashing liquid mixed together in a squeeze bottle.
Want a product that removes dust while protecting your furniture, and that’s safe to use on any surface? Blend 3 cups water, 1 cup vinegar, ½ teaspoon castile soap, and ½ teaspoon olive oil in a spray bottle. The vinegar disinfects and cuts through dirt, while the oil helps grab and deflect dust as well as protect furniture. Add tea tree, eucalyptus and orange oil for a refreshing scent. Shake well before each use.
Whiten stains and clean just about anything with this gentle alternative to chemical bleach. Blend 1 cup hydrogen peroxide, ½ cup vinegar, ½ cup water, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 20 drops essential oil for fragrance – try lavender, lemon or rosemary – in a spray or screw-top bottle. Use a dark bottle, or a bottle wrapped in paper or masking tape, as light will break down its cleaning power. The mix will keep for a month or so.
We love our fur babies, but the way they can make the carpet smell? Not so much. Banish pet smells by mixing 1 cup baking soda with 20 drops of tea tree oil in a shakeable container, such as a parmesan cheese dispenser or simple jar. Sprinkle the mix on carpet or rugs and leave for 20 minutes before vacuuming.
White shirt stain remover
Ever wondered why your white tops end up with yellow armpits? They’re caused by a reaction between your sweat and the aluminium in your deodorant. To get rid of these stains without bleach, soak your shirt in a cup of vinegar mixed with 2 cups of warm water. After 20 minutes, wring the shirt out and rub a paste of ½ cup baking soda, 1 tablespoon hydrogen peroxide and 1 tablespoon salt into the stains. Leave for another 20 minutes, then wash as normal.
Coconut oil hand soap
Hand wash can be unnecessarily drying. With three simple ingredients, you can make one that moisturises as it cleans. Grate ¼ cup of bar soap (old ends of soaps or hotel soaps are great for this), then blend with 1 tablespoon coconut oil and 4 cups boiling water until dissolved. Let cool then whisk until smooth, adding 10 to 20 drops of essential oil if you want fragrance. Use a funnel to pour into a soap dispenser.
Take inspiration from the theatre world with this cheap and gentle alternative that keeps costumes fresh between performances. Shake up 60 ml vodka and 1 tablespoon vinegar in a spray bottle. Top up with water and essential oil for fragrance (although it works fine without). Spray on bed linen, mattresses, pet beds, or the armpits of clothes between washes.
Stainless steel cleaner
Remember when your stainless steel appliances looked like shiny new robots? Return your fridge, toaster and microwave to their former glory with the ingredients of a salad dressing. First polish your appliances with a generous spray of vinegar, working with the grain of the steel. Wipe dry, then dip a clean cloth in a little bit of olive oil and wipe again. Hello robot!
But wait, there’s more…
Defog bathroom mirrors for up to a month with a spray of vinegar and water, then use the leftover mixture to clean your laptop monitor. Clean and preserve leather with a mix of vinegar and olive oil. Make mosquito repellent with lavender oil and water. Clean your microwave by boiling a bowl of vinegar and water for 5 to 10 minutes then wiping clean. Soften clothes by adding a mixture of equal parts bicarb soda and vinegar to your laundry wash.
The DIY cleaning superstars
- Bicarb soda. Also called baking soda, find it in your supermarket baking aisle.
- Vinegar. Buy the biggest, cheapest bottle of plain white vinegar you can find.
- Hydrogen peroxide. A disinfectant and bleaching agent you can get from a pharmacy or supermarket.
- Liquid castile soap. Find this gentle soap made from vegetable oils in health food stores and some supermarkets