Ingredients & Tools

Baking Soda

Baking soda’s finely gritty texture makes it an excellent, gentle abrasive cleaner. It is inexpensive, environmentally friendly, fragrance-free, and safe for nearly all surfaces, making it ideal for household use. As a mild abrasive agent, baking soda can also be used in place of toothpaste. Sprinkled around the exterior entrances to and foundations of homes, it may prohibit ants and other insects from crawling in, as it is irritating to their chitinous exoskeletons and they avoid it.

As an acid neutralizer, baking soda has long been favored for its various first-aid applications. Dissolved into a lukewarm bath, it will soothe the discomfort of sunburn and the itch of poison ivy. Made into a paste with cool water and applied directly to the skin, it will ease the pain of insect stings.

Some baking soda comes from a couple of mines in Colorado and Wyoming. Some is synthetically made using soda ash in water and carbon dioxide treated to produce a solid.

Baking soda is very inexpensive and is available in grocery stores in the baking aisle.  If it is available in bulk, it could be even cheaper.  Do not confuse "baking soda" with "baking powder" which actually contains baking soda, but other ingredients such as cream of tartar or cornstarch have been added.


Borax is a natural mineral compound also known as sodium borate deschydrate; sodium pyroborate; biraz; sodium tetraborate; and sodium biborate.

It was discovered over 4000 years ago.  Borax has been mined in Death Valley, California since the 1800s.  Borax is used as a natural laundry booster, multipurpose cleaner, fungicide, preservative, insecticide, herbicide, and disinfectant.  Borax crystals are odorless, whitish, and alkaline.  Borax is not flammable and is not reactive.  It can be mixed with most other cleaning agents, including chlorine bleach.  The most common brand is 20 Mule Team, and it is often available on grocery store shelves in the laundry detergent aisle.  If it's not in your grocery store, try the health food store.

Although people have long been using Borax for cleaning and other home uses, there is a bit of controversy about its relative safety which has been nicely explored at Crunchy Betty.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are not really oils.  They are distillations from plants to capture their scent and various beneficial properties. Essential oils smell great, and they offer some antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiseptic properties.  It's not clear how much a few drops in a bucket of vinegar and water will do...but it's cheap aromatherapy while you clean.  My favorite on-line essential oil site is Mountain Rose Herbs.

Essential oils can vary greatly in quality and price. Factors that can affect the quality and price of the oil include the rarity of the botanical, the country of origin and growing conditions, quality standards of the producer, and how much oil is produced by the botanical.  Some production processes are more natural than others.  Read the label, ask questions, check their web site.  Solvent extraction can use petroleum products in the process.
Clove Oil - It contains antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiseptic properties. It also smells great. Like lavender oil, it also repels insects.
Eucalyptus - It has germicidal properties and the ability to enhance the effectiveness of other essential oils, eucalyptus oil is often added to homemade cleaning products.
Grapefruit oil - Grapefruit oil is a disinfectant and is a great additive to homemade bathroom and kitchen cleaners.
Juniper Oil - Juniper oil delivers potent antiseptic properties in any homemade cleaner to which it is added. It has a pleasant, woodsy scent and is useful in preventing fleas and ticks on your pets and in your home.
Lavender Oil - Lavender oil is used as an antiseptic and has antibacterial and antifungal properties. The aroma of lavender has a calming effect on people, so this oil is good for use in the bedroom. It also repels various insects and can be used as a bug repellent and to discourage insects from entering the home.
Lavender and Peppermint Essential Oils - These are great for use by pet owners, as they will deter fleas in areas of the home frequented by your pets.
Lemon - Lemon oil comes from lemon rinds and provides antiseptic benefits. It is widely used to clean furniture although look for information about furniture cleaners on this blog (coming soon).
Oregano Essential Oil - Oregano has antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic properties. You might use it to make floor and kitchen cleaners.
Tea Tree Oil - Tea tree oil is a strong antibacterial. It also has antiviral and antifungal properties and is especially useful for killing mold and mildew and disinfecting surfaces.
Thyme - This is a strong antibacterial, with antiviral and antifungal properties. Try using it in place of Lysol to clean frequently touched surfaces such as door knobs and handles during the winter flu season.

Liquid Soap

Many people are confused about the difference between soap and detergent.  Soaps and detergents are not the same thing, however both are surfactants, or surface active agents, which means a washing compound that mixes with grease and water.

Soaps are made of materials found in nature. Detergents are primarily synthetic.  They were developed during World War II when oils to make soap were scarce.  Today, detergents may contain triclosan (a pesticide), chlorine, phosphates, petroleum-based ingredients, and chemical fragrances and dyes.

If you're looking for a vegetable-based liquid soap, "Castile" had come to mean any vegetable oil-based soap, versus animal (tallow) fat-based soap. "Pure-Castile" is also your assurance that what you are using is a simple soap, not a complex blend of detergents with a higher ecological impact due to the waste stream during manufacture and slower biodegradability. Unfortunately, many synthetic detergent blends are deceptively labeled as "Liquid Soap" even when they contain absolutely no soap whatsoever.

Most vegetable-based liquid soaps found in my neck of the woods are Vermont Common Sense,  Vermont Soap and Dr. Bronner's.   Dr. Bronner is a very odd duck in my opinion, but he makes a good product; and his liquid soap is very concentrated so it lasts longer than other soaps.

According to young Addison Hunter's blog, one soap making company said: "If every household in the U.S. replaced just one bottle of 25 ounce petroleum based dishwashing liquid with our 25 ounce vegetable based product, we could save 81,000 barrels of oil, enough to heat and cool 4,600 U.S. homes for a year!"  I'm guessing this was Dr. Bronner, but it's something to think about.

If you want an antibacterial soap, buy the Tea Tree version of liquid castile soap or add a few drops of Tea Tree oil yourself.  Other essential oils have antibacterial properties as well. 


Salt is a great natural cleaner and has a multitude of uses.  It's very cheap, easily available and it does no harm to the environment in moderate amounts.  The salt in cleaning recipes is simple table salt, or sodium chloride (NaCl).   Any salt you would put in a shaker on your table will do--whether it's iodized or not.


Shakers are great for sprinkling baking soda as a scouring powder.  You can buy shakers in dollar stores, department stores, cooking supply stores.

Spray Bottles

Spray bottles are great to use when cleaning windows or using an all-purpose cleaning.  You can make the cleaner right in the bottle.  You can find spray bottles in dollar stores, hardware stores, gardening areas of stores....  Most have adjustable sprayers to you can determine if it's a straight shot or a dispersed spray.  Make sure you take a permanent marker and label your cleaner so you don't get it mixed up with another cleaner you make.

Washing Soda

Washing soda is a highly alkaline chemical compound that can be used to remove stubborn stains from laundry. It also has numerous uses around the house. Washing soda should not be confused with washing powder, which is a powdered soap used as a detergent; it is also not the same thing as baking soda, although the two compounds are closely related.

The chemical formula for washing soda is  Na2CO3, and it is also known as sodium carbonate.  The common source of washing soda is the ashes of plants; for this reason, it is sometimes called soda ash. 

In laundry, washing soda accomplishes several things.  The high alkalinity of washing soda helps it act as a solvent to remove a range of stains, and unlike bleach, washing soda does not usually remove color or stain.  It is also used in detergent mixtures to treat hard water; the washing soda binds to the minerals which make water hard, allowing detergent to foam properly so that clothing will come out clean, without any residue.

White Vinegar

Vinegar is made from alcohol. The alcohol is converted to full strength vinegar through fermentation.  This full strength vinegar is then diluted with water to achieve the 5% acidity that is generally preferred for cooking and table use.

Vinegar has been produced commercially for about 2,500 years, making it one of the oldest products in use.  All of the many types of vinegars are produced in a similar way, but white vinegar is the most useful and the most versatile by far.  Using a vinegar with color, such as apple cider vinegar, is not a good idea as it may stain what you're trying to clean.

Heinz company spokesperson Michael Mullen references numerous studies to show that a straight 5 percent solution of vinegar—the kind you can buy in the supermarket—kills 99 percent of bacteria, 82 percent of mold, and 80 percent of germs (viruses). He noted that Heinz can’t claim on their packaging that vinegar is a disinfectant since the company has not registered it as a pesticide with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Vinegar is cheap, versatile, and  does not irritate allergies like some chemically fragranced cleaners.

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