I once had an editor write an entire magazine article about the cupboard under my kitchen sink because she was so impressed with its simplicity. All it contains are these simple ingredients: Baking soda, vinegar, washing soda, a good soap and detergent, and tea tree oil. I find them the safest and most effective for cleaning….everything.
Using these materials and making my formulas with them dispels all the myths you may have heard about nontoxic cleaning taking too much time, or not working. I can clean everything in the house using these five favorites, even peel wax off of the floor, and most of the formulas take seconds to blend. Or if they take time, it is to let the baking soda soak overnight, for example. They never take time because they need elbow grease to work, or because the formulas are hard to mix.
A commonly available mineral full of many cleaning attributes, baking soda is made from soda ash, and is slightly alkaline (its pH is around 8.1; 7 is neutral). It neutralizes acid-based odors in water, and adsorbs odors from the air. Sprinkled on a damp sponge or cloth, baking soda can be used as a gentle non-abrasive cleanser for kitchen counter tops, sinks, bathtubs, ovens, and fiberglass. It will eliminate perspiration odors and even neutralize the smell of many chemicals if you add up to a cup per load to the laundry. It is a useful air freshener, and a fine carpet deodorizer.
A chemical neighbor of baking soda, washing soda (sodium carbonate) is much more strongly alkaline, with a pH around 11. It releases no harmful fumes and is far safer than a commercial solvent formula, but you should wear gloves when using it because it is caustic. Washing soda cuts grease, cleans petroleum oil, removes wax or lipstick, and neutralizes odors in the same way that baking soda does. Don’t use it on fiberglass, aluminum or waxed floors—unless you intend to remove the wax. (Arm & Hammer is one brand that sells washing soda and the familiar yellow box is commonly found next to Borax in the laundry section of the supermarket.)
White Vinegar and Lemon Juice
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). Heinz can’t claim on their packaging that vinegar is a disinfectant because the company has not registered it as a pesticide with the EPA. But it is common knowledge in the industry that vinegar is powerfully antibacterial, and even the popular CBS news show “48 Hours” had a special years ago with Heloise reporting on tests from The Good Housekeeping Institute that showed this.
White vinegar and lemon juice are acidic—they neutralize alkaline substances such as scale from hard water. Acids dissolve gummy buildup, eat away tarnish, and remove dirt from wood surfaces.
Mold Killers and Disinfectants
For a substance to be registered by the EPA as a disinfectant it must go through extensive and expensive tests. EPA recommends simple soap to use as a disinfectant There are many essential oils, such as oregano, cinnamon, clove, and tea tree oil (an excellent natural fungicide), that are very antiseptic, as is grapefruit seed extract, even though they aren’t registered as such. Use one teaspoon of essential oil to 2 cups of water in a spray bottle (make sure to avoid eyes). A grapefruit seed extract spray can be made by adding 20 drops of extract to a quart of water.
And last but not least, is sodium percarbonate, a wonderful whitener. Ecover’s Laundry Bleach is 100% sodium percarbonate, and an easy find in health food stores. See my blog about the spring cleaning kit for how to use.
Caution: Make sure to keep all homemade formulas well-labeled, and out of the reach of children.