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A Clean(ish) House II: Homemade Cleaners



My "Lunatic Balls."

My “Lunatic Balls.”

Making my own cleaners has to be the biggest cost saving change I’ve made. Cleaners are expensive and the bulk of them don’t do a much better job than their simple home made counterparts. So what is under my sink? I’ll start with the things I make and then talk about the items I purchase and why.

Belle’s Lemon Rosemary All-Purpose Cleanser

I make this a gallon at a time. It smells so good and works so well. It leaves our granite countertops shiny and fresh. I clean our furniture with it (We have cheap Ikea. I don’t think I’d use this on your beautiful wood!) Pretty much any hard, durable surface gets cleaned with this. I save time and energy by mixing up a gallon at a time and refilling my little spray bottle as needed. I store the gallon in an old water jug.

1/2 cup basic distilled vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp “Dawn” dish soap (I prefer Dawn for this because of it’s grease cutting properties)
20 drops of lemon essential oil
15 drops of rosemary essential oil

Mix it up and pour it into your jug. Repeat until your jug is full, then store under your sink and refill your spray bottle as needed.

Belle’s Hardwood and Tile Cleaner

I clean the hardwoods and tile with the most complex homemade cleanser: water, vinegar and essential oil. That’s it! And I don’t even measure! I did GOBS of research into how to care for our wood floors in the new apartment. They are in good condition and I would like to keep them that way. All the fancy wood cleaners you buy seem to leave residue behind that will attract more dirt. They are also chemical-based and my child and cat lick everything. That just can’t be good for them. Eventually I tried just hot water, vinegar and orange essential oil in my mop bottle and it did a LOVELY job! Floors are clean, safe to lick and it cost me pennies! I use the same mop and solution on the tile floor as well. When I do a serious floor scrub (which is not nearly as often as it should be) I mix a bucket of vinegar and hot water and just scrub away with a sponge.

Belle’s Toilet & Drain Cleaner

Toilet bowl cleaner is FULL of toxic crap. Seriously, have you ever read those bottles? And all those warnings? I have not bought it since college and instead just dump a quarter cup of baking soda in the toilet and then slowly pour vinegar into the bowl, letting it foam away. Once the foaming subsides I scrub with the toilet brush, give it a good flush and I’m done.

I use the same vinegar and baking soda routine in the sinks to keep drain clogs to a minimum. Again, have you ever read the labels on drain-o? Holy hell! When the drains get too clogged for baking soda and vinegar we use one of these little sticks to clear it out. The Professor is pretty diligent with pulling out clogs before they get so bad that we would need heavy chemicals.

Belle’s Air Freshener

For everything except the bathroom I freshen rooms with a drop or two of essential oil on lightbulbs. Random, right? Same concept as those expensive defusers, though. The lightbulb warms the oil and releases the scent. It’s fast, it does not fill up my outlets and it costs basically nothing. I also pour baking soda into decorative bowls and place them around stinky things, like litter boxes.

Belle’s Simmering Air Freshener

Sometimes all three stinky cats take huge stinky shits within 10 minutes of one another. And sometimes I feed the Professor, Sabine and myself vegan chili for too many days in a row… and you know, the house stinks more than usual. For big stinks, I take an old lemon or orange or grapefruit (I save the ones that are past their prime for just this reason) and either some fresh rosemary if I have it or a cinnamon stick and a tablespoon of whole cloves and simmer it in water. I add more water as the level lowers and keep it going for as long as I want. The house smells amazing after this.

Belle’s “I look like a lunatic” Dryer Sheet Alternative

I recently read about how bad dryer sheets are for cats. And then started thinking about how bad they must be for humans. There are lots of dryer sheet alternatives for sale – balls of wool for example. They are lovely and not terribly expensive if you have a dryer in your house and only need one set, but we use a communal laundry room and I dry four loads at once in four commercial dryers. That means I need four sets of wool balls at once. Too expensive! Instead I use balls of aluminum foil and old washcloths that I scent with lavender essential oil. Yes, I look like a lunatic tossing foil balls into the dryer. No, I don’t care. The Professor explained scientifically why the foil balls work to remove static but I did not pay attention and can’t remember now. All that matters is that my towels don’t come out as one huge, shocking towel monster. The washcloths and essential oil make everything smell delightful. The balls get nice and smooth after their first spin around the dryer and won’t damage your clothing.

Belle’s Microwave Cleaner

This came from Pinterest and it is FABULOUS! When the microwave is gross I take a large Pyrex bowl, fill it about a 1/4 of the way with vinegar and the rest with water, and then microwave it for 7 minutes. The vinegar steam loosens everything up and the grime wipes right off! It is amazing and hands down my favorite way to clean a gross microwave.

Products I Purchase

Obviously I use a lot of baking soda and vinegar. I buy it in bulk from Costco to save money and make sure I always have enough. Other things I purchase are:

  • Bon Ami – when just a baking soda scrub won’t cut it I use Bon Ami. I scrub our tub with this stuff, I scrub my Le Crueset with it, I scrub the stick shit that collects in the fridge doors with it, etc. It’s great, non toxic and very cheap.
  • Cascade Dishwasher Detergent – I pick and choose my chemical battles. I can buy this in bulk at Costco for a good price and it does a good job.
  • “Kirkland” Environmentally Sensitive dish soap: Also from Costco, this is cheap and effective.
  • Dawn dish soap: I keep a tiny bottle of this for making my all-purpose cleaner and for scrubbing cat vomit out of the carpet squares because it will not leave a residue. I do not use it for my dishes because I really don’t like the smell.
  • Murphy’s Oil Soap: I use this to clean our kitchen cabinets regularly.
  • Mineral Oil: After cleaning the cabinets I apply a thin layer of this to the four that have water damage. I also use mineral oil to keep my cutting boards and bamboo kitchen utensils in tip-top shape.
  • Lysol: I used to be VERY against disinfectants, but then my entire family shat and puked their brains out and my tune changed. I now lysol Sabine’s changing table and diaper pail regularly. Anytime a bout of Norovirus hits my Mommy and Baby friends I run through my house like a crazy person Lysoling everything in my path.
  • Aura Cacia Electric Air Freshener: I use one of these in the bathroom. The refills are expensive but they smell so good. We only have one bathroom so… you know, things can get pretty funky. This helps tremendously.

I think that is about it! Laundry detergent I just use what ever free & clear brand is on sale. I don’t use fabric softener. For glass cleaning I use my all-purpose cleaner. Really, though, baking soda and vinegar do the bulk of the cleaning in our home.

I have to stress that having the right cleaner and the right cleaning tool has made a huge difference in my housekeeping abilities. For me, the right tool makes the chore easy, fast and fun. Having it stored in an easily accessible place also helps. I timed my and Sabine’s cleaning time yesterday and it comes in at about 90 minutes total – an hour in the morning and 30 minutes of fast pick-up in the late afternoon. Once Sabine has recovered from her nap strike I will do more when she is sleeping, but right now, we do it together. We talk about what we are doing, I sing little songs about cleaning away the stinky stinky stinky and let her participate when possible (for example, she gets to play with a clean dust rag while I run my flower duster).

What are your favorite cleaners? Do you make any of your own? Have you found a good, non toxic option for laundry detergent that does not cost a mint? No, I am not spending 15 dollars on detergent, thankyouverymuch. What about cleaning tools. Is there one that makes your chores easier or more fun?





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  1. April 17, 2014

    I want to live in your apartment.

    • April 18, 2014

      No, you don’t. There is only one bathroom. 🙂

  2. April 17, 2014

    We definitely use the baking soda and vinegar as drain unclogger. We had a bad drain once that Chief tried to plunge, and we tried drano. Nothing. So I put baking soda down it and poured in vinegar. I let it sit overnight and the next morning poured boiling water in. worked like a charm!

  3. Amy #
    April 17, 2014

    I do a surface cleaner with just water, tea tree and lavender EOs, and a dash of some biodegradable soap. Vinegar, water, and orange/lemon/grapefruit EOs for glass cleaner. We use Charlie’s Soap powder for laundry, vinegar instead of fabric softener (will have to try the aluminium balls!), no dryer sheets (all that came about because of cloth diapers). I love the smells of the EOs and about gag anymore when my mom does any of Ike’s laundry if she has to…artificial fragrances are just too hard to take anymore. We have laminate floors so don’t vacuum much at all anymore but over the winter a rather large bottle of lavender EO fell on the ceramic tile in the bathroom and shattered, so our ShopVac actually smells wonderful these days and we just use it to hit the rug rather than the old stinky vacuum cleaner! 😉 There are some eucalyptus-based wipes (Seventh Generation, I think?) that should disinfect just about as well as Lysol. And there’s a eucalyptus-based product (found it at Sam’s Club – Costco might carry it?) called WhipIt that is a zero on EWG’s toxicity scale. Pretty amazing stuff. I love the green-clean strategy, but I honestly just don’t clean very much at all (unless/until) people are coming over, and even then it never gets done as deeply as I start out thinking it will. I am totally ashamed reading how well you stay on top of it all – I wish I cared enough to get this into it, but…I sadly just don’t. Here’s a link to some other ‘recipes’ if you ever want to change it up a bit (it’s basically what you already do but maybe some different EO combos):

    • April 18, 2014

      Lol! Love your scented shop vac 🙂 I might put a few drops of EOs in my vacuum bag for freshening the air, too! And please don’t be ashamed. If you remember, I was on Prozac for anxiety and OCD… I have also found that having a cleaning routine and a daily routine in general helps me to stay a little more upbeat when I feel gloomy about not going to work. I may not work in an office right now, but I do run a tight ship at home. It helps me, personally, find a little self-worth on those really tough days (when I’m exhausted and the baby is crying and the cat is vomiting and I have not showered in three days…)

  4. Amy #
    April 17, 2014

    Oh, and we used to do the borax/washing soda laundry detergent recipe, too – smelled awesome with lavender and eucalyptus, but we switched to Charlie’s after figuring out the borax was a little hard on diaper cover elastic and also perhaps not quite as nontoxic as traditionally thought.

  5. jak #
    April 17, 2014

    love these recipes and will be using them!!

    our household fav: in a spray bottle, put 2 parts water and 1 part ammonia, then add about 3 tbsp liquid dish soap. it removes grease really well and when handwashing dishes is much better than just the liquid dishsoap. and, ammonia is perfectly safe at these levels, even for pregnant people and hypochondriacs. trust me, i have my doctorate in toxicology;)

    • April 18, 2014

      I love this and will be making a bottle next week! Sometimes the Professor will fry something horrendously messy and it is SUCH A PAIN to clean it up. This would be very helpful. And you use this when you hand-wash your dishes, too? Just spray it on and wipe?

  6. Romy #
    April 17, 2014

    Thank you for sharing your recipes, I’ll give them a try for sure.

    The only thing “homemade” I do is put a tiny bit of vanilla extract in a mug and set it in the oven for an hour at a low heat. Makes the house smell so great.

    I have to admit I get annoyed with all natural cleaning supplies when they don’t work. We cloth diaper and I was using Rockin’ Green detergent but after a while the diapers smelled like ammonia residue so I ended up bleaching them and then doing like 5 rinse cycles to make sure there was no bleach residue left (tip I found online). So now going forward I’m just using Tide on them. Do you cloth diaper?

    • April 18, 2014

      I do not cloth diaper. It was a major decision as I always intended to. Now that I live in NYC, though, and use a communal laundry room I just can’t handle it! I also feel like the “green” detergent I sometimes buy just does not do a very good job getting things nice and clean, too. Sometimes you just need a little chemical 🙂 Like April said below, we pick and choose our battles. What you can do to reduce chemicals while not making your life hell is great!

  7. April 17, 2014

    Thanks for the tip on the dryer sheets. I had to stop using them when my dog ate a bunch and needed surgery (shes an addict) and since then I have been using the bounce dryer bar which irritates me to no end. Glad for the alternative.

    • April 18, 2014

      You can also make your own wool balls. I am short on time and opted for the easiest route – foil balls. Sabine had fun making them with me (and tasting them of course).

  8. April 17, 2014

    We’re all about the vinegar and baking soda too. I don’t measure either; I throw a splash of vinegar on the kitchen floor and hit it with the sprayer, then mop.

    I made laundry detergent for probably a year, but Ian loves his Tide. You have to pick your battles, and at least he’s okay with the powder, which is not as offensive to my skin and nose as the liquid.

    And foil balls are also good for scrubbing oven racks and cast iron.

    • April 18, 2014

      You do have to pick your battles! I have things that I have given in on too, like giving up my glorious linen closet for tool storage 🙂 Thanks for the foil ball tip! Next week I am going to try to clean my oven and this will help!

  9. April 17, 2014

    Oh my gosh, Belle. I LOVE you for this! Thank you. I have been wanting to cut some chemicals out from my house-cleaning regimen for a while now, but have been too lazy, thinking it too hard and time-consuming. But you make it sound so EASY. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • April 18, 2014

      It’s really not that hard! Start with one thing at a time. I have tried to go all out and get rid of everything at once and it is just too much. Start small and add something new every few weeks!

  10. Mel #
    April 18, 2014

    These are great ideas, I will be trying several of them! I wanted to tell you however, that Lysol (and 409) can be harmful to cats. I believe it’s typically ok to use it sparingly, but you may want to look into that. Thanks for the helpful natural “recipes” though!

  11. April 18, 2014

    This is great!

  12. Shinara #
    April 18, 2014

    I wonder if the vinegar in the microwave routine would work in a funky oven? hmmmmmm….

    • April 18, 2014

      You know, I have been trying to think of a good way to clean my oven without crazy chemicals. It’s certainly worth a shot to try it with the vinegar! The worst that will happen is that your house smell like a pickle for a while, and then you just simmer some yummies on the stove to get rid of it!

  13. April 18, 2014

    Thank you for these recipes – I intend to use them ASAP! I make my own disposable wipes, which is now costing me pennies and is super easy. The recipe is:

    1.5 cups of water
    1 tbsp baby wash (whatever you use)
    1/2 tbsp coconut oil (or baby oil)
    1-2 drops of tea tree oil

    Cut a roll of paper towels in half (select a size, I use the kirkland costco brand), pour the recipe into a container with a lid that will hold the half roll (bought mine at the dollar store), turn paper towels cut side down into the mixture and let it soak overnight. After a few minutes, pull and tug on the roll in the middle and it’ll slide right out, bringing the end of the wipes up with it. In the morning, it’s good to go 🙂 Fewer chemicals, smells nice, and is super cheap!

    • April 18, 2014

      Oh my gosh this is BRILLIANT! Seriously, did you come up with this? Right now wipes come with our Honest Co. diapers, but if we ever change, I will absolutely be doing this!

      • April 18, 2014

        Actually no. Have to give credit where it is due – it came from Amber at But the interwebs have many recipes very similar!

  14. April 19, 2014

    I only use Felsnaptha for laundry. You may be familiar with it. I get it at Kroger or Walmart. It comes as a bar and costs about a dollar depending on where you get it. I use a small cheese grater and just shred a bit into my washer. A little goes a long way. Everything smells great and it does a great job getting out stains and can be rubbed right on a stain for pre treating. I used to actually make it into a liquid detergent but I just prefer using it this way but everyone else I know who uses it always make it into a liquid. There are lots of “recipes” online for this but probably the easiest way is to just mix a gallon of water in a pot and toss in the bar of soap. Simmer it until the whole bar melts, add baking soda and borax if you want, then add to 5 – 1gal jugs. 5 gallons a little over a dollar. I think yes lol.

  15. April 19, 2014

    oh, I forgot to add that you have to divide the detergent between the 5 jugs and top off with water.

  16. Shelley #
    April 19, 2014

    This is about to be my new bible.

    Question though, why do you clean your cabinets? Should I be cleaning my cabinets?!

    What like mops and vacuum and stuff do you use?

    You’re seriously inspiring the crap out of me to get cleaning.

    For SERIOUS disinfecting (crucial for a kid with a central line) we buy PDI germicidal wipes. They’re what they use in the hospital and wipe out EVERYTHING including c-diff.

  17. April 20, 2014

    Love this thank you for sharing. Quick question where do you get your essential oils?

  18. July 9, 2014

    I know this post is getting old, but I bookmarked it and I’ve been referring back…thank you! I wanted to note that I had very sticky cabinets due to lots of home cookin’ and NO over-the-stove ventilation (damn rented apartment). I tried ammonia and it didn’t work. I bought the pre-diluted, lemon-scented stuff from the drugstore. Maybe I did it wrong.

    Anyway, what DID work was a paste of 1/2 baking soda and 1/2 baby oil. You can use cooking oil or coconut oil instead – whatever you want your hands to smell like. I don’t remember where I found this tip but it was touted as a non-toxic alternative to goo gone.

    • July 9, 2014

      I LOVE THIS! I have some funk on my cabinets over the stove that won’t budge, too. I’ll try this next. Thanks for sharing!

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