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Alternative Home Cleaning Solutions

In an effort to cut down the number and toxicity of the chemicals I use around the house, I've stocked up on a few safe, simple ingredients that will handle most cleaning tasks.

Now and then I'll need something more aggressive but not often.

The Basics

Here are the basic cleaners I reach for first.


That's right, water. Water is a solvent for an amazing number of substances, especially when combined with time.


Be patient. Give a little water time to do it's thing. Have a sip of coffee. Smell a rose. Often just a few seconds will work wonders.

White vinegar

Cuts grease, removes mildew, odors, some stains and wax build-up. I keep mine handy in a spray bottle. Great on windows and mirrors.


Cleans, deodorizes, disinfects, softens water, cleans wallpaper, painted walls and floors. I keep some in an open container next to the kitchen sink, ever ready to dip a dish cloth into to clean a pot, the counter, etc. It makes a good non-abrasive alternative to scouring powder.

Baking soda

Cleans, deodorizes, softens water, scours.

Corn starch

Cleans, deodorizes, scours. Use to clean windows, polish furniture, clean carpets and rugs.

Soap (not detergent)

Not detergent. Get some unscented liquid, flakes, powders or bars.

When something a little more aggressive is needed.

I try not to use these very often. The basics handle most cleaning jobs around the house.

Isopropyl Alcohol

A disinfectant. Use with care - there is evidence it can cause illness.

Washing Soda (SAL Soda, sodium carbonate decahydrate)

Cuts grease, removes stains, softens water, cleans wall, tiles, sinks and tubs. Be careful, washing soda can irritate mucous membranes. Do not use on aluminum.

Citrus solvent

Cleans paint brushes, oil and grease, some stains. Use with care; may cause skin, lung or eye irritations.

Trisodium phosphate (TSP)

A mixture of soda ash and phosphoric acid, it can be used on many jobs, such as cleaning drains or removing old paint. Use with care; TSP is toxic if swallowed.

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All-purpose cleaner

Mix 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda (or 2 teaspoons borax) into 1/2 gallon (2 liters) water. Store and keep. Use for removal of water deposit stains on shower stall panels, bathroom chrome fixtures, windows, bathroom mirrors, etc.

Mold and mildew

A mixture of lemon juice or white vinegar and salt can be used to clean up mold and mildew. Or try mixing one part hydrogen peroxide (3%) with two parts water in a spray bottle and spray on areas with mold and mildew. Wait at least one hour before rinsing or using shower.


Use liquid soap (not detergent). Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of vinegar to the warm, soapy water for tough jobs. Use borax instead of a dry cleanser to clean pots and pans. Borax is not abrasive. Wash fine china in a solution of borax and warm water. Rinse well. Towel dry. The china will sparkle.

Hand Cleaner

Remember Boraxo powdered hand cleaner? As far as I can tell that great stuff was just ordinary powdered borax with some fancy marketing. For an even more effective cleaner put a pinch of borax in the palm of your hand, add a dollop of liquid soap and enough water to work it in. Voila!

Dishwasher Soap

Mix equal parts of borax and washing soda, but increase the washing soda if your water is hard.

Oven cleaner

Try a paste of baking soda, salt, and hot water.


To freshen and brighten laundry and remove soils and stains add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of borax to each load together with the recommended amount of laundry detergent. For stains, presoak for half an hour. Borax also works to condition hard water.

For delicates, hand wash in a solution of 1/4 cup of borax and 1-2 tablespoons of detergent in a basin of warm water. Rinse in cool water, blot with a towel, and lay flat to dry.

Here's a recipe for home-made laundry detergent:

Washing Powder

  • 16 cups baking soda
  • 12 cups borax
  • 8 cups grated castile or glycerin soap flakes - grate castile soap (e.g. Dr. Bronner’s) with a kitchen grater.

Combine ingredients and mix with a wire whisk. Use 1⁄8 cup per load.

This recipe makes enough powder to last a family of four one year.

Pre-Wash Stain Spray

  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 3 cups water

Combine ingredients & stir. Spray on soiled spots before washing. Test a hidden spot first.


  • 1 cup hydrogen peroxide
  • 1/4 cup lemon or grapefruit juice
  • 12 cups water

Use 2 cups per load along with detergent.

Add 1/2 cup of borax to wash water as an all-natural laundry booster. Add baking soda to wash water to soften and freshen clothing.

Glass cleaner

To clean glass I spray on white vinegar and wipe dry.

Cleaning porcelain and fiberglass

Wipe with borax on a damp sponge, rinse, and wipe dry.

Drain cleaner

Try pouring a quarter cup of baking soda down the clogged drain, followed by a half cup of vinegar. Close the drain tightly until fizzing stops, then flush with boiling water.

To clean a teakettle

I discovered this one by accident. To brew a pot of pine needle tea instead of pouring hot water over pine needles in a teapot, I tossed the whole branch in the tea kettle and brought it to a boil. The tea was delicious. A few brews later as I was removing a branch to put in a fresh one for the next brew I noticed the lime deposits in the kettle were soft and mushy. With a bottle brush and good rinse the deposits came right off the kettle. So there you are. Cut a branch off your favorite eastern white pine tree, wash it well, and toss it in the kettle to boil for a while. Voila!

To clean pots and pans

I saw this tip somewhere but haven't tried it yet. To clean a stubborn pot or pan put some water and a little baking soda in the bottom of the pot or pan and bring it to a boil. Let it soak overnight and then wash it in the usual way.

Fire extinguisher residue

To clean up dry chemical fire extinguisher residue use:

  • Vinegar & water for the bicarbonates
  • Alcohol for the silicates

To remove linoleum floor adhesive

Here are three suggested cleaners I've seen recommended for removing linoleum floor adhesive.

  • Vinegar - let it soak a while
  • Lestoil cleaner
  • DIF liquid wallpaper stripper

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Mix 1/4 cup borax with 1/2 gallon hot water. Use for wiping surfaces.

Removing stains

Carpet stains

Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray directly on stain, let sit for several minutes, and clean with a brush or sponge using warm soapy water.

Wine and alcohol stains

Dissolve 1/2 cup of borax in a pint of water. Sponge on the solution and wait a half hour. Then shampoo the stained area. Let dry and vacuum up the borax. The sooner these stains are addressed the better.

Blood stains

Get to work right away. Remove blood stains as soon as you find them. Try this. Use cold water. Hot or warm water will cook the blood and set the stain. If the stain is fresh, soak with cold water, scrub with a clean brush and blot dry. Repeat until the stain is gone. If the stain has been there a while try rubbing in shampoo, let it sit a while, scrub with a clean brush, then rinse with cold water. Repeat as necessary. For blood stains older than 24 hours, soak the material in cold water for about 1 hour then proceed as above.

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Cooking odors

Simmer vinegar (1 tbsp in 1 cup water) on the stove while cooking to absorb cooking odors. To get such smells as fish and onion off utensils and cutting boards, wipe with vinegar and rinse.

Refrigerator odors

Wash the refrigerator with a solution of borax and water. Rinse well.

Spilled milk odors

To neutralize spilled milk odors, dampen the spot and rub borax on. Let it dry then brush or vacuum up the borax.

Drain and garbage disposal odors

To eliminate drain and garbage disposal odors put 2-3 tablespoons of borax in the drain, let stand for about 15 minutes, then flush with water with the disposal on. Borax neutralizes acidic odors.

Garbage pail odors

Wash the garbage pail with a solution of borax and water. Sprinkle some borax in the bottom of the pail to keep it fresh.

Odors around the house

A mixture of baking soda with vinegar or lemon juice placed in small dishes will absorb odors around the house. Houseplants can help too.

Urine odors

To neutralize urine odors, dampen the spot and rub borax on. Let it dry then brush or vacuum up the borax. Use to neutralize pet urine odors also.

Vinegar - not only is it a powerful antibacterial agent, it is also an acid. Urine is a base (alkaline) so the neutralizing effect of the acid/base combination cut the urine and urine buildup.

Toilet bowl odors.

Add 1/4 cup of borax to the bowl. Swish it about with the toilet brush and let stand 30 minutes (or overnight).

Humidifier odors

Wash with a solution of borax and water. Rinse well before refilling for use.

Carpet odors

Baking soda and cornstarch are both good carpet deodorizers.

Keep clean without running water

With some baking soda, a little vinegar, and a gallon or so of water it's possible to keep your body and hair clean when away from a source of running water. While boondocking in an RV for instance and you want to extend your stay. Here is an excellent article in Mother Earth News describing the basic technique.

Try replacing shampoo with baking soda and deodorant with a mixture of baking soda/corn starch and coconut oil.

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Tags: Cleaning - Ecology - Supplies