Homemade Cleaners

(Check out my little giveaway here.)

My small change for February is to use homemade cleaners, instead of petro-chemical laden commercial cleaners.

Using homemade cleaners results in less waste. Instead of buying several different cleaners, each designed for a single purpose. So we had glass cleaner just for cleaning glass, and oven cleaner just for cleaning the oven, and all-purpose cleaner for the counters and sinks. There’s one just for toilets. We had a special soap for the floors, and one for the laundry, and one for dishes, and one just for hands.

As you can imagine, all these cleaners resulted in quite a lot of money spent each year in the name of cleanliness. Using homemade cleaners, or simpler multi-purpose cleaners, is the frugal choice.

Those specialty cleaners are pretty much all made of weird toxic brews of multiple chemicals. What didn’t get left behind on the surfaces of our home, or on the dishes we ate from, the clothes we wore (including against Ruby’s eczema-prone skin), pretty much universally ended up flushed one way or the other into the water system.

So I gathered up some basics and set to replacing the toxic with the natural.

Here were my tools:

  • White  vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Lemons
  • Fels Naptha Laundry bar soap
  • Kirk’s Coco Castile bar soap
  • Washing Soda
  • Borax

My first step was something that I was really familiar with. I’ve always used a homemade laundry soap to clean the vintage clothes that I sell. I’ve seen it suck 50 or 60 years of cigarette smoke and storage dust from the fibers of dresses and blouses someone’s grandmother wore when she was young.

I’m not sure why I stopped using it for our everyday laundry. Maybe because the liquid stuff was easier. My homemade stuff (it’s in the ‘tea’ jar in the picture above) requires the grating of a bar of soap. Regardless, it was nice to start my homemade cleaning experiment with a guaranteed win.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

All of these ingredients are available in the laundry aisle of my local rural grocery store. If you can’t find it locally, check for it online. I’ve linked to Amazon for you. You only need about 2 Tablespoons, even for a heavy dirty load. You can use 1 Tablespoon for a smaller, lighter load. Add a cup or so of white vinegar to the load, and you’ll get rid of the need for fabric softener. (Don’t worry, the vinegar doesn’t scent your clothes. But you can mix a few drops of essential oil to it if you like, as the soap won’t scent your clothes either.)

Here’s my trick for getting your clothes super clean. Put your 2 Tablespoons of soap into the basin of your washer as it fills with water. Cold is fine, but if you’re clothes are real dirty, use hot or warm for the wash. (Cold rinse always.) As the basin fills with water, add the vinegar. Then the clothes. Leave the lid open and let everything soak for a while. Maybe an hour, if you’re working on a tough load. If it’s a light load, you can skip the soak. Then close the lid and wash and dry as you normally would.

Okay, so I got ambitious then.

I decided to try melting my Kirk’s Coco Castile bars down into a liquid soap suitable for handwashing dishes.

Here is where things took a turn for the absurd.

I grated my soap. I added hot water and let it all soak and soften for a while.

After several hours, I used my immersion blender to whip in some more water and a dollop of vinegar until I had what looked to me like a nice, semi-thick pearly white liquid soap. It seemed too watery, so (here’s where I really screwed up) I added another bar of grated soap. A little more water, and I had just enough to fill the pretty vintage syrup jar that seemed just right for the job. And a little extra to fill the handle of our dishwashing sponge.

How pretty would that be sitting by my sink?

So I went on my way, proud of myself. I’d just done away with chemically dishwashing soap. I couldn’t wait to tell you all about it.

I just needed to use it first.

Imagine my surprise when, a few hours later, I tried to wash the dinner dishes, and found that all of my new liquid soap had tightened up to nearly solid bar soap in texture.

So I dumped everything into a big pot, added more hot water, and blended and blended until the soap looked like whipping cream, and was thin enough for dishwashing again.

Now, instead of a quart or so of soap, I had half a gallon.

I let it sit in the pot for a while, just in case it hardened up again.

It did. Not as much, but way too much to use as a liquid soap.

So more water, more vinegar, more whipping. And now I had at least a gallon of soap.

Only it still thickened way up after a couple of hours. So more water, and now we’re talking about a gallon and a half of soap. I was anxious to give it a try, so I ladled some into the sink and ran hot water over it. I expected fluffy clouds of suds.

What I got was soap that left an oily coating on everything and a thick layer of soap scum on the sink itself.


Double yuck. I’m not sure what was up with the oily film, but it was even on my hands. Not good.

I needed a new plan for the dishes. After some research, I decided to give baking soda, vinegar, and a little Fels Naptha a try. I ran some hot water into the sink, adding about 1/2 a cup of baking soda and then 1/2 a cup of vinegar. It all sizzled up satisfactorily. I ran the soap bar under the water to add a little of that, just enough to get a little suds. I left the bar on the sink to rub my towel over if necessary.

The result was super shiny, clean dishes. I was super happy with the result.

I’m used to washing a few dishes at a time as they get dirty, with my soap-filled sponge. I’m going to mess around a little with some ideas for not having to let a full sink of dishes build up. I’m thinking maybe keep my biggest pot (a huge canning pot) in the bottom of the sink filled with baking soda/vinegar water. That way I can let the dishes soak, or washing one or two.

To replace just about every other cleaner, I filled a little shaker (probably meant for red pepper flakes or Parmesan cheese) with baking soda. I just leave it sitting on the sink, along with a little squirt bottle filled with a half-and-half mix of vinegar and water. (I don’t mind the vinegar scent, and it doesn’t hang around after it’s dried. But if it bothers you, just add a few drops of essential oil.)

So I sprinkle baking soda on my counters, stove top, bathroom sink, where ever. Then I squirt it with the vinegar. There’s that sizzle again. Then, just wipe it up. Another wipe with a wet cloth gets rid of any extra baking soda grit.

For cleaning my stainless steal sink, I love lemon. I saved one from making carrot marmalade and just ran it over the whole sink, including the faucet. It gives everything a nice shine. If you have a garbage disposal (I don’t), you can put half a lemon down that to give it a good smell.

So, there you have it. My first, sometimes slightly insane, attempt at natural homemade cleaners.

Have any tips to share? I’d love to hear them!

More frugal tips here.



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7 responses to “Homemade Cleaners

  1. This is more than a little change. What are you going to do with that gallon and a half of “dish soap” that didn’t work out so well?

  2. Do you have a suggestion for the homemade clothes detergent for a front loader?

  3. Way to go! I am new to the “making my own” cleaners world. I have used natural cleaners for a while, but making my own would be so much better. I have started with just using vinegar. In fact I just dumped a cup of vinegar in each of the toilets, let it sit for an hour, then scrubbed it…worked nicely. I have the book “Fresh Living” by Sara Snow and am using this as a reference guide to homemade household cleaners. It is a slow process, but once I started, i can’t go back!
    P.S. We are having a surprise March Giveaway so make sure to have your March post up by march 5th and come to the blog and post a link in the comments section! 🙂

  4. Gretchen

    A great all purpose cleaner can be made by mixing 1 tsp washing soda (not baking soda), 1 tsp liquid castile soap, 2Tblsp vinager, 2 cups hot water and 10 drops of any essential oil you prefer in a spray bottle (rinsed or new). I use tea tree oil to increase the antibacterial/antiviral properties of the spray. You can also make a dish soap by mixing 3Tblsp liquid castile, 2 cups warm water, 2tsp glycerin, 2Tblsp vinager and 10 drops lavender essential oil (for scent). It will be thinner than store bought but works just as well or better!

    As for laundry detergent, I’ve been using this powdered version w/ success… 2cups grated soap (I use kirk’s castile since Fels Naptha has petrochemicals and perfume) 1 cup washing soda, 1 cup borax and 1/4 cup oxygen cleaner. Here are a recipe for liquid laundry soap, but I haven’t tried it yet. Mix 1/2 cup liquid castile, 1/2 cup washing soda, 1/2 cup borax in a 2 gallon bucket and add enough hot water to fill. You can keep this in rinsed old detergent bottles or vinager bottles. The liquid will turn semi solid… shake before use and use 1/4 – 1/3 cup per full load.

    Enjoy being healthier and more environmentally safe!

    • I have read that Fels Naptha has been re-formulated so that it doesn’t have petro chemicals anymore. I’ve had a bad experience with using Kirk’s castile. I tried making a liquid soap, which bombed. I tried using it in my laundry and it was a disaster. The soap I ended up with was soooo greasy. Which makes since, since castile soap is pure fat. But it felt gross, even as a hand soap.

      I would like to get my hands on some liquid castile soap. I’m going to when I get into Vegas or somewhere again.

  5. Fab post!! My February challenge was similar and I happily discovered the use of soap nuts in the dish washer. YAY for small changes!

  6. oh I love this post – thanks for going into all the detail. It is not that often that a post about cleaning keeps me glued to the end but yours did! I will be book marking your clothes washing recipe for hopefully future use!

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