How to Make Natural Cleaners Work Better

As much as I like using natural cleaners in my home, sometimes they need a little oomph.

Surface Cleaning

Vinegar mixed with water is my favorite glass and surface cleaner, but it’s not always enough.  I’ve found that adding a small squirt of liquid dish soap makes it much more effective.  It cleans spots off glass and smudgy hand prints.

The best method is to spray it on and then wipe it with a microfiber towel.  I recently tried paper towels instead, and then I realized just how much better and more absorbent the microfiber really is.

What about sanitizing?

It’s not good to go overboard with antibacterial products, and plain soap and water take care of most germs. Vinegar may even have antibacterial properties, and some people like to use tea tree oil. Sometimes though, like during flu season, I want a stronger defense against germs. Isopropyl rubbing alcohol (although still a petroleum product) is an alternative to harsh cleaners with bleach.  I apply it with a cotton ball over door knobs, light switches, and other questionable surfaces.

Jenny emailed me this question about dusting:

“…I was wondering if you’ve found a good alternative to Endust or Pledge for dusting.  I’ve been using microfiber cloths or damp rags and they just seem to push the dust around.  All of my other cleaners are safe and natural except for that…”

I thought this was a good question about a problem I’m sure many others have experienced. When I dust I really do just use a microfiber cloth, and sometimes I dampen it with water. Pledge and Endust both advertise that they leave a shine with no wax buildup, and that’s true. The problem is that instead of wax they contain petroleum derivatives which leave a thin, oily residue on your furniture.

Pledge has petroleum derivatives plus silicones, which are hard to remove. One of the primary ingredients in Endust is parrafin oil, which is another name for kerosene.  If furniture has oily residue left from these products, then dusting with a plain damp cloth won’t be very effective.

The solution is to first remove the oily residue from the furniture.  To do so, you apply mineral spirits (paint thinner) with a clean rag.  I know it sounds worrisome to use mineral spirits on furniture — you wouldn’t want to harm the wood finish.  It’s really a mild solvent, though, and it’s recommended by Martha and Real Simple.  Once the residue is removed and the wood is clean, a damp cloth will work much better for dusting.

What about shine?

If you miss the shine from furniture sprays and polishes, you have options.  You can protect your furniture with a thin coat of wax. You could try a natural furniture polish. I noticed Earth Friendly Products Furniture Polish was made from water, olive oil, and a little citrus oil. (I haven’t tried it myself.)

Don’t be misled by wood products advertising lemon oil; they are essentially kerosene and mineral oil with a lemony scent.

Freshening Carpets

Baking soda works wonders to freshen carpet, but it doesn’t work like commercial fresheners that you sprinkle on and then vacuum up right away. It needs time to absorb all the odors. First sprinkle a box of baking soda generously over the carpet and then sweep it in with a broom. Let it sit overnight, and vacuum it up the next morning.

Liquid Dish Soaps

Here’s where I need some help.  I want to find a new liquid dish detergent.  The last one I purchased was made from several plant extracts and peppermint oil.  I loved the scent, but it was expensive and it really didn’t work.  I used four times as much, and it still didn’t get my dishes clean.

Any recommendations to share?

(And don’t forget, tomorrow is batch cooking day!  Bring your favorite tips, recipes, or links.)

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.

Comments

  1. Good thoughts. I especially appreciate the carpet freshening idea. We have an area rug in my infant son’s room that gets a lot of spit-up exposure. We wipe it up with water but I think the baking soda treatment would do it wonders.

    I’ve always tried to use mostly natural cleaneres but recently I threw out all our chemical cleaners. I think more than anything, I’m amazed at the cleaning power of water! I use a lot of baking soda and vinegar as well as a bottle of biokleen all-purpose cleaner I picked up on sale. The biokleen can be diluted down significantly (so it lasts a long time) and works for just about everything.

    For dish soap I use seventh generation brand. I find it works really well and it isn’t especially expensive. I buy it at Target for $2.69 a bottle and sometime am able to print $1 off coupons from the seventh generation website. They have an unscented version and a lavender/mint.

  2. Ooh, thanks!
    I appreciate the advice and will definitely try that. I hadn’t really thought about the residue left from my “kerosene” (Blech :-P)
    Are you talking about detergent for hand-washing dishes or in the dishwasher.
    The 7th gen works great for handwashing, I’ve not tried the dishwasher version but I tried another “natural” one and it was A-W-F-U-L! My dishes were never clean!

  3. Vika, having an infant definitely makes you think twice about cleaners. Water really is the best universal cleaner! It’s the main ingredient in most commercial cleaners anyway.

    Jenny, you’re welcome, and at first I was asking about soap for hand washing dishes, but I really could use recommendations for the dishwasher too.

  4. I am excited to hear about the oomph you can give to the vinegar/water combination! I love natural cleaning. You don’t get a headache when you are cleaning and the cost reduction is astounding!! I save so much money using vinegar and baking soda for most of my cleaning. I am going to try the 7th gen dish soap next time I need a new bottle! Thanks for the tips and ideas!

  5. I use the Dishmate dish washing liquid from Earth Friendly Products. http://www.ecos.com The surfactants are made from almonds and the scent is great. I just tried their laundry detergent and it works great also.

  6. I also love the dishwashing soap from Earth Friendly Products (for hand washing). We get the pear scent and it’s very mild, almost like no scent. And it’s very concentrated so it lasts forever – we buy a bottle a year or so! I use 7th Gen powder for the dishwasher.

  7. You can add essential oils to baking soda to make your own carpet freshener. I use a combination of eucalyptus, lemongrass, cinnamon and clove. Yum!

  8. God's Dancing Child says:

    I sometimes use Isopropyl alcohol in a pinch, but I mostly use vodka (as I make natural medicines and usually have some on hand). Isopropyl is not all-natural, it’s a derivitive of petroleum.

    I will probably post my favorite cleaning recipes up on my blog in the next day or so. Disinfectant spray, dusting spray, car wax and more. There are a lot of GREAT finds on the internet that are all natural!

  9. I need to get rid of my kids for a night so I can try that baking soda for my carpet! it’d be nice to have it smelling pretty again lol. do you have any good tips on cleaning carpet? I don’t really want to rent one of those machines. I need my WHOLE living room cleaned, it’s pretty nasty, so many tiny spots from juice ALL over the place

    also, I finally got around to getting my whites cleaned with your oxi clean tip! it worked wonders, thank you!

  10. I like Mrs. Meyer’s liquid dish soap, and I also buy Ivory sometimes.

  11. I buy Planet dishwashing liquid and dishwasher powder (and laundry detergent). They work really great, and are the same price as 7th Generation. http://www.planetinc.com/

    I use very diluted Dr. Bronner’s Baby Mild Liquid Soap in my foaming pump dispensers in the kitchen and bathroom. I’ve thought about washing dishes with it too, but haven’t tried yet.

  12. Thanks for all these great suggestions, everyone!

    Casey, glad the oxi clean tip worked well for you. For spot treatments on carpet, I use really hot water and a clean rag. I’m not sure of an easy way to do the whole carpet without an appliance.

  13. Hey Racheal, Ive been reading for a couple weeks, but I can’t manage to add to my RSS feed, when I click on the link it takes me to a page with a bunch of gibberish html. Any Ideas?

    PS I love your posts!

  14. These are great suggestions. May I ask what do you use to clean your tub and toilets? Do you have less harsh cleaners for those areas, or do you use store bought cleaners? Curious in AZ.

  15. Hi Rachel,

    Rhonda at down-to-earth mentions making liquid soap using her homemade bars in this post:

    http://down—to—earth.blogspot.com/2008/07/i-am-home-body.html.

    She doesn’t specifically say she uses it for dish washing, but I am going to give it a try as soon as my soap has finished curing!

    I use vinegar for nearly every cleaning application possible! I often sprinkle baking soda over the tub before spritzing with vinegar water and scrubbing with a brush. It works as well as, if not better than, a powdered cleaner. What do you do for toilets? That’s one I still buy.

    Thanks for the dusting tips. That was one I was struggling with!

  16. What do you store vinegar and water in?

    I use it as a stain remover/freshener for laundry, and keep it in a squirt bottle. After a while, I notice that the bottle no longer squirts and I’m sure it has something to do with the vinegar–straight water doesn’t seem to cause the problem.

    This has happened with three bottles now!

    • Your vinegar is very strong…use more water….and WOW this simple subject went ALL over the place!…Im learning and enjoying it emensely! If anyone still USES liquid soap, I pour any of mine into those “foaming hand soap pump”…. and THAT extends the life of “Whatever” I put in them….Dilute with a little water first!!…last post 2008…boy am I late!
      We use a Loofa sponge for washing dishes and screbbing as IT has a soft exterior and a Hard interior when you cut it in Half I like to cut it in circles….Great in the shower too..!!!
      AND it is the SILVER….that kills the germs…NOT the yarn!!!
      That is an ancient way to purify drinking water, still used in India…

  17. I’ve been cleaning naturally for a few months now and I love it!

    I like to add tea trea oil for surface cleaning and cleaning in the bathroom since it’s an antispetic.

    For toilets I use a combination of vinegar and baking soda.

    For polishing wood furniture I use two parts olive oil and one part lemon juice. You apply it with one rag and then buff it with another. It is amazing! I started this one day and kept looking for any piece of wood in our house that I could polish.

  18. Thanks Sonya! You can subscribe (and I appreciate it!), it just takes one extra step. (Soon I’ll be adding the feature to make subscribing easier.)

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  19. I love Trader joe’s dishwasher liquid for the dishwasher, and for regular sink washing, I use Dr. Bronner’s peppermint castille. Works great on grease!

    My best tip for wood floors/furniture is a mix my grandma has used for over 60 years: 1 cup white vinegar, 1 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup water and a few drops of essential oil (I use lavender or orange, she loved eucalyptus) Mix it all in a spray bottle. Spray on, then wipe of with a microfiber, using the cloth to buff the oil in a bit. Works awesome, even on my ancient hardwood floors that take a beating from my 4 active boys!

    • I use Dr. Bronner’s on my skin… it’s been my bath soap for years, and if I have to use a mainsteam soap now, it seems to leave a film on my skin. I love Dr. Bronner’s.

  20. For toilets I use either vinegar or liquid soap, whatever is closest to me at the time. Any cleaner and a toilet brush work fine.

    For the bathtub I use baking soda, a scrub brush, and some kind of liquid soap such as dish detergent, or even old body wash. Laundry detergent works great on tubs too.

    I think the idea that we need strong separate cleaners for each task comes from marketing and commercials. We’ve been told so many times that strong fumes means it works better. Honestly my bathroom is cleaner now that I don’t use harsh cleaners. I clean it more often because I don’t dread the fumes.

    I store the vinegar and water in an old Windex spray bottle. Hmm, I’m not sure what could cause that, LittleMissMoneybags.

    Thanks for the link, Amber, I’ve been thinking about making my own liquid soap too.

    Thanks for all these good extra tips, too!

  21. There are some great ideas here – especially the furniture polish! I just wanted to chime in about the water bottle sitch as well – I have bleach under the sink in a spray bottle that I use as a disinfectant on the counter tops when I’ve had chicken out & I think it eats away at the plastic, which could be the case with the vinegar as well. Maybe the Windex bottle uses parts other than plastic which would keep it from clogging & become useless. Just a thought. Thanks for the tips!

  22. forget the products, I love the picture of them! the colors in your picture are just right.

    I like using baking soda and vinegar and when it is on sale…Mrs. Meyers products. I have also been using Bon Ami. I may be lured by the packaging as it says “earth friendly”. Regardless, it is pretty less expensive than the other products.

  23. I’ve been using Ecover dishwashing liquid I bought through our coop. You can find them at http://www.ecover.com/us/en/Products/Dishes/Lemon+and+Aloe+Vera+Dishwashing+Liquid.htm

    I think it works great. This is my second bottle. I’ve been using Clorox’s Green Works for the toliet and surface cleaning. I’m not sure how “green” they really are, but at least I can breathe when I use them and I don’t feel like I’m giving myself cancer.

    I’ve also started using more vinegar for lots of different projects and I’ve been putting in my rinse aid holder for my dishwasher to wash/heat my jars for canning. It cleans the junk off them and makes them shiny new!

  24. Thanks for the great advice! I also add a bit of borax to my “hand made” household cleaner. Similar to baking soda (i try to avoid arm & hammer as they are owned by non-earth friendly company), it is a good alternative for a non abrasive scrubber. I also add borax to my laundry as a booster in place of oxiclean or baking soda.

    Anyway, I adore my seventh generation dish soap AND dish washing powder. I’ve tried so many “alternative” dish soaps. I also like Target’s Method, but the Seventh Generation usually runs cheaper. The dish soap last forever, as it is concentrated, and the powder leaves my dishes clean without residue or spots. The powder runs a little more expensive, but for me, it’s worth the sulfate free product.

    Happy cleaning!

  25. I definitely recommend 7th generation for dish soap, it’s not *too* expensive and it works great. Thanks for the information.

  26. Ecover products are excellent both for hand washing and machine washing dishes as well as laundry and surface cleaning. I hold out for sales and stock up! I also use borax (much cheaper than oxy products) and find that the laundry is much fresher and brighter without being perfumed.
    I love the hangers vs. drawers idea BTW, genius!

  27. I know this is a rather belated but old newspapers are excellent for window cleaning whatever solution you are using. Having said that, I do put on an old pair of gloves as hands tend to go all black from the newsprint. Hope this helps.

    Li-ling’s last blog post..Conversations with Georgia: A Cunning Plan

    • Old newspapers leave a residue on the windows though. You don’t notice it at first but after a couple of years they are impossible to keep clean.

  28. Great blog! I’m not sure if you can get these products down there. http://www.naturecleanliving.com/
    If so they are safe and work. They have a great dishwasher soap in powder or gel. I love their un-scented dishwashing liquid for hand washing dishes. http://www.naturecleanliving.com/dish_liquid_%E2%80%93_unscented
    I have pets and the Nature Clean Pet Stain & Odour Remover is amazing… it works on people stains too.
    Other than that I too stick with baking soda, vinegar, borax etc.

    Paula´s last blog post..Two candles

  29. Thank you for the surface cleaner recipe! I am so excited; it is a GREAT cleaner! I’ve got my Walmart auto section microfiber cloths too. It feels so good to not use chemicals and save money at the same time. You are improving the world one household at a time!

  30. I just came across a pamphlet called “1003 Household Hints and Work Savers” from the 1950s, and they recommend creating a gel soap similar to the link Amber posted:

    “Instead of throwing away small scraps of hand soap, save them until you have a cupful. Add 1 quart of boiling water and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally until every scrap is melted. Pour into a container, cool, and cover. Now you have a soap jelly for which you can find many uses.”

    I love it because I hate trying to use up the scraps of soap, and this way I can find something useful to do with them. Plus, it doesn’t generate any waste.

    What did you end up deciding on?

  31. America’s Test Kitchen did a test on dishwashing liquids and 7th Generation and Method’s products beat Dawn and the other major name brands. I use SG. I also use it to wash windows and other surfaces in the kitchen and bath.

    I have been unsuccessful in finding a non-toxic, earth-friendly dishwasher detergent. I’ve tried SG’s powder and liquid and both were dismal failures. We have a very limited selection down here unfortunately. I am still using Cascade because I figured that having to run the dishes two or three times with the SG product was less “green” than just doing them once with Cascade.

    I’d love recommendations!

    Ecover makes a great stain stick/gel similar to a Shout or SprayNWash product.

    Also, when we had our house remodeled/added onto last year, the bathtub guy said that we should only use BarKeeper’s Friend to clean the tub or something similar and NOT to use Comet. I know that Bon Ami is a safer product though. I’m not sure if Bon Ami is closer to Comet or BKF as far as the tubs go.

  32. I know this is a really old post, but I’ve seen you mention Shaklee before and wonder if you’ve ever tried their hand dish wash liquid? First let me say, I do NOT sell the product, so I’m not trying to get any customers here. ;) I have used it for years and am so happy with it. Seems expensive at first, maybe, but it lasts a LONG time, because it’s concentrated so you only have to use a little. Works great even in my super hard water! I am also very sensitive to smells and I hate the way pretty much all cleaners/soaps smell, but this one is light and doesn’t bother me. Hope this helps someone!

  33. I was excited about using homemade cleaners until I found out that I shouldn’t use vinegar or acid-based cleaners on granite or any natural stone. Does anyone know anything about that or have any suggestions for other ways to clean my kitchen counters?

  34. I really like 7th Generation dish soap. It works well, smells nice and is supposed to be green and all that. The company seems genuine.

  35. A great little trick I use to get my dishes sparkling-I use food grade citric acid in the wash cycle and regular dish powder in the prewash bin. We have hard water here and it is a miracle worker.
    J
    jana´s last post…Carrot Cake in a Pie Dish

  36. http://www.sunandearth.com/ make great dishwasher AND hand dishwashing soap. Vinegar in a spray bottle is my main cleaner. A sprinkle of baking soda with the vinegar gets rid of grease build up. I keep a spray bottle of Hydrogen Peroxide for disinfecting in the kitchen and bathroom. Just spray and let it sit for a couple minutes as a great germ killer. (A friend who is a nurse told me about the peroxide)

  37. I myself have really worked hard about changing from the harsh chemicals and switching to all natural. I am happy about the change and thank you for a nice site.
    Bonnie´s last post…Treat Wounds With Herbs

  38. Rachel, I love your website. It is just what I was looking for on my road to simplifying life.

    Thanks for the great idea on where to buy more microfiber cloths.

    What ratio of vinegar to water do you use for your surface and window cleaner? Thanks!

    • I mix 2 cups of water with 1/4 cup of white vinegar plus a couple of drops of dishwashing soap in a spray bottle.

      • Thanks for the info!

        Is there an easy way to find the exact blog again that I make a comment/ask a question on? It took me a couple of tries to find this one again about cleaning.