Cleaning House

In terms of sustainable living, the $30/Week household is still a work in progress and we always like take lessons from from folks who have way more experience than us. On that note, our good friend Mary grew up in central Washington state, where her family grew their own produce, made their own peanut butter and soap (among many other things), and bartered with neighbors for a lot of the stuff they didn’t make at home. Obviously, she’s got a ton of tips to share regarding the frugal, sustainable, DIY household.

So, moving away from food for the moment to broader household sustainability, Mary was kind enough to share some information on home-brewed household cleansers. As you’ll see, they’re better for the environment and your wallet than the stuff you buy at the store. We hope this will be the first of several installments. Here’s what she says:


I really dislike the idea of using chemicals around the house (inside and out) for both safety and environmental reasons. I also hate that the chemical companies sell you different products for every task, each of which cost anywhere from $3 – $7 per bottle. I prefer to use basic ingredients to perform various cleaning tasks without having to purchase multiple bottles of nasty chemicals.

Here’s what you will need:

    Vinegar: A store brand of 5% acidity vinegar can often be found for $2 or so in gallon jugs.

    Borax: Found in the laundry aisle, borax is a naturally-occurring mineral salt. I use 20 Mule Team Borax, which is the only brand I see around here.

    Fels Naptha Soap: Found in laundry ailse. It is an old-school bar laundry soap. It is sometimes hard to find. Also used to make your own laundry detergent (I’ll write about that later).

    Baking Soda: Self-explanatory. I find that it’s usualy 4/$1 or 2/$1 at the dollar store down the street.

    Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol: I find bottles 2/$1 on sale or at the dollar store and stock a few to make many batches of cleaner.

    Lemon Juice: Again, if I see a good sale, I buy multiple bottles to keep in the fridge. I found 16 oz. bottles for $1 a while ago and bought a couple.

Here’s what to do with it all:

General Household Cleaner: For use on floors, glass, kitchen and bathroom surfaces, even carpet stains. 250 ml. each of water, white vinegar, and isopropyl “rubbing” alcohol. Add two drops of biodegradable dish soap (such as Seventh Generation) and shake. I use a spray bottle that I picked up at the hardware store for $1 that has the measurements on the side. You can also just go on the equal parts rule and make different size batches.

Ink Stains: This is a tough one, but when the dog got a hold of a Sharpie on top of our favorite quilt, I had to experiment until I could get the stains out. I’ve used this method a few times now, all with perfect success. Pour straight rubbing alcohol on the spot and let sit for a few minutes. Sprinkle with baking soda and let the baking soda sit until it starts soaking up the ink (yes, it actually turns color). Scrape off and discard. Repeat multiple times until most of the spot is gone. Follow with some vinegar on the next round of baking soda until it foams and use a rag or cleaning brush to scrub. Repeat until the spot is gone. For good measure, I rub a bar of Fels Naptha soap on the area and launder in cold water with 1/4 cup Borax.

Soap Scum, Mildew Cleaner: Use for the shower, etc. I use undiluted vinegar for this and it comes right off.

Greasy dishes: I use a biodegradable dish soap (usually Seventh Generation) which I love, but sometimes it can’t cut the greasiest of dishes. For very greasy pans, I keep a bottle of lemon juice handy in the fridge and use a healthy squeeze of it in the dish water. Vinegar also works to cut grease.

Stinky dishes, cutting boards, etc: For a cutting board that reeks of onion, I make a paste of water and baking soda and rub it down before washing. This gets the smell out that the dish soap sometimes leaves behind. Likewise, if I have a tupperware container that is stinky (yes, I eat a lot of onions), I fill it with either vinegar or lemon juice diluted with water. I leave that to soak for a bit, then wash. You can use various combinations of this. I recently used lemon juice and vinegar together on a storage container that was both greasy and smelly and it finally got it clean.

Weeding: I love doing yard work and enjoy gardening, but I do not believe in non-organic methods. I use many well-known and traditional organic gardening methods and products, but also find that these regular household ingredients are useful in the garden. For weeds and grass growing in the driveway or in the sidewalks, I pour vinegar or boiling water on them. Both work equally well, but I use them interchangeably depending on the size of the job at hand. Boiling water burns the weeds and kills them. As you can imagine, you sometimes have to make several pots of boiling water to clear a driveway. Vinegar, when poured directly on the weeds, is very acidic and therefore causes them to die. Boiling water is good with a steady hand, when used around other plants, as it will only kill what it touches. Vinegar is fast and easy if used in an area where there are no other plants, as the acidity will spread in a limited area as it is diluted and spread through the soil with watering. It may spread 6-12 inches with watering, but it isn’t harmful in the long-run because it ultimately doesn’t change the soil acidity.

Pest Control: If you have any problems with ants, there are many things that I will use to end the infestation. Ants will not cross Borax, Baking Soda, Talcum Powder, or Chalk, as the crystals are sharp and harm their bodies. I also understand that it’s fatal for them if they eat it. Not a pretty thought, but it is certainly better than putting poising in your home and let’s face it; you’re not going to humanely trap ants and release them into the wild! You can mix some sugar with any of these to make a bait to attract the ants to a certain place, though I prefer to use them around perimeters to deter, rather than bait and kill once they are in. Peppermint oil (or Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap) should also be helpful if you have ants gathering on houseplants, as they sometimes do. You can mix the peppermint with water in a spray bottle and spray the plant. Dr. Bronners peppermint soap can make a great multi-insect insecticidal soap that also repels certain insects with the peppermint oils contained within combined with the castile soap. One easy treatment, for sure!

Stained Toilets: I use borax to soak the toilet instead of bleach and it is great for removing toilet stains. Just dissolve 1/4 cup of borax in the toilet and let sit and it will remove odors and stains. Best of all, it doesn’t smell like bleach!

Stinky Clothes: When you have impossible clothing smells (sitting around a campfire, etc.) it helps a lot to put 1/4 cup of borax in with the load of laundry. My Mom also says vinegar works well, but I’ve always relied on borax.


Awesome. Thanks, Mary!

12 Comments on “Cleaning House”

  1. tinaspins says:

    In line with the use of lemon juice, if I have a cut half of lemon around, I use that and some hot water/soap to scrub a cutting board and everything comes off!

  2. Alison says:

    I use baking soda to clean out the bathtub and sink. Wet the sink/tub, wet a rag, sprinkle baking soda on the rag, and scrub any grime away. Magic! I also use straight-up vinegar on windows and mirrors and wipe off with balled-up newspaper – clean and streak-free every time.

  3. Freakin says:

    Good ideas. I have used some of them at one time or another but did.t know about the household cleaner. Thanks for the recipe.

  4. biz319 says:

    I’ve made the laundry detergent before – you mix it on the stove. My daughter walked by and was like “is that mac and cheese!” I laughed so hard.

    I liked it, hubby didn’t.

  5. Susie says:

    A great cheap green detergent I’ve been making for the past year or so: Chop one bar of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap & place pieces in food processor; add 1 cup Borax & 1.5 cups washing soda. Process until granulated. I suggest covering processor with towel while processing to contain powdery dust. Use 1 tbsp. for regular loads, 2 tbsp. for heavy or heavily soiled loads. It works great — though at first you’ll wonder as it doesn’t suds up. Clothes come out clean, fresh smelling with no residue. This recipe yields a/b 50-60 regular loads for less than $5.oo.

  6. Jen says:

    If you make a paste of baking soda and water and rub it on the wall with a damp cloth it will remove almost any stain imaginable from a painted surface (including crayon and red wine). You may need to do it a couple of times and not too vigorously as you could make some of the paint come off.

  7. […] uses for the items above and tons more recipes for cheap homemade cleaners, check out these sites:30 Bucks a WeekGreenLivingTips.comFrugalFun.comFrugal VillageMormonChicNaturoDocReader’s […]

  8. Judy Aldrich says:

    how do I subscribe?

  9. […] been a pretty long time since we’ve posted anything that wasn’t directly food related, but I wanted to mention a frugal and more sustainable home tip that has been working really well […]

  10. Retha Slacker says:

    To remove all those styling products from your hair . Use your shampoo as usual and add to that a handful of baking soda and distribute it evenly. Be sure to rinse completely and moisturize big time . Trust Me this Works

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