Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on April 09, 2021

What You Need

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With a few simple recipes, you can save money and get a greener cleaning routine. You may already have many ingredients. A basic natural cleaning toolkit includes white vinegar, baking soda, borax, citrus fruit, and empty spray bottles. You may also want hydrogen peroxide, cornstarch, castile soap, tea tree oil, and other essential oils for scent. Add microfiber cloths or old cotton T-shirts instead of paper towels for less waste.

White Vinegar

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Vinegar is a natural disinfectant and has many uses in home cleaning. Since it’s acidic, it’s great for getting rid of gummy buildup, rust, and hard water stains. Try using vinegar to remove buildup from your coffee pot. You can use lemon juice the same way as vinegar, but since it goes bad quickly, you can’t store cleaners made with lemon juice for more than a few days.

Baking Soda

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Baking soda absorbs odors in the air and works well for many cleaning tasks. Use it in litter boxes, garbage cans, and diaper pails to keep the stink down. Sprinkle it on a damp cloth to use as a gentle surface cleaner on counters, sinks, ovens, stoves, and tubs. Find baking soda in the baking aisle of your grocery store.

Borax

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Borax, or sodium borate, is similar to baking soda, but stronger. It’s a natural bleach and is good for removing dirt and stains from laundry and surfaces. Although it’s natural, borax could irritate your skin, eyes, or breathing, so use it with caution, and keep it away from children and pets. Find it in your store’s laundry section.

Mixing Your Own Cleaners

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When making your own cleaning mixtures, use spray bottles or containers that you won’t confuse with food containers. Label them right away. Hot water will clean better than cold, so in most cases, fresh-made cleaners with hot water will work the best. You may need to scrub a little harder or let cleaning mixtures sit a little longer than you would with store-bought cleaners.

Clean or Disinfect?

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For most cleaning around the house, the goal is to remove germs and dirt. All of the following homemade natural cleaners will do that. Certain natural cleaners can also disinfect, or kill germs, but you must make them fresh. If stored, they still will clean, but they won’t disinfect as well.

All-Purpose Cleaner

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For mild cleaning, mix 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup baking soda, and 4 to 8 cups hot water in a spray bottle. You can substitute 2 teaspoons of borax for the baking soda. Add a few drops of essential oil to any mixture to give it a fresh scent.

Glass and Mirror Cleaner

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Combine 1/2 cup white vinegar and 1 gallon of water for a mild cleaner. Or to make a "non streak" window cleaner, add ¼ cup white vinegar and 1 tablespoon cornstarch to 4 cups warm water. Shake to dissolve the cornstarch before spraying. Wipe clean with a microfiber cloth, then do a final wipe with a dry cloth to avoid streaks.

Kitchen Sanitizer

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Soap and warm water will clean dirt from surfaces in the kitchen, but if you want to kill harmful germs like salmonella and E. coli, you’ll need to use hot vinegar or hydrogen peroxide and let it sit on the surface for at least 1 minute. Here’s how: Heat 1/2 cup white vinegar (5%) or hydrogen peroxide (3%) to 130 F, put the mixture into an empty spray bottle, and spray it onto surfaces. Let it sit for 1 minute, then wipe dry.

Another Kitchen Sanitizer

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Here’s a different way to sanitize surfaces: Combine 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup club soda, and 2 drops tea tree oil. Spray it onto surfaces and wipe clean. This mixture works to disinfect only if it’s made fresh. Even 24 hours later, it doesn’t kill as many germs.

Freshen Up the Garbage Disposal

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If your garbage disposal is starting to smell, run it with some ice and a squeezed orange, lemon, or lime. The ice will help sharpen the blade, and the citrus peels will give off a fresh scent.

Microwave Cleaner

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To get rid of food odors or hardened food splatters in the microwave, mix 6 tablespoons baking soda or 1/2 cup lemon juice with 1 cup water in a microwave-safe glass container. Microwave the mixture until it boils, then leave it inside with the door closed until it cools. The steam will loosen the grime and make it easy to wipe down the inside of the microwave.

Clean Your Drains

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To prevent or clear out backups in your drains, dump 1/4 cup baking soda down the drain followed by 1/2 cup vinegar. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes, then uncover and pour in 8 cups boiling water. You could also use 1/2 cup borax followed by 8 cups boiling water. For a bad clog, use a plumber’s snake tool with boiling water.

Scrub the Toilet

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For light cleaning, mix 1/4 cup baking soda with 1 cup vinegar and pour it into the toilet bowl. Let it sit for 3 to 30 minutes, scrub with a toilet brush, and flush. Scrub with 1/2 cup borax mixed with 1 gallon hot water to get out tougher stains. For heavy-duty cleaning, sprinkle 1 cup borax around the basin and spray with 1/2 cup vinegar. Let it sit overnight, then scrub and flush.

Tackle Mildew in the Shower

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Put 1/2 cup borax and 1/2 cup vinegar into a spray bottle and fill it with hot water, then spray it in the shower or bathtub and scrub. For a daily spray to prevent mold in the shower, mix 1/3 cup rubbing alcohol with 1 cup water. Shake it up, and spray it on without rinsing.

Scrub the Tub and Tile

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Use a sponge to wipe the surface with vinegar, then sprinkle baking soda or non-iodized salt, scrub with a damp sponge, and rinse well with water. For another option, combine 1 2/3 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup castile soap (liquid), and 1/2 cup water. Add 2 tablespoons vinegar and use the mixture to scrub the bathtub or tile area.

Don’t Mix These

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Although vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are great sanitizers on their own, never combine the two in a container. This creates a chemical called peracetic acid, which can burn your skin and is dangerous to breathe in. The same goes for ammonia and bleach -- mixing them or using them in the same space can create toxic fumes.

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