Homemade Cleaning Agents

How many times have you set out to do domestic duties and found yourself out of the right product for the job? Don’t postpone the task. Instead, brew your own cleaning agents and cure your housework woes.

By Donna Bozzo

Kitchen Prescription

  • Fight germs with your own antibacterial spray. Mix 1 tablespoon of bleach into a spray bottle of water. Use it to disinfect around the sink and on countertops. Rinse thoroughly and wipe dry.
  • Make your floors shine in no time with a solution of 1/2 cup vinegar and 1 gallon warm water.
  • Clean windows with equal parts vinegar and warm water or 1 tablespoon lemon juice with 1 quart water. Use undiluted vinegar to remove stubborn spots and streaks.
  • Keep the pipes clear by pouring 1/2 cup baking soda and 1/2 cup vinegar down a clogged drain. Let set a few minutes. Follow with hot water. For prevention, pour boiling water down drains once a week.
  • For an easy-to-clean oven and stove top, sprinkle with baking soda, then mist with water. Let soak, wipe clean.
  • Sprinkle salt on oven spills. Let salt set overnight and wipe clean next day.
  • Remove heat spots on stainless steel cutlery with undiluted vinegar or club soda.
  • Soaking burned casserole dishes? Add an old dryer sheet and let soak overnight. Wash and rinse clean.
  • For a sweeter-smelling microwave, zap a bowl of water with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice for one minute. To get rid of food odors, put a few drops of vanilla extract in a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Let it sit overnight, then wipe down.
  • Sprinkle 1/2 cup borax in the bottom of garbage cans to stop mold from growing.
  • For brilliant shine on faucets, buff with olive or vegetable oil using a dry rag. Rinse oil with club soda and wipe dry.
  • Disinfect cutting boards with salt and lemon juice—no sponge required. Use a lemon half (sprinkled with salt) to scrub, then rinse.


Bathroom Rx

  • Clean and disinfect a variety of surfaces with 1/2 cup borax mixed with 1 gallon of hot water.
  • For smaller areas, sponge surface with rubbing alcohol to get rid of germs. Allow to dry. Use in a well-ventilated area and wear gloves.
  • Drop two denture-cleaning tablets into your toilet and let sit overnight. Brush, then flush.
  • Remove tub and shower mildew with 1/2 cup baking soda and enough water to make a paste. Apply with toothbrush to reach tight spots and get into the grout.
  • Soften hard lime deposits around faucets with vinegar-soaked paper towels. Leave towels on faucet for an hour, then clean.
  • Remove showerhead deposits with vinegar. For metal showerheads, mix 1/2 cup vinegar and 1 quart water in a pot. Submerge showerhead in mixture, then boil for 15 minutes. For plastic showerhead, mix 1 pint vinegar with 1 pint hot water in a bowl and let shower-head soak for an hour. Scrub off deposits with a toothbrush.

Extra Tips

Wood Care

  • Steep 1 to 2 tea bags in 1 quart boiling water. Let mixture cool and use to damp-mop washable wood floors.
  • Clean wood paneling with a mixture of 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons vinegar and 1 quart of warm water. Apply with a soft cloth and dry with a clean one.
  • Rub equal parts of lemon juice and vegetable oil into scratches on your wood furniture with a soft cloth.
Aroma Therapy
  • Sweeten your surroundings. Dip a cotton ball in pure vanilla extract and place in small dish.
  • For an energizing scent, simmer citrus peels in a pot.
  • To eliminate unpleasant cooking odors, pour vinegar in a saucer and place on countertop. Or boil 1 tablespoon of vinegar in 1 cup of water.
  • Rub vinegar or the end of a celery stalk on your hands before and after slicing onions.
  • Cook up a pleasant odor by boiling cinnamon and cloves. For easier cleanup, boil in a cheesecloth bag.
  • In addition to that box in your fridge, stash an open box of baking soda in closed areas to absorb odors.
  • Create your own potpourri by placing herbs and spices in small baskets, jars or sachet bags. Place around your home.
  • Let the sun shine in. Open curtains and windows—sunshine is a natural disinfectant.
  • Get green. Indoor plants are natural air purifiers.
  • The best way to neutralize carpet odors? Sprinkle on baking soda and let sit for an hour. Then vacuum.
  • To absorb odors, sprinkle baking soda in cat boxes before adding litter.

Quick Fixes

Personal Treatment

  • If you forgot to buy hair gel, dissolve 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of unflavored gelatin in 1 cup of warm water. Refrigerate unused portion.
  • Out of hair spray, too? Chop 1 lemon, place in pot and cover with 2 cups of hot water. Boil until only half of liquid remains. Cool and strain. Add more water if needed. Refrigerate in spray bottle.
  • Perk up your pearly whites by brushing your teeth with baking soda.
  • Bug off! Dab a small amount of vinegar on skin to repel pests.
  • Eliminate static cling by swiping the inside of your skirt with a used dryer sheet, or apply a dab of hand lotion to panty hose.
  • Polish black or tan leather shoes with a few drops of lemon juice. Apply with a thick cotton cloth, leave on for a few minutes, then wipe and buff with a clean, dry cloth.
  • Clean baby shoes by sprinkling a little baking soda on a damp sponge. Rinse with a clean, damp sponge; dry and buff lightly.

Laundry Aid

  • Make your own stain remover by mixing 1 part rubbing alcohol with 2 parts water. Spray on spots and launder as usual.
  • To remove smoky odors from clothes, fill your bathtub with hot water. Add 1 cup vinegar. Hang garments above steaming bath water.
  • For homemade laundry starch, dissolve 1 tablespoon cornstarch into 1 pint cold water. Place in a spray bottle. Shake before using.
  • Eliminate soap residue by adding 1 cup of vinegar to your washer’s final rinse. Vinegar also breaks down uric acid in babies’ clothes. But don’t use vinegar if you add chlorine bleach to rinse water. (It creates harmful vapors.)
  • Add 1/2 cup baking soda to your wash to soften clothes.

Cleaning Emergencies

Keep these essentials on hand for cleaning emergencies:

  • White vinegar: Cleans, neutralizes odors and removes soap scum and mineral deposits. Spray on, scrub in, or soak on stubborn stains.
  • Baking soda: Cleans, deodorizes, and acts as a mild abrasive. Sprinkle onto a damp sponge, pour right from the box or use as a paste mixed with water.
  • Lemon juice: Bleaches, disinfects, polishes and removes stains. Use undiluted or mix with water.
  • Club soda: Emergency spot remover—its carbonation brings spills to the surface and salts in the soda prevent staining. Pour on clothes or carpet as soon as possible, then blot with clean cloth.
  • Vegetable oil: Shines faucets and gets rids of scratches on woodwork.
  • Rubbing alcohol: Disinfects surfaces and removes stains and stickers.
  • Salt: Sprinkle on oven and stove-top spills, scrub burned pots and pans.
  • Bleach: Removes stains and disinfects. Never mix bleach with ammonia, vinegar or other cleaners. Use only in well-ventilated areas and be sure to wear gloves.
  • Old dryer sheets: Use to dust, polish and eliminate static cling and odors.
  • Spray bottle: Keep on hand for spraying your homemade remedies on countertops and windows.
  • Old toothbrush: The perfect-size scrub brush for loosening tough stains in tight spots.

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