A greener clean: Recipes for do-it-yourself cleaning products

Natural cleans can be make quickly and cheaply with household items. (Credit: David Benthal)

Cleaning is often associated with spring. It is a refresher for the home during a season embodied by growth and new beginnings. In that spirit, do-it-yourself cleaning products are an easy, cost-effective and environmentally conscious way to accomplish the task.

The term “DIY” can sometimes translate into “difficult” or “time consuming,” but not so with homemade, toxin-free cleaners that combine inexpensive household items, said Aaron Virgin, vice president of Group for the East End. 

There are several reasons to use do-it-yourself cleaners, he said. 

“When you buy the products at the grocery store and read the label, it will probably be a list of ingredients you’ve never heard of. These chemicals are persistent and they stay in the environment for a long time,” Virgin said. “Even someone who doesn’t consider themselves an environmentalist can feel better knowing that less-harmful chemicals will be around their house and they’ll be saving money. It is a win-win.”

In terms of cost, for example, a standard 26-ounce bottle of Windex costs around $3.30 at the grocery store while DIY glass cleaner costs less than $1. The same savings can be found with everything from all-purpose cleaners to wood polish, Virgin said. 

The Southold-based nonprofit, which advocates for environmental conservation and education, hosts classes on the subject throughout the year. They shared recipes for five tried-and-true old-fashioned cleaning products that can be whipped up with a handful of basic ingredients such as white vinegar, water and baking soda.

There’s a good chance you already have everything you need inside your cabinet. 

All-purpose cleaner

1/2 cup white vinegar

2 tablespoons baking soda

15-20 drops essential oils (tea tree, orange or lemon oil/juice)

Pour 1/2 cup of white vinegar into a spray bottle and add 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Add a few drops of essential oils and then fill the bottle to the top with water. Give it a good shake and let settle before using.

Glass cleaner

1/4 cup rubbing alcohol

1/4 cup white vinegar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 cups warm water

Combine everything in a spray bottle and shake well. The cornstarch will settle at the bottom, so shake well before each use.

Dish soap

2 1/2 cups boiling water

1 tablespoon borax

1 tablespoon washing soda

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1/2 cup liquid castile soap

10 drops essential oils (optional)

Measure and add the borax and washing soda to a mixing bowl along with the liquid castile soap and white vinegar. You can find pure castile soap at your local health food store. Boil the water and then slowly add in the ingredients, using a whisk to gently incorporate. You can also add a few drops of essential oils. Let the soap come to room temperature before adding it to your container. It will thicken as it cools.

Laundry detergent 

1/2 cup baking soda

1/2 cup citric acid

1 cup washing soda

1/4 cup coarse sea salt

1 bar pure castile soap (can be scented — e.g., lavender — or unscented)

Add essential oils to fine tune a specific scent (optional)

Grate the bar of soap finely. I used the grating attachment on my Cuisinart and it worked perfectly! If you don’t have a food processor, you can grate the bar of soap by hand; just make sure it’s grated pretty finely. Put the grated soap in a large bowl, add remaining ingredients, and stir to combine. If it gets a little clumpy as you stir, use a pastry blender to break up the clumps. Pour the laundry soap into an airtight container for storage. You’ll also want to add a desiccant to keep the soap from clumping up.

Wood furniture polish

1/4 cup white vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

10-15 drops essential oils (optional)

Add essential oils to a container or spray bottle, then add olive oil and vinegar. Shake well.