8 Other Green Cleaners Already in Your House

by Camilla Cheung on 5 March 2012 10 comments
Photo: Jack Zalium

You've probably heard of the amazing cleaning properties of baking soda and vinegar. However, did you know that you probably have several other natural green cleaners in your home? These lesser-known household cleaners are better for the environment, effective at cleaning, and easy on your wallet. (See also: 30 Household Products Vinegar Can Replace)

Borax

Borax is the natural salt of boric acid and is mined in places like Death Valley, California. It is a 100% naturally occurring substance and is a useful all-purpose cleaner in the home. However, unlike other natural cleaners like vinegar or baking soda, it is not entirely harmless. A significant dose of the chemical can be toxic, so keep the box of Borax stored out of reach of children and pets (just as you should keep laundry detergent out of reach — it's toxic if ingested).

That being said, Borax is mild enough to use for all sorts of household purposes without harm. I usually mix it with a drop or two of liquid soap and use it to scrub the scum off my bathtub and bathroom sink. It works better than commercial cleaners, without the fumes, bleach, and caustic chemicals. It’s also non-abrasive. In fact, it’s so mild that I usually just give my bathtub a scrubbing while I’m in the shower and rinse off any leftover Borax with the hand-held shower head, something that would be downright dangerous with a commercial cleaner.

I also add a couple of tablespoons to my laundry to boost the cleaning power of my detergent. Borax helps to remove stains (it makes a great pre-wash soak for stained clothing), and by softening the water, helps the detergent to work better. My Canadian friends rave about McGuire Naturals’ organic stain removing stick, in which the first ingredient is “enhanced borax.” It’s perfect for children’s clothing on which you don’t want to use artificial perfumes and dyes.

Borax is a natural insecticide and can be used to keep the ant population down. It can also help keep your drains clear when used regularly — pour some Borax powder down the drain and follow with boiling water. You can also mix it with water and vinegar to make a great window-cleaning solution.

Castile Soap

Castile soap is a fancy name for organic vegetable-based soap. It is a mild and gentle biodegradable soap that comes under a variety of brand names (most commonly, Dr. Bronner’s pure liquid soap). Soaps are generally made of natural ingredients (as opposed to detergents, which are synthetic), and are thus better for your health and for the environment.

You can use Castile soap to clean laundry — although soaps are not as effective as detergents if you have hard water, they also won’t wear out fabrics as quickly. Try using it with a few tablespoons of Borax or baking soda to up the stain-fighting factor and to soften the water. Dilute soap with water to clean floors and counters. Mix Castile soap with baking soda to scrub stains off of dishes, sinks, bathtubs, counters, etc. Mix the soap with water and vinegar to make your own spray cleansing solution. You can use it to wash dishes and even to wash your car!

I’ve also mixed soap with water to spray on the leaves of my plants — this helps to get rid of unwanted pests and insects.

Pure Castile soap is cheap and it makes a natural and gentle body wash. Buy unscented liquid Castile soap to shampoo your dog; it’s organic and won’t irritate his nose with synthetic perfumes. And because pure Castile soap is biodegradable, it makes a great camp soap for your next camping trip.

Rubbing Alcohol

Most people have a bottle of rubbing alcohol in their first-aid kit, and it works really well at getting off the sticky gunk left after peeling off a store label. However, be careful as rubbing alcohol is a very strong solvent and may damage the finish underneath. I use it to clean the gunk off ceramics and the glossy covers of books. It can also work as a spot cleaner to dissolve ink stains in clothing and fabrics. Use it to clean greasy fingerprints off of telephones, keyboards, and printers (it disinfects them too). 

Be careful to avoid exposure when using rubbing alcohol; try not to breathe in fumes, and wear gloves to prevent hands from drying out. Rubbing alcohol is toxic if ingested, so keep it out of reach of children. It’s also highly flammable, so don’t use it near an open flame. In spite of being quite a strong and irritating solvent, it has a low impact on the environment.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Again, raid your first-aid box for cheap and natural household cleaners. Hydrogen peroxide is great on cuts, but did you know that it also kills mold and mildew? Dilute one part hydrogen peroxide with two parts water, and spray it on moldy grout and tile. Rinse off an hour later.

Lemon

Lemon juice is a great natural, non-toxic cleaner that cuts grease really well. Wipe mixing bowls with a slice of lemon before beating egg whites to ensure no trace grease ruins the fluffiness of the eggs. Rub a slice of lemon over a cutting board to help clean and disinfect. Grind up a few wedges of lemon or some leftover lemon peels in the sink garbage disposal to clean out grease and get rid of bad smells. Wipe sinks and fixtures with lemon juice for a nice shine.

Cornstarch

Sprinkle cornstarch on a carpet and allow it to sit for 30 minutes to absorb dirt and odors before vacuuming. It works the same way as a dry shampoo for your hair, as it absorbs the grease, then brushes right out. Cornstarch can help remove fresh stains from fabric or carpet — make a paste of water and cornstarch, apply it to the stain and allow it to dry, then brush it off or wash it out. This works especially well for stubborn grease stains.

Club Soda

This party staple works especially well to treat fresh stains. As soon as a spill occurs, pour club soda over and blot with a towel.

Salt

Plain old salt can shine up tarnished brass and copper. Rub the surface with salt and vinegar or salt and lemon juice to bring it up to its original shine. Sprinkle salt on a fresh wine stain and the salt will help draw the stain out of the fabric.

What’s your favorite all-natural cleaner?

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Guest's picture
Christie

You forgot the #1, all time, best ever BAKING SODA! Hundreds of uses, just awesome stuff.

Camilla Cheung's picture

Hi Christie,
I haven't forgotten baking soda! There are lots of other articles on Wisebread about baking soda, and the point of this article was to give credit to the OTHER green cleaners, the lesser-known ones, other than baking soda and vinegar.
Camilla

Meg Favreau's picture

I used Borax to help keep the number of pests down for the three weeks I was living in the apartment I now only call "the roach palace." And I love that cornstarch suggestion -- I had never heard of that before. As someone particularly spill-prone, I'm definitely going to keep that in my back pocket.

Meg Favreau's picture

But not literally in my back pocket.

Guest's picture
Ash

Cornstarch and baking soda are very fine and can damage or gunk up your vacuum if you use them on the carpet. I think even the commercially available carpet freshening powders mostly just make the carpet smell good because the vacuum's exhaust is shooting particles in to the air, not because it's taking the stank out of a carpet.

Guest's picture
Guest

As an appliance repair person I want to add that orange peal and 2-3 glasses of ice if you use it once in a week do a great job cleaning your garbage disposal and remove a smell

Guest's picture
Amanda

i recently started making a lot of my own household cleaners...and i have just about every item except club soda. I love my castile soap too...it is awesome. You can even brush your teeth with the Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap. Awesome.

Guest's picture
GuestLEE

I have a problem I irined a patch on a pair of blue jeans.The blue came off the pants into my carpet how can i get it out ?

Guest's picture
Guest

How much castule soap,vineger and water do you mix for dishwasher soap?

Guest's picture

Excellent tips...I generally use white vinegar and baking soda because these household cleaners always help me to solve a lot of problems for home cleaning..thanks for sharing nice tips definitely i will try these green cleaners also..