Ethical Lifestyle Sustainability Zero waste

How to Make Your Own Sustainable Cleaning Products

Living a more sustainable life involves not only thinking carefully about all your purchases, but also about reducing your consumption overall. There are a number of ways to do this: growing your own food, for example, and learning traditional skills to help you make rather than buy things. Making sustainable cleaning products is another way to reduce what you need to buy, and to live in a greener and more ethical way.

Why Make Your Own Sustainable Cleaning Products?

When it comes to cleaning your home, there are plenty of reasons to make things simpler and greener in this way:

  • It will help you avoid bringing harmful chemicals into your home, or releasing them into the wider environment.
  • It will reduce your carbon footprint, by reducing the amount you buy and how far they have to travel to reach you.
  • You can reduce the amount of plastic packaging you bring into your home, and move closer to a zero-waste lifestyle. The plastic bottles and other packaging used for household cleaning products are often not recyclable, and even when they are, won’t always be disposed of correctly. 
  • Making your own cleaning products can also save you a lot of money.
  • What’s more, making them can be a lot of fun!

👉 So, let’s take a look at the simple products we can use to clean our homes:

Bicarbonate of Soda

If you buy only one ingredient for cleaning your home, this simple, versatile ingredient is the one to choose. Bicarbonate of soda can be used for a wide range of household cleaning jobs. It can be used on its own, though it is often used in combination with apple cider vinegar (or other vinegars), or with certain infused oils or essential oils for fragrance. 

Cleans

Bicarbonate of soda is great for cleaning everything from surfaces, to ovens, to dishes. Use it along with vinegar to clean even the most stubborn grease; you will be surprised by how effective it is at cleaning away dirt, making your house clean and fresh-smelling. Simply mix some of the powder with a little water to make a paste, and use this as a surfactant to clean dishes, sinks, or kitchen worktops. 💧

In place of conventional laundry detergents, bicarbonate of soda will wash your clothes perfectly effectively, while also softening water, increasing the life of appliances in hard water areas. If you require a scent to your clothing a little organic bar soap mixed into a solution (see below), or a few drops of essential oil (again, see below) will do the trick, while vinegar makes a great fabric softener. But all you really need for clean, fresh clothes is bicarb – whether you are washing in a machine or by hand.

Removes unpleasant smells

Bicarbonate of soda not only cleans, it can also get rid of unpleasant smells. Items that smell tend to be highly acidic. The natural pH-balancing properties of baking soda have the effect of neutralising the odour rather than just covering it up. Sprinkle some in your fridge (or leave an open box in there) to prevent nasty odours, and sprinkle on carpets or upholstery to remove stubborn smells. It can even be used on pets to make them smell fresher, or inside stinky old shoes!

Apple Cider Vinegar 

Vinegar is another key ingredient for a simpler home-cleaning regime – and you might not even have to buy it: various vinegars can be cheaply and easily made at home. Apple cider vinegar is the simplest: 

Making Apple Cider Vinegar 🍎

All you need are some apples – bonus points if you grow your own! Whether home-grown or bought from a local producer, you needn’t even use the whole apples; vinegar can be made from waste cores.

Simply:

  • Place apple cores in a glass jar, and cover them with water.
  • Add a little sugar to speed up the process. 
  • Place something like a stone in the top of the jar to hold the cores under the water, and cover with a muslin square or paper towel held in place with an elastic band. 
  • Keep the jar or jars in a cool, dark place, checking for bad, dark moulds. (You should see a clear, white scum instead.) If a dark mould does appear, skim this off, but try to leave the white scum in place. (This is only true for cleaning purposes – if you plan on imbibing the vinegar you may prefer to err on the side of caution and throw the batch away.)
  • After around a month, strain the liquid to remove the cores and apple pieces, then replace the liquid into its jars and re-cover. 
  • Return the jars to a cool, dark place for another month or two.
  • After around a month, check for acidity by smell and taste; use when vinegary.

👉 Remember, though using this for cleaning, apple cider vinegar is also great for a range of culinary uses, and for conditioning your hair.

Using Apple Cider Vinegar to Clean Your Home 🍏

Apple cider vinegar is gentler than white vinegar, and has a more pleasant smell. It can cut through grease and grime and kill harmful bacteria just as effectively as the strong, toxic cleaners on the market. Mix into a paste with bicarbonate of soda to give surfaces or cooking pans a scrub, and you’ll get off even the most stubborn grease and grime. Spread this paste overnight inside your oven, and in the morning it will be much easier to scrub clean.

Windows and other glass items around your home can be cleaned using just water, vinegar, and some newspaper or piece of old towelling. Put a solution of one third vinegar to two thirds water into a plant sprayer and squirt it onto the glass, then wipe the dirt away with the newspaper or towelling. 

Bathroom and kitchen

An old-fashioned mop and pail works perfectly to clean the floor in a bathroom or kitchen, and rather than buying a floor cleaner just fill your pail with hot water, a small amount of vinegar, and a shake of bicarb. This mixture will fizz and then settle; give it a stir, then mop as usual. Your floor will be completely clear: the vinegar will kill germs, and the soda will get rid of lingering odours. 

Think it would be revolting to not use bleach and other harsh chemicals in your toilet? Worried about germs and smells? Tip some soda and vinegar into your toilet bowl, give it a go with a toilet brush and flush. In a week you’ll see that your toilet remains stain- and odour-free under this new regime. 

As you can see, these two simple ingredients are all you really need to clean everything in your home – yet some people find it hard to transition to this simpler approach. A common complaint is that people miss the artificially fragrant smells of chemical household cleaners. Smelling ‘clean’ or ‘fresh’ just doesn’t seem enough. 

Always read warning labels on products! 🔔

If you take the time to read warning labels on products, you may be shocked. Many household cleaning products are harmful to aquatic life, disrupting their reproductive cycles or affecting their capacity to live in some other way. But even when these products are not labelled as hazardous, they may still be damaging to the environment – either during their manufacture or when in use. And of course there are the bottles they come in – these will endure in the environment and can also pose a threat to marine creatures and ecosystems.

We have become conditioned to think that a clean house shouldn’t just smell neutral, but should have a pleasant fragrance. There’s nothing wrong with that – but rather than choosing harmful and polluting cleaners and air-fresheners, use simple, natural ingredients to make your home smell great instead. 

Infused Oils and Essential Oils

Many herbs and flowers that could easily be grown in your garden (or even on a sunny windowsill) can also be used to make infused or essential oils, to add fragrance to your home. Which type you make will depend on how much growing space you have available, and on how much time, money, and effort you are willing to invest.

Making essential oils involves a distillation process, requiring a still – specialist equipment. You’ll also need to grow a lot of one particular herb or flower to make even a small amount. Of course, you could simply buy natural, organic essential oils to use in cleaning your home and making it fragrant, but there is another option:

💡 Infused oils use a carrier oil (sweet almond or coconut oil, for example) to carry the herb or flower’s fragrance and other beneficial properties. Simply put some herbs or flowers into a jar, cover them with oil and wait (at least a month) for the mix to infuse – then sieve. You can speed up the process by heating the oil while the herbs or flowers are in it, but this may deliver an inferior result.

Though not as intense or therapeutic as essential oils, infused oils have a wide range of uses around your home – in cleaning products for both yourself and your interiors and belongings. For example, add a little oil to a diffuser to spread fragrance through your living room, wipe some over wooden surfaces, or put a few drops in with your clothes or bedding in the wash.

Natural Soaps

Bar soaps are far better for sustainable cleaning than liquid ones; they don’t require bottles, and usually last a lot longer. Infused or essential oils can be a key ingredient in a range of DIY bar soap recipes available online, which explain production using both hot and cold processes. 

These days, we tend to think of bar soap as something to clean ourselves with – but a natural bar soap can also be used to clean our homes. For example, you could rub some on a scrubbing brush or mop to clean your floors, or shave some flakes into your clothes wash along with the bicarbonate of soda. 

Soap Plants

Interestingly, there are even natural ‘soap plants’ which can be used for cleaning without any complicated processing. For example, both the leaves and the roots of soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) are high in saponins, a substance which creates a lather in water and can be used as a surfactant in place of modern soaps and detergents. Take care since soapwort can irritate the eyes, but it can be extremely useful away from the face: rub some leaves on your hands as a quick alternative to soap, or blend roots with water and strain to create an all-natural liquid soap or detergent. 

Clematis, another plant often grown in the UK, is also high in saponins; a simple natural soap can be made from its leaves and flowers. Like soapwort, this plant was used by Native Americans and other indigenous peoples as a natural cleanser; it can be used to wash dishes, or as a rinse for surfaces around your home.

Clematis | Photo by Dušan Smetana on Unsplash

If you grow yucca as a houseplant, you may be interested to know that its root is high in saponins. Of course, taking the root will kill the plant, but if you pound and soak the leaves, you can use them to make fibre, while soaking water will contain sufficient saponins for washing clothes. 

Cheap, natural and readily available

As you can see from the above, there is no need to resort to harmful, plastic-packaged household cleaners in your home. The alternatives are cheap, natural and readily available, so there is no excuse not to switch over to a natural cleaning regime today.

Sustainability is not always about looking forward, and grasping towards new technologies that will save the day. Innovation is important, and will play an important role in defining our future. But sometimes, we need to look backwards rather than forwards. Making your own cleaning products would be nothing new to our ancestors – perhaps only a few generations back, this was just how things were done. Re-learning old skills that have largely been lost is also an important part of forging a better, more ethical and sustainable future. Sometimes, our great, great grandparents did know best. 

Featured photo by Nicolas Ukrman on Unsplash

Author

Elizabeth is a writer and green living consultant with a smallholding in rural Scotland. When not writing, she can be found growing vegetables or tending to rescue chickens in her fruit-filled forest garden. She's passionate about permaculture and sustainability, and works on projects all over the world.

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