Greener cleaning

Page - January 8, 2007
Industry is by far the largest source of hazardous and toxic chemical pollution. But many of us also contribute to pollution with the cleaning products we choose, the gardening chemicals we use and the energy we consume.

Protecting and preserving the environment starts right in your own home. Here are some recipes that will not only save you money, but they are also safer for you, those you care about, and for the environment.

Each of the ingredients listed below can be found in grocery or health food stores.

Pure soap

For generations, people washed their clothes, their homes and themselves with pure soap. Today, it is the key ingredient of many alternative cleaning recipes. Soap biodegrades safely and completely, and is non-toxic. Make sure that you use soap without synthetic scents, colours or other additives. Even phosphate-free biodegradable laundry detergent contributes to water pollution.

Soap is available in some grocery stores, chemists, health stores and organic shops. It is sold as a liquid, flakes , powder and bars. Bars can be grated to dissolve more easily in hot water.

Vinegar (5% acetic acid)

Vinegar is a mild disinfectant which cuts grease, cleans glass, deodorizes, and removes calcium deposits, stains and wax build-up.


Cornstarch is an odourless powder that is great for carpet cleaning and greasy stains.

Eucalyptus oil

Eucalyptus oil is a good disinfectant and deodorizer. It gets rid of some stains, such as ink and grease, kills and repels some insects and even attacks rust. Also good for removing the patches left by stickers from surfaces.

Washing soda (sodium carbonate)

A key ingredient for washing clothes, washing soda cuts grease, removes stains, disinfects, and softens water. Washing soda should not be used on aluminum. It is available in the laundry section of the supermarket.

Baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

Baking soda works well as an abrasive in alternative recipes. Baking soda also deodorizes, removes stains, polishes, and softens fabrics. It softens water to increase sudsing and the cleanign power of soap.

Please note...

There are some people who feel that ammonia and borax are other key ingredients in alternative cleaners. It is true that they are both very effective at cleaning, deodorizing and disinfecting.

It is also true that they are both quite harsh chemicals, which can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and skin, and can cause headaches, nausea and chest pain.

Additionally, when ammonia mixes with certain other cleaning products, namely those which contain chlorine, poisonous gas can be created. For these reasons, we have left ammonia and borax off our list of core ingredients and out of the recipes.

Recipes for greener cleaning

All-Purpose Cleaner

This solution is safe for all surfaces, should be rinsed with water, and is very effective for most jobs. For a stronger cleaner, double the amounts of soap and lemon juice.

1/2 cup (125 ml) pure soap

1 gallon (4 litres) hot water

For a clean scent and to help cut grease add 1/4 cup (60 ml) of lemon juice.


Mix 50-100 ml of eucalyptus oil with a litre of water.

This can be used in a spray bottle, but remember to shake the mixture before using to disperse the oil.

Scouring powder

Use a firm bristle brush and scrub with pure soap combined with either table salt or baking soda.

Baking soda alone on a damp sponge is also effective on most surfaces. You can also personalise your scouring powder by adding an aromatic herb or flower. Put the ingredients in a blender and run until the fragrance has infused the powder.

For oven spills, scrub using straight baking soda or combine with the stronger version of the all purpose cleaner.

Remember to wear gloves when scrubbing.

Air fresheners

Commercial air fresheners work by masking smells and coating the nasal passages with chemicals which diminish the sense of smell by deadening the nerves. Avoid these products. Instead, try the all-natural air purifiers - house plants. Or try these natural recipes to diminish odour and add a fragrant smell to your house:

  •  Use baking soda in your garbage or refrigerator to help reduce odours at their source.
  • Dissolve 1 tsp (5 ml) of baking soda in 2 cups (500 ml) of hot water, add 1 tsp (5 ml) lemon juice. Pour the solution into a spray bottle and spray as you would an air freshener.
  • Place a few slices of a citrus fruit, cloves or cinnamon in a pot with enough water to simmer gently for an hour or two.

Liquid dish soap

Grate a bar of pure soap into a sauce pan. Cover with water and simmer over low heat until they melt together. Add some vinegar to the water for tough grease and to remove spots. Pour into a container and use as you would any liquid dishwashing soap.

Mirrors, glass and windows

Wash with pure soap and water, rinse with a solution of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water. Use washable, reusable cheese cloth or crumpled newspaper instead of paper towels.

To fully clean and deodorize carpets vacuum carpet then liberally sprinkle cornstarch or baking soda, leave one hour, then vacuum again. For tougher stains, try cold soda water or repeatedly blot with vinegar and soapy water.

When buying carpet, choose natural materials such as cotton and wool over synthetics. Buy rugs and carpets that haven't been treated with insecticides and fungicides.

When rugs are cleaned, make sure no pesticides are used. Avoid commercial products containing chlorine, formaldehyde and solvents such as trichloroethylene, methylene and nitrobenzene. If ingredients are not listed on a product, write to the manufacturer for information. It's your right to know exactly what you're buying. If a company won't divulge their ingredients, write back and tell them you are unable to buy their product - and ask them what they are hiding.


Most store-bought polishes contain solvents harmful to the environment. Aresol sprays are wasteful and also contain harmful gases.

  • Furniture polish: Dissolve 1 tsp (5 ml) lemon oil in 1 cup (250 ml) vegetable oil. Apply with a clean dry rag.
  • Floor polish: Melt 1/8 cup (30 ml) paraffin wax in a double boiler. Add 1 litre mineral oil and a few drops of lemon oil. Apply with a rag, allow to dry and polish.

Polishing metals

  • Copper: Try lemon juice and a little salt, or hot vinegar and a little salt on a rag.
  • Chrome: Try white flour on a dry rag.
  • Brass: Try equal parts salt and flour, with a little vinegar on a dry rag.
  • Silver: Bring to a boil in a large pan: 1 litre water, 1 Tbsp (15 ml) salt, 1 Tbsp (15 ml) baking soda and a strip of aluminum foil. Drop in silver, boil for 3 minutes and polish with a soft cloth. Or polish with a paste of wood ash and water. Note: These methods should be done on sterling silver only and not on silver plate.