Alternative Cleansers for the Home

Generations ago, families relied on simple ingredients such as vinegar and pure soap to keep their homes clean. Today cleaning can be just as simple. Drain and oven cleaners, abrasive powders and detergents can all be replaced with a homemade alternative. To help you get started, here is a list of recipes for safer alternative cleaners. Give them a try. Experiment with them by adjusting the strengths and proportions to suit your cleaning needs. You may find that they're often just as effective as, if not better than, commercial brands.

Environmentally-safe ingredients

Use the ingredients listed below when making your own alternative cleaners. Either combined, or on their own, they will produce safe, effective and cost-efficient cleaners.

Baking Soda: (sodium bicarbonate)An all-purpose, non-toxic cleaner. It cleans, deodorizes, scours, polishes and removes stains.

Borax: (sodium borate) It deodorizes, removes stains and boosts the cleaning power of soap. It also prevents mold and odors.

Cornstarch: Cleans and deodorizes carpets and rugs.

Lemon Juice: Cuts through grease and stains on aluminum and porcelain.

Pure Soap: Cleans everything.

Table Salt: (sodium chloride) A mild disinfectant and makes an abrasive, but gentle, scouring powder.

Vinegar: (dilute acetic acid) Removes mildew, stains, grease and wax buildup. Vinegar is a great glass cleaner.

Washing Soda: (sodium carbonate) Cuts grease and disinfects. It will also increase the cleaning power of soap.

Before you begin...

1. Save time, make your cleaners in advance.

2. Buy your ingredients in bulk. You'll save money and avoid excess packaging.

3. Store your ingredients in reusable airtight containers.

4. Make economy-size batches of several cleaners and store them in durable plastic containers and in convenient spray bottles.

5. Label all of your ingredients and keep them out of reach of children. These cleaners are not poisonous, but they can be harmful if swallowed.

6. Wear rubber gloves when you clean. These alternative cleaners are environmentally-safe, but they may irritate the skin.


The attached recipes have been compiled from a number of reputable sources. However, Earth Witchery does not accept any responsibility for the effectiveness of the cleaners.

Air freshener

Try simmering vinegar or a herb mixture in water. Odors can be absorbed by placing baking soda at the source of the problem. Vinegar on the stove will help eliminate odors while cooking.

All purpose Abrasive Cleaner

Clean any surface with a mixture of baking soda and water. Be sure to rinse well.


Mix together 2 parts borax with 1 part baking soda or washing soda. Store in a container with holes punched in the top to create a shaker and label it accordingly. Sprinkle on surface. Scrub with a damp cloth and wipe dry.

Note: For toilet bowls, sprinkle either recipe around the bowl, dampen to make a paste and let stand. Scrub clean.

All purpose liquid cleaner

Melt 15mL soap flakes in 1L warm or hot water. Make stronger by adding 30mL borax and 5mL lemon juice (or white vinegar) for tougher cleaning jobs. Apply to surface. Rinse.


Apply a 50:50 solution of water and white vinegar. Rinsing is not necessary.

Drain de-cloggers

Prevent clogs: Pour 50mL salt down the drain, followed by a kettle of boiling water. Repeat once or twice a week. OR, instead of salt, you could use 50mL washing soda, OR 50mL baking soda plus 50mL vinegar followed by a kettle of boiling water.

Slow drains: Pour 250 mL baking soda, 250 mL salt and 125 mL white vinegar down the drain. Cover with a stopper and leave for 15 minutes. Remove stopper and rinse with 1 kettle of boiling water.

Blocked drains:A plunger or plumber's snake can usually solve the problem. Follow it up with the slow drain treatment. You may have to use the slow drain treatment more than once, but it does work. Clean drain once a week to prevent clogging.

Oven Cleaners

Dampen the inside of the oven with water. Sprinkle liberally with baking soda. Leave for 15 minutes or overnight for tougher stains. Scrub until clean. Repeat if necessary.


Mix together 2 parts hot water with 1 part Borax. Store in a properly labeled spray bottle. Spray on and leave overnight. Scrub clean in the morning.

Spills: Sprinkle immediately with salt. Brush off and wipe down oven once it has cooled. OR, use a drip pan or cookie sheet to catch any spills while cooking.

1. These alternative cleaners work poorly if the oven has not been cleaned for two or three months. Use these recipes on a regular basis.
2. Do not use these recipes on self-cleaning or continuously clean ovens.


All-purpose furniture polish:
For quick furniture polishing jobs, use olive oil alone on a damp cloth. Rub until dry.

Varnished, lacquered or shellacked furniture:

Mix together 1 part lemon juice or white vinegar with 2 parts olive or vegetable oil. Store in a properly labeled spray bottle. The polish works best when warm. Heat by sitting the bottle in a pan of hot water. Apply and rub dry with a soft cloth.

Unprotected furniture:
Mix together 1 part lemon juice with 2 parts oil (olive, vegetable or mineral oil). Store in a properly labeled spray bottle. Spray on. Rub in. Wipe clean.

Removing buildup (unfinished furniture):
Mix together 1 part white vinegar with 1 part water. Gently rub the furniture with a cloth made damp from the solution. Dry immediately with a dry, soft cloth.

Grease spots:
Pour salt on stain to prevent staining.

Spots Fingerprints:
After polishing, sprinkle on a little cornstarch. Use a clean soft cloth to rub and to shine your furniture until it is glossy.

Rub a mixture of equal amounts of lemon juice and vegetable oil into the scratches and polish.

Water marks and rings:
Use baking soda or fireplace ashes along with olive oil, mineral oil or vegetable oil. Form a paste and apply to the water ring for a few minutes. Rub dry.


Melt 15mL beeswax or carnauba wax. Add 500mL mineral oil. Heat in a double boiler. Cool, then apply with a soft rag. For a nice smell, add a few drops of lemon essence. Store in a properly labeled container.


Boil together in an aluminum or enamel pan: a small ball of aluminum foil, 1L water, 15mL baking soda and 15mL salt. Drop the silverware in and leave boiling for 3 minutes. Remove and polish the silverware to a shine with a soft cloth. Use an old toothbrush and toothpaste to remove tarnish from crevices or to clean small silver pieces.

Dish detergents

Dish Soap:

Dissolve soap flakes in hot water. Add a little white vinegar to the dish water to cut grease on dirty dishes. Keep in a handy, properly labeled squirt bottle.


Place 4L water and 500mL grated hard bar soap (or soap flakes) in a pot. Stir. Heat over medium heat until the mixture boils, stirring occasionally until the soap dissolves. Lower heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little washing soda if the soap flakes won't dissolve properly. Remove from heat and let cool. Store in a properly labeled container.

Note: 1.Before you grate the soap, rub salad oil on the grater so it will be easier to clean.

2.Not for use in automatic dishwashers.

Automatic Dishwashers:
There is no true homemade alternative for the dishwasher. This recipe is suitable for occasional, but not everyday use. You may want to look for commercial phosphate-free powders or hand-wash your dishes in the sink.

Mix together 250mL borax with 125mL of baking soda or 250mL washing soda. Store in a properly labeled container. Fill the machine's detergent dispenser as usual.

Note: 1. If you live in a hardwater area, you will have to adjust the proportions of washing soda and borax to avoid scum forming on your dishes.

2. Only use for every 8 to 10 loads or your dishes will develop a soapy film that is difficult to remove.
3. Do not use on teflon or aluminum pots.
4. Try using white vinegar in your first compartment to remove soap residue.

Window, glass and chrome cleaners

Mix together 200mL white vinegar or lemon juice (1 part) with 1L water (5 parts). Keep in a properly labeled spray pump for easy use. Spray on surface, then buff and clean with old newspapers. OR, try just using water.

For best results, clean the window first with rubbing alcohol to remove the residue from previous cleaners.

Note: Never wash windows when the sun is shining directly on them. The cleaning solution will dry too fast and streak.


All-purpose cleaner:
Vacuum first to remove dirt. Mix together 1L white vinegar with 3L boiling water. Apply to nap of rug with a wet rag being careful not to separate rug backing. Dry and air thoroughly. Vacuum.

Sprinkle liberally with baking soda. Wait at least 15 minutes and vacuum. Repeat if necessary.


Mix together 500mL cornmeal with 250mL borax. Sprinkle over carpet, leave one hour, then vacuum.

All-purpose Stain Remover:

Mix 50mL borax with 500mL warm water in a spray bottle. Label accordingly. Spray on stained area and wipe with a damp sponge. Repeat until clean. OR, pour a water and white vinegar mixture on spills to clean or to prevent staining.

Blood Remover:
Gently sponge stain with cold water or baking soda. Then sponge with a solution of salt and water. Dry with a towel. Repeat until stain is gone.

Ink Remover:
Put cream of tartar on the stain and squeeze a few drops of lemon juice on top. Rub into the stain for one minute. Brush off the powder with a clean brush and sponge immediately with warm water. Repeat if necessary.

Oil, Grease and Soot Remover:
Cover spots with cornstarch. Wait one hour, then vacuum. For severe stains, blot repeatedly with white vinegar in soapy water. For soot, cover thickly with salt then carefully sweep it up.

Urine Remover:
Rinse stain with warm water, then apply a solution of 45mL white vinegar and 5mL liquid soap. Leave on for 15 minutes. Rinse and rub dry.

Environmentally-safe Commercial Products

If you don't want to make your own alternative cleaners, there are a number of commercial products available that were developed with the environment in mind. Before you buy, make sure the one you select for your cleaning job is truly environmentally-safe. These products can be found in health-food stores, some grocery stores and through direct-sales agents.

Do not purchase a product that does not list all of its ingredients. Some products, such as detergents, are petroleum-based. Ask your grocer for product details.

If you are concerned about animals, make sure the product does not contain any animal by-products and was not tested on animals. Soaps can contain animal or vegetable fat.

If your grocer stocks products that claim to be environmentally-safe, but are not, or misuse the word "green", express your displeasure to your grocer and the manufacturer.

If your grocer does not stock environmentally-safe products, ask for them or write manufacturers requesting that they produce some.