For Your Zero Waste Home
Confession time: I’m one of those weird people who actually likes to clean the house. This is surprising to most of my family because as a kid, I was probably the world’s biggest slob. Thankfully, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to enjoy the process of tidying my space and restoring order to the world… and then of course the kids and dogs immediately come through and demolish my efforts. At least I know it’s clean underneath their mess!
Since going Zero Waste, I’ve started making most of my own cleaners. Buying the raw ingredients in bulk and mixing them myself has been a great way to cut down on waste. I am even able to refill my Castile Soap and other supplies at the grocery store during my monthly big grocery shopping trip (you can read about Zero Waste grocery shopping here).
Plus now I actually know what is in my cleaning supplies. One thing I don’t like about cleaning is the chemical smell that comes with conventional cleaners--not to mention all of the nasty chemicals themselves that accompany the smell. My DIY cleaners smell great, they work, and I know that they’re safe for my family and the environment.
They’re also really easy to make. Believe me, I wouldn’t be recommending it if it wasn’t really simple. I promise you don’t need to set up a full-scale medieval apothecary in your basement.
Of course, if making your own cleaners is just one more thing you don’t have time to do, then I would suggest finding a concentrated version of your preferred all-purpose cleaning product in bulk and then mixing that in your spray bottle instead to cut down on plastic waste.
But if you want to give making your own all-purpose cleaners a try, here are two versions I use. I have a mild version that uses just castile soap, water, and essential oil. I also have a heavier duty (but still safe and gentle) cleaner I use for tougher messes.
Mild Spray Cleaner
16 oz water (boiled and cooled)
2 TBS Liquid Castile Soap (I buy this palm oil-free brand by the gallon and then refill the jug with castile soap at the natural foods store)
20ish drops of essential oil (Optional. I use lemon but tea tree oil is another good choice)
You’ll also need a funnel and a spray bottle. I use a glass spray bottle but you can repurpose any spray bottles you may have around your home.
To make your cleaner, boil and cool some water (many cleaning recipes call for distilled water. I haven’t found this necessary, plus usually the only way to get distilled water is in plastic jugs). Boiling the water will help kill any bacteria and keep your cleaner fresh longer.
While your water cools, put your 2 TBS of castile soap into the bottom of the spray bottle. Add the water using a funnel. Stir it up and add the cap (or add the cap and gently shake to mix). You’re ready to use it! Please note, that since this cleaner doesn’t contain any sort of preservative, you’re going to want to use it up within a couple of weeks to be on the safe side (adding water to any homemade cleaner can spur bacteria growth which is why we boil the water first).
If you don’t think you’ll use it up that quickly, halve the recipe or purchase a mild preservative such as Optiphen Plus to add to your mixture. We make a lot of messes so we've never had a cleaning spray last long enough that this was necessary...
You can also use this same recipe to mop the floors. Just increase your castile soap and essential oils based on the amount of water your mop bucket holds.
Some people mix Castile Soap and vinegar. While this isn’t dangerous, it will cause the soap to break down. I get the temptation though: vinegar is great for dissolving any soapy residue that might be left behind so it seems like it would be a great idea, but basic chemistry says otherwise. My suggestion is instead to simply keep another spray bottle with a 1:1 ratio of white vinegar to water on hand to follow up with if you need it. This vinegar solution will work for countertops or windows.
Tougher Spray Cleaner
But what about tougher messes that need a little more oomph? In these instances, I use a cleaner made with Sal’s Suds*, citric acid, boiled water, and essential oils.
½ TBS Sal’s Suds
1 tsp citric acid (leave out the citric acid if you have natural stone tile or countertops. The spray will still work.)
16 oz water boiled and cooled
20 drops essential oil (Optional...I use lemon because combined with the citric acid it smells soooo good).
You'll also need a funnel and spray bottle.
Boil and cool the water. Again, this is to stave off bacteria growth in your homemade cleaners. While the water cools, add ½ TBS of Sal’s Suds to the bottom of your spray bottle. Using a funnel, add in your 16 oz of water, then add 1 tsp of citric acid and your essential oil (if using). The citric acid offers some extra cleaning power and also acts as a mild preservative to keep your cleaning spray fresh longer. Stir the ingredients or put the lit on and gently shake it to mix it up.
And that’s it! You’re ready to tackle some tough cleaning jobs!
This recipe can also be used for floors, just adjust the amounts based on the amount of water your mop bucket holds.
**Sal’s Suds is made by the Dr. Bronner company and its ingredients are plant-based, non-toxic, and 100% biodegradable. It does contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, which freaks some people out. However, SLS is safe (it’s actually in a lot of other store-bought biodegradable cleaners including items from Grove Collaborative) though it can cause skin irritation in high concentrations. The concentrations we’re using it at are pretty low and we're also wiping or rinsing it away afterward. Because Sal’s suds is a detergent rather than a soap, it does a better job of cutting through greasy messes. I buy it by the gallon and it lasts a really long time, and then I reuse the jug when I’m done with it.
How to Use These Cleaners
I use both of these cleaners almost interchangeably. I do tend to use the castile soap solution more for countertops, toys, and high chairs while I use the tougher cleaner for bathrooms, pet messes, and situations where there is just a lot of dirt to cut through. However, if I'm in a hurry, I just grab whichever happens to be handy. Instead of paper towels, I use reusable cloths or rags.
By buying the ingredients by the gallon and refilling them at the natural foods store or repurposing the jugs, I have really cut down on the amount of cleaning-related plastic our household produces!
For more cleaning recipes and ideas, check out my post on how to make portable and reusable cleaning wipes you can take with you anywhere you go.