How to Make Homemade Cleaners

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Want to get started making homemade cleaners? These are the essential ingredients you should have on hand and ways to use them.

Finding cleaning and disinfecting products at the store is tricky these days. That doesn’t mean you’ve got to worry about getting your home clean enough, though. Next time you’re at the grocery store, stock up on the items below. Then use my homemade cleaner recipes to make effective, safe cleaners for every room in your house.

The Best Homemade Cleaner Ingredients and Recipes

Homemade Cleaner Recipe Ingredients

Distilled White Vinegar

The acetic acid in vinegar powers through grease and grime. It also has some antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. But be careful substituting things for vinegar in homemade cleaners.

Take apple cider vinegar (ACV), for example. You can often swap the two in cooking, but ACV can cause problems in homemade cleaners. ACV is apple-based, so it contains pectin, which can leave streaks and attract pests. For best results, if the ingredients for homemade cleaners specify white vinegar, then stick with that.

Overhead shot of blue sponge and smear of soap suds

Soapy water should be your first choice to clean most messes. It’s not glamorous, but it’s good enough for daily soil. Cleaning is a crucial step before disinfecting household surfaces. According to the CDC, you should use soap and water on hard surfaces for that purpose.

Dawn liquid dish soap is my favorite. It’s affordable, and I haven’t found any brand that competes with its grease-cutting abilities. It’s so effective that animal experts use it to clean wildlife after oil spills. The UK alternative is Fairy if you can’t find Dawn. (Or get it here in either country.)

Essential Oils

Used in:

Essential oils aren’t only about adding fragrance to things. Sure, they offset vinegar’s pong, but they also boost its germ-killing properties. Try using tea tree, peppermint, lemon, eucalyptus, or thyme in your cleaners. But, if you have a dog or cat, you should stick with lavender or cedar oil. Both are pet-safe but still have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.

Glass fliptop jar of baking soda with label

Baking Soda (bicarbonate)

Used in:

This inexpensive kitchen ingredient is excellent at neutralizing odors. It’s mildly abrasive, so it’s safe to use on many household surfaces. Since it’s powdery, baking soda is also a fantastic way to absorb unwanted moisture. Sprinkle it in your running shoes after a jog, and it will get rid of bad shoe odors. Or add some to your cat’s litter box to safely deodorize it between changes.

Overhead view of oxygenated bleach and a pink scoop

Oxygenated Bleach

Oxygenated bleach is chlorine-free and color-safe. It’s made from soda ash and works by releasing oxygen when exposed to water. The oxygen molecules rise and lift away the dirt from whatever you’re cleaning. This action makes it fantastic on laundry stains. It also works on outdoor furniture and cleaning grout, too. You can find it under the brand name “Oxiclean,” but most store-brand versions work just as well.

We’re all concerned about killing germs in our homes these days. That doesn’t mean you’ve got to use harsh-smelling cleaners. Hydrogen peroxide is safe if used properly. Never combine it with vinegar, though. (Related: Cleaning Ingredients You Should Never Combine.)

There’s no need for a high-strength peroxide for most household cleaning–the brown bottle from the store is fine. Be sure to follow the homemade cleaner recipe’s measurements, though, and store it in a dark bottle. Exposure to light reduces hydrogen peroxide’s effectiveness.

Hand in rubber glove holding bottle filled with rubbing alcohol to use as homemade cleaner
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Rubbing (isopropyl) Alcohol 70%

Used in:

You already know that rubbing alcohol kills bacteria and germs. That’s why doctors and hospitals rely on it. (And why it’s known as “surgical spirits” in the UK.) It’s also an excellent additive to homemade cleaner recipes.

Besides killing germs, rubbing alcohol evaporates fast. So, naturally, you’ll find it in homemade cleaners designed for use on shiny surfaces. Don’t bother with 90% strength for household disinfection, though: it’ll evaporate too fast to disinfect properly.

An alternative to Rubbing Alcohol: These days, the demand for disinfecting products is high. So, you might have trouble finding rubbing alcohol in the store. Don’t panic — you can substitute specific liquors for it instead. When using liquor to disinfect, make sure it’s unflavored and 120-proof, so it contains at least 60% alcohol. Look for a “neutral spirit” or “rectified spirit.” These have very high concentrations of ethanol alcohol and will get the job done.

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2 Comments

  1. Barbara Bennett says:

    Is methylated spirits an alternative to rubbing alcohol?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      The methyl used in methylated spirits is highly toxic for humans and pets, so I don’t use them. I do realize they’re more affordable in Australia, but they’re hard to find here in the States. But, to answer your question, methylated spirits can sometimes be substituted for rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol, depending on what recipe you want to use it in. Methylated spirits also evaporate more quickly, so using them can leave streaks. Adding water slows evaporation but can make a recipe less effective, so you’ll have to experiment to find the right proportions. And, remembering the toxicity, don’t use them in cleaners for food preparation surfaces or floors, especially if you have pets or small children.

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