D.I.Y. cleaning supplies

Remember this post about my discovery that most of my makeup was (at least potentially) toxic?  The two things I continued using were my Neutrogena oil-free moisturizer and my C.O. Bigelow lipgloss.  But a few weeks ago I started having to work to get moisturizer out of the container, and I knew I wanted to make a change with the next bottle–or jar, as it turned out. I poked around health sections of the grocery and big-box stores, and I read a dizzying number of claims on EWG’s Skin Deep database, and Good Guide‘s too.  In the end I felt overwhelmed with information so I decided I would go for a brand that complies with the EU Cosmetics Directive, which is known as stricter than U.S. laws regarding cosmetics.  That is, unless you believe this guy, whose post I’m linking to because it throws a healthy dose of contrariness into the whole cosmetic safety argument.  Anyway, this is what I bought:

Avalon Organics Vitamin C cream closed

I don’t want to make enemies here, but it smells almost exactly like the sample of a $40 cream one of my family members sells from a home business.  It cost $16 instead of forty, and so far I can’t tell a difference between it and its pricier competitor….

Avalon Organics Vitamin C cream open

My concern about makeup started me thinking more about what’s in other products I use.  I was talking about it with my friend Lindsey a few months ago, and she enthusiastically informed me that a girl can make her own household cleaners which are a.) much safer than the who-knows-what I’d been buying and b.) much less expensive!  Oh, and c.) equally effective.  I don’t think I could have bid adieu to my 409 unless these home brews got the work done!

homemade cleaning supplies in spray and squirt bottles

Lindsey and I had a little kitchen alchemy morning at her house.  Then I came home and looked for things to clean.  (Why, hello, top-of-the-fridge!  Haven’t seen you in a while….)  Scrubbing the stovetop was never so fun before!  I used a concoction called Earth Paste that looks like white frosting.  I was hypnotized while I stirred it; I just wanted to stir forever because the texture was beautiful.  Then I slapped some of it on the stove and it cleaned things right up, smelling of lavender instead of some nose-burning chemical.

I want to go on record as saying that I am married to a man with a chemistry degree and I don’t have a categorical problem with chemicals.  People freak out about them way too much, even though some chemicals are natural.  “Sodium tetraborate” is the scary name for the benign substance we call borax, and we put sodium bicarbonate in our baked goods–we call it baking soda.  I think people are panicking when they insist they won’t eat anything with “ingredients a second grader couldn’t pronounce.”  Think, people, think!  Sometimes ingredient lists use the “code name,” the one you don’t recognize and perhaps can’t pronounce.  But the actual ingredient could be harmless and even–gasp!–safe to eat.

That said, there are other types of chemicals that give me a headache while I’m trying to clean my home, and that is where I decided I’m a-okay drawing a line.  If I don’t need a harsh substance to accomplish a task, why use one?   I jumped in and tried making liquid soap from bar soap.  I won’t lie to you; the texture is weird.  More on that soon.

soap making  supplies

I gathered the supplies this blog said I needed–and some I figured I should add.  I had a spatula, a cheese grater, measuring cups and spoons, a bar of soap, and a foam-making soap pump I planned to reuse since the storebought soap was gone.

soap making  grating bar

I grated the bar, which looked suspiciously (and deliciously) like shredded cheese….

soap making  stovetop

…mixed it with water and glycerin, and let it melt together for a while.  Then I had to leave it overnight.  Even though leaving things alone is not my strong point, I managed.  In the morning I poured some soap into the pump and you can see how it came out.

soap making  first squirt

Kind of watery, not at all foamy.  Before I put it in the pump it was textured, as Robyn of The Farmer’s Nest also admits, remarkably like snot.  As in, it forms enormous clingy strings from one container to the other when you pour, and sometimes a whole glop will want to fall together.  It’s frustrating.  It’s a little disgusting.  But it was cheap.

redo gallon

Something like five bucks for this jug and more.  Neither Lovey nor I like it as hand soap, though we’ve been using it.  But after hating it for a while and wishing I didn’t have a dumb stockpile of soap that was preventing us from buying soap we’d actually enjoy (or at least not mind) using, I thought of something.  I can use this soap in my cleaning products!  I won’t have to feel it; it will mildly lavender-scent everything; and it won’t go to waste.  How about that?  I’ll include a couple recipes for cleaners I use now in my home.

Basic equipment includes:

-measuring cups/spoons

-a mixing bowl–bonus points for one with a pouring spout

-a funnel.  I’m going to be firm that this is an absolute essential.  I winged it with a plastic cup with a hole knifed out of its bottom, but that was a pain and the eighty nine cents I finally paid for a funnel was worth it.

Recipe-Required All-Purpose Sprayall-purpose spray

In a 16-oz spray bottle, combine 2 Tbs white vinegar with 1 tsp borax. Mix.

Fill bottle with very hot purified or distilled water. Shake to dissolve borax.

Add 1/4 c. liquid soap OR 1/8 c. detergent.

Add several drops of essential oil if you want a scented spray.

I use this to clean countertops and the toilet, to wipe down the sink and faucets, and to clean light stovetop soil.

50-50 vinegar and waterNo-Brainer All-Purpose Spray

This one is so simple it’s ridiculous. Half water, half vinegar; done! You can scent it with essential oil if you want to.

I use this on sinks, counters, and fresh produce.  It dawned on me recently that fruits like melon aren’t guaranteed safe because of their thick rind: when I touch a knife to the outside and drag it through the inside, I’m bringing all those “blocked out” contaminants in!  So now before I cut into cantaloupe or honeydew, I spritz it all over with this spray and let it sit in the sink for a while.  Then I rinse and cut–and eat!

Earth Scrub (the cousin of Earth Paste mentioned above)earth scrub

1 2/3 c. baking soda

1/2 c. liquid soap (NOT detergent!)


1/2 c. distilled or purified water

2 Tbs. white vinegar


Thin with water if needed.

I use this on the tub and sometimes on the sinks.  I keep it in a bottle I found in the kitchen aisle of Walmart–it’s shaped like a classic ketchup/mustard bottle but it’s not one of those obnoxious ketchup/mustard colors.  To turn it into Earth Paste, you’ll want an airtight jar.  Everything in the recipe remains the same except the water: use only 2 Tbs. for paste.

I tried writing the recipes with Sharpies on the outside of my bottles but it’s already rubbing off.  So I made labels that I will attach as soon as I find my clear tape.  It disappeared when I moved the Christmas decorations and gift-wrapping stuff to a different closet, but I know it’s here somewhere!

labels with cleaner recipes and usage

For more recipes look for the book Clean House, Clean Planet by Karen Logan, or just click over to her blog.  One last thing: if you’re interested in switching to homemade cleaners, don’t waste money on small boxes of supplies.  Buy a jug of vinegar (mine is a gallon) and a big box of baking soda (mine is four pounds).  Hubby will attest to what a happy girl I am with plenty of my favorite cleaning ingredients on hand!  He used to laugh at me because my stock answer to, “How do I clean___?” was always, “Try baking soda and vinegar!”  Now a few more components are in play, but these standbys are proving their worth.  I think Hubby agrees.

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