Sierra Magazine

Kindly Accept Substitutes

Recipes for cheaper, non-toxic cleaners

By Tracy Baxter

Manufacturers are well aware of a strong consumer preference for ecologically benign household items, but if you've ever purchased a bottle of "clear" detergent with a label touting a drop of "real lemon juice" as an ingredient, you've fallen victim to greenwashing. The contents of the bottle were largely unchanged from the old formula, but the misleading packaging left you with an impression of wholesomeness. You can avoid being taken in by this scam by making your own cleaning products, using borax (a mineral that deodorizes and disinfects), soap (made from animal or vegetable fat and alkali, not detergent, which is petroleum-derived), baking soda, and vinegar. As the manufacturers of cleaning powders and potions are not required to disclose the exact ingredients of their goods on the labels, concocting your own homemade alternatives is the surest way to reduce the number of toxics you bring into your home. The substitutes will do the job, and be far better for you and the environment. Cheaper, too.

Dissolve one teaspoon liquid soap or borax in a quart of warm water; store in a spray bottle. For tougher jobs, use one-half cup borax, one-half teaspoon liquid soap, and a splash of vinegar (a superb grease-cutter) in two gallons of warm water.

Soap and hot water (!) take care of common kitchen bacteria adequately; a solution of one-half cup borax to one gallon of hot water makes for a stronger disinfectant.

Use table salt, baking soda, or a soap-and-feldspar product like Bon Ami.

Pour a cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by one-half cup of vinegar and cover the drain tightly for one minute. Rinse with hot water. Or mix one-half cup baking soda with the same amount of salt and pour down the drain, followed by a quart of boiling water. Let stand for several hours, then rinse with hot water.

Add one-quarter cup baking soda or one cup vinegar to the final rinse cycle of your wash.

Two teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in one pint of cold water makes a fine substitute for the aerosol. Store in a spray bottle and shake well before each use.

Mix one teaspoon lemon juice with two teaspoons vegetable oil. Apply with a clean, dry cloth.

Add one-half cup ammonia to one gallon of hot water for baked-on dirt. Otherwise, use a scouring pad with washing soda (sodium carbonate) and plenty of elbow grease.

Caulk cracks around baseboards, sinks, pipes, and any other points of entry. Lightly dust borax in cracks and crevices.

Wash your pet with warm soapy water and then groom it with a flea comb. To get rid of fleas in your home, vacuum daily for two weeks, freezing the vacuum bags after each use. Or steam clean rugs and upholstery.

(This article was originally published in the March/April 1995 issue of Sierra.)

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