A Guide to Homemade Cleaners


by Kim Tilley, Editor of Frugal Moms


 "New! Improved! With the cleaning action of bleach and the scent of baked apples, it's...

Ah, the miracle cleaners! If you look at the coupon sections of your Sunday paper, cleaners are big business. There are always plenty of coupons for cleaners, all claiming to miraculously clean everything. We often see products advertised now that brag about how they have the scent of a rose and the "added power of baking soda" (or other basic cleaners, like bleach). Why not just use the baking soda? Why buy something expensive, over hyped and prepackaged when the baking soda is sitting in your kitchen cabinet? 


Take a look at your favorite cleaners-what's in them that makes them really work well? My favorite cleaner is Clorox Cleanup with Bleach. Why am I not just trying the bleach by itself? Why do I still feel like I need the miracle cleaner? Sometimes it is hard to change when we are conditioned by commercials. They tell us we need these miracle cleaners that are strong enough to kill microbes on Mars but still have a "lemony fresh scent." I think the key to any change is to make the transition gradually. In this case, you do that by replacing your store bought cleaners as they run out and ignoring those commercials!


The whole topic of natural cleaners, homemade cleaners and natural homemaking has been the topic of many books. I cannot claim to be an expert, as I too am slowly replacing my commercial cleaners (bought with double coupons and free after rebate!) with homemade cleaners. What I found while researching this article is that there is a ton of information out there! I have listed the websites and books that I know of, I am sure there are tons more!


Here are some homemade solutions and uses for things you may already have in your home. I have tried some of them. Not all of them will work "miraculously", but they will probably get the job done. Please let me know how the homemade cleaners you try work out for you! And be sure to send in your favorite homemade formulas that I may have left out.


Some safety tips: 

  1. NEVER MIX BLEACH AND AMMONIA TOGETHER!! This combination is deadly! Also, never mix products together that contain bleach with products that contain ammonia! This includes dishwasher detergent (contains bleach). I would even go as far as storing them in different places just as a precaution. 
  2. ALWAYS check labels on products before combining ANYTHING! It's not worth making these cleaners if you wind up in the hospital or the morgue, so PLEASE BE CAREFUL!!!!
  3. KEEP ALL CLEANERS AWAY FROM KIDS- even though these are environmentally friendly, they are still not safe for children , so please keep these away from your kids!

General Uses For: 

Ammonia-good grease cutter, wax stripper, and window cleaner. NEVER MIX WITH BLEACH!!!

Bleach-great for whitening anything, removing molds and mildews, and general cleaning. Best used diluted with water. DO NOT MIX BLEACH WITH VINEGAR, TOILET BOWL CLEANER, OR AMMONIA. The combination of bleach with any of these substances produces a toxic gas which can be hazardous. We want to save money without jeopardizing our lives!

Baking Soda- Extremely versatile, baking soda is an all-purpose, non-toxic cleaner. It cleans, deodorizes, scours, polishes and removes stains. There are entire books out about the zillions of uses of baking soda, and the best thing about it is that it's cheap!

Borax:(sodium borate) It deodorizes, removes stains and boosts the cleaning power of soap. It also  prevents mold and odors. Great alternative for those who do not want to use bleach.

Cornstarch: cleans and deodorizes carpets and rugs, you can use this to replace expensive "baby powders" also.  

Ketchup-great for cleaning copper 

Lemon juice-great for whitening items, but vinegar is cheaper . It also cuts through grease and stains on aluminum and porcelain 

Pure Soap: cleans just about anything and is mild  

Salt: believe it or not, regular table salt makes an abrasive, but gentle, scouring powder. Who would have known? 

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

White Vinegar -very cheap and versatile, great for whitening, also fantastic for cleaning hard surfaces, windows and shining up metal surfaces. Removes mildew, stains, grease and wax buildup. This is another natural cleaner that whole books have been written on!


Some helpful hints: 

1.Make your cleaners ahead of time.

2. Organize them according to location they are used in, keeping out of reach of children. I like to keep all kitchen items under the (baby-proofed) sink, in a caddy (recycle a detergent box or milk jug for this) so they are handy. I make extras of items for the upstairs and downstairs bathrooms. 

3.Buy your ingredients in bulk. This way, you save money twice! You save by buying in bulk (on sale of course!) and you save because you have what you need on hand, avoiding a trip to the store! 

4.Store your ingredients in reusable airtight containers. I like to purchase spray bottles in bulk for this purpose, since it is not safe to reuse bottles that had commercial cleaners or chemicals in them. Milk jugs are great to use too. 

5.Make large batches of several cleaners and store them in recycled milk jugs. 

6.Wear rubber gloves when you clean to avoid skin irritation (and chapping in my case!) 

 All Purpose Cleaner (From Rodale's Book of Practical Formulas)

2 cups rubbing alcohol (70% isoprophyl)


1 tablespoon mild dishwashing liquid (for handwashing dishes, NOT dishwasher detergent-it contains bleach!)


1 tablespoon ammonia


2 quarts water

Stir all ingredients together in a bowl. Fill a CLEAN spray bottle (not recycled one) with cleaner and store the rest tightly sealed in a large bottle. Use with a cloth or sponge to clean the bathroom fixtures, kitchen fixtures, appliances, chrome, plastic countertops, and painted surfaces. Rinse with a clean cloth or sponge after cleaning. 


All purpose quick shiner

This shiner is mild and safe to use for all surfaces.

1 1/4 cups white vinegar


1 1/4 cups water


22 ounce spray bottle

Pour vinegar and water into the spray bottle. Shake gently to combine. To use, spray on and wipe off. 


All purpose Window and Glass Cleaner

Vinegar cuts grease and leaves windows sparkling clean. Best of all, this mixture is absolutely safe, It's the best choice if you have young children in the house. 

1/4 cup white vinegar


1 quart of water

Pour vinegar and water into a bowl or container, or mix the ingredients in a spray bottle. Clean windows directly with a sponge dipped in the bowl of cleaner or spray on and wipe clean. I have heard that you can use newspaper to clean windows quite well, I have always used old cloth diapers.


Sink Cleaner

Replace Comet and other abrasives with this homemade one. Combine baking soda and salt (I am guessing in equal amounts) to scrub stainless steel. 


Oven Cleaner

1/4 cup ammonia


2 cups of warm water

Pour ammonia and warm water in a baking dish and leave in a warm oven overnight. This will loosen the grime in the over, which you can then clean with an ammonia-based cleaner or soap and water. You can also scour with baking soda.


Cleaning Silver

Don't buy one of those metal plates that you put in warm water to clean silver. This is the same thing! I found this trick in "Make it Last" by Earl Proulx, one of my favorite books on maintaining your home and possessions. I have done this on some silver plated forks and spoons that I got very cheap at a yardsale and they came out great! This trick works like magic and kids love it. 

Aluminum foil


Baking soda




Very hot water (can be boiling if you like)

Combine the above ingredients in a clean kitchen sink. Put your tarnished silver and silver-plated items into the sink and let set for a few minutes. Watch as the tarnish disappears from the silverware and reappears on the foil. This is a natural chemical reaction, and a great way to teach the kids some science!

Note: This trick works so well that it will clean out the nooks and crannies that give some silverware the "aged" look, so you may only want to do this occasionally. 


More Formulas

These formulas come from an old issue of Organic Gardening. They were actually tested and compared against commercial brands. We like that! See how they performed:  


Multipurpose Cleaner 

Rating: Excellent. Performed as well as top-of-the-line commercial products.
Uses: Many. Tile and linoleum floors, formica counter-tops, appliances, etc. 
Hazards: Read about ammonia above.
Cost: About 40 cents a gallon (not including water) 1/4 cup baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) 


1 cup household ammonia 


1/2 cup white vinegar 


1 gallon warm water 

Mix ingredients and store in tightly-capped container. 


Old-fashioned glass and window cleaner

brP>Rating: Very good. The best commercial preparations left the window only a little shinier. Even though the cornstarch makes the mixture slightly gritty, it didn't scratch the glass. Poisonous.
Hazards: Ammonia is poisonous, so keep the mixture away from children and arrange good ventilation. Wear gloves because it's a heavy-duty cleaner and rough on the hands.
Cost: About  20cents a gallon (not including water)  2 tablespoons cornstarch 


1/2 cup household ammonia 


1/2 cup white vinegar 


1 gallon warm water 

Mix the ingredients in a bucket and use to scrub windows. Try not to clean glass the sun is shining on  because it will dry too fast and streak. 


Vinegar window cleaner

Rating: Very good. We'd been warned that plain water could do as well as a vinegar solution, but our  subjective impression was that the vinegar made it a lot easier to get rid of smudges. In theory, vinegar is supposed to remove hard-water spots. 

Hazards: May be hard on your hands, but safe enough to drink. 
Cost: About 7 cents a gallon (not including water) 1/2 cup white vinegar 


1 gallon warm water 

Just mix and scrub. 


Dilute bleach 

Rating: Very good. In the ballpark with commercial cleaners, but few name-brand cleaners got rid of smudges with less scrubbing.
Hazards: Bleach is poisonous, so keep it away from children. It will bleach anything it touches, so use only on colorfast items. Check the solution first on a hidden spot. 
Uses: Same as above. 
Cost: Less than a penny a gallon (not including water) 

    2 tablespoons or 1/8 cup liquid bleach 
    1 quart cold water 

Mix in a scrub bucket. Moisten an old cloth with the solution and wipe onto surface. Let stand about 2 minutes and rinse well. 


Dilute ammonia 

Rating: Very good. A few of the best commercial cleaners outperformed it. 
Hazards: Ammonia is poisonous and its fumes sting the eyes and throat. Wear gloves. Don't mix with  chlorine bleach because the combination produces poisonous gases called chloramines. 
Uses: Same as above. 
Cost: About 8 cents a gallon (not including water) 

    1/2 cup household ammonia 
    1 gallon warm water. 

Mix in a pail and use to scrub. 


Metal polish 

Rating: Good. Does the job but you need to scrub more than you would with a commercial cleaner. 
Hazards: Safe enough to eat, and it's not gritty enough to scratch the metal. 
Uses: Suitable for brass, bronze, copper and pewter. Not for silver, silver plate and jewelry. 
Cost: Less than a penny for about 3 tablespoons of paste (not including water) 

    1 tablespoon flour 
    1 tablespoon salt 
    I tablespoon white vinegar 

Combine salt and flour in small bowl and stir until blended. Add the vinegar and mix into a thick paste.  Smear on the paste with a damp sponge or cloth and rub gently. Let the polish dry for about an hour.  Rinse well with warm water and buff dry with a soft cloth. 


Wall cleaner 

Rating: Very good. A few commercial preparations required less scrubbing. 
Hazards: See ammonia above. Don't let children eat the borax either. 
Uses: For painted walls, not wall-paper 
Cost: About 6 cents; for 2 quarts (not including water) 

    2 ounces borax 
    I teaspoon ammonia 
    2 quarts water 

    Dissolve the borax and ammonia in a bucketful of water. Scrub a really dirty wall from the bottom up. if  you scrub from the top down, the dirty water will run down over the dry, soiled wall leaving  hard-to-remove streaks. Oddly enough, it won't stain wet, clean walls. For textured walls, old socks are 
    good scrubbers because they won't tear off in little pieces as easily as a sponge might. To keep water from dribbling down your arm, fasten an old washcloth around your wrist with a rubber hand. 

Copyright 1999-2000 Frugal-Moms.com Inc.

About the Author

Kim Tilley

, a tightwad at heart, is the mother of three active boys and the founding editor of


. Frugal by force and later by choice, Kim cut her income by 60% to stay at home with her children and discovered that anyone can live better for less. Her work has appeared in print publications such as The Tightwad Gazette. In her free time, she entertains herself by chasing kids and finding ways to create something from nothing!



Home cleaning tips

Rugs or carpet should be cleaned after a period interval of 3-4 days by either steaming or vacuuming. It is advisable not to clean with vinegar or any detergent powder. Every woman is really fond of mommy tips. Since it is easy to follow.

Cowhide patchwork rugs

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