Archive: Homemade cleaning concoctions put to the test

Posted By on March 24, 2012

polishwindowwithnewspaperWe have a few homemade cleaners around our house, but are too quick to buy others at the store without thinking about them. Here are a few greener options that Elizabeth Kwak-Hefferan of Grist that she put to the test. Of course these are organic and earthy for those leaning “hippy,” but nothing wrong with that, although the ingredients may be less familiar to many of my more conservative friends (soaps, tea tree oil, kosher salt, baking soda).

I’m probably sticking to the Walmart Simple Green and my water, alcohol and vinegar-based cleaners and a little newspaper to polish windows … but who knows?

Test 1: All-purpose cleaner (2 cups water + 3 teaspoons Dr. Bronner’s castile soap + 1 teaspoon tea tree oil)

I began with this twist on the ever-popular all-purpose spray. The tea tree oil gives this potion a natural antibacterial kick, while the mild castile soap lends cleaning prowess and a delightful peppermint scent to help combat the tea tree stank (reminiscent of grandmas’ closets everywhere).

First up: the kitchen table. Armed with a moistened, old cotton sock as a rag, I sprayed my cleaner all over the table surface and went to work. A few wipes dissolved mystery smudges and cat paw prints alike, leaving a pleasant sheen. Encouraged, I moved on to a kitchen counter and the sink itself. In both cases, grime came off with a minimum of effort. Even better: The lingering smell (which, relax, isn’t really all that bad) faded away after a few hours.

Verdict: Excellent. The spray shall assume the throne of the master cleanser in this house.

Test 2: Counter scrub (kosher salt + vinegar)

I approached this sour mixture with a bit more trepidation, but still applied it to a section of the counter with the scrubby side of a sponge. Vinegar is one of the most popular kids at the homemade-ingredient party, popping up in all kinds of recipes for its acidic, mold-killing nature and instant ability to transport us back to Easter egg-dyeing sessions of youth. (The salt adds an abrasive edge.)

A thorough wipedown with this stuff left the counter looking clean enough, but I clearly didn’t rinse it well enough afterwards. That’s a gentle way to say, “turned the counter into a salt lick,” which is what I actually did.

Verdict: Pass. No better than the all-purpose spray, but with gritty side effects.

Test 3: Baking soda scrub (baking soda + enough water to form a wet paste)

Now here’s a challenge: Clean the crusties from my neglected stovetop. As baking soda is the prom king to vinegar’s prom queen, beloved for its hardcore scouring abilities and anti-fungal nature, I figured the big BS would be up to the job.

Turns out I was right — sort of. When spread across the main stovetop, scrubbed off, and rinsed, this paste left the metal practically gleaming. But the removable trays under the burners proved a tougher opponent. Some of the blackened crud did loosen with vigorous scrubbing, but not nearly all. I was left with an arm cramp and cleaner — but not spotless — trays. Even an overnight soak in the paste couldn’t finish the task.

Verdict: Good. This stuff works like a charm on less-than-dire cleaning problems.

Test 4: Bathroom scrub No. 1 (lemon juice soak, then ½ cup baking soda + enough castile soap to form a toothpaste-like mixture)

Ah, the bathroom, the corner of our homes most plagued by dirty, stinky, mildewy offenses. If DIY products were ever to earn their place as a viable option, they’d have to prove equal to the tasks in here. Namely: a troublesome orange streak that had formed between my shower tiles.

I prepped the area by energetically rubbing half a lemon into the streak — as all good DIY-ers know, lemon juice is famed for its stain-reducing citric acid. After 10 minutes or so, I returned with a scrub brush and the pepperminty paste. It was a bit tricky to get the paste to stick to the wall, but once I used my fingers to jam it in the crevices between tiles, every bit of the orange grime lifted right off.

Verdict: Excellent (and lemony fresh).

Test 5: Bathroom scrub No. 2 (baking soda + kosher salt + water)

I took this final salve to the tub walls. At first, it didn’t look to be doing much. But after scrubbing and rinsing off the salty residue, the water flowed brown. Eeew. Compared to the freshly-cleaned section, the rest of the tub was suddenly a pit of infamy. I gave the whole thing a second going-over, just to be safe, until the rinse came away clear.

Verdict: Excellent. Gentle yet abrasive, with a pleasant non-odor.



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  1. lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful: desultory conversation.
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