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You Don't Need Borax: Simple, Natural Nontoxic Cleaning Ingredients

2/21/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: natural cleaners, green cleaners, Environmental Working Group, borax, lemon, salt, vinegar, tea tree oil, baking soda

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailFollowing the Environmental Working Group’s announcement last week that borax can cause skin and eye irritation and could disrupt male hormones, I’m looking for ways to clean without the mineral, which was one of my staples. Natural Home’s excellent article, A Fresh Start: Natural Spring Cleaning is full of ideas. These five simple, nontoxic items should easily handle all my cleaning needs.


Lemons are natural disinfectants because of their antibacterial properties. For many, the refreshing citrus smell exemplifies cleanliness.

• Cut a lemon in half and use it to clean wooden chopping boards or to remove stains from countertops. Let the lemon juice sit for a while, then wipe clean. Avoid marble and granite surfaces because the acid can be corrosive. (Try club soda instead.) 

• Dip a cut lemon in coarse salt and scrub copper-bottom pots and pans. Use the same preparation to help dissolve soap and hard water stains in sinks.

• Odors and bacteria can build up over time in your garbage disposal. Place a whole lemon in your garbage disposal and turn it on for a quick, easy way to clean this hard-to-reach area. (Chop it into chunks if your disposal has trouble processing large items).

LaundryLemons are natural bleaching agents that can help brighten white linens and clothing. Add 1/2 cup lemon juice to the rinse cycle to brighten whites and give them a fresh citrus smell.


Good old-fashioned table salt can be used as an abrasive cleaner.

Coarse salt can help remove stains, caked-on food or mildew on stovetops and in bathtubs, or anywhere scratching is not a concern. Mix baking soda with salt to whiten while scrubbing away grime.

KitchenSalt works well on pots and pans with caked-on food. Soak pots and pans with 3 tablespoons salt in a couple inches of water. The mess should come off with ease. Scrubbing cast iron pans with salt cleans the pan without removing the seasoned finish.


Powerful and economical, distilled white vinegar is one of nature’s most versatile cleaners. Its odor can be overwhelming, but the smell dissipates as it dries. If you find the smell is too pungent, try adding lemon juice to neutralize it.

All-PurposeIn a reusable spray bottle, mix a solution of 1 part water to 1 part vinegar for an effective all-purpose cleaner that disinfects and deodorizes. Use this solution to clean countertops, sinks, appliances and floors, but avoid granite or marble because vinegar’s acid can damage them.

Bathroom• The all-purpose vinegar cleaning solution above can remove soap scum and hard water stains, and clean tile grout. To remove mildew, directly apply pure white vinegar and let sit for a minimum of 30 minutes before rinsing with warm water. 

• To get a sparkling, odor-free toilet, pour 1 cup vinegar into the toilet and let it sit for several hours to help deodorize and kill germs. Use a toilet brush to easily remove toilet rings, and flush.

Kitchen• The microwave often becomes a haven for strong smells and hard-to-remove food. Here’s an easy trick: Mix 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar and 1/2 cup water in a microwave-safe bowl and bring the solution to a rolling boil in the microwave. Odors will dissolve, and baked-on food will loosen for easy removal with a damp cloth.

• Finish off the kitchen with a sponge soaked in pure vinegar, which will remove grease from ovens and exhaust fan grids.

LaundryAdd ½ cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle for softer sheets, towels and clothes. 

Tea tree oil 

Australian tea tree oil is well-known for its medicinal purposes, but the antibacterial and antifungal properties of this ancient remedy can also be useful in the household.

In a reusable spray bottle, mix 15 drops of tea tree oil with 1 quart warm water for a multipurpose cleaner. For a more powerful antiseptic spray for areas that need specific attention—such as toilets—use 2 teaspoons of tea tree oil to 2 cups of water.

LaundryTo disinfect heavily soiled laundry such as cloth diapers, add 1 teaspoon of tea tree oil to each load of laundry. This will help prevent bacterial and fungal infections.

Baking soda 

Baking soda dissolves dirt and grease in water. Like vinegar, baking soda has a wide variety of uses.

• To remove scuff marks from the floor, sprinkle with baking soda and wipe clean with a warm, damp cloth. You can also use this multipurpose cleaner to remove odors from carpet. Simply sprinkle baking soda on the floor, wait 10 minutes, and vacuum.

• Baking soda’s mild coarseness is similar to common abrasive cleaners. When mixed with water, baking soda turns into a scouring paste you can use to remove substances from tubs, sinks, countertops and dishes. Mix 1 part water with 3 parts baking soda to scrub away unwanted stains and messes.


• Use baking soda anywhere you need deodorizing action—especially in the refrigerator or cupboards. You can also control garbage-can odors by sprinkling baking soda in the bottom of the can and into each new garbage bag. 

• Sprinkle baking soda on pots, pans and dishes with burnt or caked-on food, add water and soak for a few hours to loosen the food.

LaundryAdd 1/2 cup baking soda to your laundry to help remove dirt and grease.


Lemons are natural disinfectants and infuse your home with a fresh, clean scent. Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison 


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