Natural Products for Cleaning Your Home

Simple combinations of lemon, salt, baking soda, and vinegar have hundreds of uses around your home, contain no harsh chemicals, and you’ll be stunned at the amount of space you save when these become your primary cleaners.

Household Hints cover

“Household Hints: Amazing Uses for Salt, Lemon, Vinegar, and Baking Soda” by Heather Rodino

Photo courtesy of Wellfleet Press

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Specialized products exist for every imaginable housekeeping task and beauty need. While it is undoubtedly convenient to have this many choices, consider the amount of money you spend on various products, the space in your cabinets that’s fit to burst, and the harsh chemicals these products contain. In the meantime, there are natural ingredients already sitting in your kitchen that can clean with the same results! Abrasive salt can cut through grease and fight mildew. Lemons can gently bleach stains and prevent mold. Vinegar can tone your skin and replace your fabric softener. And baking soda can eliminate odors in carpet, stuffed animals, and even mattresses. Household Hints (Wellfleet Press, 2015) by Heather Rodino addresses these four alternatives and teaches readers uses for other common household products like rubbing alcohol, tea tree oil, and hydrogen peroxide. Organized by room of the house, this book is full of countless tips and tricks for safe, time-tested methods that take care of every square inch of your home, from standards like the bathroom and basement to yards, cars, and even pets! Learn how to be greener and more frugal by simplifying your housekeeping.

You can purchase this book form the Mother Earth Living store: Household Hints.

The first and largest chapter of this book is on cleaning. As cleaning agents, baking soda, vinegar, salt, and lemon are virtually unparalleled, and there’s little these four mighty — and frugal — superheroes can’t do either alone or in tandem. For example, vinegar can leave your drinking glasses spot-free, clean windows, clear a clogged drain, replace your fabric softener, and clean your tile floor or your toilet. Baking soda can deodorize laundry, soften water, act as a scouring powder, get your oven clean, and freshen up your mattress. Lemons can clean your cheese grater, gently bleach stains, cut through tough grease, and fight mold in the dehumidifier. Salt is great as an abrasive, but it can also fight mildew, clean cutting boards, and even eliminate some stains, such as wine.

There are dozens of tips for the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, laundry room, basement, and more. You’ll also discover natural solutions for tackling floors, windows, and walls, as well as simple suggestions for keeping furniture and appliances in top shape. As an added bonus, you’ll probably be surprised at how easy it is to pare down the number of cleaning products — and by extension the number of chemicals — you use in the home because of the versatility of these ingredients. And finally, you’ll discover some clever (non-cleaning) household tricks and repairs.

A few words of common sense are in order though. Always use caution. If you’re not certain a tip is appropriate for your particular surface or fabric, try a patch test first on an inconspicuous area, or check the manufacturer’s recommendations. While baking soda, vinegar, salt, and lemon are fairly gentle as cleaning products go, they’re not ideal for every circumstance. For instance, acids like lemon and vinegar are generally no-nos on surfaces like granite and marble and fine fabrics like rayon and silk. And baking soda is not a good match for aluminum.

While cleaning may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, there is something incredibly satisfying about being able to do it in a way that minimizes your environmental impact, is safer for you and your family, saves money — and most importantly — works!

Washing Dishes/Dishwasher

Brighten Glassware
To keep your glasses from developing a whitish cast due to mineral buildup, give them an occasional vinegar bath. Fill the sink with soapy dishwater — as you would normally to wash dishes — then add in a good glug of vinegar. Wash, rinse, and dry your glasses, and you’ll keep them looking new. For glasses that are already covered with buildup, soak them in straight vinegar, then wash and dry.

No More Spotty Glasses
If you have a dishwasher, simply add a few tablespoons of vinegar to the rinse cycle to avoid unsightly water spots on your glasses.

Dishwasher Cleaner
To clean your dishwasher, run it empty on a hot cycle with a cup or two of vinegar. It will help eliminate mineral deposits and other buildup like grease and detergent residue.
Try This Twist: Similarly, you can run your dishwasher empty with a cup of baking soda to help eliminate odors.

Deglaze a Messy Pan
You tried searing chicken breasts in your favorite stainless steel skillet, but you flipped the poultry before it was ready, leaving a mess of stuck-on food that later burned. What to do? This cleaning technique takes its cue from the process of making a pan sauce, which naturally loosens food from a pan—often with wine or another deglazing agent. In this case, you’ll use diluted vinegar. After you remove the food, and while the pan is still very hot, slowly pour in a 50:50 vinegar-water mixture to the bottom of the pan. It will bubble away (if it doesn’t, return the pan to low heat). With a wooden spoon, start to scrape the bottom of the pan. You’ll see that you’ll easily be able to dislodge the food. After the pan cools, dump the vinegar mixture and wash as usual.
Bonus tip: You can even try this tip with plain water.

Simplify Soaking
Caked-on food stuck to your pans? Pour in some vinegar and let the pan soak for twenty to thirty minutes then wash it in hot soapy water.

Dish Soap Booster
Eco-friendly dish detergents are great, but if you find that yours just doesn’t cut grease like the conventional stuff, then add a little baking soda. Just a few tablespoons of baking soda in soapy dishwater can help dissolve grease.

Scour a Pan With Baking Soda
If you’ve got a really greasy, messy pan, sprinkle it liberally with baking soda before washing. Let it sit for a few minutes, and then go at it with a sponge and some elbow grease. Be sure to use a nonabrasive scrub sponge for delicate surfaces.

Dissolve Pan Grease
If you’re scrubbing and scrubbing a pan or dish, and can’t seem to get rid of an oily film, pour a little vinegar or lemon juice on it to help dissolve the buildup.

Cheese Grater Cleaner
Your homemade pizza was a big hit with the family, but you forgot to wash the cheese grater right after using it, and now the cheese seems impossibly stuck to the surface. If you have an extra half lemon floating around in the fridge, use it to help remove the stuck food. Just rub the pulp side on the grater, and the acid will help dissolve the cheese, so that you can just wash it as usual.

Coffee and Tea Stains on Cups
Coffee and tea stains can make a perfectly clean mug, teacup, or teapot look dirty. Fortunately, you can take your pick when it comes to cleaning methods. Rub the stains away with a sprinkle of baking soda, soak them in a mix of vinegar and water, or scrub them with salt and lemon. Or mix it up and try baking soda and lemon, or baking soda and vinegar. Experiment and see which one works best for your mug.

Baby Bottle Cleaning
Baby bottles can be cleaned with hot soapy water to which you’ve added some vinegar. The vinegar will help the bottle brush dislodge any leftover milk and it will also inhibit bacteria growth, so you can make sure the bottle is completely clean.

Eliminate Lingering Odors in Plastic
If you use plastic containers to store leftovers, you may notice that food odors tend to linger in the plastic. To eliminate them, sprinkle the containers with baking soda and fill with warm water and allow to soak for an hour or two.

For Stained Plastic
Foods like tomato, and dishes that contain certain spices like turmeric, can stain plastic containers. Baking soda solutions like the one above can sometimes help, but you can also try rubbing the plastic with the cut side of a lemon, then leaving the container for an hour or so before washing.

Lipstick Marks on Glasses
Long-wearing lipsticks are great for keeping your lips looking fabulous, but not so great to try to clean from the rims of glassware. To remove it, make a paste of kosher salt and a few drops of water. Apply with a sponge and rub until the mark dissolves.


Reprinted with permission from by Heather Rodino, published by Wellfleet Press, 2015. Buy this book from our store: Household Hints.