When the Cleaning Gets Tough

For particularly tough cleaning jobs, skip the abrasive chemicals and use simple ingredients to make these natural cleaners.

putting away dishes

Creating a clean home doesn't have to require harsh chemicals, even for tough stains.

Photo by iStock/kazoka30

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For those of us inclined to maintain our homes without chemical toxins, wiping down countertops and door handles with vinegar and scenting our homes with essential oils is probably a given. But maintaining our “all-natural” vibe gets a little more challenging when we’re dealing with more tenacious foes (water stains, shower scum and clogged drains come to mind). Before you panic and turn to harsh chemicals (“just this once!”), try these hard-hitting strategies cleaning experts recommend.


Bucket-less Mopping

One of the toughest cleaning jobs in our homes is washing the floor—especially kitchen floors that get a lot of traffic. To clean a hard floor correctly, it’s really best done on hands and knees, but who has time for that? Instead, I’ve developed a technique called “bucket-less mopping.” All you need to do is start by vacuuming the entire floor with a soft-bristle floor attachment to pick up all the large hair and dirt. Then use a microfiber mop with removable microfiber mop covers and a spray bottle filled with a DIY cleaner (see recipe below), and you can mop the floor in a few minutes without having to scrub on your hands and knees.

Start by wetting the microfiber covers in the sink. Wring out the first cover and place on the microfiber mop. Start at one end of the kitchen and spray cleaner in a 4-by-4-foot area, then wipe with the damp mop. The microfiber and cleaner combine to eliminate grime, leaving a small amount of water, which dries quickly. Continue to move through the kitchen, spraying and wiping. Replace the dirty cover with a clean one as necessary. The floor will come out spotless.

(Watch my “how to” video)

DIY Tile Floor Cleaner

• 1 cup boiling water
• 1/4 cup borax
• 1 cup white vinegar
• 10 drops essential oil of your choice, for scent

Bring water to a boil, then add borax and dissolve completely. Add white vinegar and essential oil to mixture. Place in a 16-ounce spray bottle.

Becky Rapinchuk is the owner of Clean Mama, LLC and cleanmama.net, and the author of Simply Clean (2017) and The Organically Clean Home (2014).


Quick Fix: Carpet Stains

For Greasy Spots: Sprinkle cornstarch over the stain and leave for an hour, then vacuum

For Difficult Stains: Blot with a mixture of vinegar and soapy water, then vacuum.

Marjorie Harris


Sparkling Stainless

Stainless steel appliances look beautiful when they’re clean, but fingerprints and smudges show up quickly. To clean them quickly and naturally, simply apply white vinegar to a microfiber cloth and wipe.

Wipe your cloth in the direction of the grain of the stainless steel; dirt can get trapped in the grain, and wiping with the grain cleans better, and makes stainless steel appear much shinier. Quickly buff away any residue, before it dries. Look for a microfiber cloth designed to be used on stainless steel for the best results (find one at Clean Mama).

Want to add a little extra shine? Put a drop of olive oil on a soft cotton cloth and buff to a shine. The olive oil will help deter fingerprints and keep your appliances looking clean a little bit longer.

Becky Rapinchuk


Water-Stain Warrior

Unsightly stains often occur around porcelain bathroom and kitchen drains and fixtures, especially in homes with well water. These are caused by a buildup of naturally occurring minerals in groundwater, such as calcium, manganese and iron. An abundance of calcium leads to scale, the kind typically seen in tea kettles. High levels of iron create reddish-brown stains, while excess manganese causes blackish stains. These stains are difficult to remove with normal cleaning, but the addition of citrus and a natural, gentle abrasive will go a long way to restore stained porcelain. The following is more of a method than a cleaner recipe, so feel free to adjust according to what you have on hand.

The citrus component to this rescue formula can consist of lemon juice (concentrate is okay), or halved lemons or limes. If using juice, mix with enough baking soda and table salt to make a paste. If using fresh fruit, sprinkle baking soda and salt directly on the cut side. Scrub that stain! Rinse with warm water. Tips: A second application might be needed. For really tough stains, use the paste method and leave on the stain for several hours or overnight. The addition of a few drops of sweet orange essential oil to the paste will boost whitening power.

Karyn Maier is a freelance writer, editor and author who specializes in complementary and alternative medicine. She is the author of several books, including The Naturally Clean Home and the Old-Time Heartland Country Wisdom series.


Shower Shortcut

Another tough job is cleaning the shower — and unfortunately people think the only way to really clean it is with caustic cleaning products.

Here are a few simple things you can do to help keep soap scum out of your shower.

• Use a squeegee on the walls and floor after every shower. Soap scum is soap and water that dry together on shower walls. If you squeegee them off before they dry, you’ll have a clean shower every day.

• Wipe down the walls and floor with a microfiber cloth if a squeegee is too much work.

• Mix up a daily shower spray (recipe below) and spray the walls and floor of the shower to remove scum quickly.

DIY Shower Recipe

• 1 cup white vinegar
• 1 cup rubbing alcohol
• 8 drops tea tree oil
• 8 drops essential oil of your choice, for scent

Combine ingredients, pour in a spray bottle, and spray walls and floor of shower after each use.

Leslie Reichert is a green cleaning coach working to change the world “one spray bottle at a time.” She is a national lecturer; a frequent expert on The Dr. Oz Show and Martha Stewart Living Radio; and is the author of The Joy Of Green Cleaning: A Handbook for DIY Cleaners


Effective Enzymes

When I heard about a DIY enzyme cleaner, I was intrigued. I’d heard some great things about cleaning with enzymes. In fact, a few months earlier we’d had to call a plumber to deal with clogged pipes that caused a minor flood. After he took care of the problem, the plumber gave us a bottle of enzyme cleaner to pour down the drains to keep them clear, and we’ve been clog-free since.

The idea of making my own enzyme cleaner was appealing for several reasons: It’s natural, environmentally friendly and nontoxic; it’s made from kitchen scraps; and it’s two cleaners in one, a liquid spray plus a powerful baking soda scrub. And last but not least, it’s incredibly effective and useful for applications all over the house. The baking soda and citrus enzyme combination not only makes sinks, bathtubs and surfaces clean as a whistle, it smells so clean and fresh at the same time. The enzyme scrub and liquid cleaner this recipe produces can be used in myriad ways. Here are some examples:

• A multipurpose cleaner (add 1/2 cup of enzyme cleaner to 1 liter of water and mix)

• For dishes and laundry (use 1/4 cup of enzyme in the machine)

• For washing bathrooms and toilets (1 part enzyme to 10 parts water)

• For removing stubborn stains and odors from colored fabrics and floors (use undiluted)

• To clean vegetables and fruits (1 part enzyme to 10 parts water)

• To clear blockages in kitchen sinks and drains (use undiluted)

• As a natural insect repellent for ants and cockroaches (use undiluted)

• For mopping floors (1 part enzyme to 20 parts water)

• As plant fertilizer (use 1 part enzyme to 20 parts water, or use leftover mop water)

• As a skin-care product, e.g. facial cleanser or toner (1 part enzyme to 2 parts water)

• To wash cars—cars will look as if they have just been polished! (1 part enzyme to 20 parts water)

• To clean a dirty kitchen sink (enzyme scrub)

• To clean the oven (enzyme scrub)

• To clean exterior house siding (enzyme scrub)

• To eliminate bathtub rings (enzyme scrub)

Citrus Enzyme Cleaner

• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 2-liter plastic bottle
• 2 cups lemon and/or orange scraps
• 1 teaspoon yeast
• 1 liter water

1. Put brown sugar into plastic bottle. I used a straw to push the sugar through a funnel.

2. Cut lemon and orange scraps small enough to fit through the mouth of the bottle. Put them in the bottle and then add the yeast.

3. Add 1 liter of tap water to the bottle, screw on the cap and dissolve sugar by shaking the bottle for about 30 seconds. Loosen the bottle cap. Write the date on the bottle.

4. Set the bottle in a place out of direct light and away from heat. For the next couple of weeks, shake the bottle once a day, making sure to leave the cap loose to avoid gas build-up (i.e. explosions!) from the fermentation process. Allow to ferment for two weeks.

5. When cleaner is ready, strain liquid enzyme cleaner into a bowl and set it aside.

6. To make your scrub, take the pulpy stuff left over after straining, throw it in a blender or food processor, and pulse until slushy.

7. Next, add baking soda and continue to pulse until it forms a thick paste. I used about 1-1/2 cups of baking soda, but the amount will depend on how much slush you start with. Add about 1/2 cup at a time until it’s a good consistency.

8. Put the scrub in a lidded container and the liquid in a spray bottle, label the containers, and start cleaning!

Jill Nystul is the owner of the successful website One Good Thing by Jillee, which offers tips on using essential oils, nontoxic cleaning, craft projects, recipes and more. She is the author of One Good Life, published by Putnam Books, a division of Penguin Random House.


Wine Stains

We always have a large bag of rough sea salt or kosher salt near the table when the family gathers, as we can be sloppy with the red wine. As soon as something spills, make a small mound of salt over the whole stain. Leave it until morning, then shake it off. Wash in cold water with Forever New. The method is to soak in cold water with a capful of soap for three minutes and then proceed to wash in the machine as usual. Since I discovered Forever New, I have not sent anything to the dry cleaners. I always carry it with me when I travel. It works with hot and cold water.

Note: Forever New is a Canadian product; it is sold under the name Fashion Care in the U.S.

Marjorie Harris is the gardening columnist for The Globe and Mail; she is a plant and garden design consultant living in Toronto. To learn more about her, or order one of her many books, visit marjorieharris.com