Carol Egbert: Homemade Cleaners Are Simple and Safe

May means sunlit, yellow-green buds on willow trees, familiar bird songs, spring peepers in the pond and an overwhelming desire to make everything clean.

Recently, I took a slow walk down the cleaning products aisle at the grocery store and found products with labels that promise maximum force, triple power, instant stain removal and ultimate cleaning. Did I want a heavy-duty, commercial, professional or industrial strength cleaner? Was the wisest choice a gel, a cream, a spray, scrubbing bubbles, a cleaning wand, a cleaning pen or a complete cleaning system? What is a complete cleaning system anyhow?

Then there were the “magic” sponges and “miracle” cleaners. Is it ethical to buy Mr. Clean or the Janitor in a drum? Would each need a room of his own? It was confusing! I was tempted to believe that there might be a product that would make everything sparkle with little effort, but after reading labels with long lists of chemicals with unfamiliar names and warnings of danger, I left empty-handed.

I had made a cleaning solution when I was eight. I was a fan of the Mr. Wizard television show and when he cleaned a copper penny with a lemon wedge that had been sprinkled with salt, I couldn’t wait to experiment on our copper kettle. I sprinkled a spoonful of salt onto a lemon half and rubbed the tarnished kettle. In no time, the kettle was transformed from a dull brown to an embarrassing pink. I was hooked. After the kettle, I cleaned the copper bottoms of the saucepans and then all the pennies I could find.

Inspired by that memory, I did a bit of research and learned that sodium bicarbonate, acetic acid, citric acid, sodium chloride, a surfactant and H20 were all I needed to make non-toxic cleaning products. Best of all, I had everything I needed in my kitchen, where those same chemicals are known as baking soda, white vinegar, lemon juice, salt, liquid soap and water.

I still clean copper with lemon and salt, and now I have an assortment of homemade, multi-purpose cleaning supplies. Here’s how I make them:

Spray Cleaner

The simplest cleaning solution is equal parts of white vinegar and water poured into a recycled spray bottle. I use it to clean plastic laminate and granite counters, to remove soap scum from ceramic tile, and to clean mirrors and windows. It is gentle enough to use on hardwood floors.

Powder Cleaner

A recycled sugar shaker filled with baking soda makes an all-purpose cleaner. Used with a damp sponge, baking soda is abrasive enough to remove a bathtub ring, scour a sink, a stainless steel cook top or saucepans. Baking soda, from a sugar shaker, is not a tasty addition to a bowl of cereal or a cup of tea, so all of my homemade cleaning supplies are clearly labeled.

Soft Scrub Paste

I combined liquid soap and baking soda to make a paste with the consistency of applesauce. Used with a sponge and old-fashioned elbow-grease, this paste scrubs and bubbles as it removes cooked-on food from ceramic baking dishes and coffee and tea stains from mugs without scratching delicate glazes.

Furniture Polish

Although it sounds like a recipe for salad dressing, I’ve found that a cloth misted with a light spritz of a mixture of a teaspoon of olive oil and half a cup of white vinegar is a non-toxic and effective solution to use when dusting and polishing wood furniture.

Hand Cleaner

I haven’t limited homemade products to cleaning supplies. A teaspoon of granulated sugar moistened with a few drops of olive oil makes an effective hand cleaner for gardeners and mechanics. When the grime is gone, I finish with warm water and soap. This mixture softens heels and elbows and doesn’t dry skin like other scrubs that are made with salt.

Stick Deodorant

I love the homemade, unscented deodorant I learned about from my daughter-in-law, Rachel. It’s a simple mixture of five tablespoons of coconut oil blended with a quarter of a cup of baking soda and a quarter of a cup of cornstarch. I filled an empty, recycled deodorant container with it and it works like a charm. The deodorant is gentle and doesn’t leave any residue on my clothes. It melts at about 80º so I keep it in a cool spot. Coconut oil can be found near the nut and vegetable oils in many grocery stores.

Homemade kitchen and bathroom supplies don’t come in fancy packages with fantastic promises, but they are economical, safe and effective. It is important to label what you make. I have posted labels that can downloaded and printed on my website.

Carol Egbert paints and cooks in the Upper Valley. Her food blog can be found at www.carolegbert.com.