I remember, years ago, when I would spend hours scrubbing down my house with commercial cleaners. When I was done I’d think, “now, THAT’S the smell of clean!!” Those fumes somehow made for such a satisfying smell. Together with how tidy everything was, it just gave this feeling of “everything is right in my world today!”
Of course, by ‘right’, I wasn’t counting the bleach residue that felt like it was lining the inside of my nose for hours, even after I’d left the house. But my countertops were germ-free, so it was worth it. The blurry eyes I’d get from the ammonia fumes were pretty annoying too, but that was temporary and “look how shiny the sink is!”
The worst were the headaches and that wave of heaviness that drove me to the couch for a big ol’ nap when I still had a thousand things to do. As someone whose identity is practically defined by my incessant need to be productive, that bugged me the most. But I figured, surely it was because I’d just spent all that energy cleaning, right?
Turns out, no. Not really.
Ok yeah, even today, the idea of cleaning my house does make me want to curl up and take a nap with a cat squished into my neck. (Not all naps are unproductive, right?) But back then, after breathing in all those fumes, I didn’t just want the nap – I absolutely needed it. I remember feeling like I’d puke and pass out if I didn’t.
One day, I was spraying down the kitchen and, in a quick flash, felt disgusted by those harsh chemicals I had always appreciated so much. I finally got my awakening. It had suddenly dawned on me that, ironically, my cleaning supplies were not clean! It was a weird realization, but it triggered something inside me and began my slow transition toward healthier cleaning alternatives.
Dipping My Toes into Natural Cleaners
At first, I bought brands like Method and Mrs. Meyers, both of which marketed themselves as natural cleaning alternatives and both had (still have) great packaging. I used those for a couple of years, before I started reading the ingredients in my body care products, and realized I should probably take a closer look at other things I was buying as well.
On a good-better-best scale, I’d probably score brands like Mrs. Meyers and Method as “ok”, relatively speaking. They’re definitely not as bad as the well-advertised brands my family relied on growing up. But they’re not exactly the squeaky clean ingredients I wanted either. So onto the next phase of my transition, I went.
During my research, I read about cleaning with natural ingredients like salt, lemons, or vinegar, but I assumed these “old school” methods weren’t as effective as the modern chemical sprays in the supermarket aisles. For sure, they’d make the job take ten times as long, what with all that extra scrubbing… as I assumed would be the case.
“Nah”, I thought, “I can just find better cleaners at Whole Foods.” And I did.
Another Step Toward Natural Cleaning Products
There were still ingredients in the healthier options on Whole Food’s shelves that I didn’t recognize, but the labels often listed vinegar as well, so that seemed like a good start. I also saw sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) fairly often, especially in laundry detergents. I also noticed that baking soda was one of the ingredients in Bon Ami’s Powder Scrub. Since Bon Ami didn’t smell anything like that awfully strong Comet powder we used growing up, that was a big plus.
So those cleaners were good for a while… until I started diving even deeper. To be fair, most of the brands I found at Whole Foods and other healthier markets were definitely “better” on my good-better-best scale of clean cleaners. But I was looking for “best”, meaning the purest.
A few products I found did border on, even achieved, “best” in my book, including Bon Ami’s Powder Cleanser. Their ingredients are definitely pure. But it made me wonder why I’d need to spend extra to buy a branded solution when I could get the same cleaning effect from baking soda alone. Plus, as a vegetarian, I didn’t like that Bon Ami sells a natural cleaner that uses animal tallow.
So, a few years into this journey now, I finally decided to give baking soda and vinegar a solid try. I was still a little nervous, but I was equally curious to see how they’d work.
DIY and Never Turning Back
The transition over to natural cleaners was waaaay easier than I thought. In fact, making that first move was really the hardest part. That said, I did keep my other cleaners on hand for a while. You know, just in case.
I’d started with a couple of small boxes of baking soda. But I ended up using the baking soda for everything, so the small boxes weren’t enough. I cleaned the sinks and tubs with it, as I had expected to, but also found myself using it to remove any stuck-on foods from pots and pans, as well as boosting my detergent in the laundry. In the end, I decided that buying a bulk size container of baking soda would be a good idea. It looked pricey at first, but it lasted for ages and was incredibly convenient to have on hand.
Then, I bought a spray bottle and a gallon of white vinegar. I filled the bottle entirely with vinegar — no water or essential oils. It was strong, but I got used to it. These days, I do sometimes dilute it down with water, especially when I’m wiping down my floors. I also like to add essential oils (usually rosemary, lavender, eucalyptus, or cinnamon) for a nice scent and to boost the vinegar’s disinfecting power (not that it needs much help).
Working with natural cleaners
I remember starting in the kitchen, spraying down the countertops and stove, the fridge, and the sink. As I mentioned, the vinegar was a little strong at first, but the smell dissipated within minutes and (most importantly) it didn’t linger in my nose like the bleach sprays used to. I also filled a small bucket of half water/half vinegar to mop the floors.
Later, I bought two more spray bottles. I kept (and still keep) the original undiluted vinegar spray in the kitchen. I kept a second undiluted vinegar spray in the bathroom, so I have it handy. Then I filled the third bottle with a mix of half vinegar/half water, also keeping that in the kitchen for everyday wipe-ups. I used the 50/50 mix to also wipe down wood furniture around the house.
It turned out the vinegar spray was as easy to use as the old chemical stuff and everything looked nice and clean — with one small exception. The old white porcelain sink was always collecting little silver scratches from the pots and pans. I sprinkled them with a little baking soda, not expecting much. But I wet the sponge, gave it a quick once over and, voila! Clean. Clean. And clean. So far, I was sold.
Onto the bathroom.
Full-on vinegar for the sink, counter, and toilet. Done. Then, time to see how this baking soda worked in the tub….
I sprinkled it on, thinking I’d be scrubbing for a while. Surprisingly, the soap scum came off so easily. Ok, I may have put in a teeny tiny bit more elbow grease than I would have with the chemicals, but honestly, not much… and it was way more satisfying.
I rinsed the baking soda down with water from the showerhead and sprayed the tiles and fixtures with some vinegar. I also gave the tub a final once over with vinegar to knock out any germs the baking soda didn’t catch, and that was it. (By the way, rinsing the baking soda down the drain helps to keep your pipes cleans! To be fair, it won’t clear existing clogs… but it does help to prevent them.)
Overall, my house was just as clean as it was with the chemical cleaners, but without the toxic fumes or toxic residue. My cleaning products were finally “clean’. Now I could truly breathe easy!
What I Ultimately Learned
Looking back, I really wish I’d made the transition from chemicals to natural cleaners much sooner. I was afraid it would be extra work or not as effective, but both assumptions were wrong. Not only are nature’s cleaners just as effective, but they are also safer and less expensive. Plus, I love that I can buy them in bulk, which is convenient.
If you haven’t transitioned over yet, I urge you to give it a try. If you don’t like the results, you can always go back. But honestly, I doubt you will. Either way, I’d be very curious to hear your story! Tag @greenopedia on Facebook or Pinterest or #greenopedia on Instagram to let us know how it goes.
For an Extra Boost…
If you love the idea of cleaning with natural ingredients but want an extra boost “just to be sure”, you might consider Force of Nature.
Force of Nature is pretty interesting. It isn’t a bottled cleaner, per se. It’s actually a small appliance that “electrifies” tap water + vinegar + salt. This electrolysis transforms the mixture into an all-purpose natural cleaner that has been independently tested to be more effective (and more cost-efficient) than most commercial products for both cleaning and neutralizing odors.
Because it’s completely non-toxic, you can use it to disinfect just about anything. It’s safe to use on your toothbrushes, makeup brushes, cloth diapers, toys, sippy cups, gym sneakers, yoga mats, litter boxes, humidifiers, washing machines, sports equipment, colorfast textiles (e.g., rugs & upholstery)… the list goes on.
Natural Living Guide
Find practical tips & natural alternatives to the everyday chemicals that invade our lives.