What includes a sprig of mint, a twist of citrus, and packs a real punch in every room of the house? Here's a hint: It's better suited to a spray bottle than a cocktail glass.
We're talking about DIY all-natural household cleaners, of course -- the kind that side-step harsh fumes and chemicals in favor of kitchen staples.
If your home is on the market, you might want to be careful to avoid offending a potential buyer's sensitivities (ahem, please put down that bottle of industrial-grade bleach). If you rent, you might be looking to save money by making your own cleansers -- or maybe you have roommates who can't stand the smell of that lemon floor cleaner you've been using. Either way? These tips are for you.
1. White vinegar
The granddaddy of natural, eco-friendly cleaners, vinegar is, by definition, a water-based solution containing about 5% acetic acid -- a powerful solvent. Translation: The secret ingredient in your mom's recipe for potato salad spells "lights out" for most bacteria, viruses, mildew, and mold.
- Concoct an all-purpose cleaner: Fill a spray bottle with equal parts white vinegar and water (distilled is best), upping the amount of vinegar for tougher jobs. Spray it anywhere that could use a good cleaning, but steer clear of marble surfaces.
- Disinfect and deodorize cutting boards: Spray full-strength vinegar onto wood cutting boards, let it sit, then rinse with clean water.
- Deodorize dishwashers: Add 1 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle of your dishwasher. The vinegar smell will dissipate, de-stinkifying dishes in the process.
- Soften clothes and reduce static: Add 1 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle of your washing machine in lieu of store-bought fabric softeners.
- Sweeten garbage disposals: Freeze white vinegar in an ice cube tray and then run the cubes through the garbage disposal to deodorize and clean drains.
- Remove mineral deposits from showerheads: Unscrew your showerhead, then place it in a plastic zip baggie filled with ½ to 1 cup of warm white vinegar. Let it sit for one hour to remove mineral buildup. For showerheads that can't be removed, secure the baggie onto the showerhead using a rubber band. (This also works for sink faucets.) Postsoak, use an old toothbrush and a toothpick to further loosen deposits.
- Clean fresh produce: To help remove pesticide residue, gently wash fruit and vegetables in a solution of 2 tablespoons of white vinegar to a pint of water.
- Clean your coffeepot: Fill the reservoir of your automatic coffeepot with white vinegar, then allow the machine to go through a brew cycle as usual. Follow the vinegar with two cycles of fresh water to rinse.
Like vinegar, the key to citrus's cleaning power is its acidity, which proves the little lemon to be a cleaning powerhouse. What's more, the peels of citrus fruit (grapefruit, oranges, lemons, limes, and the rest) contain limonene, the active ingredient of citrus oil, which is especially effective as a degreaser.
- Soap scum and rust remover: Banish soap scum and rust from your shower by rubbing affected surfaces with the cut surface of a halved lemon. Allow the juice to work its magic for about a minute, then use a scouring pad to finish the job.
- Scented all-purpose cleaner: Add enough citrus peels to fill one-half of a large Mason jar. Pour white vinegar over the top to fill the jar, then place the lidded jar in a cool, dark place to infuse for at least two weeks. Strain the solution, pour it into a spray bottle, and use it as you would an all-purpose cleaner.
- Hands-off microwave cleaner: Add a few tablespoons of lemon juice to one cup of water in a microwave-safe bowl, then heat the mixture to boiling in the microwave. Allow the steam to penetrate baked-on grime for 10 minutes before opening the door and giving the interior a good wipe.
- Surface whitener: Gently "bleach" stains from surfaces by rubbing the surface with the cut surface of a halved lemon. (Don't try this on marble and granite.)
- Fabric whitener: Add 1 cup of undiluted lemon juice to your laundry to whiten and brighten clothing.
- Furniture polish: Combine one part undiluted lemon juice with two parts olive oil, pour a little onto a lint-free cloth, and use it to shine wooden furniture and fixtures.
3. Baking soda
The superfine grit of this powdery white substance, better known as sodium bicarbonate, comes in handy for those jobs that require extra-gentle abrasion. And what other ingredient do you know of that can make cookies rise, soak up bad odors, and sweeten a drain? It's all in a day's work for this wallet-friendly ingredient.
- Clean hairbrushes and combs: Coat hairbrushes and combs in a paste of baking soda and water to remove product buildup.
- Deodorize carpets and rugs: Sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda all over your carpets, then allow it to sit, preferably overnight. Vacuum to reveal fresh, odor-free rugs.
- Shine silver: Make a paste of three parts baking soda to one part water. Massage onto tarnished silver to polish and shine, follow with a rinse of warm water, then dry.
- Rejuvenate plastic food containers: Give new life to stained food containers by scouring the surfaces with baking soda, then soaking them in a solution of water and baking soda.
- Clear a clogged drain: Sprinkle baking soda down a clogged drain, chasing it with double the amount of white vinegar. Let it sit for a few minutes, then follow the fizzing mixture with boiling water.
- Fight household odors: Sprinkle a little baking soda into cat litter pans, into clothes hampers, and over the bottom of garbage cans to help ward off bad smells.
- Remove crayon marks: If your pint-sized Picasso uses walls as his canvas, sprinkle a little baking soda onto a damp sponge and gently buff away the crayon.
- Clean your oven: Coat the surface of your oven in a paste of baking soda and water, avoiding the heating elements. Allow it to sit overnight and then use a damp rag and a silicone spatula to remove as much paste as possible. Complete the task by spraying down the oven top with vinegar, then wiping with a rag once more.