Spring Cleaning: 5 Chemical free ways to clean house for less

2011-04-04T21:30:21+00:00Home & Garden|

Is cleaning your dirty home making chemical companies filthy rich? Take a look through your cleaning kit — if it contains a number of caustic brand name kitchen, bathroom, or other specialized cleaners, then you’re paying into the multi-billion dollar chemical cleaning business. Makes my eyes water too.

The irritating thing is you don’t need any of these harsh cleaners to get your floors, countertops, appliances, clothing, sinks, toilets and other household gear clean. Just take a peek in your kitchen pantry and I bet you’ll find some of the best (and cheapest) chemical-free cleaners on the planet.

Frugal Cleaning Kit: The apple and banana are my Spring Cleaning snacks — scrubbing with a little elbow grease makes me hungry.

By cutting harsh chemical cleaners from your grocery shopping list and switching to these eco-friendly alternatives, it’s possible to save hundreds of dollars each year on cleaning your home. Don’t believe me? I braved the brand name cleaning aisle at a big box grocery chain to tally the toxic prices and calculate my clean savings — my homemade cleaners win every time. So before stocking up on supplies for this year’s spring cleaning adventure, try these five DIY cleaning solutions around your home and save big.

Caution, Irritant: The photo quality in this article stinks ’cause I stealthfully used my dang cell phone to capture the store prices. Setting up my camera gear (tripod and lighting) in the middle of the cleaning aisle would have caused a stink and gotten my frugal a$$ kicked out of the store. Heck, this post may be banned in a week, so enjoy my dirty pictures while they last. 😉

1. Homemade Glass and Window Cleaner

Is your glass cleaner giving you the blues? The original Windex formulation contains ammonia and some sort of blue stuff. The label says “keep out of reach of children” and “do not mix with other household cleaners”. At $3.77 for a 765mL bottle of blue, I’ll take a shining to my pet friendly, child friendly, and wallet friendly alternative any day of the cleaning week.

Homemade Glass and Window Cleaner Recipe:

  1. Mix one part hot water with one part vinegar in a reusable spray bottle.
  2. Got More Grime: Add a drop or two of dishwashing liquid to the mix for tougher grease. If the soap streaks, use fewer suds.
  3. Wipe clean with a microfiber cloth to avoid paper waste.

Cleaning Cost: Generic white vinegar is $2.57 for a 4L container with a unit cost of $0.064 per 100mL. A 765mL bottle of Windex cleans your bank balance at $3.77 with a unit cost of $0.493 per 100mL.

The thing is, I use only half to 1 cup of white vinegar to clean my mirrors each year — I need a full bottle of Windex to get the same job done. The winner is vinegar for pennies spent per year. Bonus: Vinegar tastes great on fries — Windex, not so much.

2. Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner

If you love to spray, you’ll have to pay! Ever notice that all-purpose cleaners marketed in spray bottles cost bank? Maybe its ’cause they’re fun to use and there’s nothing easier than aiming at a mess and spraying it into oblivion. Cut this dirty cost by making your own cleaner, and reuse an old spray bottle.

Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner Recipe:

  1. Mix a cleaning solution of 2 tablespoons dishwashing liquid and 2 cups water in a spray bottle.
  2. Got More Grime: Mix a paste of baking soda and water to gently scrub grimy counter tops and stained sinks.
  3. Use an old toothbrush to clean corners and cracks and a generic Magic Eraser or microfiber cloth to wipe clean.

Pennies for Paste: Use baking soda to gently scrub sinks and remove stains.

Tip: Don’t let a spill sit and become a stain. Aim to wipe and clean fresh messes to avoid needing the chemical cleaners designed for caked on dirt.

Cleaning Cost: A bottle of Fantastik all-purpose cleaner (with bleach) costs $3.47 for a 650mL bottle — a unit cost of $0.534 per 100mL. A bottle of Dawn dishwashing liquid soap costs $0.99 per 561mL bottle — a unit price of $0.18 per 100mL. The homemade brew costs just pennies per bottle.

3. Homemade Oven Cleaner

Baking soda is one of those ingredients that simply boggles my brain. After reading Baking Soda: Over 500 Fabulous, Fun, and Frugal Uses You’ve Probably Never Thought Of I was still boggled. So I went and cleaned my oven.

Homemade Oven Cleaner Recipe:

  1. Make a thick paste by mixing 1 part baking soda to 3 parts hot water.
  2. Coat the oven surface with the paste, let sit overnight.
  3. Use a plastic spatula (metal will scratch) to remove your greasy oven grime.

Tip: Line your oven bottom with a spilmat oven liner to prevent future buildup. Be sure to wipe the oven clean after each splatter, spill, or bubble-over.

Cleaning Cost: The best deals on baking soda can be found at animal feed stores, where a 10kg bag sells for $0.50 cents per kilogram. Feed store baking soda is not food quality and is coarser than retail brands, but the price for cleaning cannot be beat when compared to grocery store brands selling for $5 per kilogram.

4. Homemade Wood Floor Cleaner

A while ago I shared my favorite floor mop hack in 4 Swiffer Cleaning Hacks for Cheaper Dust-Free Living.

But a simple sweep doesn’t deal with very dirty dog grime or kid mess, so you have to wash the floors eventually. Let’s mop the mess up!

Homemade Wood Floor Cleaner Recipe:

  1. Use a damp sponge or microfiber mop to wash wood floors with warm water.
  2. Got More Grime: Mix 1/8 cup liquid dishwashing soap with 1/8 cup white vinegar in a 4L (1 gallon) bucket of warm water.

Cleaning Cost: I’ve noted the prices for dishwashing soap and vinegar previously — yeah, it’s cheap at pennies per cleaning.

A big 4.2L jug of Pine-sol floor cleaner will run you $11.99. This stuff can’t be used on some floor surfaces, so be careful!

5. Homemade Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Some people like dirty toilet humor. Personally, I find nothing funny about cleaning the can. So I’m not going to kid around here — to get the job over with quickly it helps to have a brand name cleaner. But try this DIY recipe first to see if you can avoid flushing your hard-earned cash down the crapper.

Homemade Toilet Bowl Cleaner Recipe:

  1. Swish 1/2 cup white vinegar around the toilet bowl. Let stand a few minutes, scrub, and flush.
  2. Wipe toilet with homemade all-purpose cleaner and a damp microfiber cloth.
  3. Got More Grime: To remove stains, add 1/2 cup Borax to toilet bowl water and let it soak overnight.

Cleaning Cost: You can buy a 76Oz box of Borax for under $15 and use it for a myriad of cleaning tasks including: boosting your laundry detergent, cleaning baby diapers, and as an all-purpose household cleaner. Buy a bottle of generic toilet bowl cleaner for around $3 and you get to clean your can. I’ll take the multi-use Borax and soak my laundry in it. See How to save money on laundry for more dirty tips and tricks.

Your Turn: What’s your best frugal spring cleaning tip?


  1. dlm April 5, 2011 at 5:13 am

    Good ideas but I’m leery of the chemicals in Fantastik — and Magic Cleaners have formaldehyde!

  2. Kaztx April 5, 2011 at 5:36 am

    Arrghhh. Non-toxic does not mean “chemical-free.” “In your kitchen pantry” does not mean “chemical-free.” Forgive this humble chemist her pedantry but here are the facts:

    Vinegar is acetic acid solution with formula CH3COOH.

    Baking soda is a base with formula NaHCO3.

    And borax: Na2B4O7·10H2O.

    All chemicals are not equal. All chemicals are not bad. After all, you and I are complicated but we’re made (chemicals). [Apologies to They Might be Giants]

  3. rez April 5, 2011 at 7:29 am

    I just want to say thank you for all the work you do so we can get emails with loads of great info and it’s all free. You’re the bomb!

  4. Kerry April 5, 2011 at 7:33 am

    @Kaztx My next post is for the chemists: ‘Spring Cleaning with subatomic particles that have spin’

    @rez You’re welcome. 🙂

  5. Jules April 5, 2011 at 11:09 am

    I wish I could convince my boyfriend not to buy those chemical cleaners. As it is, I’m pretty happy that he’s sticking with wannabe Windex 😀 I use a very dilute commercial substance and vinegar to do most of my cleaning.

  6. Kerry April 5, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Great tips via email from Michelle:

    I really love your emails – thank you!

    My go-to cleaner for everything around the house (from windows to carpets to bathrooms) and I have to big dogs and two little kids with one on the way, is simply; vinegar and water with a dash of lemon juice in a spray bottle. I keep a bottle in key spots around the house with rags from old t-shirts and towels and never have to go far to clean whatever it is (and it’s usually pee 😉 ). The good part too, is you can clean even when you have a little moment, like do the bathroom while the kids are playing in the bath.

    My spring cleaning tip;
    1. invite Mom to come and look after the Grandkids
    2. have a friend come over to your house one day and the two of you go for it, and then you go over there another day for the same.

  7. Kelly April 5, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    One thing I’ve been doing lately is using half a bar of Linda soap in the wash instead of traditional laundry detergent. It is also good for rubbing into stains. I find my clothes/linens/towels come out of the washer smelling nice and much softer. Any thoughts?

  8. glory April 5, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    one thing you may want to add to your list is hydrogen peroxide which is antimicrobial, unlike everything else on the list which cleans without disinfecting. use it to clean bathrooms(fungus, mold, e-coli from flushing the toilet) and kitchen counters after handling meat and poultry(salmonella and other food borne illnesses). it does a wonderful job and without any odour. wear gloves though as it is not suitable for contact with skin since it’s cytotoxic.

  9. Hunter April 6, 2011 at 11:19 am

    RE: Window cleaner

    A great alternative to vinegar is methylated spirits (rubbing alcohol). 1 gallon water to 1 cup alcohol. I was a commercial window cleaner for years and this is our very effective, and very inexpensive cleaning fluid. Simply apply to window with sponge, or spray bottle, and wipe off with cloth, or squeegee.

  10. Kelly April 7, 2011 at 12:20 am

    Hunter, thanks for that – I’ll try, as window washing season is upon us 🙂

  11. cheery-yo April 7, 2011 at 11:46 am

    An all purpose cleaner I like to use is 1/4cup powder laundry soap in a gallon of water. A bulk container lasts forever (family of 2), and I don’t need to buy other cleaning products, other than dish soap. I downgrade kitchen dish sponges for use in the bathroom, giving them a second life.

    What do you do about stubborn fabric stains (grass, blood)?

    I’m devoted to you, Kerry. (deep bow)

  12. Kelly April 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    For Cheery-yo. For stains on whites, white toothpaste works like a charm. And as I mentioned re. Linda soap, it’s great for getting grease (kitchen splatter, etc.) out of clothes, too.

  13. sky April 9, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Looking for a super duper all-purpose cleaner for my granite countertops. Can’t use vinegar or anything acidic.Love essential oils however!
    Thoughts?? Or better yet, any proven recipes?!

  14. Connie April 9, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    Just wondering what the cost is, of the microfiber cloths. Are they available in a generic pack?

  15. Tanya April 11, 2011 at 7:42 am

    I tried your homemade toilet bowl cleaner idea over the weeekend; it was great. Even though my bathroom smelled like vinegar, I like using fewer chemicals and spending less money on them!

  16. Hilary May 7, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    A good tip.. Poor 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain then pour 1/4 cup vinegar. It will sizzle and spit !!! Wait 10 minutes then run water for a minute or two. The drain will be clog free! Do this once or twice a month and you will never have a clogged drain.

  17. Susie Brown June 11, 2011 at 7:18 am

    Tipnut has the best homemade cleaner I have ever tried. It is a homemade citrus vinegar. I use this full strength on surfaces and dilute for my floors. It is a fantastic degreaser, soap scum remover – the best homemade cleaner I have ever tried hands down!

    Homemade Citrus Household Cleaner

    * Fill a large, wide mouth jar with citrus peels (such as lemons, oranges, limes, grapefruits). Cover the peels with white household vinegar. Let brew for four weeks, shaking the jar occasionally (just to mix it up a bit). Strain (I did this twice).
    * Use as a laundry booster (I just tossed it in with the whites), window cleaner, floor cleaner, counter tops, appliances (Dilute in water–1/2 cup per gallon of water works well). For a stovetop grease buster I just sprayed it on undiluted. Test surfaces first before using.


    * Before filling the jar, I made sure the citrus peels were scrubbed well in baking soda and water to remove any chemicals or pesticides. It’s a lot easier if you do this before peeling the fruit!
    * To collect the peels, throughout the week store all the citrus peels in a baggy or airtight container and refrigerate. If your household doesn’t go through a lot of citrus fruit in a week, just chop up what peels you have and fill a small glass jar (or even spray bottle) with peels and cover with vinegar. To make a big jar like above, you need a lot of peels. You could try freezing the peels and then thawing the bunch when you have enough, I haven’t tested that though.

  18. Noelle June 21, 2011 at 11:00 am

    I use olive oil for a wood polish.

  19. Shann August 16, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    This is something I have been using for a while now and I love it!
    1 tspn of dawn dish soap (if needed)
    ¼ cup vinegar
    ¼ cup baking soda
    10 drops of citrus essential oil
    (Sometimes I use Lavender)
    In 16 ounce spray bottle I put vinegar, hot water, dish soap, and baking soda. I swirl around and then add 10 drops of citrus or whatever essential oil I am in the mood for. I use this on my walls, cabinets, counters, and floor.

  20. Nearissa Kasper August 29, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    At the seminar on Sat you talked about a Febreeze sustitue. Do you have a recipe for that? I am trying to save money by making all ythese canges. Thanks Nearissa

  21. Cheryl March 20, 2012 at 10:42 am

    We use soap nuts instead of laundry detergent. They are awesome and 100% natural. It’s really great on stains – i use cloth diapers so TRUST ME – I Know! Soap Nuts are great for dish detergent, shampoo, jewelry cleaner, etc…and a little goes a long way!

  22. Kerry March 20, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Cheryl — Do you use any other detergent beyond soap nuts to clean cloth diapers? I’m looking for some diaper cleaning tips. 😉

  23. […] Go green and save money by making your own cleaning products. It’s much easier than you think. Who knew baking soda had so many uses?! http://www.squawkfox.com/2011/04/04/spring-cleaning-tips// […]

  24. Alice March 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    What are soap nuts and Linda’s soap?

  25. Doug Mackenzie April 24, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    You can buy reusable/washable micro floor sweepers at the dollar store, rather than the once or twice disposable floor cloths. When they’re dirty, just throw them in the washer. You can also find large bags of microfiber cloths on at auto supply stores for a good price.

  26. Sue June 4, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Costco has the best price on microfibre cloths.
    Old age – cant remember the price or how many is in the package.

  27. Kayla June 9, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    I recently tried an amazing and simple spot remover. After 3 failed attempts at removing chocolate stains from 2 of my daughter’s shirts I finally tried 1tbsp of regular Dawn dishwashing liquid to 2 tbsps hydrogen peroxide. I scrubbed it onto the stains, let sit for 30 minutes and washed as normal. The stains were gone and the color of the shirts were not faded at all. I was pleasantly surprised.

  28. KT June 15, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    I use a drop of Dawn and a toilet brush to clean the toilet bowl.

  29. annette June 30, 2012 at 12:09 am

    1 part lemon juice to 2 parts olive oil is a great furniture polish but it’s best to keep the extras in a spray bottle in the fridge because of the lemon juice. you can use plain white vinegar as the rinse aid in your dishwasher and you can also use vinegar as a fabric softener (1/2 cup.per load I’m from the states) just remember never mix vinegar with a bleach load can cause toxic fumes.

  30. Kim M August 3, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    I’ve just ordered some Soap berries from earthberries.com. Sounds like an amazing, inexpensive product that can clean almost everything with no environmental effect. I’ll use them and let you know what I think! I have a 1 year old, so we do a lot of laundry! I have not been able to find Linda soap yet…but I’m still looking for a website I can buy it from.
    wish me luck!

  31. Charlotte Stoner January 23, 2013 at 4:42 am

    Great cleaning tips! Working for a professional oven cleaning company I know that you don’t need heavy duty chemicals to get a really good, deep clean. In fact, eco friendly products are more efficient, cause less damage and are much better for people’s health.

  32. Kim L July 18, 2013 at 3:21 am

    Love all these tips from everyone, nice work Kerry. I live in India and can only get the petroleum based White Vinegar, “food grade”,(not happy about it trust me)…is there any difference when used for cleaning. Also I’ve seen so much conflicting info on baking powder versus soda for use in cleaning…what do you think?

  33. CTY September 17, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    For cleaning the outside of the windows. This recipe is from One Good Thing By Jillee. 2 gal. super hot water, 1/4 C rubbing alcohol, 1/4 C automatic dishwasher detergent, 1/4 C ammonia, 1/2 C Jet Dry. Hose windows to remove first layer of gunk. Apply & scrub cleaner with a telescoping cleaning fluffy brush (I got mine from the auto store it is meant to clean RVs). Rinse with hose. This dries streak-free. I generally avoid ammonia due to the fumes, but this is used outdoors. Also–this is my only use for Jet Dry because I use vinegar in the dishwasher. Ido not want to use vinegar outside because it is a potent herbicide and I have nice plants under the windows.

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