I switched to crunchy, homemade cleaning supplies years ago, but a lack of time and funds made me wonder: Do natural cleaners really require multiple ingredients, even eco-friendly ones?
After discovering I was out of ______ (fill in the blank: borax, baking soda, fresh lemons, white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, etc.) one too many times and aborting yet another make-my-own-cleaner mission, I decided to do some serious streamlining.
My goal? To stock my cabinet with as many effective, two-ingredient (not counting water) concoctions as possible.
Here are my favorites:
1. All-purpose cleaner.
Combine equal parts vodka* and water in a spray bottle. Add a few drops of essential oil for scent, if desired. Use like you’d use Windex, 409, or other all-purpose cleaner. If your mirrors seem foggy while you’re wiping them, don’t give up. Another 30 seconds, and they’ll shine.
*Buy the cheapest vodka you can find; the person at the liquor store won’t judge.
2. Carpet freshener.
Fill a lidded jar with baking soda and 15-20 drops of your favorite essential oil (I like lavender or lemon for this). Close the jar and shake well. Poke holes in the lid to make a shaker. Sprinkle a layer of the mixture on carpets or rugs. Let sit for a few minutes before vacuuming.
3. Non-chlorine bleach.
Mix 3% hydrogen peroxide (widely available in stores and pharmacies) with a few drops of essential oil, and use this color-safe mixture in the laundry in place of regular bleach. Most commercial non-chlorine bleaches are primarily hydrogen peroxide, anyway.
4. Bathtub scrub.
Mix four parts baking soda with one part kosher salt and use for scouring toilets, sinks, and tubs. If your tiles and finishes are delicate — or your stains aren't so bad — leave out the kosher salt for a gentler, less-abrasive version.
5. Air freshener.
Fill a spray bottle with water and add enough essential oil to get the desired scent. Shake well and then spritz in the air to freshen the room. If you’ll be spraying around curtains or upholstery, test a small spot for colorfastness first. At Christmastime, use balsam fir essential oil for a chemical-free — and wonderful — pine scent.
I'm a longtime writer/editor in the Washington, DC, area; my work has appeared in the Washington Post, Salon, More Mirth of a Nation, Brain, Child, and other publications.