These are the basic ingredients in my cleaning cupboard: these are all I need to make all the cleaning recipes on this blog (sometimes with addition of kitchen ingredients). In addition to being non-toxic, they’re all easy to source with minimal or no plastic, which is equally important to me.
Bicarbonate/Baking soda (any grade)
You could almost use nothing but baking soda for all cleaning purposes, it’s so versatile. I order “Dri Pak Ltd Bicarbonate Of Soda” on eBay or Amazon, which comes in 500g cardboard boxes. (In the US, the omnipresent Arm&Hammer is also packed in card.)
A natural disinfectant and descaler, its smell disappears as it dries so don’t let that put you off. I used to buy distilled vinegar in glass bottles (and still for some uses, like descaling the kettle), but I now use my home-fermented kombucha vinegar for most of my cleaning. Live vinegar is less strong but smells better and spreads beneficial bacteria around, making it much harder for harmful bacteria to thrive.
There is nothing easier than liquefying a soap bar, so although this is an all-important ingredient, I never buy it, thereby avoiding both the plastic bottles and the inflated cost. Instead, I pick up soap bars whenever I come across one, especially the basic unscented ones: savon de Marseille, savon d’Alep, castile bar soap, which are wrapped only in paper, if even that. I also pick up scented bars but I reserve these to make handwash. I keep them all in my wardrobe (where they deter moths) until needed, and they go an incredibly long way: A 120g bar will make 1 liter liquid soap (4 cups)!
To make liquid soap: Bring water to the boil in the amount of 250-500ml (1-2C)* for each 30g (1oz) of soap. Grate the soap and mix it into the boiling water till dissolved. Let cool 12 to 24 hours: it will thicken. Give it a vigorous mix to fully incorporate before storing or using it. You can always add some water if it needs thinning (if you do, tiny soap “beads” may form, but they’re only soap that’s not fully dissolved).
*Depending on how thoroughly your soap bar has been dried. In my experience, savon de Marseille and Dr Bronner’s Castile Bar Soap are driest and require the most water; handmade soaps are moistest and require less water; traditional soaps like baladi, Aleppo are in-between. When tryign a new bar, it’s a good idea to start with only 30g soap and 1C water and see what happens (and note down your results!)
Any essential oil that’s safe to breathe can be used in cleaning, and I like to add lavender to my laundry soap. But here are three cleaning staples, used for their properties rather than their scent:
- Lemon: Disinfects and cuts through grease. It can be replaced with the fresh, strained juice of a lemon, but this reduces the product’s shelf life.
- Rosemary: Kills mold and mildew.
- Clove: The most powerful germicide/antimicrobial oil. Other good but less powerful germicides: tea tree, cinnamon, bay and thyme. These also extend the shelf life of the product containing them, by preventing mold.
Alcohol is a great sterilizer, and cheap vodka is easy to find. Mixed with water in equal portions, it does a great job of cleaning surfaces and appliances.
That’s it! Combined together in different ways depending on need, they leave my home feeling fresh without being as life-stripped as the surface of the moon.
Here are two more ingredients that I don’t use myself, but can be useful to know:
Citric Acid: This substance which is available as a white powder is found naturally in lemon and other citrus, so it’s actually edible. It’s also cheap and comes in cardboard (look for the brands Dri-Pak Ltd or Clean & Natural). Like vinegar, it counters water hardness, but it also creates foam (making it a major ingredient in bath bombs, for instance). Like lemon essential oil, it is antibacterial, antiseptic and efficiently cuts through grime. It makes a brilliant kettle descaler, but it can apparently take the enamel off toilet bowls, so check before using on other surfaces. Also note that while safe in general, it can aggravate pre-existing respiratory problems.
Hydrogen peroxide: I’m not too keen on this, but for those who feel the need for something more sterilizing than vinegar, this is a better alternative to the highly poisonous chlorine bleach. Available in pharmacies in small glass bottles, it can be transferred to a spray bottle to maximize its usefulness.