Eco-Friendly Cleaning Guide: 5 DIY Nontoxic Cleaners

A jar of baking soda and vinegar against a white background with a couple of lemons.

Homemade cleaners are no longer just for your crunchy granola friends. With more and more research coming out that links commercial detergents and cleaning supplies to dangerous health conditions (not to mention their impact on the environment) there’s plenty of reason to go green in your supply closet. Moreover, most DIY cleaners cost a lot less than the stuff you buy at the store, so they’ll be gentler on your finances, too! Here’s how to mix up a few of your own.

1. Laundry Detergent

A scoop of laundry detergent in front of a washing machine.

Laundry detergents may clean your clothes, but they can make our local rivers and streams pretty dirty in the process. Although the majority of wastewater makes its way to sewage treatment plants without a hitch, traces of harmful substances like ammonia and surfactants still seep into nearby waterways, threatening local wildlife and ecosystems.

Make your own: Grate a bar of natural Castille soap into a mixer or food processor and turn it on high until the soap is chopped into fine particles. Mix one part of this powder with two parts washing soda and one part Borax. Shake well and store in a large jar in a cool, dark place.

2. Automatic Dishwasher Detergent

I hate spots on my wine glasses as much as the next person, but unfortunately, streak-free stemware takes a toll on our natural marine areas. Many commercial dishwasher detergents contain phosphates as a spot deterrent, which reach local rivers and streams through drainage systems. Initially, these phosphates stimulate growth in aquatic ecosystems, causing a massive increase in plankton and algae. But over time, that excessive growth clogs waterways and disrupts the food chain, suffocating fish and marine animals with a surfeit of oxygen. As a response, 17 states have now banned detergents with phosphates—but you can make sure yours is as eco-friendly as possible by using the following formula.

Make your own: Add a cup of washing soda to ¼ cup of citric acid and ¼ cup of coarse salt. For an average-sized load, place a tablespoon of this mixture into the dishwasher, and fill the rinse compartment with white vinegar.

3. All-Purpose Cleaner

A clear spray bottle with liquid inside.

The power of white vinegar to break up caked-on grit and grime should not be underestimated. While not a registered disinfectant, vinegar is powerful enough for everyday home cleaning applications, especially when combined with a few drops of an herbal antiseptic like tea tree oil.

Make your own: In a clean spray bottle, mix half a cup of white vinegar, two tablespoons of baking soda, a few drops of tea tree oil, and enough water to fill to the top of the bottle. Use like a conventional all-purpose cleaner, being sure to give the bottle a good shake before spraying onto surfaces.

4. Dryer Sheets

If you only do one thing to green your cleaners this year, this should be it. Pound for pound, dryer sheets have some of the most serious environmental consequences when it comes to home cleaning products. Not only do they create unnecessary disposable waste, but they’re also full of harmful chemicals, known as VOCs, which have been tentatively linked to asthma and cancer. They’re also expensive! This recipe for reusable dryer sheets helps you save the environment while saving money as well.

Make your own: Take several nontoxic cotton cloths or old sheets and cut them into pieces about the size of a small napkin. Dampen the cloths with white vinegar and tea tree oil, and then stuff them back into a jar with a lid. Pull a cloth out to toss in the dryer each time you throw in a load.

5. Scouring Powder

A jar of white powder with a spoon.

One of the benefits of using nontoxic cleaners is that you can use some of the same products in the kitchen that you do in your bathroom. This DIY scouring powder works just as well on your pots and pans as it does on your tub or sinks.

Make your own: Combine one cup of baking soda with one cup of table salt. Mix well. Use liberally to clean metal, ceramic, and vinyl surfaces.

The majority of these recipes can be made with bulk ingredients, meaning you’ll get many more uses out of your homemade mixtures than you would out of a bottle of commercial cleaner. (And you won’t be throwing away plastic or cardboard, either.) Consider yourself a newly-minted environmental superstar!

Erin Vaughan is a blogger, gardener, and aspiring homeowner. She currently resides in Austin, TX where she writes full time for Modernize, with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence.