Household Cleaners & Stain Removers - FAQs

Common, inexpensive, mild-to-moderate alkalies (as baking soda, ammonia), acids (lemon juice, vinegar), household bleaches, and detergents can be used to do many cleaning jobs around the home, if used properly according to directions for specific surfaces and soils. They will cost less than many commercial products.

A new formula should always be tested on an inconspicuous part of the item to be cleaned to be sure it does not damage the material or finish before using it on a part that shows.

It takes time to mix up you own cleaners and many are not as stable as off the shelf products. Usually mix only enough for use at one time. Formula directions and labels on products used should be read completely and followed exactly to prevent damage to the surface and/or injury to the user.

Making complicated products like furniture cleaners and waxes will probably cost more to get all the ingredients and utensils than to buy a commercial product, and is dangerous since some ingredients are flammable and toxic. It's safer and results will be better by using commercial waxes and cleaners. Some specialized cleaners have combinations of ingredients that could not be duplicated at home, and will do a better job for specific problems.


For safety, users should mix up just what they'll use of most cleaners, not store them (unless as a glass cleaner in a spray bottle), and keep them out of reach of children who might drink them. NEVER put in food container like a soda bottle. If any are stored, label them!

For safety, when using strong alkalies, users should wear rubber gloves. Alkalies that dissolve grease readily, also dissolve oil out of one's skin. Gloves, rinsed off after use, last a long time and cost less than extra lotions rubbed into dry hands; and anyone can learn to wear them!

Having a few basic "ingredients" around that can be used for many kinds of cleaning will require less storage space than dozens of different products and cause less environmental problems in disposing of used or unused products.

Many homemade cleaners may require a little more elbow grease than some commercial spray-and-wipe products. But if you need more exercise, that's a plus!

All Purpose Cleaners

  • Vinegar and Salt. Mix together for a good surface cleaner.
  • Baking Soda. Dissolve 4 tablespoons baking soda in 1 quart warm water for a general cleaner. Or use baking soda on a damp sponge. Baking soda will clean and deodorize all kitchen and bathroom surfaces.
  • Anti-Fog Glass Spray. To make a homemade anti-fogging glass cleaner try any one of the three following:
    1. rub a few drops of liquid dish washing detergent applied with a damp paper towel over the window (or)
    2. 2 oz white vinegar to 1 quart tap water (or)
    3. 1 oz. sudsy ammonia, 4 oz. rubbing alcohol, 1/4 teaspoon liquid dish washing detergent, 1 quart water

Baking Dishes - Enamel, Ceramic or Glass

Soak in hot soapy water, then scour with salt or baking soda and rinse thoroughly.

Bathroom Bowl Cleaners

  • Toilet Bowl Cleaner - IF YOU DO USE BLEACH TO CLEAN YOUR TOILET BOWL, NEVER MIX BLEACH WITH VINEGAR, TOILET BOWL CLEANER, OR AMMONIA. The combination of bleach with any of these substances produces a toxic gas which can be hazardous.
  • Baking Soda and Vinegar. Sprinkle baking soda into the bowl, then drizzle with vinegar and scour with a toilet brush. This combination both cleans and deodorizes.
  • Borax and Lemon Juice. For removing a stubborn stain, like toilet bowl ring, mix enough borax and lemon juice into a paste which can cover the entire ring. Flush toilet to wet the sides, then rub on paste. Let sit for 2 hours and scrub thoroughly. For less stubborn toilet bowl rings, sprinkle baking soda around the rim and scrub with a toilet brush.


Sponge with a piece of cotton dipped in rubbing alcohol.

Ceramic Tub And Tile Cleaners

  • Baking Soda. Sprinkle baking soda like you would scouring powder. Rub with a damp sponge. Rinse thoroughly. To clean grout, put 3 cups baking soda into a medium-sized bowl and add 1 cup warm water. Mix into a smooth paste and scrub into grout with a sponge or toothbrush. Rinse thoroughly and dispose of leftover paste when finished.
  • Vinegar and Baking Soda. To remove film buildup on bathtubs, apply vinegar full-strength to a sponge and wipe with vinegar first. Next, use baking soda as you would scouring powder. Rub with a damp sponge and rinse thoroughly with clean water.
  • Vinegar. Vinegar removes most dirt without scrubbing and doesn't leave a film. Use 1/4 cup (or more) vinegar to 1 gallon water.

Removing Christmas Tree Pitch

When working with evergreen branches, trimming the Christmas tree, or working with evergreen cones, the resin or pitch from the cones or cut ends of branches will stick to the skin. To remove try either of two methods:

  1. dampen a cloth with rubbing alcohol and rub the spots or
  2. rub the spots with lard or vegetable shortening; then wipe off with paper towels or cloth and wash remaining grease off with soap and water. Easiest way is to put a tablespoonful or so of shortening on a scrap of waxed paper or foil and lay a couple paper towels beside it on a newspaper before starting to work with the evergreens; then, at end of job you can just run shortening on sticky spots on hands, wipe off and discard on paper; wash hands and discard paper in trash without getting sticky or very greasy hands on surfaces in home.


For hard to reach spots, slip a sock over the end of a yardstick and secure with a rubber band, then sweep the area. This method works well for cleaning under radiators and refrigerators also.

Coffee Stains

To remove coffee stains from cups or counters, rub with baking soda paste. For stubborn stains, rub a drop of chlorine bleach into the affected area until the stain disappears, then wash immediately with hot soapy water to prevent fading, and rinse well.

Concrete Grease Spot Remover

To remove grease from concrete flooring sprinkle dry cement over grease. Allow it to absorb the grease, then sweep up.

Decal and Gummed Label Remover

Vinegar. To remove non slip appliques and strips from bathtubs, saturate a cloth or sponge and squeeze hot vinegar over decals. Vinegar also removes stick-on hooks from painted walls. Saturate a cloth or sponge with vinegar and squeeze the liquid behind the hook so that the vinegar comes in contact with the adhesive. In addition, vinegar can be used to remove price labels and other decals from glass, wood, and china. Paint the label or decal with several coats of white vinegar. Give the vinegar time to soak in and after several minutes the decal can be rubbed off.


  • Soap. Regular cleaning with plain soap and hot water will kill some bacteria. Keep things dry. Mold, mildew, and bacteria cannot live without moisture.
  • Borax has long been recognized for its disinfectant and deodorizing properties. Mix 1/2 cup Borax into 1 gallon hot water and clean with this solution.
  • Isopropyl Alcohol. This is an excellent disinfectant. Sponge and allow to dry. (It must dry to do its job.) Use in a well-ventilated area and wear gloves.


Rub greasy spots with a mild or moderate abrasive, such as fine steel wool, and a dish detergent until they disappear.

Lime And Mineral Deposit Remover

Vinegar and Paper Towels. Hard lime deposits around faucets can be softened for easy removal by covering the deposits with vinegar-soaked paper towels. Leave the paper towels on for about one hour before cleaning. Leaves chrome clean and shiny.
For Plastic and Metal Shower Heads : Vinegar. To remove deposits which may be clogging your metal shower head, combine 1/2 cup white vinegar and one quart water. Then completely submerge the shower head and boil 15 minutes. If you have a plastic shower head, combine 1 pint white vinegar and 1 pint hot water. Then completely submerge the shower head and soak for about one hour.

Mildew Remover

Dilute 3/4 cup chlorine bleach in 1 gal of water. Apply to tile and grout and scrub; wipe shower stall and curtain; rinse thoroughly.

Oven Cleaners

The first step is prevention. Put a sheet of aluminum foil on the floor of the oven, underneath but not touching the heating element. Although this may slightly affect the browning of the food, the foil can be easily disposed of when soiled. Clean up the spill as soon as it occurs.

Fill a small glass bowl with 1/2 cup full-strength ammonia, place in oven and close. Let stand overnight, then wipe loosened dirt with paper towels or newspapers. If necessary, rub surfaces with a suitable abrasive, such as fine steel wool, then wash with warm soapy water and rinse. Repeat process if necessary.

  • Salt While the oven is still warm, sprinkle salt on the spill. If the spill is completely dry, wet the spill lightly before sprinkling on salt. When the oven cools down, scrape away the spill and wash the area clean.
  • Vinegar Retard grease buildup in your oven by dampening your cleaning rag in vinegar and water before wiping out your oven.
  • Baking Soda and Very Fine Steel Wool Sprinkle water followed by a layer of baking soda. Rub gently with a very fine steel wool pad for tough spots. Wipe off scum with dry paper towels or a sponge. Rinse well and wipe dry.

Paint Brush Renewer

Vinegar. Soften hard paintbrushes in hot vinegar for a few minutes. Then wash paintbrush in soap and warm water and set out to dry.

Pet Urine

Dab area with toweling, wash with suds of liquid dish detergent, and rinse with 1/2 cup vinegar diluted in 1 qt warm water. Lay towels or paper towels over the spot and weight down to absorb excess moisture. Let stand 4 to 6 hours, then remove toweling, brush up nap and allow to dry completely. To speed drying, use an electric fan.

Plumbing Fixtures

To clean stainless steel, chrome, fiberglass, ceramic, porcelain or enamel fixtures, dissolve 2 tbsp baking soda in 1 qt of water

Porcelain Cleaner

Cream of Tartar. To clean porcelain surfaces, rub with cream of tartar sprinkled on a damp cloth. Works well on light stains.

Pots and Pans

Burned, and Crusted on Foods Soak or boil a solution of 2 tbs. baking soda per qt of water in each pan. Let stand until particles are loosened, then wash as usual. Use a mild or moderate abrasive if necessary.

Purple Price Marks

Whatever method you use, first test the cleaning/removal material in an inconspicuous part of the surface the label is stuck on the be sure it will not damage that surface.

Purple price marks which so easily transfer to kitchen counter tops can be removed with a cloth dampened in a solution of half chlorine bleach and half water. Rinse at once with clear water to prevent bleaching counter top.


To clean exterior and interior walls, dissolve 2 tbs. baking soda in 1 qt warm water and wipe all surfaces. For stubborn spots, rub with baking soda paste. Be sure to rinse with a clean, wet cloth. (This works well on other enamel-finished appliances as well.)

To clean interior fixtures, such as vegetable bins and shelves, wash in hot soapy water, rinse well and dry.

Rust Remover

Peeled Potatoes and Baking Soda or Salt. To remove rust from tin-ware, rub with a peeled potato dipped in a mild abrasive such as baking soda or salt.

Aluminum Foil. Briskly scrub rust spots on car bumpers with a piece of crumpled aluminum foil, shiny side up. Also works well on the chrome shafts of golf clubs.

Rust Stain and Hard Water Deposit Remover

Apply full-strength vinegar or lemon juice and let stand until spot disappears, then rinse. Repeat if necessary.

Scouring Powder

The amount of chlorine in scouring powder is usually not significant enough to cause harm. If you want to totally avoid chlorine or are sensitive to it follow this recipe. Non-Chlorine Scouring Powder Baking Soda or Dry Table Salt. Both of these substances are mild abrasives and can be used as an alternative to chlorine scouring powders. Simply put either baking soda or salt on a sponge or the surface you wish to clean and then scour and rinse.

Shoe Polish

Cold Pressed Nut Oil, Olive Oil, Walnut Oil, or Beeswax. Apply oil to leather product and buff with a chamois cloth to a shine. Lemon Juice. Lemon juice is good polish for black or tan leather shoes. Follow by buffing with a soft cloth. Vinegar. Remove water stains on leather by rubbing with a cloth dipped in a vinegar and water solution. Petroleum Jelly. A dab of petroleum jelly rubbed into patent leather gives a glistening shine and prevents cracking in the winter. Vinegar. To shine patent leather, moisten a soft cloth with white vinegar and wipe clean all patent leather articles. The color of the leather may be slightly changed. Art-Gum Eraser and Sandpaper or Emery Board. Dirt marks on suede can be rubbed out with an art-gum eraser. Then buff lightly with sandpaper or an emery board.

Soap Scum Remover

Apply baking soda dry or as a thick paste, rub vigorously with a wet sponge, then rinse.

Stained No-Stick Cookware

To remove stains from no-stick surfaces, pour a solution of 1 cup water, 2 tbs. baking soda and 1/2 cup chlorine bleach into the pan and simmer 5 to 10 minutes. Do not allow mixture to boil or to boil over the side of the pan. Wash in hot soapy water, rinse and dry. Apply a light coating of cooking oil. (Note: This formula may fade dark-colored surfaces.)

Sticky Labels

See our Sticky Tape, Label, Applique Page

Tea Stains

To remove tea stains from cups or counters, rub with baking soda paste. For stubborn stains, rub a drop of chlorine bleach into the affected area until the stain disappears, then wash immediately with hot soapy water to prevent fading, and rinse well.

Telephone Cleaner

Sponge with a piece of cotton dipped in rubbing alcohol.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Pour 1/4 cup full strength chlorine bleach OR 1/2 cup full strength ammonia into bowl. DO NOT USE BOTH. Swish with a bowl brush and flush.

Windshield Wiper Frost Free Fluid

When you have to leave your car outside overnight in the winter, mix 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water and coat the windows with this solution. This vinegar and water combination will keep windshields ice and frost-free.

Where To Find Some Chemicals

Common basic ingredients used for most homemade cleaners can be bought in the grocery store. If you want some of the less common ingredients, here is a list of where you can usually find them. Not all paint or hardware stores will carry them; phone to find one that does, as some ingredients are not much in demand today.

Acetone - hardware and drug store (is in nail polish remover)

Art Gum - art supplies

Boiled Linseed Oil - hardware or paint store

Denatured Alcohol - hardware or drug store

Fuller's Earth - hardware or drug store

Gum Turpentine - art supplies, hardware or paint store

Neats Foot Oil - shoe repair shop or hardware

Oxalic Acid - hardware or drug store

Pumice Powder - paint or hardware store

Raw Linseed Oil - hardware or paint store

Rotten-stone - hardware or paint store

Stick Shellac - art supplies, hardware or paint store

Tung Oil - paint store

Whiting - hardware (or school athletic department - used to mark white lines on fields