11 Household Items You Can Use for Cleaning (& Greening) Your Home

From baking soda to table salt, get the sparkle without the toxins.

Contrary to what Proctor & Gamble would have you believe, you don’t need a complex chemical compound to get your house “fresh,” “sparkling” or clean. Nor do you need particularly advanced compounds for cleaning toilets or scrubbing away grime. That’s just big companies tapping into old anxieties picked up in chemistry class. As in, “I really don’t get what this teacher is going on about, but that thing exploded so I must be doing something right.”

When it comes to cleaning the space in which you live, love and breathe, Professor SC Johnson doesn’t know his carbon from his footprint. Stock your house with these eleven staples and your home will dazzle with cleanliness instead of the toxic stuff that makes you cough.

1. Olive Oil
Consider it a cure-all. It can be used for polishing wood, getting a zipper unstuck, preventing hairballs (add a teaspoon to your cat’s food), shining stainless steel and brass, polishing shoes, and making your leather (or pleather) sofa look like new.


2. Vinegar
Vinegar is acidic, meaning it will kill mold and mildew. It’s also great for removing stains and curbing rust. Use it on your windows and mirrors, too, as well as toilets.

3. Baking Soda
Because baking soda is alkaline, it works well with acidic messes – like grease, proteins and animal poop. It also removes odor from said pets and other stinks. Add a little water to make a paste and scour your tub with it.

4. Salt
Dissolve salt in white vinegar to make a subtle abrasive for cleaning tiles, glass and sinks. Here’s another tip: if you drop an egg, clean it up with a handful of salt.

5. Castile Soap
Castile soap is vegetable-based and cleans by attaching itself to dirt at the molecular level. That’s way more hardcore than Scrubbing Bubbles®.

6. Lemon Juice
Lemons can be used as a natural disinfectant and alternative to bleach. They will obliterate germs and microbes, and still look all cheery and yellow.

7. Tea Tree Oil
In our household, we relish in cleaning with essential oils, mainly because they smell pretty. Tea Tree Oil has that hyper-minty scent associated with so many commercial cleaning products, though it comes by it’s smell naturally. It’s extracted from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia and can be used to remove mildew and mold, as well as eradicating bacteria, germs and microbes.

8. Old newspapers
Mix some warm water with a drop or two of vinegar to wash your windows, then dry with bunched up newspaper to get your windows sparking.

9. Orange Oil
Another essential oil, this one is great for removing gummy grime.

10. Borax
The name bears a cautionary resemblance to Clorax and Lorax, but borax is a naturally occurring evaporate deposit found in seasonal lakes. It’s alkaline, thus effective at killing mold and fungus, and softens water. Try adding it to laundry, or use it to clean countertops, walls, pots and pans. You can even clean fine, hand-painted china with it.

11. Toothpaste
Because a tube of it consists of a mild abrasive, a detergent and an antibacterial agent, toothpaste is a born stain-fighter. Stay away from tartar control or whitening brands for a breadth of reasons, the main one here being that it can inflict damage on surfaces like silver.

Images: Jaymie Koroluk; Alfonso SilónizRakka; Krissen; Max Edmands; Sarah Cady; .angels; just.Luc; SheKnows; Instructables; Stéfan

K. Emily Bond

K. Emily Bond is the Shelter Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in southern Spain, reporting on trends in art, design, sustainable living and lifestyle.