DIY Network

Spring Spruce-Up

Homemade Cleaning Products

Concoct your own cleaning products, it economical and eco-friendly.

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Not only is cleanliness next to godliness -- and next to impossible -- it’s expensive. It’s also space consuming. Just look at the shelves that hold spray, gel, foam and powder to clean every kind of surface in any house. And there are environmental issues, including concerns about propellants in spray cans, the toxicity of chemicals in commercial cleaners and how to dispose of containers.

But for most people, the convenience of having a product ready to go wins out. “Let’s face it,” says Jeanette Sutherlin, Fresno County director for the Cooperative Extension of the University of California. “We want things fast and easy.” So when people call her office for advice on cleaning products, she refers them to grocery and janitorial supply stores rather than to old-fashioned cleaning formulas.

It wasn’t always that way, though. People have been making their own cleaners since the beginning of dirt. It wasn’t until early in the 20th century that commercial products started showing up on store shelves. The Naturally Clean Home by Karyn Siegel-Maier reports that since 1915, about 4 million household chemicals have been created. And while many of us like the convenience of ready-to-use products, when we asked readers in the Fresno, California, area about home cleaning, dozens responded with recipes of cleaners they concoct out of everyday household products.

One reader is Vi Snyder, who has made her own window cleaner for more than 40 years. She uses two formulas. With one, she mixes ammonia, rubbing alcohol, dish detergent and water. Another recipe uses ammonia, white vinegar, lemon juice and blue food coloring, which makes the homemade concoction look like a commercial window cleaner. Both are good, she says. “Sometimes I will buy a commercial product in the store thinking that it might be better than what I’m using, but it never is,” she says. “I always go back to using the homemade solution.”

White vinegar, a staple in many households, has varied uses. “It keeps the static electricity out of your clothes,” Snyder says. Another of her helpful hints: spray new tennis shoes with liquid starch. “It keeps them clean longer,” she says. Some years ago, Snyder made a book of her favorite recipes and cleaning tips. “People love them,” she says. “You can save money.”

Melanie Suderman’s favorite cleaning product is hydrogen peroxide. “I stock up on it when Walgreen’s sells it for 39 cents for a 16-ounce bottle,” says Suderman. “It’s fume-free, odorless, antibacterial and nontoxic. I have no qualms about using it when I’m pregnant or nursing. I can safely use it on all of the surfaces my children touch. It suits most of my cleaning chores, and it’s a fraction of the cost of other products.”

Diana Shima uses hydrogen peroxide on wet bloodstains: “Pour it on and watch as it foams away the blood.” She also is a fan of baking soda and white vinegar, which she uses in a solution to clean windows, mirrors and countertops. “The most high-tech grease-cutter in the world is baking soda coupled with a good liquid dish soap,” she says. “Try it on that grungy stove hood. Wet a scrub sponge and squeeze out the excess water. Put a dollop of dish soap on the sponge. Sprinkle on baking soda, and wipe off the grease like magic.”

For grease spots on clothes, she uses the same mixture. After putting a drop of dish soap on the spot, she sprinkles it with baking soda, then she uses a toothbrush to scrub. “I have a toddler,” she explains. “I don’t like spraying mystery chemicals all over my house. I want to feel comfortable with the ingredients. These simple and cheap combos I use have not failed me yet. The only cleanser I buy is Comet, which I use to scrub and disinfect the toilet.”

Mildred Gearhardt recommends using milk to remove lipstick stains from cloth napkins. “Soak them for 30 minutes, rinse in hot, soapy water and then wash as usual,” she says. She uses lemon rinds to remove rust, ink and mildew. To remove lime deposits from teakettles, toilet bowls or whatever, she says, boil potatoes or carrot peelings in water. (She hasn’t tried this, but trusts the information.)

Sylvia Berry uses three basic formulas for most things in her house. She puts them in clearly marked spray bottles. One is rubbing alcohol and water, to clean her eyeglasses. Another is an all-purpose cleaner made from ammonia, baking soda, white vinegar and water. The third is a solution of white vinegar and water for stains on fabric, furniture and carpets.

Rhonda Watson has some handy-dandy ideas that she picked up from an aunt in the East and from various magazines. To clean pewter, she recommends cabbage leaves, then buffing with a clean cloth. To clean crevices and carvings in furniture, Watson suggests spraying furniture polish on a toothbrush and dusting.

Verla Everett has been using rubbing alcohol, ammonia and water to clean fabrics for years.

Sluggish, dirty drains? Elayn Ketcher’s favorite remedy is vinegar and baking soda. “It bubbles and fizzles a lot,” says Ketcher, who lives in Fresno. “If you don’t have vinegar, use lemon juice. Try this before buying expensive drain cleaners. It works.”

Rachel Silva of Fresno stands by her cleaners: ammonia and vinegar. “I keep one squirt bottle of each on hand,” she says. She uses ammonia to clean carpets, windows, mirrors and clothes. “I use it straight, but you can mix it with water if you can’t handle the odor,” she says. Silver cleans her stainless steel stove and her countertops with vinegar.

One primary reason to use the homemade cleaning concoctions is to save money. And a check at a store recently indicates that mixing common products you’re likely to have in your home anyway will do just that. We found 28 ounces of white vinegar at a store cost $1.49 and a bottle of ammonia a dime less for the same amount. It was $1.99 for 28 ounces of liquid dishwashing detergent; $3.89 for a box of Borax; $4.59 for 10 pounds of baking soda; 79 cents for a gallon of bleach; and $1.69 for 28 ounces of hydrogen peroxide. A 28-ounce bottle of Windex was $2.89 at the same store.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)

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