It's an old secret our grandmothers knew very well: There's no need to spend hundreds of dollars a year on exotic cleaning products full of questionable chemicals. The fact is, you can make your own household cleaners dirt-cheap and be good to your indoor air and the planet at the same time.
As Kari Gies shows students in classes she teaches on "natural cleaning products," you can whip up your own tub-sink scrub, all-purpose cleaner, window cleaner, furniture polish and many other cleaners by using a handful of low-cost ingredients, such as distilled white vinegar, isopropyl alcohol, baking soda, borax, Dr. Bronner's Castile soap, lemon juice and water.
The simplicity of the recipes can make you question their effectiveness when stacked up against well-packaged commercial products advertised on prime-time television.
"But unless you have an overwhelming situation like cleaning up after five dogs owned by five college students with no cleaning skills, these are going to clean just about anything — and they've got disinfectant properties, too," says Gies, education coordinator at North Mountain Park Nature Center.
For an all-purpose cleaner useful on counters, floors, bathrooms and other non-porous surfaces, you can mix two teaspoons of Dr. Bronner's organic Castile soap, one teaspoon of borax and a quarter cup of vinegar in one quart of warm water, then pour in a spray bottle.
Gies demonstrates its power by spraying it on a dirt patch under the hand dryer of North Mountain Park Nature Center — and a clear, bright, nice-smelling clean spot emerges.
She smiles. "See? For 90 percent of cleaning, we're sold a boat load of goods. We don't need these fancy cleaning products. They're just not necessary."
For jobs that need a little grit, you can easily concoct "clove scrub" by mixing one cup of baking soda, a quarter cup of borax and a few drops of essential oil, such as tea tree oil, clove oil, rose oil or lemon oil. These oils aren't cleansers; they add lovely scents and, in the case of tea tree oil, are powerful disinfectants.
This cleanser, also called "tub and sink scrub," is a loose powder that you store in a Tupperware container and use like Comet or Bon Ami.
Windows? Everyone knows grandma's method: just rub them with vinegar sprinkled on a newspaper. But after experimentation, Gies' recipe calls for one cup of alcohol, one cup of water, one tablespoon of vinegar, mixed and put in a spray bottle (and don't clean windows when they're hot in the sun).
Furniture polish is a simple mixture of olive oil and fresh lemon juice in equal parts. Put it in a squeeze bottle, shake, dab on a cotton cloth, apply, wipe dry.
Students in a class Gies taught Nov. 7 at Pioneer Hall across from Ashland's Lithia Park went home with the above four compounds after making them in class.
They also took home a set of laminated recipe cards that included: