9 essential natural cleaning agents

Cleaning without chemicals is not only possible, most of the time it's equally effective. Try making your own natural cleaners for an inexpensive approach to cleaning that’s much safer for you and the environment.

9 essential natural cleaning agents

Your eco-friendly cleaning kit

Here are 9 must-have items for your natural cleaning arsenal.

  1. Baking soda. Use baking soda when you need a mild abrasive. It's composed of sodium bicarbonate – a slightly alkaline substance with very low toxicity – and cleans by forming a mild detergent when it reacts with grease and oil.
  2. Borax. A naturally occurring alkaline mineral salt, borax can be used to dissolve grease, remove stains, deodorize, disinfect, bleach, inhibit mould, soften water and fabric, and kill ants and cockroaches. It doesn't persist for long in the environment, but it is toxic if ingested, so use it with care – especially around pets and small children.
  3. Glycerine. A by-product of the soap-making process, glycerine is a useful cleaning ingredient because it helps mix oil with water and dissolves many forms of dirt. Most glycerine comes from vegetable oil or animal fats (tallow), but about 10 percent is produced from petroleum.
  4. Lemon juice. Squeeze a lemon for a milder and much better smelling substitute for bleach. It's also good for inhibiting mould growth, deodorizing and removing stains.
  5. Salt. Salt is excellent for scouring pans and kitchen utensils as the grains act as both a mild abrasive and disinfectant.
  6. Soap flakes. Buy pure soap flakes or make your own by grating a bar of laundry or pure soap. They are 100 percent biodegradable, low in toxicity and, unlike detergent, don't contribute to algal problems in waterways. Keep soap flakes in an airtight container.
  7. Tea tree and eucalyptus oils. Use these cleaners and natural disinfectants to finish off after washing down surfaces. To clean a smelly bin, add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to hot water, swish around the bin, pour out and then wipe.
  8. Washing soda. Washing soda (sodium carbonate) is moderately alkaline and a good cleaning staple for the kitchen. It's particularly good for cutting grease, but also removes stains and softens water. (Tip: Although washing soda is not harmful to the environment, it is a strong chemical, so always wear gloves when using it.)
  9. White vinegar. A good substitute for toilet cleaners. You can also use it to remove bathroom scum, hard water deposits and tarnishes on metal.

Why use natural cleaning agents?

  • Natural cleaning products are often cheaper. Less is spent on advertising, so the savings can be passed on to you, the consumer.
  • Homemade cleaning products are often composed of just one substance – the cleaning agent – whereas many commercial products contain additives that bulk up the product and add cosmetic appeal.
  • Allergy sufferers, people with sensitive skin and those with asthma or other breathing difficulties are far less likely to react badly to natural cleansers.
  • Chemicals that break down quickly are better for waterways. If you don't have the time to make your own cleaners, buy cleaners that are low in toxicity and biodegrade quickly.
  • Low chemical use in the kitchen, laundry and bathroom means you should be able to re-use the rinsing water – or "grey" water – on your plants when rainwater is scarce.
  • Pure soap is one of the safest and cheapest washing products around.

Keeping your house spotless without the use of harsh chemicals is a win–win situation for you and the environment!

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