A wonderful new book, Simply Living Well by Julia Watkins, is full of ideas and recipes for a more low-tox way of life, and here we’re sharing four great natural cleaning products you can easily make yourself, with things you probably already have!
CITRUS ALL-PURPOSE CLEANER
If I were forced to turn in all but one of my homemade cleaning products, this would be the one I’d beg to keep. Citrus-infused all-purpose cleaner is such a simple and pure way to lightly clean your home, and making it is as easy as infusing citrus fruit scraps in a vat of vinegar. It’s cheap and easy and eliminates the need for using essential oils to cover up the pungent smell of vinegar. One thing worth noting is that since vinegar is acidic, it can damage certain surfaces and should not be used on natural stones like granite, marble, or soapstone. It can also strip the finish off hardwood floors. Aside from those two surfaces, it can safely clean just about everything else. I use it to clean windows, mirrors, carpets, toilets, tubs, sinks, appliances, and linoleum. Makes 3 cups vinegar, which can be diluted to make 6 cups citrus cleaner
2 cups citrus peel strips (lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit) 3 cups vinegar (apple cider or distilled white), or more as needed
Put the citrus peels in a 1 litre glass jar and cover with the vinegar. Cap with a tight-fitting lid or a cloth secured with a rubber band. If using a metal lid, place a piece of compostable parchment paper between the jar and the lid to prevent corrosion. To infuse the vinegar, set the jar in a sunny spot for 2 weeks. Afterward, strain and compost the citrus peels, then pour the infused vinegar into a clean glass jar with an airtight lid.
TO USE In a spray bottle, combine 1 part vinegar and 1 part water, and use as you would any commercial all-purpose cleaner.
TIP If you don’t have citrus peels, you can also make an all-purpose cleaner by adding 5 to 10 drops of essential oil to a solution of 1 cup distilled white vinegar and 1 cup water. Green oils like tea tree and eucalyptus work double duty: they have disinfectant qualities and smell wonderful.
HARDWOOD FLOOR CLEANER
I don’t clean the floors nearly as often as I should, but when I do, I like to do it the old-fashioned way—on my hands and knees and with very few ingredients. I use castile soap instead of vinegar, which is believed by some to be too acidic for, and potentially damaging to, hardwood floors. This recipe has worked wonderfully for me for years, and I love that you can add essential oils to disinfect and deodorise the house. My favourite oils for cleaning floors are tea tree, eucalyptus, lavender, lemon, and peppermint.
2 cups warm water 2 drops castile soap or Sal Suds 5 to 10 drops essential oil (optional)
In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients. Pour into a 475 ml (16 fl oz) glass spray bottle, seal tightly, and shake well.
TO USE Spray on floors and either mop up with a cotton string mop or wooden Cuban mop or get on your hands and knees and wipe up the solution with a bar mop towel.
Commercial oven cleaners are among the most toxic household cleaning products. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends avoiding them altogether. Not only do they contain powerful corrosive agents like sodium hydroxide, which can severely burn the skin and damage the eyes, but their grease-dissolving ingredients irritate the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes. Did I mention EWG also says they can damage the kidneys, lungs, and neurological system? Needless to say, this is one cleaning product I would never invite into my home, much less into the kitchen where we eat!
Fortunately, there’s a simple and effective way to clean the oven without using harsh cleaners. Just create a paste with baking soda and water, put on a pair of gloves, and use your hands to spread it inside the oven (away from the heating elements). Leave the paste overnight, then use a damp cloth to wipe it clean in the morning. If that doesn’t work and you need something slightly more powerful, the following recipe will do the trick. It requires some mechanical cleaning, or what our grandmothers might call elbow grease, but it works well on even the grimiest of ovens.
5 tablespoons baking soda 5 tablespoons washing soda 2 tablespoons liquid castile soap Warm water, as needed Distilled white vinegar, in a spray bottle
Make sure the oven is off and completely cool. Remove all racks and removable parts. Give the oven and door a good wipe-down to remove food debris. In a small bowl, mix the baking soda, washing soda, and castile soap. Add just enough warm water to form a foamy paste. Using a glove, scoop out the paste, one handful at a time, and spread it all over the door and interior surfaces of the oven, away from the heating elements. Close the door and let the paste sit for a few hours or overnight. With a wooden scrub brush or copper scrub pad, scrub any areas coated in a heavy residue. Finally, spray all surfaces with vinegar and wipe clean.
Try as I might to buy organic fruits and veggies, sometimes there’s no avoiding produce that’s been treated with pesticides. Even when I do buy organic, there’s still bacteria, dirt, and grime to consider. In the United States there’s even something called diphenylamine (DPA), which is applied to apples to keep them fresh for longer periods of time. Commercial veggie washes purport to remove pesticides, wax, dirt, and other residues. While these sprays are generally made from plant-based sources and appear to be safe, the question is whether they’re actually worth the money—and plastic waste.
A few years ago, when I looked into making my own veggie wash, I discovered a study by Cooks Illustrated showing that diluted vinegar was effective at removing 98 percent of bacteria. The same study found that a scrub brush removed 85 percent of bacteria. A separate study published by Consumer Reports found that soaking apples in a baking soda solution completely removed three pesticides being tested. Having found these and other studies, I started making my own cleaning solutions, including a baking soda soak, a vinegar soak, and a vinegar spray. I don’t think one of these solutions is necessarily better than the others, but I like having options in case I’m short an ingredient or am washing different types of produce. The vinegar spray works best on smooth-skinned fruits and veggies, such as apples, pears, cucumbers, and peppers, while the vinegar and baking soda soaks work well for delicate produce like berries and mushrooms. For produce with thick skin, I also use a vegetable brush to help wash away hard-to-remove residue.
VINEGAR SPRAY. Fill a spray bottle with 1 part distilled white vinegar and 3 parts warm water. Spray the produce, give it a quick scrub, and rinse clean with tap water.
VINEGAR SOAK. Fill a large bowl with 1 part vinegar and 3 parts warm water. Mix well, add the produce, and allow it to soak for 15 minutes. If possible, scrub the produce with a veggie brush and then rinse clean with water.
BAKING SODA SOAK. Fill a large bowl with 2 litres warm water. Add 2 tablespoons baking soda and mix well. Add the produce and allow it to soak for 10 to 15 minutes. If possible, scrub the produce with a veggie brush and then rinse clean with water.
This is an edited extract from Simply Living Well by Julia Watkins published by Hardie Grant Books $39.99 and is available where all good books are sold.
Photography by Julia Watkins.
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