DIY cleaning products - is it a thing?

Updated: Sep 14, 2019


I’m sure you’ve heard – you can use baking soda, lemons and vinegar to clean your whole house! I've made my own cleaning products for years but how well do these clean and also disinfect? In this post I’m looking at four typical DIY surface cleaners and the pros and cons of each.


First up (I need to get this rant in for the unconverted) - why even use a DIY cleaner?

Conventional cleaning products can contain ingredients that can harm the environment and our health. It’s not just an ingredient in isolation but the combined effect from using several different products that can be harmful - this includes fumes released in the air from products. Phosphates (now mostly banned), fragrance, chlorine, bleach and colours are the typical baddies

Not only is it healthier, making your own is cheaper than buying a commercial product. Eco-friendly versions are often more expensive so it makes sense to make your own.

Making your own is also a way to reduce waste. Hold onto your original containers and re-use them.


The four DIY cleaners I’m looking at are –

· baking soda cleaning paste

· a basic surface spray (vinegar and water)

· lemon peels infused in vinegar to make a spray cleaner

· cream ‘Jif’ type cleaner




In the name of science I let my kitchen and bathroom and laundry tub (ok the whole house) get pretty grubby so I could test these for their cleaning abilities. I also did a lot of research into the science behind the ingredients used in these cleaners. Here’s what I found out.


BAKING SODA CLEANING PASTE


This is a classic DIY cleaner and I’ve tried several different recipes over the years. I first used recipes from online then I’ve spent a lot of time of my own mixes.


Ingredients – the bulk is baking soda. Additions can be water, vinegar, salt, liquid soap and essential oils.


Pros

· cleans well

· cheap and easy to make

Cons

· the cleaning paste is just that – a paste. Some people dip a brush into the paste to use it. I use a cloth for cleaning and find the double dipping a bit cumbersome and unhygienic

· goes hard and sometimes gritty so needs more water added to use it now and then

· leaves baking soda streaks here and there so surfaces need to be wiped down


My verdict - I’m not a fan of the cleaning paste. No matter how I tried to tweak the recipe it still wasn't user friendly.


VINEGAR/WATER SURFACE SPRAY


For years I've used a spray bottle filled with vinegar, water, sometimes essential oils and liquid soap. My research into vinegar as a cleaner made me question why I'm using it at all. The upshot is that vinegar is a disinfectant when used undiluted and left to sit on the surface for a few minutes. That's not how I've been using it. I’ve got more detail as well as links to studies below.


Ingredients – vinegar, water, liquid soap, essential oils (mostly to disguise the vinegar smell)


Pros

· cheap and easy to make

· easy to spray and wipe down and doesn’t need a second wipe to remove residue

· vinegar is a disinfectant when used undiluted

· vinegar is safe for consumption so I’d be happy to eat off a surface cleaned with it

Cons

· vinegar is a disinfectant but should be used undiluted and left to sit on surfaces for at least a few minutes (possibly longer than this) so this isn’t always practical

· doesn’t clean well in grubby situations

· vinegar is acidic so be cautious using it undiluted on some surfaces


My verdict – A mix of vinegar, water, soap and essential oils does make a good spray cleaner for light cleaning situations. It's not a disintfectant when diluted like this so don't confuse why you've got vinegar in the mix....You can just leave it out.


VINEGAR SPRAY MADE WITH CITRUS SKINS


the lemon skins infused in vinegar hack

Every winter I see posts about making this. You've juiced up a heap of lemons - what to do with the skins?


The spray is made by soaking lemon halves (left over after juicing) in a jar of vinegar for 2-3 weeks. Strain and pour into a spray bottle.


Ingredients – vinegar, lemon skins


Pro’s

· I was pretty sceptical about this as a cleaning product. It’s just vinegar right? I have to say it does clean fairly well, however not noticeably better than just vinegar

· the lemon infusion negates the vinegar smell

· cheap and easy to make



Cons

· as above with the vinegar water spray – be careful using vinegar (acid) on delicate surfaces such as marble, exposed concrete and wood

· doesn’t clean well in grubby situations

· the skins need to infuse so it’s not something that can be made instantly

· it’s not a zero waste hack. Once you strain off the vinegar you’ve still got lemon skins to get rid of


My verdict – this hack is a pet peeve of mine because it’s usually touted as a zero waste way of using up lemon skins. You still need to get rid of the skins once you're done with infusing them! Skins could be composted but now they’re full of vinegar - not so good for the garden. It does make a nice smelling cleaning spray. Again – if you want to use it to disinfect then don’t dilute it. Leave on the surface before wiping or scrubbing.


CREAM CLEANER




I couldn’t get my head around working with the baking soda cleaning paste. I wanted to use a creamy cleaner I can squirt from a bottle without double dipping back into the jar. I’ve spent some time making a cream cleaner I’m happy with – click here for the recipe.


Ingredients – castile bar soap, washing soda, water, essential oils (optional)


Pro’s

· works well as a scrubbing cleaner

· cheap to make

Con’s

· more work involved to make than the above three options

· need to shake container before use as soap and water will separate


My verdict – the cream cleaner takes longer to make however the soap mix can be used to make floor cleaner and washing machine detergent so it can be time well spent making a few products. It’s easier to use than a paste and cleans better than a vinegar type spray.


DIY SURFACE CLEANING PRODUCTS – ARE THEY A THING?


I found that some are and some aren’t.


A post or blog of a DIY product might seem popular but it doesn’t mean it works or will work in your situation. The power of social media eh!


I’m still a big fan of DIY cleaning products though. Here’s my take away points after lots of cleaning and reading studies (go google scholar!):


What do you want a cleaner to do?

· For light cleaning - soap and water will be sufficient. I’ll stop making a vinegar water spray and just fill the spray bottle with water, some liquid soap and essential oils for the smell. This spray doesn’t have a preservative so I’ll only make a small amount and refresh it often.

· For harder to shift grime something with some scouring ability is needed (salt, baking soda, washing soda). I rate my cream cleaner but the baking soda paste cleans well if you can make it work for you. In the kitchen a bit of dishwashing liquid on the surfaces might do just as well as any separate cleaner.

· To disinfect I’ll use vinegar. First I need to clean the surface as the grime will hinder the ability of a product to disinfect. Then spray on the vinegar (infused with citrus or not) and leave to sit before wiping off. The studies I've read show that vinegar can be used to kill TB and the flu but only with prolonged contact. I’m not germ-phobic and don’t routinely disinfect but if you've got real concerns about germs a commercial disinfectant might be more appropriate than DIY-ing.

· Would I make the citrus infused vinegar again? Probably not. I can just add some drops of essential oils to vinegar if I need it and it would be ready straight away.


Research the ingredients and how they react in combination. Here’s a few no no’s:

· Don’t mix vinegar (acid) with liquid soap or baking soda (both are alkaline) as they will neutralise each other.

· Don’t mix bleach with ammonia or an acid such as vinegar as it creates a toxic gas. Don’t even use bleach!

· Don’t mix hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. A way to disinfect your surface is to spray it with vinegar, leave, wipe down then spray with hydrogen peroxide, leave again. Just don’t mix the two together.


Be safe:

Don’t be lax about safety just because you’ve made something with natural ingredients. Label your container, keep out of reach of children, use gloves.


Just One Thing

If you've read through this whole blog then good on you - you probably want to green clean and maybe make your own. It can be really daunting to change your cleaning regime though. I work on the premise of Just One Thing. Just pick one product you could change. Make it, use it, be happy with it then try another. I've got more recipes and tips I would love you to try. Happy Green Cleaning!


Here's some links for the fact minded:

https://cleaningbusinesstoday.com/blog/hydrogen-peroxide-vinegar-a-disinfecting-duo/

https://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2018-01-12/does-vinegar-really-kill-household-germs/8806878

https://mbio.asm.org/content/5/2/e00013-14

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0008987

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