Being frugal by nature, I decided years ago that I would forgo these costly cleaners and use homemade products instead. I've been happily using low-cost, less-toxic cleaners with good results ever since. That's not to say I've never bought commercial cleaning products, because I have. But I love making and using homemade cleaners because I know what's in them. They are much, much less expensive than their store-bought counterparts. I'm also pleased to know my family is self-reliant in an increasingly consumer-driven world where even the most basic needs can't seem to be satisfied unless we go to the store and buy something.
First up is vinegar. Cheap, lovely vinegar. Oh, how I love the stuff! White distilled vinegar is probably my favorite all-purpose cleaner, and I buy it by the gallon. It makes me happy to contemplate that it's absolutely nontoxic so I never have to worry about little ones playing where I've recently cleaned. An added bonus is that when I'm not using vinegar to clean something, I can use it to make a great salad dressing or perk up the flavor of cooked vegetables. What other cleaning product can boast that?
- Mop the floors. Add a good slug of vinegar, about one or two cups, to a sink full of warm water and mop the floor. Once the floors are dry, there is no lingering vinegar smell.
- Disinfect counters. (A great alternative to using bleach.) Spray of pour full-strength vinegar on counters and leave it to air dry. Kills germs.
- Clean and condition wood. Mix a tablespoon of vinegar and a tablespoon of olive oil in a quart of warm water to clean and condition wood cabinets, furniture, wall paneling, etc.
- All-purpose cleaner/shiner. Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle and use on appliances, chrome cupboard and door handles, sink areas, and bathroom fixtures. Spray and then wipe dry. Or soak a washcloth in the vinegar mixture, wring out excess water, and use to wipe the surface of objects; dry with a soft cloth.
- Clean windows and glass. Mix together a quarter cup of vinegar and a quart of water. Use in a spray bottle, or dip a rag into the mixture, wring out excess water, and wipe surfaces. Use newspaper or a soft rag to clean and polish the surface.
- Eliminate mineral deposits in your automatic drip coffeemaker. Fill the reservoir with vinegar; let it sit in the reservoir for 30 minutes and then run through the drip cycle. Repeat the drip cycle twice more using only water to thoroughly rinse away the vinegar. Your coffee will taste sweeter!
- Clean the microwave. In a four-cup microwave-safe container, mix together 1/2 cup vinegar and 1 1/2 cups water. Microwave on high for about 2 minutes. Don't open the door, but let the vinegar mixture sit inside for 15 minutes or so. Remove the container and wipe down interior surfaces of microwave.
- In the dishwasher. Run 1/2 cup vinegar (no need to measure exactly--just get close) through your automatic dishwasher to clean and deodorize and remove hard water stains from the interior.
- Fruits and vegetables. Use a tablespoon of vinegar for every cup of water to wash fruits and vegetables and kill any bacteria that might be present. Wash the produce with this mixture, and then rinse well with fresh water.
- Washing clothes. Use a cup of vinegar in the rinse cycle of your clothes washing machine. It will make your laundry soft and remove soap residue. (This is especially useful if you make your own laundry soap.)
- Disinfect baby toys. To safely clean and disinfect baby toys (anything that is hard, such as plastic or wood), mix equal parts vinegar and water. If the toy can handle it, I immerse it in the solution for several minutes and then set it on a towel to dry. Otherwise, I use a wet rag to wipe it down.
- Drain cleaner...non-toxic and fun! To keep your drains unclogged, pour half a cup of baking soda into your drain and then follow that with half a cup of vinegar. The resulting volcano is great entertainment, so be sure to gather around all kids, young and old, to watch the show. Let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes and then pour boiling water into the drain. If you have a bad clog, at this point you can use a (clean!) toilet plunger to plunge until the clog shifts and the water disappears effortlessly down the drain.