Natural cleaning

26 November 2008
When I started simplifying, natural cleaning was one of the first things I went to. I used up all the chemical cleaners I had in the house and used bicarb, white vinegar, salt, washing soda, water and elbow grease instead. I'd forgotten how easy if was to clean without harsh chemicals but the thing that amazed me was that I'd been hoodwinked into thinking I needed a different cleaner for a whole lot of different things. Wrong! I was born in the 1940s, well before the onslaught of all those products commonly used now. Having lived in both camps, let me tell you that natural cleaning is better for you, your family, your wallet and your environment.

I've written about green cleaning before and have a post with recipes here. Today I want to write about the most basic of cleaning methods - soaking and cleaning with water and rags.

A good cleaning kit - a bucket of water, rags, soap and white vinegar (which looks yellow in this photo for some reason), you supply the elbow grease.

The laundry detergent listed in those green recipes will serve you well for most of your clothes but as we all know there are those times when we need a bit more of a punch to get rid of stains. You can either use the heavy duty laundry detergent or you can soak your clothes. Soaking was something that was routinely done when I was a girl. You would either fill the laundry tub if you had a lot of things to soak, or a bucket for a small amount. Then wet the stained article, rub in a good amount of laundry soap, making sure you rub over the entire stain properly, then just put it in the water to soak. Generally these clothes would be soaked overnight and then washed in the machine the following morning.

Oxygen bleach - the powder bleach - is one of the few chemical cleaners I still buy, but I use it sparingly. If I want to whiten up yellowing cotton or linen, or remove a stubborn stain, I soak it overnight in hot water to which two tablespoons of oxygen bleach has been added. Again, the following morning, the clothing is washed, as normal, in the washing machine.

But clothing isn't the only thing that will benefit from this treatment. I remove grease on my stove top with plain water and a little soap on a rag. Before I am ready to clean the stove, I pour about half a cup of warm or cold water over the dirty areas and let it sit there soaking until I'm ready to clean. Then I get a clean terry cloth rag, dip it in water and soap it up. I wipe the stove top with that soapy rag, over spills and grease that have been softened by the soaking water, and everything is easily removed - without harsh chemicals. If there is something still stuck on, I rub it with a luffa, a luffa and soap is a powerful ally. Usually I rinse out the rag a few times and repeat the cleaning and when it's clean, I wipe over with a clean and dry rag. I never leave wet surfaces, I always dry them with clean rags. Leaving a wet surface to dry usually gives you streak marks, so it's best to dry it off. You'll find this will finish off your cleaning properly, giving a bit of a polish.

I'm sure many of you already have an efficient green cleaning routine, but if you haven't cleaned like this before, try it, it works. So now, all that is left to do is to remind you to put on your apron before you clean and remember to have a cup of tea or coffee when you finish. :- )

Oxygen bleach
Chlorine bleach

Bicarb in the detergent holder and white vinegar in the rinse aide holder.


  1. I love my natural cleaners! I do use bleach occasionally on the toilets and getting the mould out of the shower grouting, but only occasionally.

    I also make up a 'Spray and Wipe' in a spray bottle. I fill it almost full of water, add about 1/2 cm of eucalyptus oil and a drop of dish detergent. Shake before use and wipe off with a damp cloth. It works brilliantly, particularly for people who want some form of mild disinfecting. And smells wonderful!

  2. I have been using your cleaning recipes since I found them several months ago, including the soaking. Works on everything so far. I'll have to find some O2 bleach for just in case.
    Thank you Rhonda!

  3. Such a good reminder-especially before the holidays. I do use clorine bleach as well, especially in the bathrooms and on the tile floors.

  4. Hello Rhonda,
    Thanks again for the helpful information. Can you tell me if liquid bleach which is what the label on my bottle says, is the same as O2 bleach? Also is it possible to use the recipe for the laundry powder in my dishwasher or would that not be suitable for dishes? If not do you have any natural suggestions that would not foam up to much? I washed my hair in carb soda yesterday and I am thrilled with the result. I have been blessed with very thick hair and have always had to use a lot of shampoo. Your hint will save me so much. Thankyou thankyou.

  5. Rhonda
    We have a biocycle unit (well it isn't that brand but the same sort of concept) every year we have to get it checked and we have just had our annual check, the water quality is excellent...the first time it has been that good, I only use natural cleaning products always have, but the difference this time can only be the laundry liquid.

    I made my first batch in June and finished it last week so it will cost me (and we have 9 people in our house) about $8 a year.

    So apart from the savings in dollars it has made our water treatment plant work much more efficiently.

    thank you


  6. Great simple post. Funny how complicated every thing has become. I think I'll have that cup of Coffee before I get started though:)

  7. I love this post.
    My youngest child has Cystic Fibrosis. I have always loved burning scented candles, the scented plug in things, but over the past several months I have really got to thinking about alot of things coming from these products (as well as cleaning products) that aren't healthy for us, especially someone with a chronic lung disease.
    I have been trying to clean with more natural products and opening windows when I can for fresh air instead of burning candles lately.

  8. Gail, have a look at this blog post at Towards Sustainability Julie has heaps of green cleaning recipes including one for a dishwasher.

  9. When I first started using green products I also stopped using steel wool for pots and pans, and the aluminium supports that the burner rings sit on, on the gas stove. Steel wool had previously been a breeze to get off any hard burnt on spills. I laboured away with the baking soda and cloth for a while there, thinking that maybe it just wasn't worth persisting with, until it occured to me that, like the pots and pans, if I just soaked them for half an hour or so in good old hot water it might make it a little easier. And, hey presto it came off so easily without steel wool. How simple a thing to have forgotten about; the magical art of soaking!

    Regards, Marilyn

  10. Dear Rhonda,
    I have been reading your blog for 4 weeks now after reading about it in a magazine. I have kept a record of spending since then, checked my electricity meter, made laundry powder and made the chocolate cake.
    The vegetable garden has been planted out for summer.
    I put lavender, rosemary and a plant that looks like wormwood and smells like it but is a smaller bush, into a jar and pour vinigar over it to soak for a week or more, then I pour the vinigar out and put a new batch of the herbs in and soak again. It smells realy nice and has anitceptic and anti fungal properties in it.
    It feels so good to read about others who feel the same way and get tips.

  11. Gail, generally household bleach comes as chlorine bleach (which is liquid) and powdered oxygen bleach which is a peroxide bleach. There is a liquid oxy bleach but I have never seen it in stores. Check the label on your container. oxygen bleach is either hydrogen peroxide, sodium percarbonate or sodium perborate. Chlorine bleach will have chlorine as one of the ingredients. I have added info to the main post so you can read about these two entirely different products.

    When I use my dishwasher, I use bicarb in the detergent holder and white vinegar in the rinse holder. This is a good alternative to the very harsh caustic dishwasher cleaners.

    Tracy, I will write about those plug-ins tomorrow. Hugs to you and your little one.

  12. Hi Rhonda,

    I'm hoping you can help me :) I made a batch of your soaps the other night (the cold pressed oil one) and I think I left it too long to cut as it all seemed to crumble appart! Do you know where I might have gone wrong?! Is it possible to melt it all down and try again?

  13. I also Rhonda, have gone back to the ways that my grandmother and mother used when I was a chid in the 40s and 50s. Sounds stupid but I somehow get more satisfaction over a job well done. If that sounds sad for a 60 year old - well maybe I need to get out more, LOL.

  14. I have been using natural cleaners for the last several months (mostly like your do, but I add esentail oils, I like the scents) and I LOVE it! I will never go back to buying all those cleaners

  15. I have used the soaking method for years and it really does make a difference with the elbow grease not having to work as much! Baking soda and vinegar are essential in my home. I do desire to make the laundry soap soon- I keep forgetting to order the bar soap- maybe I will do that right now!!


  16. Rhonda, thanks for all the great info. I do have a question... where do I get bicarb for the dishwashing detergent? I'm not even really sure what that is?
    I would like to try this because my dishwasher is very old and does not clean well. I'm always concerned about the chemicals not being rinsed off our dishes completely. Thanks again

  17. Thanks Rhonda and also thankyou Melinda. I am always amazed at how helpful and kind people are. So nice that we can help each other. One little recycling hint from my grandmother who never wasted anything. If her rubber gloves got a hole in them she would cut them up for lovely strong rubber bands. Large ones from the wrist and hand area and little ones from the fingers.
    Cheers Gail

  18. Is bicarb the same thing as baking soda?

  19. Hi everyone! It's been a very busy day for me. Phew!

    Lisa, bicarb is baking soda. You should be able to buy it at the supermarket or grocery store. I buy mine at my bulk foods place where I also get my bulk baker's flour. I pay $6.95 for 5 kilos (about 11 pounds). If you can find a bulk supplier buy a big bag because you can use it for a lot of your cleaning, shampoo etc.

    Thanks for sharing grandma's tip, Gail.

    It's really great to know how people came to find this blog. If you can add to the list of where this blog is featured, I can add those magazines and newspapers etc to my book proposal. Thanks everyone.

  20. We replaced our dishwasher last year and were surprised to see the manufacturer recommending white vinegar instead of rinse aid. However, they stressed that detergent should be used and not replaced with anything else, so I've been reluctant to try bicarb.

    I have to say, though, that I don't use those tablets, just powder, and I use the smallest amount - less than a tablespoon. The dishes come up fine. 3kg of powder easily lasts 6 months, often longer.

    Perhaps when it's a bit older I'll start experimenting with bicarb. Personally, I can't see how it could damage the machine, but as it's still under warranty I'd better not, just in case :-)

  21. I love this post. :) About 8 years ago I bought a book titled "Clean House Clean Planet" by Karen Logan. She uses the ingredients you use too and it has a lot of information on chemicals, lots of recipes and reviews.

  22. Rhonda, searching for recipes for natural cleaning products is how I found you way back when!

    A dear old lady in her 80's gave me a tip some years ago about getting those rusty type stains out of fine linens and doilies and so forth, even if they have fine embroidery on them.

    You get a cake of plain soap, and with the fabric just damp, you rub the soap into the fabric until it's caked on. You hang your fabric piece in the sun. After it is dry and hard, you wash it by hand and the stains are gone. Just like magic, and very little in the way of harsh chemicals (or elbow grease) involved.

    Lisa x

  23. Great post!

    I was wondering if you know of the safety of Borax? I use that in some cleaning recipes. I cut my dishwashing powder with borax and baking soda. (Equal parts of all three) I've tried many other recipes and all leave a while film on my glasses even with the vinegar rinse aid.

  24. I found your comment about soaking clothes interesting. I'm only 25, but we grew up doing this - any spills on clothes required an instant change so the item could be scrubbed with a nailbrush and soap. I still do this and find it baffling that my other half never has!

  25. Ah, how simple. :o) Some water, some soap and elbow grease. How come people forgot that? :o))

  26. I've been using vinegar, ammonia and water for my cleaning for quite awhile now. I also added rubbing alcohol to my list when a fellow frugal blogger mentioned it to me. It works great!
    I've gone through my first large box of the oxygen bleach (OxiClean) and I paid $11 for it at Sam's Club. It lasted me almost 8 months. I think I got my money's worth at that price. It does work good on my whites and that is pretty much all I use it for.
    But my best product is my "rags"! I use the microfiber clothes and just plain water and my stove comes clean and shines after a breakfast of bacon & fried eggs. I don't know how just water and a cloth can cut the grease, but they do. I got mine on the TV shopping channel over 5 years ago and I love them.

    Changing the way I'm cleaning and living has had an impact on my asthma. We still use chemicals in some forms but we're trying, trying very hard to eliminate as many as possible.

    Thanks for the informative and inspirational blog. I've been reading your writings for a long time but just recently began to post. I thought it was high time to share!
    Marilyn in New Mexico

  27. Thanks for the Homemade receipe post. We will making the homemade soap and clothes washing soap. Thanks again for the post.

    Enjoy the Holidays!



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