Making DIY Cleaning Products: The Four Foundational Ingredients

Since I started writing about money-saving topics 10 years ago, I’ve tried my hand at a number of DIY cleaning products — I’ve made my own laundry detergent, used pantry items to unclog a drain and attempted to make my own dishwasher detergent. That last recipe failed miserably, left my dishes caked in white film and taught me an important lesson: Sometimes, it makes sense to pay for a traditional cleaning product.

But in many instances, making your own DIY cleaning products isn’t an experiment destined for failure. Believe it or not, you may already be masterminding your own cleaning products without realizing it. Think about it: Did your mom ever suggest using baking soda and vinegar to unclog a sink? Or run vinegar through your coffee machine to speed up the coffee-brewing process? If so, you’re already one step ahead in the DIY process.

When it comes to DIY cleaning products, I’ve found four foundational ingredients at the base of most formulas. Here are the simple household items you can use to keep your home clean in a wallet- and eco-friendly way.

Vinegar

If you have hard water, you know the struggle is real when it comes to battling white scaling on surfaces like sinks, glasses and shower doors. Enter vinegar. Because it’s highly acidic, vinegar can tackle lime deposits like nobody’s business. Diluted with water, it can also clean linoleum and hardwood floors. Full-strength vinegar can attack the stains in your toilet no one wants to touch. And as I mentioned above, running vinegar through a coffee machine can keep it clean and help it brew coffee faster. Note: Vinegar can eat away at ceramic tile and natural stone materials like granite countertops, so don’t use it there.

Baking Soda

I love using baking soda and an old toothbrush to go to town on grout stains in my kitchen sink. Baking soda also freshens up your garbage disposal. And if you happen to burn something in a pan, baking soda will work wonders to break up burned-on residue. Bonus tip: To clean nonstick pans, I use those plastic mesh bags that fruit comes in as a scrubbing tool along with the baking soda.

Borax

When I lived in a New York City apartment, the only use I ever had for borax was to keep ants and cockroaches at bay. I sprinkled it around baseboards, because it’s a natural pesticide. (Did you ever notice it’s often the main ingredient in ant traps?) Now that I’m living in less bug-infested place and can afford pets, I avoid that use, because the stuff is poisonous to dogs.

So I’ve just found other uses for borax — it’s one of the primary ingredients in my DIY laundry detergent. Along with borax, I use washing soda and Fels-Naptha soap shavings. Borax by itself can pre-treat stains in the laundry. Additionally, if you have a swimming pool, pouring borax in the pool water can help to balance pH levels. Finally, you can sprinkle it in a front-loading washing machine to freshen it up. And if you didn’t already know, borax and boric acid are pretty much the same thing.

Dish Soap

Add a few drops of dish soap to a mixture of water and vinegar (a 6-to-1 ratio) in a spray bottle, and you’ve got a DIY glass cleaner. If you happen to have that aforementioned hard water, don’t use tap water for your glass cleaner. Instead, invest in a water purifier so you won’t have to worry about mineral build up. You can use this DIY glass-cleaner on your windows, those grimy shower doors and even inside the microwave. Because dish soap is a natural grease-cutter, this mixture can help clean up an oil-splattered stovetop as well.

If you like these suggestions, buy ingredients in bulk at a warehouse or wholesale club. You’ll pay less overall, and you won’t have to run out any time soon to replace your DIY cleaning product ingredients.

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