Further Domestic Experiments

I am trying to move our family away from chemicals and expensive cleaning products and move toward  more natural and inexpensive options. I figure most of this stuff is easy to do and anything that can simplify our lives is a good thing. However, a domestic diva I am not. Any regular reader here knows I struggle to stay on top of things on the home front. I hope that simplifying will help with that, too.  One thing I am learning very quickly is that vinegar is my friend. So, without further ado, my experiments so far are as follows:

Laundry –Last night I made my own laundry soap using one bar of shredded ivory soap, one cup of borax and one cup of washing soda.  It’s appropriate for front loading HE washers because it is low sudsing, and it is dirt cheap. I have yet to determine if I approve of the job it does on clothes, but I love that it’s all natural and that the ingredients can be used for other things in our home.

Dishes – I intend to use the borax and washing soda in our dishwasher too. Apparently equal parts borax and washing soda work well in the dishwasher and straight vinegar is an excellent rinse aid.  For dish soap itself I’ve been using what’s left of our Dr. Bronner’s supplies  and I want to switch to using it more broadly once we use up our current supply of dish soap.  You can dilute the heck out of it and it cuts grease wonderfully without all the harsh detergent ingredients.

Windows – Vinegar and water work wonderfully as a glass cleaner. I am still experimenting with this, but I’ve read that adding cornstarch to the mix also helps a lot. Does anybody know if this is true, or have tips and suggestions for making it more effective?

Bathrooms – K showed me that baking soda and salt work really well to clean the bathtub and I imagine anywhere else where you need an abrasive scrubbing agent.  That probably would never have occurred to me though! Go K! I also know you can use straight vinegar in the tub and in the toilet as it is a natural disinfecting agent.

Floors – Once again, vinegar can be used either diluted or straight to clean vinyl floors. I also tend to turn to clear ammonia diluted in water when mopping, although ammonia scares me a little bit more. It may be natural, but it’s still a poison. I suspect Dr. Bronner’s would probably do a decent job in a pinch, too.   Also, K recently taught me about the stain fighting power of vinegar when we spilled red wine on our light carpet. A little bit of white vinegar poured directly onto the spot and it just disappeared as if by magic!  I’m going to try it on a few of our other stains and see if it helps at all.

I still need a good all purpose cleaner, preferably one I can mix in relatively small quantities and spray. Does anyone have a favorite recipe? These changes are really making me feel good about the sorts of things we have in our home and they are definitely good for the budget. I welcome any thoughts or tips because this is still largely new to me.

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mija
    Dec 08, 2010 @ 13:28:29

    I don’t have any advice beyond what you’re already doing, but what a great thing. I’m definitely impressed with your homemade cleaning supplies.

  2. youngbridget
    Dec 08, 2010 @ 13:49:35

    Are you impressed enough to try any of them? 🙂

  3. Serenity Everton
    Dec 08, 2010 @ 15:46:50

    We use white vinegar as a rinse aid in the washing machine (no Downy or anything like it). It works well. Sometimes I have to use a dryer sheet in the dryer for static cling, but mostly not. You can’t smell it on the laundry and it keeps the washing machine clean as well. (None of that goopy horrid build-up.) You can use it in HE washers as well (wish I still had one). If we could find washing soda around here (which we can’t, I’ve looked everywhere, and no Wal-Mart – maybe it’s a California no-no?) I’d definitely be using the washing soda / borax soap. I’ve read that you can use Fels-Naptha or liquid Ivory in place of the Ivory soap bar shaving experiment. I’ve also read various success/failure stories with the dishwasher version, mostly based on how hard or soft your tap water is.

    Vinegar is great at cleaning most things, but you shouldn’t use it on only on counters where/when you work with raw meat or if the house catches the flu or other serious bug. Then you should use something more chemical (I like Lysol spray cleaner). Vinegar kills lots of common bacteria, allergens, etc but it is not full-proof and is not a disinfectant. Rubbing alcohol works much better on doorknobs and bathroom fixtures (test first) at killing persistent germs.

    Here’s some more helpful tips: http://www.household-management-101.com/homemade-cleaners.html … it includes a variety of home-spun inexpensive cleaners, including more about vinegar.

  4. youngbridget
    Dec 08, 2010 @ 19:25:46

    Thanks sparkle! That was really helpful. As for the washing soda, you can order it online but I don’t know if the shipping is prohibitive or not if your reason for making the laundry soap yourself is the cost benefit. I will definitely check out that site!

  5. Michael
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 00:02:34

    I have no helpful hints, but I admire the heck out of your initiative. I looked into using vinegar as fabric softener once (because my Downy keeps thickening before I use it all up), and read so much contradictory advice online that it scared me off. Everyone agrees vinegar is a wonderful household product but no two people agree on how to use it.

    My question is, do you have to shave the Ivory soap yourself? With a penknife, like whittling? Or does it come shaved, as a commercial product? Or … can you put it in the blender, or something? If you have to whittle your own laundry soap, with 5 or 6 people to wash for some weeks, seems like a lot of work.

  6. youngbridget
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 08:48:27


    You have to shave it yourself but you just put it in a food processor or use a cheese grater. I used the cheese grater method and it took me about 2 minutes. It’s very soft. I agree that anything too labor intensive isn’t worth the extra work and probably isn’t sustainable with our busy lifestyle, but this was extremely simple and easy. Also, so far so good on the clothes turning out clean!

  7. Mija
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 18:45:37

    LOL. Way to put me on the spot.

    I can’t promise to do the dishes / laundry thing as Paul does the dishes and I’m allergic to almost soap (including Ivory). Dreft is the only thing that doesn’t seem to cause hives — no fabric softeners for us.

    But I will look into doing more vinegar — aside from everything else, I love the way it smells.

  8. PaulAtNorthGare
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 19:08:02

    Just in case it’s useful (and you don’t know about it already), you might take a look at the British programme “How Clean is Your House?” They’re very big on inexpensive and as-natural-as-possible cleaning products, which they claim are just as good. Links!


  9. youngbridget
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 21:56:31

    I was only teasing you Mija, but I appreciate your humoring me!

  10. Michael
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 23:46:01

    Cheese grater, brilliant; I would not have thought of that. The only problem is, the next day, after you get through putting the parmesan on the pasta, everyone starts foaming at the mouth. Just kidding, just kidding! I’m sure you either have a dedicated soap-shaving grater, or you rinse the one grater really well after using it on soap.

    As for the laundry being clean — I usually don’t have visible dirt on the clothes I wash; in fact, sometimes I wonder why I use detergent, it’s like a sort of superstition, something I do because I was told to. If I DO have a visible spot, it’s usually a stain and I have no faith in the detergent’s ability to do anything about it; I use a stain pre-treatment. I seem to think the detergent is only there to amuse the wash water (and a darned expensive entertainment it is). But with boys around, you probably DO have visible, ordinary soil — dirty knees, muddy socks, jelly on a shirt. So you are well-positioned to evaluate the soil-removing capacity of your experiments.

  11. Michael
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 23:47:51

    BTW, shall we stop to notice that on the kinky blog of a kinky girl, presumably read by kinky people, the topic that gets us talking is household chemicals and substitutes therefor? More evidence that we’re all people first. Can’t be naked ALL the time; hence, gotta get the clothes washed somehow.

  12. bandree
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 03:36:46

    i like it all, and i HAVE tried most of this; the vinegar does work as a fabric softener; being acid, it neutralises any leftover detergent. Test it on towels, you’ll see!
    But i don’t see any need for complicated mixtures: i’ve tried making a spray one which was useful for quick cleanups, but mostly, in the years when we were truly stony broke, i ended up using just plain ordinary soap, the cheapest kind: for floors, dishes, delicate clothing, even toilet seats etc, soap washes fine! For thorough rinsing off, yes, our old pal vinegar again.
    Plus, if you must kill germs, a commercial disinfectant, used cautiously as needed; in the Good Old Days, people died from infections because they didn’t have such a thing.
    Agreed, though, if you need low-foam for a machine, washing soda works well.
    P.S. The cornstarch quickly dries to a foggy layer on the glass which is easily wiped away for a sparkling finish.

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