In my last post, we talked about the biggest toxic offenders lurking in your kitchen cleaning supplies. In this post we are going to go over the cheap and effective toxin-free cleaners you can utilize instead. After spending years with generic cleaning brands, the switch can be a little bumpy. Due to this adjustment period, I want to take you through how what we use to clean our homes works on a technical level. Let's dive in!
Toxin-Free Kitchen Cleaning Solutions
When we take a step back and think about what cleaning is exactly, it means removing something we don’t want and putting it somewhere else - like rinsing dirt off our hands to send it down the drain or wiping up spilled tomato sauce off the counter and throwing your reusable wipe in the laundry. We take matter from one location and put it in another. More often than not, water can’t do the job on its own so we have to employ backup to remove stains or spills. That backup can take many forms, toxic or non-toxic. Lucky for us, we can employ non toxic alternatives that do the job just as well. With simple ingredients you can conquer the biggest messes in your kitchen. You may have heard of using vinegar and baking soda as cleaning solutions, but I want to go over how these simple ingredients work to make your kitchen sparkling.
There are two kinds of muck that get into our homes - organic muck, inorganic muck, or a combination of both. Organic muck is things like grass stains, food spills, dirt, meat juice, etc. Anything that was alive at one point can fall into the organic muck category and it’s what you will encounter most when it comes to cleaning the kitchen. Inorganic muck includes things like mineral build up, lime deposits, rust, and water marks. These messes pop up around sinks and in dishwashers. If you are looking at a both type of muck scenario, these commonly happen in your sink drains, where water deposits and food deposits can accumulate.
When it comes to tackling these two types of messes in the kitchen we will turn to some simple science to help us. Do you remember the pH scale from chemistry? Let me refresh your memory! The pH scale helps us understand how acidic or alkaline a substance is. The scale ranges from 0 (extremely acidic) to 14 (extremely alkaline). Distilled water sits right in the middle at a perfectly neutral 7. Certain types of messes need a certain pH to correctly and cleanly wipe them away, leaving your kitchen spotless. If you are facing organic muck in the kitchen, you will need an alkaline cleaner to lift the scum and wipe it away. Our beloved soap has a pH of ~8, making it an alkaline cleaner, rinsing away all kinds of organic muck, which is why you see it everywhere to take on messes. Baking soda and borax are two other highly alkaline cleaning solutions. If you are dealing with inorganic muck, then you will need an acidic cleaner to take on the job. Vinegar has a pH of 2, making it the most obvious candidate for acidic cleaners and we will be utilizing it a ton in the coming habit changes.
The Adjustment Period
After spending years with generic cleaning brands, the switch can be a little bumpy. Most importantly, you will have to adjust your expectations when it comes to how things smell. With both DIY and Conscious-Consumer-approved cleaning agents, there is no manufactured fragrance that sends the immediate signal to our senses that something is “clean.” Vinegar is the major stopgap for newbie toxin-free advocates. Vinegar has a very acidic smell that can be a bit jarring at first, but keep in mind the smell fades after just five minutes and there is no toxic fall-out for your body involved. Don’t fear though, because there is a solution!
Mixing essential oils like peppermint and lavender into vinegar cleaning solutions can leave spaces smelling lovely after the initial vinegar smell has faded. Essential oils are like plants’ fragrances on steroids. By distilling or extracting the naturally occurring oils (AKA terpenes) from the stems, leaves, roots, or bark of a plant, we can harness their olfactory power in our own homes. These terpenes are volatile organic compounds, meaning they evaporate quickly into the air, giving us that pleasant whiff of peppermint or lavender as we clean. These terpenes can also provide us a mega-boost of cleaning power. Certain essential oils, like wild orange or lemon, contain the infamous limonene. Limonene is a proven degreaser, so much so that it’s included in most brand name stove top degreasers! Getting started with essential oils is so easy and fun. They even make starter packs for essential oil newbies. My own personal favorite essential oil mixes are listed below with the DIY options, but feel free to experiment with essential oils and find a combination your own nostrils love.
The next point I want to make is that when using the DIY option for your dishwashing detergent, glasses come out a bit cloudy when done if you have hard water. What do we use to combat things like mineral buildup from hard water? Acidic cleaners! Using vinegar in your rinse dispenser can negate some of the cloudiness. You can always give your glasses a quick rinse before you drink out of them too.
When we clean, ironically, a lot of waste is created. Dirty paper towels, stinky dish sponges, Swiffer’s disposable floor naps, and disposable antibacterial wipes all pile up when we scrub our kitchen clean. This section is going to challenge you to think in terms of a closed loop cycle with cleaning.
Please note: The links below are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you end up clicking and purchasing an item. I worked hard to find my trusted favorites and I want to share them with you so you don't have to deal with all the crappy junk I had to go through. Nuff said.
Reusable or Compostable Cleaning Supplies
There are a few items that will come in handy when cleaning toxin-free. These items are either compostable, recyclable, or biodegradable. The simplest way to think about these purchases is the less you throw into your garbage can, and the more you can compost or reuse, the better.
With each DIY recipe, I’ll offer you a Conscious-Consumer-approved alternative. All of these recipes and products I have tried personally and can vouch for their effectiveness. If you fall on the DIY end of the spectrum, buying in bulk is always the best way to save money. Here are the main items you will need when DIYing any of your cleaning.
Buying In Bulk For DIY Zero-Waste and Toxin-Free Cleaning
Recipes For DIY Cleaning Products
All-Purpose Surface Cleaner
3 tbsp borax
1 tsp liquid Castile soap
10 - 20 drops of peppermint essential oil
Add ingredients to a 16 oz spray bottle. Fill to the neck with hot water and give it a shake. If you wind up with visible streaks when cleaning, add 2 tbsp of cheap vodka to the mix. This mix is our catch-all cleaner in our home, from floors to counters. It does a stupendous job and leaves my home smelling amazing.
1 tsp washing soda
1 tsp baking soda
1 squeeze of toxin free dish soap (7th generation or Dr. Bronner's)
1 tsp salt.
Steps: Fill the rinse dispenser with vinegar. Try this recipe once and see how it comes out. You can then make a big batch of the recipe so you don’t have to measure it out every time. For the larger batch, in an airtight container mix 1 cup each of the washing soda, baking soda, and salt. Measure out 1 tbls for each dishwashing cycle and add the dab of toxin-free dish soap then. If you are a die-hard DIYer this mix is your fix if you are okay with slightly cloudy glasses, but I will be honest and say in our home we opt for non-cloudy glasses with 7th Generation Dishwasher Detergent.
Cutting Board and Butcher Block Cleaner
1 tbsp sea salt
half a lemon
1 tbsp baking soda
Sprinkle the salt and baking soda across the wood surface, then use the half a lemon to scrub like a sponge for good two minutes. Rinse with hot water when done. We will save used up lemon halves in a mason jar in the fridge by pouring vinegar over them, adding lemons a we go. When the time comes, we take one or two out (with rubber gloves on!) and use it on our cutting board and butcher block. This recipe works wonderfully and smells great too.
Glass or Ceramic Stovetop Cleaner - Sprinkle 1 tbsp baking soda, soak a scrubber sponge in white vinegar, then scrub, optional: add five drops of lemon or wild orange essential oil to the sponge for a degreaser boost. Wipe clean with a damp cloth. If something got stubbornly burned or baked onto the the stovetop, mix up a paste with ½ cup hot water, ⅓ cup baking soda, and ten drops of any citrus essential oil and apply it on thick, letting it sit for five minutes, then scrub away. This one works just as great as any store bought cleaner!
Drain Cleaner - bring 4 cups of water to a boil, it’s easiest if you do it with a tea kettle. Sprinkle ½ cup of baking soda down the drain. At the same time add the boiling water and 1 cup of vinegar down the drain. Expect bubbles and foam. Who knew you’d be double fisting over toxin-free cleaning?! The boiling water is what honestly does the trick here, be patient and let the water come to an aggressive boil before you dump it down the drain.
Window Cleaner - Cheap vodka is perfect for streak-free windows or mirrors, also works as a disinfectant. Keep vodka in a spare spray bottle and take it out when someone in the house was sick, wiping down door knobs, light switches, and other commonly touched surfaces. For streak-free surfaces, your rag is just as important, lint-free rags like these ones work wonderfully. Remember to find vodka in a glass bottle or #2 plastic for this one, making recycling easy.
Conscious Consumer Approved Kitchen Cleaning Products You Can Trust
While you may be tempted to purge these harmful cleaning products outright, give yourself a weekend to put a plan together on replacing them. If you are a DIYer, spend your week stocking up on bulk items so that when the weekend hits, you can do your purge and then whip up of a big batch of your toxin-free replacements. If you fall on the Conscious Consumer end of the spectrum, spend a Saturday shopping online with my suggestions or in stores looking for products you can trust. Once they arrive, then go crazy purging your cupboards.
The overarching theme in the kitchen is to generate as little waste as possible, recycle what you cannot compost, and to invest in reusable materials that last until they have be composted. My hope is that this post inspires you to take on some DIY toxin-free cleaning or switch over to brands you can trust!
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