5 Of The Best... Natural Products for Cleaning the Family Home

by - Tuesday, May 05, 2009

In this day and age we are inundated with advertisements end endorsements for the latest, greatest cleaning products to enter the market. Fancy blocks which stick under the rim of the loo; grease-busting kitchen cleaner with lime-power; scent-infused wipes specifically designed to cleanse our hard floors... If we listened to the advertisements, our homes would cost a small fortune to maintain, with cupboards full of cleaning products designed to perform only one job!

In days gone by, our fore-mothers used natural products to clean their homes where each product could be used for a multitide of tasks. Being both ecologically sound and cost-effective to boot, it's no wonder that many parents are turning to natural solutions for cleaning their family home. Such products can save us ££'s, take up far less room in the maid's cupboard, and ultimately the lack of chemical ingredients make them safe to use around our children.

So here ladies, are my favourite 5 natural cleaning products, tried and tested with ideas for how they can be used. Try them for yourself to see just how effective these can be in comparison to your favourite chemical brands. Once you've seen the effects for yourself, I doubt you'll ever browse the chemical aisles again!

1. White Vinegar

While growing up, my only experience of vinegar was as a condiment for chips. My mum didn't really subscribe to the notion of natural cleaning, and even today her cupboards are filled with bottles of chemical solutions which probably cost more than the fees she could pay to hire a cleaner each week!

So when my good friend (and household mentor) suggested I use vinegar to clean my grimy windows, I was somewhat aghast. Why on earth would I want to make my home smell like a chip shop, I asked. But once I'd seen the gleam produced by diluted vinegar and scrunched up newspaper, I never looked back.

White vinegar still smells like the stuff you put on chips, but it's truly an excellent degreaser, ideal for all manner of cleaning in the family home. If you can't stand the smell, add a few drops of your favourite essential oils to your vinegar solutions to disguise the stink (and make your home smell wonderful at the same time).

Where to buy white vinegar

White vinegar is often known as "Distilled vinegar" (a title which confused me no end when I first tried to find this in the supermarket!). Unlike malt vinegar, this product is colourless and is usually sold alongside other condiments in your local supermarket at around 50p for a half-litre bottle.

For ultimate savings, try to find this in a larger bottle. Asian and Arabic supermarkets often sell 2ltr bottles for a couple of pounds, and other frugal home-makers have found this in the natural cleaning section in Boots stores (though I've been unable to find it in my local stores up North).

If you do buy from the supermarket, be sure to grab a few bottles at a time, as you're sure to use up a 500ml bottle in no time when you realise how useful this is!

Using White Vinegar to Clean your Home

  • For cleaning windows, glass and mirrors, use a solution of half-vinegar and water in a spray bottle (the type you use to spray your house plants). Squirt your windows a couple of times (don't be over-zealous) and buff off with scrunched up newspaper. The vinegar makes the glass sparkling clean and even removes the grease from cooking/smoking with ease!
  • For unblocking drains, pour neat down the plug hole, leave for 20-30 minutes, and follow with a kettle-full of boiling water. For very stubborn blockages, pour a handful of bicarbonate of soda down the drain first. The vinegar will make it fizz and unblock even the greasiest deposits.
  • For general cleaning/surface sprays, use half and half with water. This is a great solution for cleaning cooking spills, wiping down kitchen surfaces and even cleaning the bath-tub. Add lemon juice for a nicer smell or extra-degreasing power.
  • To soften clothes and fluff up towels, use in place of your regular fabric softener in the washing machine. Just a quick slug will do (about half a cup). I promise your clothes will not smell of vinegar once dried, and this really does fluff up towels (great for times when the fibres are flattened from accidental use of fabric conditioner in the wash).

2. Bicarbonate of Soda

Not to be confused with baking powder, bicarbonate of soda is another fabulous multi-purpose cleaning solution. I use this often as a mild abrasive, but it's excellent for stain-removal and deoderizing too.

Where to buy Bicarbonate of Soda

Most supermarkets sell this in small tubs beside home-baking products. Usually this is less than £1 a tub, though I've found the cheapest place is Tesco where I buy mine for less than 50p.

You may also be able to find large tubs in a local ethnic supermarket or wholesale supplier for a few pounds. It is worth investing in a large tub to save money over the long term.

How to use Bicarbonate of Soda for cleaning

  • For a mild abrasive (great for cleaning cooker tops and stubborn marks), mix to a thick paste with water. Leave on for a couple of minutes then buff off with a cloth.
  • To clean your fridge, dissolve half a cup in a basin of water and use as a solution to wipe down the interior.
  • To deoderise the fridge, leave small amount in an open container in the back of the fridge (this will not tarnish the interior or taint the food)
  • To de-scale a kettle or clean stained cups, dissolve a couple of teaspoons in a mug of hot water; leave to soak and rinse clean.
  • To remove stains, dampen the fabric and sprinkle a little bicarb on top. Leave to absorb the water, then rub gently with a sponge.

3. Borax (Sodium Borate)

Borax is a natural mineral with disinfectant properties which can be used for cleaning and disinfecting areas of the family home.

Be careful though: borax must be used with caution and kept far away from children and pets. Be sure to always wear rubber gloves when using borax, and keep in a sealed container.

Where to buy borax

Personally I have found borax to be among the most difficult household cleaners to find. If you're lucky, you may find this in the natural cleaning products aisle in your local Boots store. Some chemists sell borax (ask at the counter), and local hardware stores are known to stock this too (this is where I buy borax).

Alternatively you can try the Dri-Pak website, where borax can be purchased in bulk. Occasionally you can buy this from eBay in single tubs for a few pounds each.

How to use Borax for household cleaning

  • As a disinfectant, mix 1/2 a cup of borax with a gallon of hot water and use as required.
  • For cleaning very dirty floors, mix 1/2 a cup of borax with a gallon of vinegar. This will cut through grime and provide disinfectant qualities at the same time.
  • For a multi-surface disinfectant spray, combine 2 tablespoons borax, 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 2 cups of hot water. Decant into a spray bottle and use to clean the cooker, kitchen surfaces or any place where a strong disinfectant solution is required.
  • For cleaning grimy toilets, flush the toilet to wet it then sprinkle 1 cup of borax around the bowl. Spray with 1/2 cup of vinegar and leave overnight. Then simply brush clean in the morning for a clean, shiny bowl.


Another multi-purpose product, lemons make an excellent degreaser; what's more, by using lemons (or lemon juice) for cleaning your home, you will also be exuding a fabulous citrus scent.

Best value lemons - where to buy

I've found the cheapest place to buy lemons is usually the supermarket (particularly Asda and Tesco), where you can buy a bag of lemons from the budget/value range for less than 50p. Depending on the season, you may be able to pick up lemons for as little as 10p each when sold singly.

If you prefer to buy lemon juice, try visiting your local ethnic supermarket for a large bottle (rather than the 200ml ones sold in supermarkets).

Using lemons for cleaning

  • To clean and disinfect your chopping board, rub with half a lemon and a little salt.
  • To clean a grimy microwave, quarter a lemon and place in a microwavable bowl with a cup of water. Cook on high heat for 5 minutes, then leave the bowl in the microwave for a further 1/2 hour. Once the water is cooled. use the water to wipe the inside of the microwave. All of the dried on grime will simply wipe away, leaving your microwave sparkling clean.
  • To boost cleaning when soaking dirty pans, add half a lemon to your bowl of washing-up water. The grease-busting power of the lemons will help dissolve the grime on your pans.
  • For a fragrant furniture polish, combine the juice of one lemon with a teaspoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of water. Apply a coating of the mixture to the item to be polished; leave for 5 minutes then buff off with a soft cloth. Also useful for polishing leather sofas (but use slightly more olive oil for this job)
  • To deodorize your kitchen, use leftovers from your lemons (perhaps after cleaning other things?) and simmer on the stove for an hour in a little water.

Washing soda (Sodium Carbonate)

Traditionally used for washing clothes, this mild detergent is an excellent grease-cutter too enabling it to be used for washing dishes, walls and indeed anything else which requires cleaning.

Where to buy washing soda

I usually buy washing soda in packets from the supermarket from around 50p for 500g (and it lasts ages!). You may also find this in Wilkinsons, Boots stores (near the natural cleaning section) or at your local hardware store.

The most common brand appears to be Dri-Pak so try their website if you're unable to locate anywhere close to home.

When buying in packets, be sure to transfer to a sealed, labelled container or place the opened packet in a zip-lock bag to prevent spillages or damp.

How to use washing soda

  • For extra laundry cleaning power, add half a cup to the powder drawer of your washing machine
  • For hand-washing delicate items, sprinkle a handful in warm water and add a few drops of your favourite essential oil to make clothes smell wonderful.
  • When washing dishes in the sink, dissolve half a cup in the dish water and add half a lemon for grease-busting power.
  • Create your own dish-washer detergent by combining equal parts of borax and washing soda (far cheaper than branded tablets and powders!)

Which are your favourite home-made cleaning solutions?

In this article, I've covered only a handful of the home-made cleaning solutions we can use to clean our family homes cheaply and without chemicals. The five products mentioned above are my favourites, but I'd love to know what you use for your own family homes too.

Please feel free to leave your own ideas and suggestions in the comments below.

Image credits: Eco-cleaning (top right) by extended.epiphany; Vinegar by Gorgeoux; Bicarbonate of Soda by solylunafamilia; Borax by luce_beaulieu; Lemons by terriseesthingsWashing Soda by Liquid Lucidity. All via Flickr Creative Commons.

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