If you’ve logged onto Pinterest recently you’ve seen a plethora of DIY cleansers, soaps, scrubs and rubs all meant to reduce the toxic chemical load in your home, save you money, and make you feel better about cleaning the toilet. But the question almost every homeowner has is: Do they actually work?
It’s difficult to know from a recipe if it will really get rid of the hard water build up on your faucet, whiten your laundry, or give you a spot-free finish on your dishes. If you have a favorite blogger willing to give them a try you could send in a request, or you could turn your question into a summer science project for your kids.
We’ve given a few of these cleaners a try ourselves. We’ll give you a little bit of the science behind cleaners, why they work or don’t work, and a breakdown of recipes we’ve found that work for us.
The Science of Clean
We’ve all heard about the importance of elbow grease in cleaning, but the truth is that a good cleaner does most of the work for you. If you’ve got a recipe that calls for a lot of scrubbing to make it work, then you can probably bet that it’s your scrubbing action doing most of the work. Here are the main ingredients you’ll find in any cleaner:
Acid: Anything with a pH lower than 7. These include toilet bowl cleaners, rust removers, tile cleaners, mildew removers. Lemon juice is a natural acid, as is Cola (well, not the natural part, but it IS acidic), and isopropyl alcohol. Acids are used to dissolve hard water, rust, or mineral stains.
Base: Base cleaners have a pH higher than 7. Base cleaners include oven cleaners, most all-purpose cleaners, and laundry detergent. Bleach is a base chemical with a pH of 12.5. Old-fashioned lye has a pH of 13. Base cleaners are used to dissolve grease, fat, and oil from surfaces.
Surfactant: A surfactant is what’s called a “wetting agent”, it quite literally makes your water wetter. But the chemical chain of a surfactant does something else as well, it makes oil, grease, and insoluble stains very sticky, but only sticky to itself. In a washing machine this means that the surfactant “sticks” to the stains on your clothes and makes those same stains impenetrable by the water. It’s a handy trick and is the reason laundry detergents work. Most surfactants are made from petrochemicals, but handily enough there is an all-natural surfactant right in your local pharmacy aisle: Epsom salts.
Recipes that Really Work
The tricky part about making a homemade cleaner is that for every place and situation where they work perfectly, there will be another area where they don’t work at all. So what’s the difference? Well, you don’t have to go any further than your kitchen sink to find out why. It’s all about your water. The relative hardness or softness (the amount of minerals present) of your water will affect the viability of any homemade cleaner. This problem is taken care of in most store-bought cleaners with petrochemical agents that will naturally soften your water for you. But you can do this yourself at home by simply adding washing soda to your cleaner.
Here are some homemade cleaners that actually work to get your clothes and surfaces clean.
This one seems to top the list for Pinterest recipes, they all have slight variations but this is the one we’ve found actually works for us:
2 bar Fels Naptha soap, finely grated
1 bag Epsom Salts (28 oz)
1 box washing Soda (3 lbs)
1 bag baking soda (24 oz)
This has been our laundry detergent for the past three years and we love it. Its removed the smell of stinky feet, pig and cow manure, and gotten our clothes nice and clean. For tricky stains, we do let our clothes soak for a while, but the real cleaning action happens when you add the energy of washing machine agitation, so we really only soak light colored fabrics.
This works well and leaves a nice smell without a film on my kitchen or bath surfaces
1.5 Tablespoons of baking soda
1.5 Tablespoons of borax or Epsom salts
½ Teaspoon dish soap
2 cups hot water
5-10 Drops of essential oil
Dissolve the soda and borax or Epsom salts in the hot water. Add the dish soap and oils then use a funnel to pour into a spray bottle. Spray on your dirty surface, let sit for a moment or two (most cleaners need time to actually clean!) then wipe with a clean cloth.
Hopefully, you’ll have as good luck with these cleaners as we have!