I am genuinely afraid of household cleaning products. Due to the fact that most household cleaning products contain ingredients that are considered toxic waste and companies manufacturing cleaning products are not required to tell you what they put in their products (and their health risks) I think this phobia is completely justifi ed. The EPA estimates that indoor air quality is generally 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air due in large part due to the chemicals found in common household cleaners. And to me, they smell weird and dry out my skin that comes in contact with them.
Last summer I witnessed an avocado tree shrivel and nearly die because it came in contact with some abrasive bathroom cleaner. The avocado tree was being watered by a simple grey water system that fed it the wastewater from the household bathtub in my Mother-in-law’s back yard, and someone fl ushed the cleaner down the tub drain where it drained directly onto the tree. The avocado tree had to be nursed back from the dead – it looked like it had been burned. If that sort of normal cleaning product has the power to crisp a tree, I’m not sure that I want it anywhere near me, and even if it’s not running directly into the ground via a grey-water system, it will be eventually be going to the Mississippi river if it’s running down our drains. Sometimes the only way to make sure something is made to my standards is to make it myself – so I started making my own cleaning solutions.
Really, all that is needed to clean an entire house is water, baking soda, and vinegar in varying proportions, depending on the application. But, if you’re like me, the smell of vinegar is reminiscent of a fi sh and chips shop and not the way you want your living space to smell. Essential oils are great for adding fragrance, but they are expensive too, so I started experimenting with using my own herbs.
I have two giant, heavy, old concrete laundry sinks in my backyard that I use as my herb garden. They’re situated in a bright, sunny spot and once fi lled with compost and potting soil, they provide excellent drainage for all the dryloving Mediterranean herbs.
Year round, I grow a good supply of culinary herbs: lemon-thyme, rosemary, oregano, lemongrass and tarragon, but during the winter months, some herbs useful for cleaning are at their most productive: chamomile and peppermint. Chamomile is a fungicide (eliminates mold and mildew) when used for cleaning and peppermint just smells awesome and is a natural pest deterrent. Herbs provide a pleasant, mild scent that helps balance the sharpness of vinegar in my homemade cleaning solutions.
Another widely available natural ingredient at this time of year that can be used is citrus. The zest is a great fragrance additive, and I use the halved fruit (once the juice has been squeezed out for drinking), sprinkled with baking soda, to scrub out my sinks.
Basic homemade household Cleaners With Backyard herbs
• Baking Soda – odor eliminator and alkali
• Lemon Juice – acid, degreaser
• Citrus Peel or leaves – for scent
• Vinegar – Disinfectant, cuts grease
• Other Herbs for Scent: Lemongrass, Rosemary, Mint, your preference
All-purpose Rosemary Citrus Cleaner:
½ cup Vinegar
½ cup Baking Soda
2 cups of Rosemary Citrus Zest tea
Add two cups of water to a pot along with 4 rosemary sprigs and 1 tsp. zest. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for fi ve minutes. Strain, then add baking soda and vinegar, stirring until baking soda is dissolved. Once cooled, add mixture to spray bottle and use as needed.
Lemongrass Window Cleaner:
2 cups Lemongrass Tea
½ cup Vinegar
Add two cups of water to a pot with 4 pieces of lemongrass (the thicker, white base part is best). Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for fi ve minutes. Strain, and cool then combine with vinegar and add mixture to spray bottle.
Peppermint Hard wood Floor Cleaner:
½ cup Vinegar
½ cup Peppermint Tea
Combine both ingredients with approximately 2 gallons of warm water in a bucket and use for mopping and spot cleaning. If fresh peppermint isn’t available, just brew a cup of peppermint tea from a tea bag.
½ cup Baking Soda
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
¼ cup Chamomile Flowers
Combine ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulverize until coarsely ground. Use liberally on sinks and bathtubs, or as a toilet bowl cleaner. If chamomile isn’t available in your garden, you can substitute a store bought tea bag, cutting open the bag and adding the contents to the baking soda and salt before blending.