Clean Green




About: I am a paper engineer, writer, maker and chemist wannabe. In addition to pop-up cards I design and build furniture, lights, costumes or whatever I happen to need at the time. Lipstick, a mixing studio, all-p...

Making your own cleaning supplies is very easy, quick, cheap, and green. You will be reusing spray bottles which would have gone to waste, you will be reducing your carbon footprint by avoiding transporting water, and you will avoid polluting streams and lakes with phosphates, and the air of your house with strong, unpleasant fragrance and pernicious chemicals.

One of those chemicals is called 2 butoxyethanol, which is present in most commercial cleaning products, in quantities too small to be listed on the labels. However even at those concentrations it has been shown to be absorbed easily through the skin both from contact and vapors. It is carcinogenic, it affects the kidneys and reproductive health (and if female reproductive health isn't visual enough think "testicular atrophy"). Have I convinced you? DIY!

Some people swear by using a solution of 50/50 water and vinegar for just about everything. Not only am I not too fond of the smell, but I don't think it works very well either. I tested various recipes I found on the web and finally came up with my own. The first one is great at dissolving grease and is perfectly safe to use on food preparation surfaces: the alcohol evaporates and the only other inedible ingredient it contains is soap, but there is so little of it the spray can be used without the need to rinse. The second can be used to clean your oven (without killing your braincells or endangering your unborn child) AND your toilet. I like using the glass cleaner for ceramic sinks as well as glass and mirrors. The dishwasher detergent can also be used as a scrubbing powder with bleaching power (and without the harmful vapors). Finally the spray for your shower curtains can double as a fruit and vegetable cleaner.

I mentioned this is cheap and it is: however buying all the ingredients the first time you make these will cost more than a single spray bottle of all purpose cleaner. This will be a considerable long term savings, as you can make many many batches with your supplies.

One last word of caution: always label the bottles properly and include a list of the ingredients. These are perfectly safe to use as directed, and they're definitely less toxic than most commercial cleaners but in case of accidental ingestion you still need to be able to tell the poison control center what the product contains. It's a lot easier to check the bottle rather than look up this instructable while your kid is vomiting and 911 is on the line....

Step 1: Spray for Food Preparation Surfaces

DIY cleaners (or their commercial green counterparts) have the reputation of not working as well as the hard core heavy duty eco-unfriendly brands. I would say this recipe works better than the Seventh Generation brand but it does require a bit (just a tiny bit) more scrubbing than Fantastic.


  • 2 tbsp liquid castille soap
  • 2 tsp washing soda
  • 1 tsp citric acid

Optional ingredients:

  • 1/4 tsp citrus essential oil (orange is my favorite, but any citrus will do -- but sometimes oils react with the soap and don't smell as good as they should).
  • 1 drop (or one gell) of soy lecithin
  • You can also replace the citric acid with 1 1/2 cup distilled vinegar.

One empty, clean, 32 oz spray bottle with the label removed.


  • Mix liquid soap and washing soda in 2 cups of warm water.
  • In separate bowl, dissolve citric acid in 2 cups of water (or add 1/2 cup water to your distilled vinegar).
  • Slowly pour the citric acid (or vinegar) into the soap and washing soda solution, while stirring with a spoon.
  • Pour all ingredients into an empty 32 oz spray bottle. Once things have settled down (it tends to foam as you pour it in), add enough cold tap water to top off your spray bottle. You're done.

Shake the bottle before each use, spray the surface generously and allow it to sit for a few minutes before wiping it off. Most dried-out, encrusted food spill will come right off without any effort.

For problem spots like red wine stains on white formica surfaces, mix together 1 part citric acid with 2 parts baking soda. Sprinkle over the stain, mist with this cleaner (or even plain water) till the powder fizzes, let sit a few minutes and scrub it off.

Notes on ingredients:
I prefer citric acid rather than vinegar because it has no smell and has the same effect: it treats the water, enhancing the performance of the soap and preventing white mineral deposits and streaks. Citric acid is a bit harder to find: in Brooklyn Sahadi's carries it but they call it lemon salt. Kosher grocery stores call it sour salt. But getting it in the spice section of a grocery store is pricy in the long run: you're much better off getting citric acid online, in bulk. It will last for years and you can use it for making bath bombs and lots of other fun stuff, and it will end up being cheaper than using vinegar.

The purpose of the lecithin is to disperse the essential oil in the water -- but is also enhances the performance of the cleaner. Don't ask me why, I don't know. But I tried it with and without, and including lecithin made the cleaner perform better. Plus it makes my Paperstone counters feel silky smooth.

Use liquid castille soap (such as Dr. Bronner's, available at Trader Joe's or at the Vitamin Shop) rather than regular liquid dishwashing soap if you're interested in avoiding the chemicals I mentioned in the intro. Another option is to grate two tablespoons worth of soap off a bar such as Ivory and dissolve it in boiling water.

Washing soda is sodium carbonate, which is more alkaline than sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda). Including it makes the spray more alkaline, which improves its cleaning potential (more of the splatters in kitchen are acidic -- tomatoes, wine, etc). In NYC washing soda in in the laundry aisle of practically any supermarket. I've heard it can also be found in pool supply stores, sold as "soda ash."

Step 2: Oven and Toilet Cleaner (yup, Both!)

5 teaspoons borax
2/3 cup white (distilled) vinegar or 4 teaspoons citric acid
3 tablespoons liquid castille soap

Baking soda

Clean 32oz spray bottle

Dissolve borax in one cup very hot water. Add vinegar or citric acid and liquid castille soap. Pour into spray bottle and fill to the top with water.

To clean the oven, spray generously all over your oven then sprinkle liberally with baking soda. Spray a little more liquid over the soda and mix together to make a paste covering all the surfaces. Leave overnight, then scrub off and clean with warm soapy water. This DOES require more elbow grease than commercial oven cleaners, but breathing in the fumes will not cause birth defects.

For toilets or any other (non food preparation, non porous) surface, spray and wipe clean with a rag or paper towel.

Notes on ingredients:
Borax can be found in most supermarkets with the laundry detergents (usually on the top shelf...). The most common brand is 20 Mule Team (or something to that effect). It is cheap, and you can do all sorts of fun things with it like making crystals, goo glue or taxidermy.
For citric acid and castille soap, see previous step.

Step 3: Window Cleaner

I've tested many combinations and ratios of ingredients to come up with the one which feels and cleans the best (since I hate cleaning windows this was the only way to motivate myself to get the job done).

1 tsp borax
2 cups water
1 tsp liquid castille soap
1/4 cup rubbing alcohol
1/4 cup ammonia
1/2 cup white (distilled) vinegar

Dissolve borax in one cup hot water. Add remaining cup of cold water, combine all other ingredients and pour into clean 32oz spray bottle.

To use, spray window and clean with crumpled newspaper

Notes on ingredients
I used 70% rubbing alcohol (which is the most commonly available) but of course 91% would work fine too.
Some people might object to ammonia, so let me say this in its defense: it won't be absorbed through your skin or give you cancer 10 years down the road. Its foul smell is an excellent protection: you (or your kids) won't be tempted to breath it in or drink it, and you will be naturally inclined to limit contact and use good ventilation. It's the chemicals which DON'T smell which you need to watch out for!
For borax, see step 2
For liquid castille soap see step 1

Step 4: Shower Curtain Maintenance

Use this spray after every shower and it will help prevent the build-up of white mineral marks on your shower curtain -- and incidentally, this contains exactly the same ingredients as expensive "green" vegetable cleaners, so make an extra bottle and put it by your kitchen sink.

4 teaspoons citric acid
1 teaspoon liquid castille soap
distilled water

Dissolve citric acid in 1 cup of warm (distilled) water. Add liquid castille soap, pour into clean 32 oz spray bottle, and fill bottle to the top with cold (distilled) water.

For shower: Soak your shower curtain after each use. This helps maintain the shower curtain, but it doesn't mean you'll never have to clean it again (as you can see from the picture, it has been many months since I've bothered take my shower curtain down for a good scrubbing).

For the kitchen: soak the fruit or vegetable and scrub if off with a clean rag, brush, or paper towel.

See step 1 for notes on ingredients.

Hope you enjoyed these recipes. They are all a result of my research on an ambitious book I'm working on, called Make Anything: a handbook for saving money, living green and having fun with trash



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    43 Discussions


    6 months ago on Step 1

    Thanks for the info on using citric acid for cleaning. There isn't much out there on this natural product for cleaning. Is it possible that the soy lecithin is acting as a surfectant? Worth researching.


    1 year ago

    Thanks for this info. My citric acid JUST arrived. Going to do some late night cleaning supply making lol. Do you know would the all purpose spray also disinfect when using citric acid? And for the disinfecting part how long does it need to sit in order to fully disinfect?? I worry about germs & bacteria n gunk lol. Thanks. You rock!

    1 reply

    Reply 1 year ago

    Sorry, I only saw this comment now, several months after you wrote the question. Neither citric acid nor vinegar do much in terms of disinfectant. What you can do for that is add a couple tablespoons of bleach into the spray, generously cover your surface, let it sit a couple minutes then wipe it off. Or make a separate disinfectant spray with a 1 part bleach to 9 parts water, a couple drops of soap and use that on your "clean" surfaces, after you've already wiped off all the visible gunk with the all-purpose spray.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the information on 2 butoxyethanol. I had no idea. I've put together a list of things I need to buy to make these cleaning products and I'll be making them right after I go grocery shopping next.

    3 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

     I'm glad you'll try it -- it's super easy and cheap. But I've experimented more, and although sometimes I still include lecithin, I wouldn't bother if I didn't have it on hand -- in other words, it will work just fine without it, don't buy lecithin just for this purpose.


    Reply 4 years ago

    Check health food stores or soap making supply shops online. I found mine in the form of granules in a local health food store, a 500 gram bag, for under $10. Works great as an emulsifier in natural body care products, add the granules to smoothies etc, so it's very much a multiuse product. Worth having on hand :-)


    4 years ago on Introduction

    For your window cleaning recipe one of the ingredients is rubbing alcohol. If you go to a store that sells paint supplies there is a solvent/cleaning product called "Denatured Alcohol". It should work just as well, and I'm 99.99% sure it's cheaper.

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago

    Another tip: denatured alcohol is very toxic. It's poisoned - or 'denatured' - to prevent people from drinking it. I personally wouldn't add it to a 'green' cleaner. I also make my own cleaners & buy my essential oils in bulk from specific suppliers. Some oils, such as orange dark, are very cheap. I buy the stuff by the liter as it's multipurpose & can be added to difusers, bath salts, air deodorizers, facial products, laundry loads & cleaners.


    5 years ago

    I love that your spreading these recipes. One thing I would like to say about the all purpose cleaner or and cleaners that contain Castile soap (or baking soda) and an acid (citric acid, vinegar, lemon juice). These should not be mixed, not because it's dangerous, but because it cancels the cleaning power. They are effective because they are acidic or basious (if that's a word). When you mix them you get something in between. Here's and article that explains it better.

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    i get what you are saying. One would think that combining an alchelid and acid would cancel each other out, wouldn't you? But, in fact if you have a blocked or slow moving drain a common recipe is to pour baking soda down the drain followed by vinegar, which is mostly acetic acid, it will create a chemical reaction resulting in foaming and bubbling. It's safe, it only creates carbon dioxide. Which the plant life loves. Bottom line, it depends on what you are combining.


    Reply 5 years ago

    I'll check out the article (a little rushed right now) but I do want to say that pretty much all cleaners combine basic and acidic ingredients -- but that doesn't mean the end result is neutral! It all depends on the quantity and pH of the various ingredients you're using. Some cleaners such as glass cleaners) you want to be acidic, others, (like all-purpose sprays) are better if they're a bit basic. Not TOO basic mind you, or you'll harm painted surfaces, for example. Just the right pH... hence mixing acids and bases to get just the right combination...


    4 years ago on Step 1

    On your recipe that uses lecithin. On a side note for your readers, lecithin is a fat emulsifier. It keeps fat/grease type substances from solidifying. If anyone wants to know where to find it, any health food store should have it. It's a common product.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Step 1

    An emulsifier doesn't keep fat/grease from solidifying, it keeps fat/oil from separating from water. Health food stores do carry it, but usually as a food supplement enclosed in a gel pill, which can work if you need just a little but it gets to be a pain if you want to use more.


    6 years ago on Step 4

    I just want to let you know that I would definitely buy any book with these recipes; they're wonderful.


    6 years ago on Step 4

    Love your tips. Thank you so much for the recipes.

    To clean a plastic shower curtain, I have successfully washed it in the machine, with a white bath towel and a little bleach and soap. If it gets too wrinkly on the spin, (use gentle cycle to avoid this), throw in the dryer for a few minutes, and hang immediately. Looks like new, and mine lasted 5 years that way.

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Step 4

    Sounds like a good idea, I'll try that, though I might not dare put it in the drier: if it's wrinkly, hanging it will "iron" it out, slowly (in a day or two).