8 easy, effective, and non-toxic DIY cleaning product recipes

As we wrap up Spring Cleaning month, it seems right to have a post that actually talks about cleaning (as opposed to decluttering). So I am bringing back my good friend, Sarah Scherr, to share some tried-and-true, easy cleaning product recipes that you can make with items you likely already have around the house. -Sarah Kennedy


The best way to get quality products, while putting the least amount of strain on your wallet is to DIY! Not only will you save money and have a healthy alternative to chemical-laden products, you’ll have fun experimenting with different cleaning and purifying recipes. Our post, Common Toxins in Cleaning Products, revealed the most toxic cleaners to be oven cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, and drain cleaners. You could opt to buy safer alternatives or you could experiment with easy DIY recipes that get the job done!

Your recommended shopping list:

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Apple cider vinegar (organic if you can)
  • Baking soda
  • Lemon juice (organic if you can)
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Castile soap or natural dish soap
  • Essential oils (organic if you can)
SK's arsenal of DIY cleaning ingredients

SK's arsenal of DIY cleaning ingredients

Making your own cleaning products is quite simple.  

Here are a few basic cleaning recipes to replace the main toxic products we recommend removing from your home, as well as good basics for Spring cleaning. Using the few, inexpensive ingredients I’ve suggested, you’ll soon discover how easy it is to DIY:

1. Disinfecting Spray
Fill a spray bottle with 1 parts vinegar and 3 parts water, add in 10 drops of your preferred antibacterial essential oils–adding more or less depending on smell sensitivities. Shake each time before you spray as the oils will gather at the top in between uses. Use on countertops, toilets, floors and more! I suggest using Thieves oil or a tea tree oil blend. More on Thieves oil below.

2. Toilet Bowl Cleaner
For general cleaning, use the antibacterial spray. Vinegar is amazing at removing odors. If you have a toilet ring that won’t budge: turn off the water to the toilet, make a paste of baking soda and vinegar (throw in some cream of tartar for the toughest of stains) and leave for 20 mins or more, then scrub off.

3. Bleach Alternative
Mix together 1/3 cup hydrogen peroxide, 3 Tbs lemon juice, 5 cups water, and store in container (preferably a dark one) out of sunlight. Hydrogen peroxide oxidizes in about a month, so replenish as necessary.

4. Oven Cleaner
Make a paste of apple cider vinegar, baking soda and optional cream of tartar. Let sit for 20 minutes or more. Using your “cleaning cycle” to burn food particles before cleaning with mixture will help. Also, a razor blade helps speed up the process.

5. Drain Cleaner
The most commonly used DIY drain cleaner is one cup of baking soda and one cup of cider vinegar. As soon as you pour the vinegar down the drain, cover with a drain stop to allow the pressure from the bubbles to push through the drain. Let sit for about 15-20 minutes, then follow with plenty of hot water. This is good routine maintenance. It's best to use your DIY drain cleaners routinely–before the clogs happen. Please note that DIY drain cleaners may take longer than a commercial drain cleaner. You also may need to repeat your efforts more than once.

For the toughest clogs (especially for those large hairballs), snaking the drain or taking apart the “trap” or U pipe may be the only way to clear the clog. Drain cleaners are good for cleaning build-up from the drain. If you've got a big hairball lodged in there, they won't do the trick. Use a plumber’s snake or a wire coat hanger to poke down and break apart the mass. You’ll need an empty bucket on hand to catch all the liquid as well as eye goggles firmly in place.

[Anecdote from SK] We recently had a really bad clog in our bathroom sink. I tried the baking soda/vinegar routine on it three times and it barely worked. Frustrated and just needing it to be gone, I resorted to a commercial drain cleaner… and it sorta worked, but within a day or two the clog was just as bad. So we did it AGAIN! (I know…) After 3 bottles of drain cleaner I realized I needed a different approach. So I went to the hardware store and bought a snake and a sink plunger. When I got home, I turned on the water a little to add some pressure, then used the sink plunger… and I am not exaggerating when I say this: in 5 SECONDS the clog dislodged and passed through the drain and our drain was perfectly clear again. It let out a horrid smell, but the clog was GONE! I felt so silly for not trying it sooner. The plunger cost me two dollars, and required no harsh chemicals. I also didn’t have to take the sink apart or even snake the drain. I was flabbergasted. So advice from me, if you have a clog that won’t budge, try a sink plunger.

6. Dusting Spray
Mix the following into a spray bottle: 1 TBSP natural dish soap or castile soap, 15 drops lemon essential oil, 2 cups water. Spray onto soft cloth or dusting brush, not directly onto surface to be dusted.

7. Floor Cleaner
Fill a large bucket with one gallon very warm water, and add 1 cup white vinegar. For extra disinfecting power, add 10-20 drops Thieves oil, or your choice of other disinfecting essential oils like the ones listed below. [SK here: I love the combo of lavender and rosemary for it’s scent and cleaning power.]

8. Bathroom Scrub
In a small bowl, combine 1 cup of baking soda with ¼ cup castile soap. Then add 1 TBSP hydrogen peroxide. Mix together until it come to the consistency of frosting. This is fantastic for any surface in the bathroom and even the kitchen sink. Store in an airtight glass jar. [SK again: This is my FAVORITE DIY cleaning product. It is SO quick and easy to make, and it cleans immaculately well. And a little goes a long way. If you notice a residue, just take a damp cloth and wipe over the area.]

This is what the bathroom scrub should look like.

This is what the bathroom scrub should look like.

Essential oils are... well, essential

Essential oils freshen the scent of the room, clean the air, and disinfect surface areas, and can even be mouse deterrents, and kill fleas and their eggs. They also have a large range of medicinal benefits. They’re great to add to disinfectant sprays and other cleaners when you want antibacterial properties and/or natural smell-good scents.

These are the best essential oils for antibacterial purposes:

  • Bay laurel
  • Scotch pine
  • Clove
  • Lemon
  • Cinnamon bark
  • Eucalyptus
  • Rosemary
  • Tea tree
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Ravensara
  • Lavender
  • Juniper berry
  • Hyssop

And then there’s Thieves oil. You can buy it premixed or make it yourself using the last five ingredients (3 parts clove, 3 parts lemon, 2 parts cinnamon bark, 2 parts eucalyptus, and 1 part rosemary).

Thieves Oil is a special germ fighting blend comprised of five oils known for their extremely powerful anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-microbial, anti-septic and anti-fungal properties. When placed in a diffuser, these essential oils will aid in cleaning the air you breathe and keep your house more germ-free. Thieves Oil is also useful for making disinfecting sprays, adding to your toothbrush before brushing teeth, mixing with honey to make a cough syrup, and diluting with a carrier oil to make an ointment, as well as adding to your other DIY cleaning products.

There are DIY recipes for just about every type of cleaner. But, when DIY isn’t an option (because you’re in a hurry or just need an easy fix), there are many safe alternatives. Some cost much more than others with the same ingredients. I’ve found the most economical choice is Earth Friendly Products. Seventh Generation runs specials and is a great product, just a little pricier. Remember: choose products that contain essential oils–NEVER FRAGRANCES. And avoid the toxic ingredients discussed in the Common Toxins post. To save money on these products, check out wholesale and discount sites, such as www.vitacost.com.

This should give you a solid arsenal of basic cleaning supplies to finish up your Spring cleaning.

We'd love to hear how these recipes worked for you. Or if you have your own suggestions or essential oil combinations that you love, please share them in the comments below!


Sarah Scherr

"I am passionate about creating a more just, safe and sustainable world. I believe thinking globally, but acting locally is the key to living this life, contributing to this cause, and spreading environmental and health conscious awareness. My environmental moral code dictates my actions--in my private life and in my work." Sarah has Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, is a licensed air sampling technician and asbestos & lead inspector in KS, MO, WI and all EPA States, is a yoga teacher in training, and nurtures an ongoing education in herbal studies. She is also is and has been an environmental advocate, organizer & presenter for NFP organizations such as 350KC, Food Circle, Sierra Club, TransitionKC, MOTUV (Movement of the Unied Voice), and on the board of HAAL (Heart of America Action League, a 501(c)(3) serving environmental action groups in Kansas City area).