Updated: Jul 5
Here is a list of common, environmentally safe ingredients that you can use alone or in combination for a wealth of household applications. The vast majority of cleaning projects can be tackled with nothing more than vinegar, baking soda, soap, and water, but other ingredients are useful for specific jobs.
Trusted for over a century, baking soda cleans, deodorizes, softens water, and scours.
Unscented soap in liquid form (along with soap flakes, powders, or bars) is biodegradable and will clean just about anything. Castile soap is one example of an excellent, versatile cleaning ingredient. Avoid using soaps that contain petroleum distillates.
One of the strongest food acids, lemon juice is effective against most household bacteria.
Use white vinegar to cut grease; remove mildew, odors, and some stains; and to prevent or remove wax build-up.
Washing soda or SAL Soda is sodium carbonate decahydrate, a mineral. It cuts grease; removes stains; softens water; and cleans walls, tiles, sinks and tubs. Use with care, since washing soda can irritate mucous membranes. Do not use on aluminum.
Vegetable or Olive Oil
Use in homemade wood polishes.
Alcohol is an excellent disinfectant. However, some safety concerns with isopropyl alcohol (also known as rubbing alcohol) make other forms of alcohol the more cautious choice. Vodka is a potent odor remover, and other forms of ethanol (grain alcohol) can be used for cleaners and disinfectants.
Use cornstarch to clean windows, polish furniture, and shampoo carpets and rugs.
Citrus solvent cleans paintbrushes, oil and grease, and some stains. But beware: citrus solvent may cause skin, lung or eye irritations for people with multiple chemical sensitivities.
Oxygen-based bleach (usually made from sodium carbonate and/or peroxide) gently removes stains, whitens fabric, and has a number of applications in household stain removal. Many common brands of oxygen bleaches have a number of additional (and less benign) chemicals, so it’s best to look up the brand in the Environmental Working Group’s cleaners database before using.
A common disinfectant for wounds, hydrogen peroxide can also be used for disinfecting in the kitchen or bathroom. Its mild bleaching effect makes hydrogen peroxide an excellent stain remover for fabrics and grout. It may cause skin or respiratory irritation, so handle with care.