6 Homemade Cleaners That Actually Work

updated Dec 15, 2020
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A person cleaning a kitchen counter with a cloth and spray bottle
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Store-bought chemicals aren’t the only way to effectively clean your home. Whether you want to swap out stronger, potentially hazardous chemicals for gentle-yet-effective pantry ingredients or you’re just frustrated that your go-to products haven’t been in stock due to the pandemic, consider making your own homemade cleaners. 

There are a lot of perks to making your own cleaners at home, and saving money is one of them. Most manufacturers dilute store-bought products with water (unless, of course, you buy them as concentrates), so you can pinch pennies when you combine your own ingredients. Plus, homemade cleaners are an environmentally friendly alternative to one-time use products. You can easily recycle old bottles you have at home or upgrade your cleaning cabinet by decanting your DIY cleaners in aesthetically-pleasing amber bottles.

Even though they’re often more cost-effective than standard, store-bought cleaning products, homemade cleaners can pack an equally powerful punch. Common pantry ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, lemon, and hydrogen peroxide can accomplish everything from deodorizing and cutting grease to killing potentially harmful pathogens (and some are even approved by the EPA for staving off viruses and bacteria).

Ready to get started? Here’s everything you need to know about homemade cleaners that really work, from recipes to best uses. 

Are Homemade Cleaners Safe? 

People are drawn to homemade cleaners, because they’re often perceived as “natural” alternatives to store-bought options. But natural doesn’t always mean harmless. As with any household cleaner, store-bought or not, always exercise caution when you’re using homemade cleaners. 

How “safe” a homemade cleaner is ultimately depends on what’s in it and how you use it. Some natural ingredients—like, say, lemon juice—are generally harmless (unless you accidentally get it in your eye or on an open cut!). But certain DIY ingredients require a bit more caution—especially stronger cleaning agents like bleach, ammonia, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide.

As a general rule, always wear protective gear, like gloves, and ensure proper ventilation when you’re using these chemicals. And never mix any of the following ingredients to avoid potentially toxic fumes: 

  • Bleach and vinegar
  • Bleach and ammonia
  • Bleach and rubbing alcohol
  • Bleach and … pretty much anything but water
  • Baking soda and vinegar
  • Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar

Safety aside, nobody wants to end up with a bigger mess than when they started. So before using a new homemade cleaner on a surface or fabric, test it on a small, inconspicuous area. (Better to be safe than sorry!)

Credit: Photo: Sarah Crowley; Design: Apartment Therapy

1. Homemade Cleaning Spray 

All-purpose sprays are like the Swiss army knife of the cleaning cabinet: You can use them on most surfaces to deodorize, wipe away grime, and restore shine.

To make a fresh-smelling, everyday homemade cleaning spray, you’ll need: 

  • One quart packed citrus peels
  • White distilled vinegar
  • Water
  • Unscented liquid castile soap

How to make your homemade cleaning spray:

  1. Pack a quart-sized mason jar with leftover citrus peels (you can use a mixture of lime, lemon, orange, grapefruit, or whatever you’re eating). Then, fill the jar to the very top with white vinegar, add the lid to the jar, and set in a sunny spot, allowing the mixture to infuse for two or more weeks. 
  2. Strain the vinegar and compost or discard the citrus peels. 
  3. Pour ½ cup of the citrus-infused vinegar into your favorite spray bottle, add 1 cup of water and a teaspoon of castile soap. 
  4. After screwing on the lid, shake the bottle well. 

You can use your citrus-infused cleaner on any surface except natural stone counters or tiles. Just shake before use, spray generously on your chosen surface, and wipe clean with a paper towel or microfiber cloth.

Credit: Photo: Sarah Crowley; Design: Apartment Therapy

2. Homemade Bathroom Cleaner

Homemade bathroom cleaners might be effective at cleaning floors, your tub, and your sink, but if you’re aiming to disinfect, it’s best to use an EPA-approved cleaner, like bleach. 

You’ll just need two ingredients (that you probably already have on hand!) to make a homemade bathroom cleaner for routine jobs:

  • 12 ounces of white vinegar
  • 12 ounces of Dawn dish soap

How to make your homemade bathroom cleaner: 

  1. Heat the vinegar on the stove or in your microwave until hot, then pour it into a spray bottle.
  2. Add the Dawn dish soap.
  3. Screw on the lid and swirl or shake gently to combine the ingredients.
  4. You can use this gentle cleaner on just about any bathroom surface—just spray and wipe! To remove stubborn soap scum, allow it to sit on the surface for several hours (or overnight) before scrubbing and rinsing.
Credit: Photo: Sarah Crowley; Design: Apartment Therapy

3. Homemade Window Cleaner

Whether you want to clear streaks and smudges from interior windows or a mirror, a good glass and window cleaner is a must. 

Here’s what you’ll need to whip up a homemade window cleaner of your own: 

  • 1 cup water (ideally distilled to prevent streaks)
  • 3 tablespoons of white vinegar 
  • ¼ cup rubbing alcohol

How to make your own homemade window cleaner: 

  1. Add the rubbing alcohol and vinegar to your spray bottle. 
  2. Fill the rest with the distilled water. 
  3. Screw on the lid and shake to combine. 

To use, just spray the mixture directly onto your window or mirror surface and wipe with a paper towel or clean microfiber cloth.

Credit: Photo: Sarah Crowley; Design: Apartment Therapy

4. Homemade Floor Cleaner

If you want to clean and protect your hardwood floors, it’s important to choose the right ingredients. You’ll need:

  • 1 teaspoon pure castile soap
  • 4 cups warm water
  • 10 drops orange essential oil (optional)

Here’s how to whip up your homemade floor cleaner:

  1. Add the water to a bucket or bowl, followed by the castile soap. 
  2. If you’re using an essential oil for scent, add 5-10 drops to the soap and water mixture. 
  3. Stir to combine and funnel your mixture into a spray bottle, or spray mop.

Before you clean your floors, always sweep to remove dirt, dust, and other debris. To use your homemade wood floor cleaner, spray it on your floor in small sections, then move a microfiber mop across the section in back and forth motions. (You may need to rinse the mop in the process as it accumulates dirt. ) Be careful not to leave excess water on your wood floors, as moisture can cause long-term damage.

Credit: Photo: Sarah Crowley; Design: Apartment Therapy

5. Homemade Grease Cleaner

A DIY mixture easily measures up to store-bought cleaners when you incorporate these grease-cutting ingredients:

  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 to 2 drops of castile soap
  • Warm water
  • Essential oil of choice (optional)

Here’s how to make a homemade grease cleaner to cut through kitchen grime:

  1. Add vinegar and 1 to 2 drops of castile soap to a spray bottle. 
  2. Fill the rest of the bottle (to the bottom of the neck) with warm water. 
  3. Add a few drops of essential oil if desired to mask the smell of vinegar. 
  4. Shake the spray to combine ingredients. 

To use, spray the mixture onto a greasy surface, then wipe with a clean sponge. Run a clean dishcloth under warm water, wring out, and wipe over the cleaned surfaces.

Credit: Photo: Sarah Crowley; Design: Apartment Therapy

6. Homemade Carpet Cleaner

To banish spills and stains, or just to freshen things up, a standard homemade carpet cleaner will do the trick. An effective DIY carpet cleaner requires just a few simple ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon Dawn dish soap
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 cup warm water

Here’s how to make the cleaner: 

  1. Add the Dawn dish soap and vinegar to a spray bottle. 
  2. Top off with a cup of warm water and screw the top on.

If needed, grab your vacuum and remove debris or dirt from your carpet or rug. Then, spray the affected area generously with your homemade carpet cleaner. Gently rub and blot with a towel until the water is absorbed and the stain disappears.

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 6 Homemade Cleaners That Really Work