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Natural Cleaning DIY Formulas and When You Should Not Use Them

Updated: Apr 13

Do not dismiss the power of bleach.  Some situations call for the heavy-duty stuff; okay, I admit, I’ve been watching a few crime dramas lately.


In normal living spaces (not a crime scene) maintaining a clean and sanitary environment is essential for our health and well-being. When it comes to choosing cleaning agents, the debate between conventional and natural options often takes center stage. One common household cleaner, bleach, has long been a go-to solution for disinfection. However, understanding when to use bleach and when to opt for natural cleaning formulas can make a significant difference in promoting a healthy environment.

Photo of toxic cleaners

Before we get to three easy DIY natural cleaning formulas, let's look at the science behind cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting.







The Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

  • Cleaning removes most germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. Clean with water, soap, and scrubbing. 

  • Sanitizing reduces germs to levels public health codes or regulations consider safe. Sanitizing is done with weaker bleach solutions or sanitizing sprays. Sanitize with 70% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) for example.  Clean before sanitizing.

  • Disinfecting kills most germs on surfaces and objects. Disinfecting is done with stronger bleach solutions or chemicals. Clean surfaces before you disinfect them. (CDC, 2022)

When and How to Clean

Yes, it may sound silly, a post on how and when to clean, but when using natural cleaning products, you want to be sure you are cleaning correctly.  Cleaning is something you can do daily or weekly depending on how dirty your home gets.  If you are barely home and rarely cook, you may only need to clean once a week or every other week.  If you have kids, pets, or cook regularly, cleaning weekly or more often is more beneficial.


Photo of cleaning bottle with pink gloved hand.


When to Clean:

  • Clean high traffic surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, light switches, TV remotes, countertops, and bathrooms) regularly and after you’ve had visitors in your home.

  • Clean all other surfaces as needed or when they are visibly dirty.

  • Clean kitchen surfaces after cooking to help stop the spread of food contamination.

How to Clean:

  • Hard surfaces (e.g., counters, light switches, floors) can be cleaned with castile soap, water, and scrubbing action to remove dirt and some germs.  White vinegar (acetic acid) combined with water also helps to loosen dirt and some germs.

  • A note on combining castile soap and white vinegar together; too much vinegar can cause the castile soap to become unsaponified which produces a solid lumpy mess.  The percentage of vinegar to castile soap needs to be kept low to avoid this.  However, in the right formulation they work well together.

  • Soft surfaces (e.g. carpet, rugs, drapes, cloth furniture) can be vacuumed or laundered.  A light sprinkle of baking soda on carpet and cloth furniture (check furniture cleaning instructions first) is usually all you need. Let set for 15-20 minutes then vacuum.

  • Electronics need special care when cleaning to not ruin them. Follow the specific instructions of your electronic; however, in most cases 90% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) sprayed on a microfiber towel, not directly on the electronic, and gently wiped, works well.

  • Bathrooms can be cleaned with soap, water, and scrubbing action to remove dirt and some germs.  Toilet bowels are full of germs and benefit from sanitizing or disinfecting on a regular basis.  Mold grows easily in bathrooms due to the humidity. Keeping the mold under control helps keep a clean environment. Oftentimes the best way to treat mold is by disinfecting it with a bleach solution, this eradicates it quickly and effectively. 

  • Kitchens can be cleaned with soap, water, and scrubbing action; however, be sure to check your stovetop cleaning instructions. Ovens can be cleaned with baking soda.

  • Bleach is a volatile substance so ALWAYS open windows for ventilation when using.

Do NOT mix bleach with any other chemicals, especially ammonia!!  It can cause serious health issues, even death. (When Choosing Cleaners, It Helps to Know Your Chemistry, n.d.)

  

When and How to Sanitize

Sanitizing is necessary when someone has been sick, or you have been working with raw meat (chicken especially).  If you are cleaning on a regular basis, you may only need to sanitize every couple weeks.  The dirt must be removed before sanitizing so the sanitizer can get to the germs.


Sanitize after you have cleaned using 70% or more isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol). Spray surfaces with alcohol and let set until dry, usually about 5 minutes.  Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 60% or more alcohol to disinfect (and sanitize), 100 proof vodka will not sanitize. The percentage of alcohol is half of the alcohol proof (100 proof vodka = 50% alcohol).


A note about ethanol (e.g., Everclear, 120 proof vodka).  These can be used instead of isopropyl alcohol; however, they are much more expensive and not available in all areas. 


When and How to Disinfect

Disinfecting will kill germs, viruses, and bacteria that remain after cleaning.  If you are cleaning on a regular basis then most germs will be removed and there is no need to disinfect.  The main reason to disinfect is if someone is sick to avoid spreading the sickness (CDC).


The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) qualifies the following products as disinfectants:

  • ethanol (ethyl alcohol)

  • isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)

  • hydrogen peroxide

  • citric acid

  • quaternary ammonium

  • phenolic compounds

  • sodium hypochlorite (bleach)

(Is Vinegar a Disinfectant? Can it Kill Bacteria and Viruses?, 2020)

 

How to Disinfect

  • Wear protective gloves when working with bleach.

  • Follow directions on the bleach bottle to prepare a diluted bleach solution. In general, a 10% solution of bleach to room temperature water works. (When Choosing Cleaners, It Helps to Know Your Chemistry, n.d.)

    • Example:  add 4 ounces of room temperature water to a spray bottle then add .40 ounces of bleach place lid on and gently shake to combine.

  • Most bleach solutions are left on the surface for one minute before removing with a wipe.

  • Wash hands after disinfecting.

  • Bleach solutions will not be effective after 24 hours when mixed with water. Make only enough for the cleaning session.

Do NOT mix bleach with any other chemicals, especially ammonia!!  It can cause serious health issues, even death. (When Choosing Cleaners, It Helps to Know Your Chemistry, n.d.)

 

Fun Fact About Cleaning with a Microwave

It’s not the favorite appliance of many natural kitchens; however, this study shows that microwaving the kitchen sponge or dishcloths for one minute disinfected them without the use of bleach.  Considering that sponges and dishcloths are the most contaminated items in the kitchen, this is a quick and effective way to disinfect without the use of bleach. (Byrd-Bredbenner et al., 2013)

 

Comparison study of bacteria left on dishcloths after cleaning solutions were used.
Comparison of bacteria left on dishcloths after cleaning products were used.

This image shows the results of five different treatments on a dishcloth.  Use caution when using the microwave, you don’t want to catch the cloth on fire and be sure your sponge does not have any metal in it.  (Gillies, 2021)


 



 


Ingredients Used in Natural Cleaning DIY Products

Now that we’ve discussed cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting, let’s look at the main ingredients used in natural cleaning products.

  • Castile Soap – be sure to find a good natural castile soap that is made of olive oil and other vegetable oils.  I use this castile soap.  A quality castile soap will be biodegradable without any synthetic foaming agents, thickeners, or chemical preservatives. Castile soap is great for cleaning most anything that water can be used on.

  • Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda) – harmless to children and pets, inexpensive, environmentally friendly, and safe for most all surfaces.  It is a great deodorizer and can even be used in laundry.  Its gritty texture makes it a perfect gentle abrasive cleaner.  When combined with white vinegar it can help clean moldy areas. Watch out for the bubbly action when baking soda and vinegar are combined.  A small amount of vinegar to baking soda will not produce a large reaction.  Baking soda is great for cleaning and sanitizing.  It works great to scrub ovens, toilets, bathtubs, and more. I use this baking soda because it is cheaper than buying in the grocery store in my area.

  • 5% Solution of Acetic Acid (White Vinegar) – natural, safe, and non-toxic product that is also effective on many bacteria, viruses, and mold species.  It is not as effective as bleach as a disinfectant but can be used as such when there is no sickness in the cleaning area.  Its acidity helps remove stains, mildew, soap scum, and to de-grease surfaces.  Used with baking soda it can help unclog drains.  It can also be used as a vegetable wash to clean the wax off fruits and vegetables. I buy mine in the grocery store.

  • Isopropyl Alcohol (Rubbing Alcohol 70%) – can be used to sanitize surfaces after cleaning, let rubbing alcohol set for at least 5 minutes to sanitize.

  • Hydrogen peroxide – a strong oxidizer and good sanitizer for counters and cutting boards and cleaning fruits and vegetables.  It is basically oxygenated water (bubbly water) that when in contact with dirt or germs kills most things because germs don’t like oxygen.  It is considered a disinfectant.(renae, 2024)  It may kill bacteria and is a good alternative to bleach. 

    • Why I don’t use Hydrogen Peroxide.  it has a VERY short shelf life once the bottle is opened, about 1-3 months.  For this reason only, I chose other options that have longer shelf lives.

  • Essential Oils – the chemical constituents of some essential oils are considered anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial.  While this may help support your natural cleaning products there is not enough research available to determine the efficacy of essential oils for cleaning.  It is best to rely on the “carrier” ingredients (the product that carries the essential oils to the surface) for cleaning and sanitizing.

    • A note on using essential oils in cleaningUsing essential oils in cleaning should be limited. These oils, sourced from nature, are valuable for other purposes like inhalers, massage oils, and wellness salves. While they contribute a refreshing scent to cleaning products, the primary cleaning or sanitizing action comes from carrier ingredients such as castile soap and alcohol. Therefore, it's advisable to use essential oils sparingly to avoid wastage, finding the right balance by using the minimal amount.

 

Natural Cleaning Products You Can Make at Home – DIY Natural Cleaners

If you stuck around, you made it to the fun part!  Creating your own natural cleaning products.  These three formulas are my go-to natural cleaning products I use in my home.  Fairly simple to make, they are great starter formulas to get you comfortable making your own natural cleaning products.

 



All Purpose Cleaning Spray

Ingredients

A great all-purpose cleaner for kitchens, baths, and general cleaning.  Not for use on electronics or wood.  It can be used for counters, microwaves, sinks, non-wood tables, etc.  Use caution by testing a small area on surfaces like cloth or leather. 


This formula is great for everyday cleaning or cleaning when no one is sick in the household.  To sanitize or disinfect, use the appropriate step after cleaning with this natural window and mirror cleaning spray. Remember:  always clean before sanitizing or disinfecting!


This formula will make 15 ounces that fits well in a 16 oz spray bottle. If you want to make a different amount, I've included the percentages as well. Just multiply your desired final amount by the percentage to get how much of each ingredient you need.


  • 10.28 oz (65.50%) distilled water

  • 2.10 oz (14%) castile soap

  • .53 oz (3.50%) white vinegar

  • 2.10 oz (14%) rubbing alcohol, 70% or 90%

  • .18 oz (1.23%) lime essential oil

  • .15 oz (.99%) peppermint essential oil

  • .12 oz (.78%) black spruce (Picea mariana) essential oil

Instructions

Directions should always be short and to the point.

  1. Clean and sanitize work area.  Sanitize equipment and containers. (Spray or wipe down with 70% rubbing alcohol and let dry)

  2. Wash hands, wear gloves, and pull back hair for good manufacturing practices and to help keep product clean.

  3. First, weigh out the individual ingredients and set aside.  

    1. Weigh out castile soap in a small glass beaker and weigh essential oils out into same beaker, gently blend together to avoid bubbles, set aside.

    2. Weigh out white vinegar and rubbing alcohol into the spray bottle.

    3. Weigh out the distilled water into a glass beaker.

  4. Next pour the castile soap blend into the spray bottle containing the vinegar/alcohol blend.  Gently mix to combine well. (If you just blend the castile soap and vinegar together, it will clump up (vinegar unsaponifies the castile soap), adding the alcohol dilutes the vinegar enough to allow the castile soap to blend without clumping up.)

  5. Pour in the distilled water.  Depending on the size of your spray bottle it may not all fit, add what you can, keeping in mind to use a 16 oz bottle.

  6. Add lid and wipe off container with towel, mix gently to combine all ingredients.

  7. Label your container with the name, date made, shelf life, and instructions.

 

Photo of glass beakers with castile soap and essential oils.
Castile soap and essential oils blended on left.

Once you mix the essential oils into the castile soap, it will become cloudy, this is normal.








 


Window and Mirror Cleaning Spray

Ingredients

Just four main ingredients and essential oils known to repel some bugs will keep your windows sparkling.  The cleaning actives are white vinegar and cornstarch. Cornstarch is a light abrasive that will help clean without scratching windows and mirrors.

This formula is great for everyday cleaning or cleaning when no one is sick in the household.  To sanitize or disinfect, use the appropriate step after cleaning with this natural window and mirror cleaning spray. Remember:  always clean before sanitizing or disinfecting!


This formula will make 8 ounces. If you want to make a different amount, I've included the percentages as well. Just multiply your desired final amount by the percentage to get how much of each ingredient you need.

Photo of natural window and mirror cleaner formula.

  • 4.88 oz (61%) distilled water

  • 1.20 oz (15%) white vinegar

  • 1.52 oz (19%) rubbing alcohol, 70% or 90%

  • .16 oz (2%) cornstarch

  • .16 oz (2%) peppermint essential oil

  • .08 oz (1%) lavender essential oil



Instructions

Directions should always be short and to the point.

  1. Clean and sanitize work area.  Sanitize equipment and containers. (Spray or wipe down with 70% rubbing alcohol and let dry)

  2. Wash hands, wear gloves, and pull back hair for good manufacturing practices and to help keep product clean.

  3. Weigh out the alcohol into the spray bottle.

  4. Next weigh out the essential oils into the alcohol and mix well.  Let this set for a couple hours or overnight to let the essential oils disperse in the alcohol.

  5. Weigh out the vinegar into a small glass beaker and set aside.

  6. Weigh out the distilled water in a large glass beaker and measure in the cornstarch.  Mix well to combine.

  7. Next pour the vinegar and distilled water blend into the container. Shake until combined.

  8. Add lid and wipe off container with towel, mix gently to combine all ingredients.

  9. Label your container with the name, date made, shelf life, and instructions.


 

Soft Scrub Cleaning Paste

Ingredients

A great scrubbing paste that is light enough to use on most surfaces and heavy-duty enough to scrub away all those yucky dirt particles. It works well on stainless steel sinks and faucets, leaving them sparkling clean.  Also great for stoves and oven tops (check with your specific oven top type for compatibility), and bathtubs.

This formula is great for everyday cleaning or cleaning when no one is sick in the household.  To sanitize or disinfect, use the appropriate step after cleaning with this natural soft scrub cleaning paste.  Remember:  always clean before sanitizing or disinfecting!


This formula will make 8 ounces. If you want to make a different amount, I've included the percentages as well. Just multiply your desired final amount by the percentage to get how much of each ingredient you need.


  • 6.20 oz (77.5%) baking soda

  • 1.44 oz (18%) castile soap

  • .16 oz (2%) cornstarch

  • .11 oz (1.13%) lemon essential oil

  • .06 oz (.75%) peppermint essential oil

  • .09 oz (1.12%) tea tree essential oil

Instructions

Directions should always be short and to the point.

  1. Clean and sanitize work area.  Sanitize equipment and containers.

  2. Weigh our the baking soda and cornstarch in a medium size bowl.

  3. Next, weigh out the castile soap in a glass beaker and weigh out the essential oils in the same beaker, blend together slowly to avoid soap bubbles.

  4. Blend the castile and essential oils into the dry mix bowl and stir slowly until well combined.

  5. You may need to add more castile soap to get to your desired consistency.  Look for a thick icing consistency.

  6. Spoon mixture into your storage container and seal lid.

  7.  Wipe off container with towel, and label your container with the name, date made, shelf life, and instructions.



Photo of soft scrub cleaner.
You may need to add more castile soap to get the right consistency. Go for a thick icing.

Photo of blended soft scrub cleaner.
This is a perfect consistency.















Two Bonus Natural Cleaning DIYs

Natural Oven Cleaner

Baking soda neutralizes acids and breaks down grease making it great for cleaning ovens, the mild abrasive action helps to remove stuck on food as well.

a.       Blend ½ cup baking soda and 3 tablespoons water together to form a paste.

b.       Remove racks from the oven.

c.       Using gloves, smear the paste over the dirty parts (glass or metal parts), but avoid the heating elements.  Let sit for 15-20 minutes.

d.       Wipe away the paste and loosen food with a wet paper towel.(Naturally Clean Your Oven with Baking Soda | Arm & Hammer, n.d.)


Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner

This method has been around for a while but works well to get that icky toilet bowl clean.  Made with a 50:50 ratio of baking soda and white vinegar.  Adjust the amount needed based on the size of your toilet and how dirty it is.

a.       Slowly pour about ½ cup of baking soda into the toilet bowl

b.       Next pour about ½ cup of white vinegar into the toilet bowl slowly so the fizzing action doesn’t bubble over the lid.

c.       Let set for about 10-15 minutes.

d.       Then use scrub brush (pour castile soap on scrub brush if needed) to scrub bowl and flush.

e.       Repeat if necessary.


In Closing

In the quest for a clean and healthy living space, it’s essential to strike a balance between the power of conventional cleaners and the gentleness of natural alternatives.  While bleach remains an invaluable product for disinfection and stain removal, incorporating natural cleaning formulas into your routine can reduce the environmental impact and provide a safer option for everyday use.  By understanding when to use bleach and when to opt for natural cleaning products, you can create a harmonious cleaning regimen that promotes both cleanliness and well-being in your home.


Have you tried these formulas?  Do you have natural cleaning formulas of your own?  I would love to hear what works for you!

 

 


Disclaimer:

This post may or may not contain affiliate links. The cost is the same for you whether you purchase via the link in this post or on the website. We only share affiliate links of products we would use ourselves. We do not share links to products we have not tried (unless noted).


(Reference the Medical Disclaimer for more information).  Sunny Brews Apothecary Offerings (Products) have not been evaluated by the US Food & Drug Administration (“FDA”). The Content, Blog Posts, and other material made available by and through the Sunny Brews Apothecary Offerings: (a) are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition or disease; (b) are not in any way intended as medical advice or as a substitute for medical advice and/or medical treatment; and (c) User should seek guidance and care of their physician, not from Sunny Brews Apothecary Offerings, or any other related information; (d) information presented in any Sunny Brews Apothecary Offerings is provided for informational purposes only, it is not meant to substitute for medical advice or diagnosis provided by your physician or other medical professional.

 

References:

When Choosing Cleaners, It Helps to Know Your Chemistry. (n.d.). When Choosing Cleaners, It Helps to Know Your Chemistry. https://news.engineering.pitt.edu/when-choosing-cleaners-it-helps-to-know-your-chemistry/


CDC. (2022, August 16). When and How to Clean and Disinfect Your Home | CDC. Www.cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/hygiene/cleaning/cleaning-your-home.html


Gillies, E. (2021). Determining the most effective common household disinfection method to reduce the microbial load on domestic dishcloths: a pilot study. Environmental Health Review, 63(4), 101–106. https://doi.org/10.5864/d2020-024


Byrd-Bredbenner, C., Berning, J., Martin-Biggers, J., & Quick, V. (2013). Food Safety in Home Kitchens: A Synthesis of the Literature. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 10(9), 4060–4085. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph10094060


Naturally Clean Your Oven with Baking Soda | Arm & Hammer. (n.d.). Www.armandhammer.com. Retrieved March 25, 2024, from https://www.armandhammer.com/en/articles/clean-oven#:~:text=Baking%20soda%20neutralizes%20acids%20and,dried%2C%20stuck%2Don%20foods.


 renae. (2024, February 29). What Chemicals Are Used to Disinfect? CORECHEM Inc. https://corecheminc.com/what-chemicals-are-used-to-disinfect/


EPA. (n.d.). Disinfectants Pesticides. Cfpub.epa.gov. https://cfpub.epa.gov/wizards/disinfectants/


Is Vinegar a Disinfectant? Can It Kill Bacteria and Viruses? (2020, August 5). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/is-vinegar-a-disinfectant#cleaning-with-vinegar


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