No one is immune to the current cost of living hikes.  We all need to eat, get from A to B, pay bills and keep a roof over our head. And it seems ALL of the above has gone up in price significantly.  If you’re unable to raise your own income to cover these costs, the only other option is to reduce costs.  But be mindful of how you reduce costs.  Try not to stop supporting your smaller local businesses (alas, they are often the first to feel the pinch of economic downturns) but instead look to your own household costs and see where you can save a penny or three. 

One way to reduce household costs effectively (while also reducing your environmental impact) is to clean up your cleaning products.  Take a page from Grandma’s book and make your own highly efficient (but cheap as chips) cleaning supplies.  The best bit?  You probably have most of the ingredients you’ll need already in your home, plus you will dramatically reduce the amount of plastic packaging (and the need to repurchase it) in your home.  Plus it’s good to be aware that everything we wash down our sinks eventually goes into our waterways and into our oceans, so reducing the toxins in your cleaning products really does have a positive impact. 

Let me share a few really easy and affordable swaps for your cleaning products.

Here’s a list of things you’ll need:

A couple of clean, empty spray bottles - Amber glass bottles with a spray top are ideal as the bottles are plastic free and won’t degrade overtime from housing active ingredients.   Be careful to thoroughly wash out any bottles you are recycling to ensure there are no residual ingredients or chemicals from its original use.  

Labels -  You can buy fancy labels or print ones from a free template if you think it’ll make cleaning more fun (it kinda does). Or just make your own with a post it note with a Sharpie and some clear contact.  Always clearly label each bottle and ensure you have a record of the ingredients in each formula, include the date you made it and its purpose (i.e. floors or food surfaces etc). 

White vinegar - distilled, extra strength or ‘double’ is best.  Buy in bulk for the best value, and reduced plastic packaging.  Grab 2 x 2L bottles next time you’re at the supermarket (about $2.50 per bottle) so you can start using one straight away for the below recipes and save the second bottle to make some fancy ‘cleaning vinegar’ (I’ll show you how below).

Rubbing alcohol - (otherwise known as isopropyl alcohol) pick up from somewhere like Bunnings.

Bicarb of soda - Buy in bulk online or in smaller quantities at the supermarket.  1kg is about $8 from Bunnings. 

Pure essential oils - Great options for household cleaning include lemon, peppermint, eucalyptus, lavender and tea tree.  These are all affordable, highly concentrated, antiseptic and have a refreshing, uplifting aroma.   Do not use ‘fragrance’ oils.  Essential oils will always have the botanical name marked and include a used by date.   Something like Bosisto's Eucalyptus Oil is under $18 for 175ml at the supermarket and should last you a couple of years if using sparingly.  Eucalyptus oil is antiseptic, is a solvent (dissolves sticky marks) and can even be used for stain removal.    I like to add a couple of drops of lavender or lemon into the mix for additional benefits. 

Cleaning cloths - Disposable chux wipes are made up of synthetic fibres (which once broken down eventually turn into micro plastics!).  Make your own reusable cleaning cloths out old cotton towels instead, they have a soft but slightly textured surface for gentle scrubbing.   Cut your old towels into the size you want and dedicate different cloths for specific areas of your home.  Consider colour coding, i.e. different colours for food surfaces, floor and bathroom and a third for toilet.   Throw into your washing machine after use and reuse on repeat (some might need a soak first after heavy duty cleaning).  If particularly filthy or contaminated with bacteria, throw away after use.  For general surface cleaning, they should last for months if not years. 

Cleaning vinegar - You can just use white vinegar for the recipes below.  But you can also use the skins from lemons or limes to make a scented and effective cleaning vinegar.  Whether you squeeze lemon into your tea or lime into your gin, keep the peels and pop them into a clear wide mouthed glass jar (ideally with a swing top, glass closure rather than a metal lid as metal will corrode over time from the vinegar).  Fill your jar up to a quarter full of peels (no need to chop) and top with white vinegar.  Leave to infuse for a couple of weeks or a month or two.  The vinegar over time extracts the soluble components of the citrus peel (naturally occurring oils) which dissolve into the vinegar, meaning you don’t need to add extra essential oils to the below formulas (unless you want to).  Once you’re happy with the concentration, filter the vinegar solution into an empty, clean, clearly labelled glass bottle and discard the peels into the compost.

Home made cleaning products:

Surface sprays

We use them all over the home, from our dining table to loo seats and shower screens.  Do we really need a different one for each application?  Not really, but it is good to have one dedicated to food surfaces and one with a stronger antibacterial content for bathrooms and toilet surfaces.  Try the following combo to make an all purpose surface spray.  For the kitchen make sure you use food safe essential oils in a low dilution such as lemon or sweet orange. 

All purpose surface Kitchen (food safe) spray:  1 cup white vinegar (or cleaning vinegar), 10 drops of lemon or orange essential oil (or the juice of a lemon), 2 cups of water.

All purpose Bathroom / toilet / floor surface sprays - 2 cups white or cleaning vinegar, 10 drops each of eucalyptus, lemon and tea tree, one cup of water. 

Floor wash: Perfect for timber and tiles.  Add boiling water to your mop bucket, add a cup of your fancy cleaning vinegar (or white vinegar), a teaspoon of Castile soap (or dishwashing detergent) and 10 drops of eucalyptus or lemon essential oil.    If needing extra antiseptic power add 10 drops of tea tree oil too. Allow to air dry. 

Carpet deodoriser: 2 cups of bicarb, 40 drops of lemon, lavender or eucalyptus oil.  Mix to remove clumps and transfer to a sieve or colander.  Sprinkle over your carpet, use your hands to agitate and rub the powder into the carpet.  Leave overnight and in the morning vacuum it all up.  Bicarb absorbs odour and moisture and the essential oils leave a delightful scent and are antiseptic.

Cleaning paste:  If grime builds up in your bath or toilet bowl, oven door or BBQ a cleaning paste is a great option to gently scour the surface clean without causing damage to the enamel or cooking surface. Combine a tablespoon of bicarb, 2 drops of essential oil (lemon / orange for kitchen surfaces, tea tree / eucalyptus for bathroom) and a small amount of water (enough to make a paste).   Rub the surface gently with the paste and a damp cloth.  Finish with a rinse of vinegar, which causes a chemical reaction and makes a delightfully satisfying ‘fizz’.  Wipe over again with a damp cloth to remove residual paste.  

Mild Drain Cleaner: This is not going to sort out a major sink blockage, but it does help to break down build up of grime and grease somewhat.  Simply sprinkle 2 tablespoons of bicarb into your sink waste and follow with a cup of white vinegar or cleaning vinegar.  Watch the fizz and repeat.  Whenever your sink gets smelly do it again. 

Glass Cleaner: Add 1 cup water, 3 tablespoons of white vinegar (not the cleaning vinegar!) and 1/4 cup of rubbing alcohol into a glass spray bottle.  Spray onto glass and wipe off with old newspaper or a lint free cloth. 

Fabric softener: Replace your fabric softener with white vinegar (just use the plain white stuff here, NOT your fancy citrus infused one).  Or eliminate it entirely! I actually have never used fabric softener in my life. 

I’ve personally been living in an entirely toxin free home for over 15 years now, and it’s saved me plenty.  But it also reassures me that when I do clean my home, my family isn’t being exposed to toxic chemicals, and neither are my drains, meaning I’m not contributing to pollution in the water ways.  Win win!

Alison Gallagher is a freelance writer, resourcefulness expert and entrepreneur.  She has been featured in various publications including Stellar Magazine, Australian Health and Fitness Magazine, and Cleo Magazine. Alison is particularly passionate about sharing practical tips on how to live simply, sustainably and seasonally.  

11 August 2023