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Your essential cleaning kits from trusted brands

Squeaky green: Natural cleaning products that actually work

Yes you can have a clean home without resorting to harsh chemicals. Here’s how...

Updated

A spray bottle beside a natural brush and a lemon cut in half

More and more of us are choosing to ‘go green’ and adopt a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. In many cases, that means making the switch to more eco-friendly cleaning products. Whether you’re after some DIY natural cleaning product recipes, or you just want to know what to look for in the supermarket, this guide is for you…

Are natural cleaning products better?

Cleaning products that are natural have fewer synthetic chemicals, so they’re usually gentler to your skin and lungs and kinder to the planet.

They can also be just as effective as their less planet-friendly counterparts. Some need you to use a bit more elbow grease, but others are perfect for the lazy perfectionists amongst us. 

How can I make natural cleaning products at home?

If you can’t find eco-friendly cleaning products in your local store, why not use store cupboard essentials instead? It’s good for the environment, your health and your budget. Just follow our top tips and easy DIY recipes. 

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Before you start: natural cleaning ingredients

  • Keep lemons, baking soda and white vinegar as kitchen staples. They’re the core ingredients of most DIY cleaning products.

  • Make your own natural cleaners using the DIY recipes below.

  • If you prefer to use household names, choose products that are highly concentrated as they save on packaging waste.

  • Cleaning products that are natural are usually kinder to your skin, but if you’re a sensitive soul, choose products approved by Allergy UK. 

Cleaning with baking soda

Baking soda (AKA bicarbonate of soda) contains small amounts of natural acid, making it an excellent natural cleaner. 

  • Keep an open box of baking soda in your fridge and food cupboards to absorb bad smells.
  • Sprinkle baking soda onto your carpets before vacuuming to freshen the fibres.
  • Sprinkle baking soda onto kitchen work surfaces, before wiping with a damp cloth to remove dirt, stains, and greasy residue.
  • Use baking soda to clean your oven without chemicals.

Explore clever ways of cleaning with baking soda in our guide. 

Cleaning with vinegar

Vinegar is acidic, and while it’s not as good as baking soda at cleaning dirt, it may be more effective at removing germs and bacteria. 

When it comes to cleaning, you want white vinegar, not the brown stuff you pour on your chips. White vinegar is a lot less smelly.

  • Wipe over kitchen and bathroom walls with vinegar to help prevent mould.

  • Mix vinegar with a small amount of salt to clean taps and sinks.

  • Wipe neat vinegar onto the inside of your oven door and leave it to sit for a few minutes before wiping it off (it’ll help to remove grease stains and food splatters).

Check out the video below for six ways to clean with white vinegar.

Cleaning with lemons

Half a lemon in a sink

Like vinegar, lemons are acidic. They’re also a natural source of citric acid, which is a wonder at removing limescale. 

Throw in the fact that lemons are antibacterial and deodorising, and you’ve got one of the most powerful environmentally friendly cleaning products in the palm of your hand. Try:

  • Adding one cup of olive oil to half a cup of squeezed lemon juice to make your own polish for hardwood (not softwood) furniture.

  • Cutting a lemon in half and squishing each half onto a kitchen tap. By the next morning, the limescale should just wipe off.

  • Popping a bowl of lemon juice in your fridge to get rid of nasty niffs.

You can find more tips on cleaning with lemons here.

Removing rust with potatoes

A potato cut in half beside a window

It might sound like an April Fool’s joke, but potatoes contain an acid that dissolves iron oxides, so they can help to remove rust from kitchen knives and pans, particularly if you dip half a potato in baking powder first before rubbing it on the metal.  

Polishing with olive oil

Some drops of olive oil beside a small bowl of olive oil and a cloth

Olive oil isn’t just for salads; it’s an effective natural cleaner that works well on numerous surfaces. Try it for:

  • Cleaning wood – you only need a few drops on a cloth to bring the shine back to your hardwood furniture (it’s also good on leather chairs).

  • Seasoning your patio furniture. Just pour a few drops on a clean cloth and wipe your patio set down now and again. It’ll help to stop the wood from drying out.

  • Removing paint from your hands (or anywhere else you happen to get it). Rub a few drops of oil into your skin and let it rest for a few minutes before washing off with soapy water. (If you need to remove paint from wood, we have three methods to try here.)

  • Buffing stainless steel – get a deep and satisfying shine simply by working the oil in with a cloth.

Cleaning with toothpaste

Well, it does a good job of cleaning your teeth, so why not the rest of the house? Toothpaste contains abrasives, such as calcium carbonate and aluminium oxides, which help to break down the plaque on your teeth. It’s these ingredients that also make it an effective eco-friendly cleaner around your home. As a bonus, natural toothpastes often contain baking soda. 

Toothpaste can be put to work in multiple ways. For instance: 

  • Cleaning and polishing up copper pots, silver jewellery and other silverware. Rub the paste on with a soft cloth before buffing off with a clean cloth. Make sure you remove it all or rinse well with warm water afterwards.

  • Smoothing out small scratches on a mobile phone screen. Use a tiny amount and then wipe clean with a damp cloth.

  • Getting rid of food smells on your hands. Rub a small amount into your palm and fingers before thoroughly rinsing off.

Descaling with citric acid

If you live in a hard water area, you’re probably used to battling against limescale. Citric acid is a natural descaler and just as powerful as the chemical solutions.

  •  Limescale can stain toilets, and it’s really hard to remove it by scrubbing alone. Chuck a cup of citric acid into the bowl and leave it overnight. You should see a noticeable improvement by the following morning.

  • Fed up of scummy tea? Boil your kettle. As soon as it clicks off, add a tablespoon of citric acid to the water. Cover the spout with some spare cling film or foil and leave it to sit. In most cases, you’ll only need to leave it for half an hour, but if your kettle is seriously furred up, it might need to rest overnight. Then just pour the limescale away, rinse and revel in the beauty of your sparkling kettle.

(Don’t have any citric acid? You can also remove limescale from your kettle with vinegar.)

Making DIY natural cleaning products

Some DIY cleaning products are a match made in heaven. Fancy saving some cash and making your own 100% natural, non-toxic cleaners? Here’s how…

All-purpose natural cleaner

  • Mix one cup of white vinegar, one tablespoon of baking soda and one cup of water together. 

  • You can also add a few drops of essential oils for a dash of natural fragrance if you like. Or add 20 drops of lavender oil. Not only does lavender add fragrance, it’s also naturally antibacterial.  

  • Pour your mixture into a spray bottle and use anywhere you would use a commercial multi-purpose spray.

Bathroom and kitchen cleaner

lemon and salt
  • Add a little lemon juice to salt to create a paste. 

  • Use it on a sponge to clean taps, sinks, brass, non-lacquered cabinet handles, and more.

Window cleaner

  • Add a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar to two cups of water. 

  • You can also add a squeeze of lemon juice or a few drops of essential oil for fragrance. 

  • Pour your mixture into a spray bottle to use for streak free, super clean windows.

Staying safe when using DIY cleaning products

There are three important things to be aware of when you’re making DIY cleaning products.

  1. Stick to well-known recipes for natural cleaners, like the ones we’ve featured. 

  2. Don’t mix products that can create toxic gases such as:

  • Bleach and ammonia

  • Bleach and acids

  • Bleach and rubbing alcohol

  • Bleach and vinegar

  • Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar

3. Research what surfaces each natural cleaner can, and can’t, be used on, and test on a small area first, just in case they leave a mark.

Buying environmentally friendly cleaning products

Prefer your cleaning products ready mixed? We hear you. If you’re heading to the supermarket to stock up, here are a few things to bear in mind: 

‘Natural’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ don’t always go hand-in-hand

As mentioned above, in the vast majority of cases natural products are better for the planet. However, that’s not always the case. 

Ingredients like palm oil are often not sustainably sourced and can result in deforestation, high transport emissions and even human rights abuses. So occasionally, synthetic ingredients can be better for the environment than natural ones.

Look for accreditation logos on packaging

Not sure whether a product is truly eco or just trying to green wash you? Independent accreditation can help to cut through the hype. 

  • The most sustainable products produced by UK-based companies tend to carry the Ethical Consumer Best Buy badge. (It looks a bit like a blue butterfly.)

  • Trying to buy organic? Not many cleaning products carry the Soil Association mark, but there are a few out there that do. 

  • If you’re buying natural products because of skin concerns, look for the Allergy UK label. 

  • Look for the Leaping Bunny logo to prove that the ingredients haven’t been tested on animals. You might also want to look for the Vegan Society’s badge. 

Ditch packaging waste

Look for ultra-concentrated products, as they need less packaging. And avoid ones with plastic packaging that’s difficult to recycle (like shrink wrap). 

Remember, glass packaging is usually only better than plastic if it can be refilled, as it’s heavier to transport (so leads to more emissions) and more energy intensive to recycle.

Look for refillable packaging

You know what’s better than recycling packaging? Reusing it. 

Some brands are cutting their plastic waste by allowing you to refill the bottle. You either top up from a larger bottle in a zero waste store, or buy an ultra-concentrated refill pack to mix with water. 

A 70ml Cif ecorefill bottle, for example, makes 700ml of cleaning product.

Choose hard-working products

Look for products that help you to save water or energy at home, such as laundry detergent that’s effective at lower temperatures.

Research a brand’s eco-credentials

If you’re prepared to dig a little deeper, it’s worth checking what the brand itself is doing to become more environmentally friendly. Most brands will have a sustainability report (or at least a page) on their website. It’ll likely cover areas such as CO2 emissions, the sustainability of ingredients and water consumption. 

When it comes to eco-friendly cleaning products, what’s left out tends to be more important than what’s included. Eco-brands will usually provide a list of any chemicals that they won’t use.  

Of course, eco-cleaning isn’t just about the products you choose. From using less water, to washing at 30ºC, there are lots of ways to be more environmentally friendly while cleaning your home.

Originally published