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MAKE: Herb-based Recipe for A Non-Toxic Cleaner

MAKE: Herb-based Recipe for A Non-Toxic Cleaner

Spring cleaning? Start with purging your toxic commercial cleaning products.

Spring cleaning? Start with purging your toxic commercial cleaning products.

How much money do you spend on commercial cleaning products? How safe do you think they are?  The truth is most of us grew up in homes that had one shelf or closet space dedicated to purchased cleaning supplies.  I bet most of us can identify the smells of ammonia, bleach, and perhaps the most memorable - Pine Sol.  (Did I miss one?)

The Darker Side of Cleaning

Our culture has become obsessed with cleaning and the best evidence is found in our grocery stores: an entire aisle is dedicated to cleaning and laundry products – almost all made with ingredients developed in a chemistry lab. There’s a dark side to these products: Many produce indoor pollution, allergic reactions, cause skin blisters and burns, and can be toxic if inhaled or ingested.  In fact, according to the U.S. Poison Control, cleaning products are responsible for 11% of reported toxic exposures for children under six years old.

The Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning rates 2500 products and their overall message is that many of the cleaning products contain toxic or dangerous ingredients for both humans and the environment. 

Start your spring cleaning with a purge of those toxic commercial cleaners. It’s easy to replace commercial products with homemade ones, and it will save you money, too. This recipe is not only non-toxic and effective, it is inexpensive and easy-to-make. 

RECIPE: Herb-Infused Cleaning Solution

Here's what you'll need:

  • One gallon of distilled white vinegar - A natural disinfectant with anti-fungal properties, vinegar's acidity breaks down mineral deposits and wax build-ups. I buy two gallons for around $7 at Costco.

  • Small amount of Castile soap (an olive-oil based soap) - Not necessary but adds a bit of soap-like quality. Unlike commercial products, it does not produce long-lasting suds but that’s not an indicator of effectiveness. A synthetic chemical actually produces those suds in commercial products! Castile soap can be found in natural food sections of larger grocery stores or order online. If you really want those suds, add liquid dishwashing soap instead of Castile soap.

Now for the secret ingredient: fresh or dried herbs.  What do you have growing in your garden?  These herbs all have disinfectant properties and can be used to infuse the vinegar.

  • Lavender

  • Lemongrass

  • Spearmint

  • Rosemary

  • Sage

  • Oregano

  • Thyme

No need to strip the leaves off the stems. Cut the stems into small pieces before placing in a jar.

No need to strip the leaves off the stems. Cut the stems into small pieces before placing in a jar.

My herb of choice is thyme; it has strong antimicrobial properties and is useful for cleaning all types of surfaces.   You can also create a mixture of herbs: my current supply was made with thyme, rosemary, lemon balm, lemon peels and lavender.

Lavender and lemongrass bring some relaxing scents to the cleaning party. Another aromatic addition: fresh orange or lemon peels.  You can also add 10-30 drops of essential oil for a stronger scent.

To make a quart of this herbal cleaner:

1) Add two cups of dried or fresh herbs to a quart glass jar.

2) Cover with distilled vinegar and cap. Steep the herbs for 24-48 hours; the vinegar will turn red if using thyme. 

3) Strain and add 1-2 tbsp. of Castile soap or dishwashing soap.*  Pour into recycled spray or squirt bottle.  

* Do not add soap if you want to use as a window cleaner.

I make a gallon of this herbal cleaner twice a year and it costs less than $10. I reuse the plastic gallon vinegar jug to store the extra cleaner. It won't go bad or get funky!

Use it on counters, windows, non-wood floors and all things in the bathroom.

Herbal Cleaner

The Origin of Spring Cleaning

The activity of spring cleaning – a thorough cleaning of a house or room – has its roots in the days of candlelight and wood or coal heat. Sounds romantic except when the seasonal light returned and you could finally see the walls and furniture-laden with the smells, soot and dust of smoke and ash. The first warm day in Spring was an opportunity to drag furniture outside and clean it, wash walls and windows, air linens and sweep the dust bunnies out of the corners.  Some version of this ritual continues today in many homes.

In pre-industrial days, cleaning products were harsh, toxic, homemade and smelly. They were typically made with a combination of homemade lye and animal fats.  The invention of synthetic chemicals and the discovery of germ theory altered our expectations and ingredients for the once simple but arduous task of house cleaning. 


Author: Sue Kusch

Sue Kusch, a former community college instructor and academic advisor, incorporates her experiential wisdom, expertise and science-based research garnered from her three decades of growing vegetables, fruit and herbs into her educational writing about plants and how people use them. In addition to her BA in Social Sciences and Masters in Education, she completed the Master Gardener training in 2011 and two permaculture courses in 2001 and 2014. She has studied medicinal and nutritional uses of herbs including studies at and East West School of Planetary Herbology since 1997. An avid reader, lover of historical and folkloric information, and a promising storyteller, Sue writes about the intersection of plants and people at


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