How to Clean Without Cleaning Products

Ditch the expensive, chemical-laden cleaning products. Here's a list of natural alternatives that you probably already own.

My laundry room closet is chock-full of cleaning products. Big surprise, huh? It’s a weakness of mine. Imagine an toddler unleashed on grocery store candy aisle. That’s me in the cleaning section.

You’d think I would’ve learned by now, but no. I still fall for the hype. A commercial hocks the new holy grail of cleaning products–this spray actually levitates stains above the couch cushions so you can wipe it away midair–and I rush to the store, ready for my life to be changed. Only to discover it was too good to be true.

Sure, a few products have delivered. Magic Erasers, for example. Those things are truly miraculous. But for the most part, my laundry room closet has been filled with expensive, mediocre cleaners with way too many chemicals.

I’ve found that the best cleaning products are not actually marketed as cleaning products (which means they won’t be as pricey). Here’s my list of underrated, cleaning superstars:

1.  White Vinegar

White vinegar has endless uses. Its disinfectant properties make it a wonderful cleaner, and it’s natural…safe enough to use even on the inside of your refrigerator (one part vinegar, one part water).

Here are some other ideas:

-Scrub bathroom counters and toilets with diluted or straight white vinegar. It kills bacteria and–mothers of young boys, listen up–helps prevent urine stains.

-Mop tile, wood, and laminated floors with 1/2 cup of white vinegar and a gallon of warm water.

-Add a cup of white vinegar during your washing machine’s rinse cycle instead of fabric softener.

-Remove hard water stains from silverware. Fill a glass with white vinegar, and let your cutlery soak in it for a few minutes. Remove and wipe to dry. (Also works wonders with hard water stains on the tray beneath a refrigerator door water dispenser

Note: Don’t use vinegar on marble or granite surfaces, and never mix vinegar with bleach as it will create a dangerous chemical reaction.

2.  Rubbing Alcohol and Newspaper

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This is my secret for streak-free windows and mirrors: Wad up a piece of newspaper, and wet it with rubbing alcohol. (It might help to put the alcohol into a spray bottle.) With circular motions, wipe away smudges on the glass. Voila, no annoying streaks!

Any brand of rubbing alcohol will work. Also, I keep a stash of newspapers in the garage and replenish them in my cleaning caddy as needed.

3.  Cloth Diapers

No, I don’t use cloth diapers on my children, but by golly, I use them on my house! Think about it…what other kind of cloth has more reason to be super absorbent and durable? Cloth diapers are ideal for wiping down countertops and gentle enough for dusting. You could even attach them to a Swiffer Sweeper and mop the floors.

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Other handy uses:

-Layer a few on top of your child’s pillowcase and then cover with a second pillowcase. The cloth is comfortable enough to sleep on, but absorbent enough to protect their pillow if a midnight stomach bug should strike.

-Keep them in the console of your car to soak up spills.

4.  Baking Soda

An excellent, nontoxic scrubber and stink neutralizer (no wonder certain diaper pail manufacturers have partnered with Arm and Hammer). I leave an open box in my refrigerator and freezer to eliminate unwanted smells, such as the odor of the copious leftovers of an oh-so-healthy, creamed cauliflower casserole I once made. Yum.

I also use baking soda to polish my stainless steel sink. Just sprinkle it all over the basin, and use a soft sponge to buff the surface. The baking soda is gentle enough that it won’t scratch the metal. Then, rinse your sink with white vinegar, which will disinfect and remove any hard water stains.

More ideas:

-Use baking soda to remove cooked-on gunk from your stovetop (pour onto affected area, and gently scrub with damp sponge).

-Sprinkle some baking soda to de-funk a pair of old shoes.

-Each week, add baking soda to your kitchen garbage can to keep offensive odors at bay.

5.  Baby Wipes

I don’t mess around when it comes to baby wipes. I buy mine in bulk at Costco:

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I keep them in the car, the laundry room, bathrooms, and the kids’ bedrooms. If they’re gentle enough for my babies’ bottoms, then they’re certainly okay for household use.

Of course, I don’t count on these wipes to disinfect, but they’re handy for quick cleanups. I also use them to blot carpet stains, remove dried toothpaste from every nook and cranny in the bathroom (how do my kids get it on the walls??), and wipe dust from the leaves of faux houseplants.

-Use them to wipe down the interior of your car.

-Remove eye makeup without any burning or stinging.

-Wipe the screens of electronics to eliminate fingerprints and smudges.

6.  Microfiber Cloths

You know those painfully soft cloths that catch any bit of dry skin on your hands? Ugh, it’s like nails on a chalkboard for me. But microfiber cloths are really great for dusting. Just as the material latches onto any hangnail or callus, it also clings to dust and dirt.

Here’s my trusty towel in case you were curious. It’s seen me through a lot of dust bunny invasions:

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I guess, technically, microfiber cloths are sold as cleaning products, but often they’re marketed as car washing tools rather than household helpers. Regardless, I wanted to include it on the list because I use mine All. The. Time.

I use my lint-free towel to dust furniture, floors, electronics, baseboards, closet shelves, window sills, and moldings. The possibilities are endless!

When you’re finished, simply toss the cloth into the washing machine to clean. Tip: If you put it in the dryer, don’t use fabric softener.

7.  Q-tips

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In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a “clean with a toothbrush” kind of person.  To rephrase, I’m very a detail-oriented gal. So, Q-tips are an integral part of my cleaning arsenal.

My favorite Q-tip use, but definitely not my favorite chore, is cleaning the bases of the toilet hinges where…ahem…poorly aimed streams often land and congeal. (Sorry for the gross image, but it’s part of being a boy mom, amiright?!)

More ideas with slightly less ick factor:

-Dip a Q-tip in white vinegar and run it along the tracks of your windows to remove all that gunk.

-Use a Q-tip soaked in rubbing alcohol to clean your computer keyboard.

8.  White Contact Paper

Okay, so contact paper doesn’t really clean anything, but it does give the appearance of clean. That’s gotta be worth something, right?

When we moved into our current house, I cleaned and scrubbed and magic-erased every kitchen and bathroom cabinet. But no matter how much elbow grease I expended, some spaces still looked dingy.

Enter the white contact paper. Think of it like Spanx for your cabinets. It just smooths out everything, covers any imperfections.

Check out my pot and pan cabinet. Apparently, the former homeowner used this space for the same purpose because it was terribly scratched and scuffed. So I slapped down my white contact paper. Good as new:

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I also used it in my drawers:

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You know the old carpentry adage: Measure twice, cut once. Well, it applies to contact paper as well. The more careful you are, the less time you’ll waste. Once you cut it to fit the inside of the cabinet or drawer, peel away the backing and line up the sticky paper along the front edge of the cabinet/drawer. (I prefer to start in the front because even if I line everything up, the placement can still end up a little crooked. The imperfection won’t be as noticeable if it’s in the back.)

Apply the contact paper a little at a time to avoid air bubbles. If you do end up with some, use a needle to pop them.

One exception: I used patterned contact paper in the cabinet below my sink. This space attracts rust and hard water stains, and white would just spotlight the mess. Instead, I opted for a colored design to mask the grime.

And speaking of grime, contact paper is so easy to clean. Just wipe away any dirt with a damp cloth…bonus points if it’s a cloth diaper or microfiber towel!


 

So that’s my spiel. I’m still hopelessly drawn to the shiny spray bottles on the cleaning supply aisle, but I know in my heart that nothing beats a toothbrush and white vinegar in the hands of a very determined cleaner.

 

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