5 Cleaning Products You Should Never Be Without

Make your home sparkle by turning five everyday items into powerful homemade, all-natural cleaning products. From Linda Cobb, author of Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean

WHITE VINEGAR

Use white vinegar to remove heavy soap scum and mineral deposits from showers, tubs, and sinks. Warm the vinegar and put in a spray bottle. Spray on showers, tubs, and sinks and let soak for 10–15 minutes. Then use a nylon scrubbing sponge to remove scum. Re-spray if necessary. To remove mineral deposits from around drains, close drain and pour in enough white vinegar to cover the drain area. Let soak overnight, scrub with a nylon scrubbing sponge, drain vinegar, and rinse.

To remove scum and mineral buildup from showerheads and keep them free-flowing, put undiluted white vinegar in a plastic bag. Tie around the showerhead overnight. Scrub head and poke any loosened mineral deposits with a toothpick, rinse, and enjoy your next shower.

To remove soap scum and mildew from plastic shower curtains and liners, fill the washing machine with warm water, 1 cup of white vinegar, and your regular laundry detergent. Add the curtains, along with several old, light-colored towels. Run through complete cycle and re-hang curtains immediately.

Add 2–3 tablespoons white vinegar to hot water along with your regular dishwashing liquid to cut grease on dishes and crystal.

Add 1/4 cup of white vinegar to the washing machine during the final rinse to soften clothes and remove lint from dark clothes.

Apply, undiluted, to the skin with a cotton ball to deter bugs — they hate the way you taste, but the odor disappears immediately from your skin.

Neutralize pet urine odor with diluted white vinegar (25 percent vinegar to 75 percent water) sprayed on carpets. Always test in an inconspicuous spot before treating a large area.

Clean stainless steel sinks with a paste of baking soda and vinegar. Don’t let the foaming scare you — it works great!

Make a window cleaner in a spray bottle with 1/4 cup white vinegar added to 1 quart of water.

Make air freshener in a spray bottle with 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1 tablespoon of white vinegar, and 2 cups of water. After the foaming stops, put on lid. Shake before using.

Clean vinyl floors with 1/2 cup white vinegar to 1 gallon of warm water.

Keep drains free-flowing with 1/2 cup baking soda and 1/2 cup white vinegar poured down the drain monthly. After pouring in baking soda and vinegar, cover the drain for 15 minutes (it will foam). Then flush with cold water.

Clean mirrors with a solution of half vinegar and half water. Wet a sponge, soft cloth, or paper towel, wash, then buff dry. Never spray water onto a mirror. Moisture that gets into the edges and behind mirrors ruins the silvering on the mirror, resulting in dark spots.

Spray vinegar on the underarms of clothes and let soak 15–30 minutes to deodorize and minimize underarm stains.

Make an excellent toilet cleaner with 1 cup borax and 1 cup vinegar. Pour the vinegar over the stained area of the toilet, then sprinkle the borax over the vinegar. Soak for 2 hours and then brush and flush.

BAKING SODA

Baking soda is a great deodorizer, cleaner, and mild abrasive use as you would a soft-scrubbing product or cleanser in tubs and sinks.

Keep food disposals fresh and free-flowing by putting the stopper in the disposal and adding 3 inches of warm water and a handful of baking soda. Turn on the disposal and let water run out.

Remove perspiration stains and odor from clothing by applying a paste of baking soda and water and letting it soak 30 minutes prior to laundering.

Mix 1 gallon of warm water and 1/4 cup of baking soda. Soak freshly washed socks in this for 30 minutes. Spin out in the washer (do not rinse out the solution), dry, and you will have odor-eater socks.

Clean smudges on wallpaper with baking soda and water.

Remove crayon from hard surfaces with baking soda on a damp rag.

Use on any hard surface as a mild abrasive to remove stains.

Use as a bug killer for aphids. Use  1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda per pint of water and apply every 7 days.

To clean grout (any color), mix 3 cups of baking soda with 1 cup of warm water. Scrub grout with a brush and rinse.

Use baking soda on a damp cloth to polish silver.

To remove burned food in casseroles, fill dish with hot water and add 1 tablespoon of baking soda and allow to soak.

To clean up pet vomit, sprinkle on a heavy coating of baking soda. Let it absorb moisture and dry, then scoop or vacuum up. The baking soda will neutralize acids and help prevent stains. Follow with your favorite carpet spotter.

Remove heel marks from hard floors with a damp cloth and baking soda.

Clean screen stain and mineral deposits off windows by dipping a soft, wet cloth in baking soda and rubbing gently. Follow by washing windows as usual.

Remove streaks and greasy film from car windshields with a thin paste of baking soda and water. Rinse well.

Put in the bottom of cat litter boxes to help eliminate odor. Put in a thin layer of baking soda, then add the litter as usual. This works with clay or clumping varieties.

LEMON JUICE

Lemon juice is nature’s bleach and disinfectant.

Apply to clothes, undiluted, to remove fruit-based stains. Let soak 30 minutes and then launder.

Remove rust from clothes by applying undiluted lemon juice and laying the garment in the sun. It disappears like magic.

Bleach spots off Formica® counters by using straight or mixing in a paste with baking soda.

Clean brass and copper with lemon juice and salt. Sprinkle salt on half a lemon and rub metal, then rinse thoroughly. If you don’t have fresh lemons, you can also mix bottled lemon juice and salt.

Make a cleaner in a spray bottle with 2 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap, 1 tablespoon of baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of borax. Shake before using to clean any hard surface.

Apply lemon juice to chrome and buff to a shine.

As a bleach alternative, use 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 1/4 cup of white vinegar mixed in 1 gallon of warm water, and soak clothes for 15 minutes prior to washing.

Remove stains from hands with lemon juice.

Bleach wooden breadboards by applying lemon juice and letting them sit overnight. Wash and rinse in the morning.

PALACE PENNYSAVERS

Check the unit price before shelling out for that large, economy size. Often that thrifty size isn’t so thrifty at all!

CLUB SODA
Club soda is the best emergency spotter there is. Keep club soda on hand to clean up spills on carpet and clothing. Remember to react as soon as possible to a spill. If you act fast, a spot shouldn’t become a stain. Club soda will remove red wine, coffee, tea, pop (yes, even red pop!), Kool-Aid®, and any other spills you can think of. Lift any solids carefully off carpet or clothes and then pour on the club soda, blotting with an old rag until all the color from the spill is removed. Don’t be afraid to really wet the carpet, it won’t hurt it — carpet goes through countless dippings in water as it is made. Blot carpet easily by folding a rag and standing on it, turning the rag as it absorbs moisture and discoloration from the spill. The carbonation in the club soda brings the offending spill to the surface so that you can blot it up, and the salts in it will help prevent staining.

If you spill something on your clothes in a restaurant, ask for a little club soda or seltzer and use your napkin to blot the stain until it is removed. At home you can pour the club soda directly onto the spot, flushing it out.

I have found that club soda will work on many old stains, too. Always keep several bottles on hand.

20 MULE TEAM® BORAX

Now’s your chance to harness the power of twenty mules for general cleaning and laundry. Borax is a natural additive that will boost the cleaning power of your regular laundry detergent and deodorize your laundry, too. But don’t stop there. It is amazing for all kinds of cleaning. Look for 20 Mule Team® Borax in the laundry additive section at grocery and discount stores.

Borax and water is a great cleaner for porcelain bathroom fixtures. Make a paste, and rub well, then rinse.

Combine 2 parts baking soda, 1 part borax, and 1 part hot water to make a fantastic grout cleaner. Mix together and, using a brush, rub into the grout. Rinse well when you are done.

Remove hard-water rings from toilets by shutting the water off at the tank and flushing the toilet to remove as much water as possible. Spray the toilet bowl with heated white vinegar and then sprinkle on borax. Use a piece of fine drywall sandpaper to remove the ring. Turn the water back on and flush for a sparkling toilet bowl.

To clean white appliances, combine 8 cups of water, 1/2 cup of chlorine bleach, 1/2 cup of baking soda, and 2 tablespoons of borax. Wash white appliances thoroughly (using care around carpets and fabrics), rinse well, and dry.

To keep dishwashers odor free, use a damp sponge and some borax to wipe out the inside of the dishwasher, door, and gaskets. No need to rinse, just do the next load of dishes.

To make your own dishwasher spot stopper, combine the following ingredients in a container with a lid: 1 cup of borax and 1?2 cup of baking soda. To use: Add 1 teaspoon of the mixture to the dishwasher along with your regular dishwasher detergent.

Make your own nonabrasive scouring powder by combining 4 parts baking soda and 1 part borax. Store in a labeled shaker container.

To clean vinyl floors, mop with a mixture of 1 gallon of warm water and 1 tablespoon of borax. This will maintain the shine on floors, even those that are waxed.

To remove odor from training pants and socks, soak in a solution of 2 tablespoons of borax and 1 gallon of hot water for one hour prior to laundering. Then dump the entire contents of the bucket into the washer and add detergent; wash as usual.

To revive table linens, add 1/2 cup of borax to your laundry along with your detergent. It will boost your detergent to remove those mystery stains and that stale odor from storage.

To easily clean cloth hats and baseball caps, put them on the top rack of the dishwasher. To avoid color fading, fill the detergent cup with borax and allow to wash up to the dry cycle. Remove the hats prior to the dry cycle and set on a pitcher or jar to dry, shaping as needed.

Make your own Queen’s Power Paste by lathering Fels-Naptha® Laundry Bar Soap onto stained laundry, fabric patio cushions, etc. Then work borax into the lather, rubbing between your thumbs. Removes most difficult stains.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Previously the owner of a cleaning and disaster-restoration business in Michigan, dealing with the aftermath of fires and floods, Linda Cobb, author of Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean (Copyright © 1998 by Linda Cobb), started sharing her cleaning tips in a local newspaper column. After moving to Phoenix she became a weekly guest on Good Morning Arizona — then the product endorsements and requests for appearances started rolling in. A featured guest on radio and television shows across the country, Linda Cobb lives in Phoenix with her husband.

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Home, Sweet-Smelling Home: 14 Easy Tips

Eliminate odors in the home the cheap, green way — without using dangerous synthetic air fresheners. From Green Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck

It is rare that a home always smells sweet. Some foods are just plain smelly, others reek only after they have been burned. And most of us conduct the occasional refrigerator “experiment.” Here are some ways to exorcise those unpleasant odors without poisoning yourself with synthetic “air fresheners.”

Track down the source of the smell. If it is not a member of the family, get rid of it.

ELIMINATE ODORS
Clean Out Your Refrigerator
Throw slimy vegetables and rotting fruit in your compost bucket. Wash the slime out of the fruit and vegetable drawer. Put rotting meat in your freezer until garbage day. Wash sour milk off the refrigerator shelves.

Put an open container of baking soda in the refrigerator. The baking soda will absorb odors. Replace it after about six months. Use the old baking soda for cleaning jobs or to unclog a drain.

Empty the Garbage
If the inside of the can is wet, wash it out and let it dry. Sprinkle some baking soda in the bottom of the garbage pail to absorb odors.

Burned the Dinner?
If something has burned but is no longer producing actual flames, turn on the range hood to suck the smoke out of the house. If the weather is above freezing, open some windows.

You can try to placate your smoke alarm by whirling a vinegar-dampened towel over your head. Some of the smoke will catch in the towel, and the vinegar will neutralize the smell.

Damp and Dank
Molds and mildews are often rather malodorous. If they are growing in your undersink cabinet, you need to fix the leak and dry out the cabinet. Wash out the cabinet with vinegar and borax to kill the mold and mildew. A portable fan can be used to speed up the drying process.

Garlic and Onion Odors
Hot water sets in these odors. Cold water removes them. Wash your odoriferous cutting boards and hands in cold water. Rinse well.

ADD BETTER SMELLS
Warm a little vinegar on the stove
while you are cooking fish, cabbage, or other strong smelling food.

Burn an unscented candle to help dispel odors. Be careful to keep the candle out of the reach of children, pets, and mischievous breezes.

Pour equal amounts of vinegar and water into a spray bottle. Spray a little vinegar into the air to dispel strong cooking odors.

Pour a little vanilla extract on a cotton ball in a saucer and set it out on a countertop.

Heat cinnamon sticks and cloves or cut-up lemons in saucepan of water on the stove. If the smell is too tantalizing, make mulled cider instead: Heat apple cider with a cinnamon stick and a few whole cloves in a saucepan over a burner turned on low. Do not allow the cider to boil. Let the cider small permeate the house until you can’t resist it any longer. Pour the cider into a mug. Drink.

GROWING CLEAN AIR
Green plants are the only true air fresheners. They produce oxygen and also remove toxins and particulate matter from the air.

Houseplants with scented leaves can make indoor air smell wonderful. Stroke the leaves of fragrant houseplants such as scented geraniums, lavender, thyme, rosemary, and mint to release their fragrance into the room. Or pick a couple of scented leaves and simmer them in a saucepan of water.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ellen Sandbeck, the author of Green Housekeeping (Copyright © 2006 by Ellen Sandbeck) and Green Barbarians: Live Bravely on Your Home Planet, is an organic landscaper, worm wrangler, writer, and graphic artist who lives with (and experiments on) her husband and an assortment of younger creatures — which includes two mostly grown children, a couple of dogs, a small flock of laying hens, and many thousands of composting worms — in Duluth, Minnesota.

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How to Remove Stains Using Common Household Products

You can remove all kinds of stains with the everyday items you probably already have in your cupboard. Linda Cobb, “The Queen of Clean” and author of The Royal Guide to Spot and Stain Removal, tells you how.

Some of the very best spot and stain removers are things you use every single day! These stain removers work great and they’re right at your fingertips!

Alcohol: Rubbing alcohol is great for grass stains and so much more.

Ammonia: The perspiration stain fighter.

Automatic dishwasher detergent: Keep this on hand as a bleach substitute and whitener/ brightener even if you don’t have a dishwasher. Liquid, powder, and tablet form all work well. If you choose the tablet, make sure it has dissolved before you add clothes. Pour directly on stain, or soak.

Baking soda: Removes odors.

Club soda: My favorite Oh my gosh, how did I do that? spotter. Use it on any fabric or surface that can be treated with water. A slight dabbing on dry-clean-only fabrics is also permissible, just be sure to test first! Use club soda on any spill — ask the waiter for some if you’re dining out — dab it on and blot it off. Club soda keeps spills from becoming stains and brings the offending spill to the surface so it can be easily removed. It’s totally safe. I always make sure to have a bottle on hand.

Cream of tartar: I bet you have some of this in the kitchen cupboard, but how often do you use it? Well, here’s your chance. Mix cream of tartar with lemon juice and you have a wonderful bleach for white clothes spotted with food or other stains. It’s even effective on many rust stains.

Denture-cleaning tablets: The cure-all for white table linens with food stains and white cotton with stains. Dissolve one tablet per 1/2 cup water. Pour directly on stain or spot.

Dishwashing liquid: A wonderful spotter, used undiluted on tough stains.

Glycerin: You can remove tar, tree sap (think Christmas tree), juice stains, mustard, ketchup and barbecue sauce.

GOJO Crème Waterless Hand Cleaner®: Totally awesome for removing grease and oil, including shoe polish.

Hydrogen peroxide: 3 percent hydrogen peroxide is super for removing bloodstains, especially if they are fairly fresh. It also is a wonderful bleaching agent for stubborn stains on white clothes. Combine ½ cup of hydrogen peroxide and 1 teaspoon of ammonia for an unbeatable stain removal combination. Make sure to use 3 percent and not the kind you use to bleach your hair!

Lemon juice: This is nature’s bleach and disinfectant. I don’t know where we’d be without it. If you have spots on white clothes, apply some lemon juice and lay them in the sun. Apply a little more lemon juice prior to laundering, or pre-spray and launder as usual. This is really effective on baby formula stains.

Meat tenderizer: A combo of meat tenderizer (unseasoned, please, or you’ll have a whole new stain!) and cold water is just the answer to protein-based stains such as blood, milk, etc.

Salt: Sprinkling salt on spilled red wine will keep the wine from staining until you can launder it. Mixed with lemon juice, salt will remove mildew stains.

Shampoo: Any brand will do. Cheap is fine. I save the small bottles from hotel/motel stays and keep them in the laundry room. Great for treating ring-around-the-collar, mud and cosmetic stains.

Shave cream: That innocent-looking can of shave cream in your bathroom is one of the best spot and stain removers available. That’s because it’s really whipped soap! If you have a spill on your clothes (or even your carpet), moisten the spot, work in some shave cream, and then flush it with cool water. If the offending spot is on something you’re wearing, work the shave cream in and then use a clean cloth (a washcloth works fine) to blot the shave cream and the spot away. A quick touch of the blow-dryer to prevent a ring and you’re on your way. The best thing about shave cream is that even if it doesn’t work it won’t set the stain, so the spot can still be removed later. Keep a small sample can in your suitcase when you travel. It’s saved me more than once!

WD-40 Lubricant®: Check out your garage or the “fix-it” cupboard. If you don’t have any, pick up a can the next time you’re at the hardware store or home center. Why? Because we’ve all had those nasty grease stains and oil stains on clothes: Salad dressing misses the salad and gets the blouse, or grease splatters when you are cooking — or crayon/lipstick/Chap Stick® gets on your clothes! WD-40 is your answer. Spray some on, wait 10 minutes, and then work in undiluted liquid dishwashing soap and launder as usual. Works well on everything except silk!

White vinegar: A great spotter for suede — used undiluted. It’s also a wonderful fabric softener. Just put 14 cup white vinegar in the final rinse. (And no, you won’t smell like a salad!) It’s worthwhile to keep these things on hand. As you can see, most are inexpensive and have other uses. They’ll make you the laundry Queen — or King! — in your home.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Previously the owner of a cleaning and disaster-restoration business in Michigan, dealing with the aftermath of fires and floods, Linda Cobb, author of The Royal Guide to Spot and Stain Removal (Copyright © 2001 by Linda Cobb), started sharing her cleaning tips in a local newspaper column. After moving to Phoenix she became a weekly guest on Good Morning Arizona — then the product endorsements and requests for appearances started rolling in. A featured guest on radio and television shows across the country, Linda Cobb lives in Phoenix with her husband.

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