Simple Spring Cleaning + 2 DIY Natural Cleaners
Updated: Apr 27, 2020
In the Northern Hemisphere Spring is in full swing. It's a constant tug of war between Summer and Winter, resulting in much variability and unpredictability when it comes to the weather. Still, I love the sound of birds chirping, the sight of green grass, and the feeling of fresh breeze blowing in through open windows.
Spring is the perfect time for a deep clean, especially once it is warm enough to open those windows. I tend to do most of my spring cleaning the week of the equinox; it's my way to celebrate the new season and transition out of the winter months. However, I know many might not be as punctual as I am when it comes to spring cleaning, and as such I wanted to provide you with a few resources and share my natural DIY cleaner recipes.
Natural Cleaning Chemistry: The Basics
First, we must start with a basic science lesson. This will give you a basic understanding of how cleaning actually works, and will help you avoid a major mistake many DIY natural cleaner recipes make. Don't worry, I'll keep it simple.
Let's talk about dirt. Dirt, or soil as I'm going to refer to it from now on, is the grime that we are trying to remove, and is broken down into three types:
Inorganic soil: grime that originates from stuff that was never alive
Organic soil: grime that originates from stuff that was (at one point) alive
Petroleum soil: grime that originates from things like grease, waxes, paints, etc.
Why pH is Important
This is where the "big DIY cleaning mistake" comes in. I've come across many recipes that call for both vinegar and Castile soap, plus maybe a few essential oils or even some baking soda thrown into the mix. The problem is this: Vinegar is an acid, and Castile soap and baking soda are bases. Take a look at this basic pH breakdown:
pH 14 (alkaline / basic)
pH 7 (neutral)
pH 0 (acidic)
You may remember from basic chemistry, that an acid is used to neutralize a base, and vice versa. If you mix an acid (vinegar) and base (Castile soap) in one bottle for "cleaning" what you'll wind up with is a neutral and ineffective cleaner. Instead, what we want to do is keep our acids and bases separate, and use them based on the type of soil we are dealing with.
How to clean each type of soil:
Inorganic soil: cleaned with acidic cleaners
Organic soil: cleaned with alkaline cleaners
Petroleum soil: cleaned with solvents
Some grime is going to be a combination of both inorganic and organic soil. In that case you may need to use a combination of acidic and alkaline based cleaners, especially when you are unsure of what type of soil it is.
While most of your cleaning will be done using an acidic and an alkaline based cleaner, I couldn't just leave you hanging when it came to using solvents and abrasives. So here's a quick breakdown:
Alcohol is my go-to solvent cleaner when dealing with petroleum based soil. Ethanol (cheap vodka) is best as Isopropyl (rubbing alcohol) can be dangerous to inhale. Citrus oils, which contain d-Limonene (a volatile essential oil) can also be used. If you are going to use a citrus oil, sweet orange is best as contains about 90% d-Limonene.
Abrasives help to wear away at dirt, grease, stains, discoloration, etc. These are especially helpful in the bathroom or when you are dealing with any kind of grime build up. My go to is baking soda (pH 8.4), as it is a very mild abrasive. If you need a bit more abrasive power, add some kosher salt. Just mix your abrasives with a little bit of water and scrub away.
2 DIY Natural Cleaners
I would say about 90% of my cleaning is done with just these two cleaners. There is absolutely no need for a different cleaning product for every little area of the house, that's just a marketing ploy. I do use a third cleaner for glass/stainless, but that one will be shared at a later date (I'm in the process of using up what I already have and need to do a bit more testing).
All-Purpose (Alkaline) Cleaner
Liquid Castile soap is your best friend when it comes to cleaning. Castile Soap, which has a pH value around 9.3 (Dr. Bronner's Pure Liquid Castile Soap), is your go to all-purpose cleaner.
In a 32oz spray bottle add:
1/4 cup liquid Castile Soap (I prefer Dr. Bronner's)
30+ drops tea tree oil (optional)
Water to fill up spray bottle
Plain Distilled White Vinegar (5% acetic acid) is the king of acidic cleaners and has a pH of around 2.4. This is my go-to disinfectant as well as my main bathroom cleaner. Vinegar cuts through hard-water stains, soap film, and can be used to polish stainless steel. DO NOT USE AROUND NATURAL STONE!
In a 32oz spray bottle add:
1 cup distilled white vinegar
15+ drops lemon essential oil (optional)
15+ drops tea tree essential oil (optional)
Water to fill up spray bottle
Feel free to eyeball it using a ratio 1:2, vinegar to water.
A Few Notes:
Essential Oils: While optional, essential oils can help boost the cleaning power of your DIY's. Both Tea Tree and Lemon essential oils are backed by science for their antibacterial and natural disinfecting properties. Plus they make the room smell fresh! Since Lemon is an acid, I only use this one in my acidic cleaner, it also helps eliminate streaking if you are using this cleaner on stainless steel.
Dilution: There is much variability when it comes to recommended essential oil concentrations in DIY cleaners. Since vinegar and Castile soap are already cleaning agents in themselves, I don't want to over do it and "waste" my essential oils. These are the dilutions I use and find to be effective. Feel free to play around with increasing or decreasing the essential oils. Note: you can increase up to 12 drops per fluid oz, which is considered the maximum dilution for skin contact.
Spray Bottles: Glass (amber or blue) spray bottles are best, especially if you plan on using essential oils.
Water: I tend to just use tap water and have had no noticeable issues. However, distilled water is technically best.
Use: Make sure to give the bottle a little shake before each use as the compounds will naturally separate.
Spring (and Fall) Cleaning Checklist
This is what I use for my twice a year deep cleaning in Spring and Fall. Specific room tasks are located under their own headings, whereas General Room tasks are to be applied where relevant.
Subscribers-Only Bonus Content:
Head on over to the Resources section and access a two page room-by-room breakdown of this cleaning checklist. As a bonus, I've also included my simple weekly/monthly cleaning list as a guide to help you maintain a clean and healthy home.
Home Comforts: the Art and Science of Keeping House, by Cheryl Mendelson (p. 436-445)