Benzalkonium chloride. Nonylphenol ethoxylate. Butyl cellosolve. What do these bizarre sounding chemicals have in common? They’re all used in the making of standard house cleaners and disinfectants. Sure, they get the job done, but they’re also harsh on the environment (and often leave an unpleasant fragrance behind).
With spring cleaning in full swing and Earth Day just around the corner, it may be time to consider a more eco-friendly alternative. Jan Berry, author of 101 Easy Homemade Products for Your Skin, Health & Home ($15; amazon.com), has three easy, safe, and delicious smelling potions for keeping your home spick and span.
Lemon Balm Furniture Polish
“While you can rub your furniture directly with lemon balm leaves for a fresh scent and shine, it takes a lot of leaves, time and patience to do so,” writes Berry. “Instead, try drying your lemon balm leaves and infusing them into an oil that has a long shelf life, such as jojoba, coconut or olive, then turn that into a homemade polish that makes your wooden surfaces gleam!”
Yields 1 oz
1 tbsp dried lemon balm leaves, crumbled ($2; etsy.com)
1 oz jojoba oil ($7; swansonvitamins.com)
0.15 oz beeswax ($9; bulkapothecary.com)
Lemon essential oil, optional ($4; herbspro.com)
Half-pint canning jar ($13 for set of 12; worldmarket.com)
1. Place the dried lemon balm leaves and jojoba oil in a half-pint canning jar. Set the jar down into a saucepan containing 1 to 2 inches of water. Heat over a burner set to low for 1 hour, then strain oil into a 4-oz canning jar. You can save a little bit of cleanup time by using this small jar for both mixing together and storing the furniture polish.
2. Weigh out the beeswax directly into the jar with the strained oil, then set it in the saucepan you used to infuse the jojoba oil. Turn the heat to medium-low and heat until the beeswax is completely melted. Remove from heat. If desired, stir in a few drops of lemon essential oil, for scent and added cleaning power.
3. Using scraps of old T-shirts or other soft rags, rub a small amount into your wooden furniture, rolling pins, and cutting boards as needed. Follow with a buffing by a clean rag.
Rose Window Cleaner
Berry writes that this fragrant cleaner “utilizes the natural grease- and grime-cutting abilities of white vinegar. Cornstarch may sound like an odd ingredient, but its specific purpose in the recipe is to help prevent streaking. For the most beautiful, streak-free shine, try using this spray in conjunction with crumpled newspaper or birdseye cotton.”
Yields enough to fill a 2-oz spray bottle
1 cup fresh pink or red rose petals
1½ cups white vinegar
2 tbsp water
Pinch of cornstarch
2-oz spray bottle ($1; premiumvials.com)
1. For the rose-infused vinegar: Place the rose petals and vinegar in a pint canning jar. Cover with a plastic or nonmetallic lid. If you don’t have one, place a few layers of plastic wrap or wax paper over the jar before putting the lid on, to keep the vinegar from corroding the metal.
2. Set the jar aside in a cool, dark place for 1 to 2 weeks or until the vinegar turns pink and takes on a light rose scent. If you’d like a stronger smell, add more rose petals and infuse for another week. Strain the finished vinegar into a clean jar. Label, cap, and store out of direct sunlight. The color will fade over time, but the vinegar will remain usable for at least 1 year, or longer.
3. For the rose window cleaner: Pour 2 tbsp of rose-infused vinegar into a small spray bottle. Add the water and cornstarch and shake well. Spritz on windows, mirrors, and other glass surfaces, then wipe off with crumpled newspaper or birdseye cotton. Vinegar can damage or cause etching on granite, stone, or marble, so avoid on those types of surfaces.
Four Thieves Vinegar Spray
“Scientific research today tells us that many aromatic herbs do indeed have strong disinfecting and antimicrobial properties,” explains Berry. “I like to make up a large batch of this vinegar each year to keep on hand for use during cold and flu season. It’s great for cleaning surfaces such as sinks, light switches, toilet seats, refrigerator handles, and other places germs might lurk.”
Yields 1½ cups
¼ cup each of chopped fresh rosemary, mint, lavender leaves, sage, thyme, and oregano
Few whole cloves (optional)
Water, for diluting
Pint canning jar ($9 for pack of 12; walmart.com)
1. Place the herbs in a pint canning jar. Some variations of the recipe contain cloves, for their potent germ-fighting properties. If you like their scent, try adding a few to the jar. Pour the vinegar over the herbs. Add extra vinegar, if needed, to ensure that the herbs are fully covered.
2. Cover with a nonmetallic lid or lace a few layers of wax paper or plastic wrap between the jar and metal lid, to prevent corrosion form the vinegar.
3. Set the vinegar in a dark place to infuse for 1 to 2 weeks. Strain and store in a glass jar. Shelf life is at least one year.
4. To use, dilute with equal parts of water, and spray on soiled or germy areas, then wipe off with old rags or paper towels. Vinegar can damage or cause etching on granite, stone or marble, so avoid using on those types of surfaces.
Tip: If you don’t have fresh herbs, try using half as much dried herb instead.