I've been on a quest to rid our home of toxic chemicals for both health and environmental reasons.
Did you know? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air can be 10 times to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air. One of the culprits is common household cleaners emitting toxic fumes.
UGH! It freaks me out when I read stuff like that. But I'm calming down now that I've figured out how easy and economical it is to make my own safe, natural cleaners. I'd seen numerous references on Pinterest and websites for using vinegar as a cleaner. That's not really new; most of our grandmothers knew about the wonders of vinegar. (Check out this lengthy list of vinegar cleaning tips.) It is a natural, inexpensive dissinfectant that can eliminate mold, bacteria, grease and germs. I've used vinegar for cleaning and found that even though the scent is rather unpleasant while I'm using it, once it dries the vinegar smell is gone. Recently Pinterest led me to a post by Ann at The Fountain Avenue Kitchen about soaking orange peels in vinegar to make a more pleasant smelling vinegar cleaning solution. I got all kinds of excited.
After my recent post about using fruit, herbs, and spices for making natural home fragrances, it occurred to me that I could use some of those same scent combinations for making natural cleaners with vinegar. After considerable experimenting over the past few weeks, I'm happy to report that it works! I've created some natural scent combinations that take most of the punch out of the vinegar scent and leave behind a pleasant, clean scent.
IMPORTANT INFO & MONEY SAVING TIPS...
These scented cleaners don't completely eliminate the vinegar scent when first sprayed. It's still there. I'll give you some tips for minimizing the vinegar scent so that the citrus, spices, and herbs are the dominant scents. But, you'll still smell a touch of vinegar when it is first sprayed from the spray bottle. As it dries the vinegar scent fades and the citrus/herb/spice scents lingers. If you're not okay with a temporary vinegar scent, these cleaners aren't for you.
Citrus peels don't only provide a fresh, pleasant scent to these cleaners. They contain oils that contribute cleaning power.
These vinegar cleaners are all-purpose except for use on granite and marble. Vinegar is acidic and can mar the finish of porous stone countertops. These cleaners can be used for almost everything else, though, including wood floors.
These cleaners are CHEAP to make. Buy vinegar by the gallon and use peels from citrus you're already eating or juicing. Use up expired spices and herbs that are leftover from cooking or from your garden.
Get creative with whatever you have on hand. I'm sharing some scent combos that I tried and like, but there are endless other combinations. If you eat a lot of oranges, combine the peels with an herb or spice that you like. If you've juiced a bunch of lemons for lemonade, use the peels to make a lemon scented vinegar solution.
Refrigerate or freeze citrus peels until you have enough to make a batch of vinegar cleaning solution. If you buy some herbs for a recipe, freeze any that are left to use later for making these cleaners.
THESE MAKE COOL, INEXPENSIVE GIFTS. I've got some free downloadable, printable labels for you to use.
HOW TO MAKE NATURAL CLEANERS with vinegar, citrus, herbs, and spices
citrus peels -- orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit -- just the peel & pith, not the juicy edible part inside
herbs -- I used rosemary, mint, & thyme, but you can use any herb that has a fragrance you like
whole spices -- don't use ground spices (they are hard to filter out and can clog the sprayer in the bottle) -- I used cinnamon sticks and whole cloves, but you can try other fragrant spices
extracts (optional) -- this kick up the scent; I especially like adding vanilla and almond for sweeter scents
essential oils (optional) -- add a few drops of these to the spray bottles to improve the scent if they smell to "vinegar-y" to you. Many of these oils will also add cleaning power to the mixture. Find them at Whole Foods and Amazon.
Peeling the citrus (only use the peel & pith, not the juice & pulp inside):
When using citrus that has been juiced, the juicy pulp needs to be removed from the peel (it will cloud the cleaning solution and can make it sticky). The easiest way to do that is to cut the citrus halves into half again (making quarters). Take each piece and bend back the ends so the center pops up and the inside pulp can be peeled off.
Citrus like oranges, tangerines, or clementines that are peeled for eating can be peeled by hand the old fashioned way. Or, use a citrus scorer/peeler--especially handy for oranges that have a thin skin and are harder to peel.
Cleaner #1: Orange Spice Add cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and almond extract to a jar or lidded container. Fill with orange peels. Add enough vinegar to cover the peels. Put the lid on and let it sit for 2 weeks (or up to 1 month). I like to label my lid with the exact ingredients I used. That way I will know how to replicate or tweak the formula to my liking in the future. I use blue painters tape for labeling--it sticks well yet removes easily without leaving behind a gummy residue.
Cleaner #2: Lemon Rosemary Lemon peels, rosemary sprigs, & vanilla extract. Same procedure as above.
Cleaner #3: Lime Thyme Lime peels and thyme sprigs. Same procedure as above.
Cleaner #4: Grapefruit Mint Grapefruit peels and mint sprigs (or substitute mint extract or essential oil). Same procedure as above.
Here's how the four varieties looked right after assembly:
OOPS ALERT! One of the scents I tried was simply awful. I tried a combo that I'd used successfully with my natural home scents jars using evergreen twigs and bay leaves. I thought this would be a great way to make my own pine-scented cleaner. NOT! Something went terribly wrong when those were soaked in the vinegar. When I removed the jar lid after two weeks, the smell just about knocked me out. AWFUL! Don't try that one. Gross. Trust me on that. PEE-YEW!
NOT VERY PRETTY, BUT THEY SMELL GOOD. Here are four jars after their 2-week steep. Unlike my OOPS above, the scent of these had all improved enormously. The color and scent in the citrus peels leeches out and adds to scent and lightly color the vinegar.
Strain the scented vinegar. After at least two weeks of soaking time, use either of these methods:
Put a funnel in the jar and then rest a wire strainer in the funnel. Pour the vinegar solution through the strainer.
Screw a strainer lid onto the top of the jar and pour it through the funnel into the jar.
Store the strained, scented vinegar in a sealed jar or container. Be sure to label it, especially if you're making more than one kind. It should be good to use for up to a year. This is a concentrate that should be diluted with water before using it.
Dilute and add more scent, if needed.
Pour some of the concentrated scented vinegar into a spray bottle. Add 1/3 cup scented vinegar to 2/3 cups of water. I'm using a 16 oz. (2 cup) spray bottle here, so I used 2/3 cups scented vinegar and 1 1/3 cups water.
Put the nozzle on the spray bottle and give it a shake. Spray a small amount and smell. Keeping in mind that the vinegar scent will fade once the cleaner dries, if the vinegar smell is still too strong for you, add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of extract or 4-5 drops of essential oil. For example, I added 4 drops of orange essential oil to mine to intensify the orange scent and increase it's cleaning power.
These all have distinctive scents that are pleasant to me. You may need to do some experimenting to find the combo(s) that are most pleasing to your nose.
Want to label your spray bottles like mine? Read on.
Download printable spray bottle labels.
Print a sheet of these labels for adding the finishing touch to your spray bottles for personal use or to give as gifts.
To use the tags:
Print these on card stock, cut them out with scissors, punch a hole in the corner, and hang them from a ribbon or string.
Print them on sticker paper and stick them to your spray bottle. Or, stick them on with tape.
If you don't have a printer or specialty papers, you can have a store with printing services download and print them for you (Kinkos, Office Depot, Staples, etc.)
Click on individual images to download and print a full sheet of desired labels.
Use the Citrus Blend label for any custom blend of citrus peels, herbs, and spices that you create. (click label image to download)
Use this Blank Label to write in the name of your own custom scent; or use the blank area to write TO and FROM and use it as a gift tag. (click label image to download)
The labels make these natural cleaners more fun and attractive both for your own personal use and to give as gifts.
Stick on the labels, or punch a hole in the corner and hang them with a ribbon.
Use the natural vinegar cleaner with these earth-friendly, washable, and reusable items:
Microfiber clothes -- My paper towel use went way down when I started using these. I have a stack of them under my bathroom and kitchen sinks so there's always a clean one ready to use. They work great on all surfaces, including computer/TV screens, glass, appliances and wood. Mist them with the vinegar cleaner and you'll be amazed how well they clean. Throw them in the washing machine and reuse them over and over again.
Oxo dusters -- No need for those Swiffer throw-away duster refills. This works even better and is machine washable. I have a couple of refills so there's always a clean one ready to use. Mist the duster with a little of the scented vinegar solution and you've got one mighty dust magnet.
Sponges/scrubbers -- My mom (aka Grammy) got me started using these natural fiber sponges. Sponges can get very germy, but these can be put in the dishwasher and washed with your dishes; so they're always clean and germ free.
Gift giving ideas. These spray bottles make fun, practical, inexpensive gifts. Combine a spray bottle with a microfiber cloth for gifts for housewarming, hosts/hostesses, off-to-college, or any occasion.
Combine multiple spray bottles with microfiber clothes for a bigger gift.
You can even add a duster to kick it up a notch.
Whether for your own use or to share with others, you'll feel good about using these safe, inexpensive, homemade cleaners. My personal favorite is the Lemon Rosemary; which one appeals to you?
ALL-PURPOSE. I use this natural cleaner on everything except my granite countertops.
Wood. For dusting wood furniture, mist a cloth or duster lightly with the scented vinegar mixture. A little goes a long way. It's great for cleaning wood floors, too.
Stainless steel & appliances. It cuts grease and leaves a shine. I spray it directly on my appliances and sink and wipe with a microfiber cloth or sponge.
Glass. This does an amazing job on mirrors, glass, and even eye glasses. If you've been using Windex type glass cleaner, you may need to add a few drops of liquid dish detergent to your spray bottle to help remove the film left behind from the Windex. After a few cleanings, the liquid detergent won't be necessary. (Tip from Ron and Lisa Beres in their informative book Let's Green It!)
I love having these jars of citrus peels soaking so they'll be ready to refill my bottles of cleaner. Mother Earth is smiling, too.
MAKE THE SCENTED VINEGAR CONCENTRATE: Use a 2 quart jar or sealable container. Add citrus peels, spices, herbs, and extracts (see suggested combinations below). Pour in enough vinegar to cover completely (approx. 5-6 cups). Cover tightly and let sit for at least 2 weeks (or as long as 1 month), shaking the jar every few days to redistribute contents. Strain liquid and store in covered jar or container for up to 1 year.
DILUTING THE CONCENTRATE FOR USE: Mix in a spray bottle using 1/3 cup scented vinegar concentrate for each 2/3 cups water. Add 3-4 drops essential oils or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon extract to enhance scent, if desired. Shake and use for cleaning most surfaces. Not recommended for granite or marble surfaces.
VINEGAR CITRUS COMBINATIONS:
1. Orange Spice. 4-6 cinnamon sticks, 1-2 tablespoons whole cloves, and 1 tablespoon almond extract, enough orange peels to fill jar.
2. Lemon Rosemary. 3-4 large rosemary sprigs, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, enough lemon peels to fill jar.
3. Lime Thyme. 6 sprigs thyme, enough lime peels to fill jar.
4. Grapefruit Mint. 8 large sprigs of mint (or 1 tablespoon mint extract), enough grapefruit peels to fill jar.
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I use these with orange peels for my Orange Spice scented vinegar. Whole spices are recommended over ground spices because they can be easily strained out and won't clog the sprayer nozzle. For whole cloves, click below.