3 Herb Mamas

HERBAL HOME-KEEPING: Natural Cleaning Recipes

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Resolution nay-sayers and general pessimists aside, I can’t resist that wonderful feeling this day brings. Like having a new, blank notebook and a favorite pen and a limitless imagination. Or as Anne of Green Gables would say, “a brand new day with no mistakes in it yet.”

Because I am much more likely to do the type of deep cleaning that many call spring cleaning at this time of year than in the spring when the gardens are beckoning and the greenhouse keeps me busy, my thoughts naturally turn to a fresh start in this area. If any of your resolutions involve greener living and frugality then this blog post is for you! Making your own cleaning supplies will save you a significant chunk o’ change and reduce your trash as well. They will also be non-toxic, healthy for you and your family as well as the planet.

My original impetus to make my own cleaning products was mostly motivated by a desire to cut down on all the excessive packaging and refuse. It seemed ironic that cleaning would involved generating so much trash. Although I have not completely eliminated all of that I am at least not throwing away several big heavy-duty plastic jugs every week or two. Most of the supplies needed come in simple cardboard boxes that are easy to break down and recycle for a variety of purposes, glass bottles or sometimes metal cans.

Natural Cleaning Supplies Natural Cleaning Products

Some of the basic supplies and tools and some of the finished cleaning products I use daily.

Once you begin making your own natural home care and cleaning products those long aisles in the grocery, drug, and big box stores will inspire awe and wonder by their sheer volume and seemingly endless variation. However, the variety is mainly centered on labels, packaging, scents, and colors of the contents rather than the main ingredients. What gets the job done hasn’t really changed much since our great-grandparents scrubbed with the likes of homemade soap and water, polished with something coarse and abrasive, be it sand or baking soda or Great Scouring Rush (Horsetail), and disinfected with vinegar or ammonia. After many years of simplifying my own cleaning arsenal with homemade versions I have decided that the bulk of the considerable cost of cleaning products lies in the advertising with which we are assaulted  in every media outlet by which we are surrounded. Sometimes I feel like that creates yet another kind of excessive psychological garbage that is best avoided.

So, on to the basics in herbal home-keeping for me. That is, what I use and why.

Citrus Cleaner

Making All-Purpose Citrus Cleanser starts with a healthy breakfast.

*All-Purpose Citrus Cleanser: This is my go-to cleaner for almost every purpose. I rather like when I notice my glass jars, which I have been using and re-using for years to store this cleaner, getting low. It means a healthy breakfast that never fails to jump-start my commitment to starting the day with excellent nutrition. This is such a simple cleaner that you may find it hard to believe that it will be effective…until you use it. I simply peel 3 or 4 (or more) citrus fruits. I like a combination of grapefruit, orange, and lemon best but you can get creative to find your favorites. I simply peel these citrus fruits, placing all of the peels or ‘skins’ in a half gallon or gallon canning jar, depending upon how many peels I have. Use whatever containers you have. Cover this with plain white vinegar up to the rim, cap and allow it to sit for at least a few days. I’ve let mine sit for up to 2 weeks before decanting. LABEL & DATE EVERYTHING! That is this herbalist’s mantra, as my family knows only too well. It is tragic to have to throw out something that is probably perfectly useful and wonderful because you can’t remember whether it was cough syrup or shampoo for the dog. [The voice of experience wailing here.] Now just place all those lovely fruits freshly peeled in bowls, add some other delights like sliced bananas, berries, or whatever you like and call everyone to a refreshing breakfast. If you’re preparing/eating for one this simply means you get to nosh on these citrus jewels throughout the day from a refrigerated container. Yumm! Back to your cleaner. Once it has steeped for at least a few days you can strain out the citrus rinds and compost them. I fill labeled glass jars with my All-Purpose Citrus Cleanser as well as a spritzer bottle. I use this on almost all surfaces from counter tops to sinks and tubs and windows. The scent is fresh and uplifting. If you want it to smell even stronger you can add a few drops of citrus essential oils as you prefer. For windows and mirrors I spritz the surface with cleaner and wipe to a shine with wadded up newspaper. It works better than any commercial product I have ever tried. A quick clean up for sinks and tubs is to spritz All-Purpose Citrus Cleanser all over the surface and then sprinkle lightly with a little baking soda and then scrub a bit and rinse. It will fizz some, which is fun. By the way, a recycled shaker top container like Parmesan cheese comes in serves this purpose handily.

How effective is vinegar as a cleaning agent? Basically as effective as chlorine bleach for most cleaning and disinfecting jobs according to Rodale Press, a reliable vanguard for health news. According to a September 28, 2009 Rodale News report:

“When it comes to your immediate health and the health of the planet, vinegar, a natural disinfectant, is probably strong enough to handle most germy tasks, and when it doesn’t work, resort to hot soapy water. Use bleach as a last resort, use it sparingly (follow the 1:4 ratio), and make sure the room is well ventilated so you don’t hurt your lungs. Also, never use bleach in combination with another cleaner, even vinegar, as toxic fumes can result. This is particularly dangerous considering that premade cleaning products aren’t required by law to disclose their ingredients, and you may unknowingly use an ammonia-based cleaner before or after swabbing down a surface with chlorine bleach (mixing chlorine and ammonia results in a toxic chlorine gas).”

You can read the full article here http://www.rodalenews.com/natural-disinfectant

*Earth Scrub, a natural alternative to scouring powders and soft scrubbing products. This is fun to make with kids because, like many homemade products, it can be a science lesson that is fun to learn. What kid doesn’t love to make concoctions and watch reactions? We all have a little mad scientist in us. To make about a pint of cleaner place 1-2/3 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup liquid Castile soap (Dr. Bronner’s is one brand.), and 2 Tbsp. distilled water in a mixing bowl. Stir slowly to combine. You can add several drops of any essential oil that you like at this point. Next add 2 Tbsp. white distilled vinegar. I generally substitute my homemade All-Purpose Citrus Cleanser here and leave out the essential oils since I have the natural ones from my citrus peels. Stir well, place in a jar, cap, and label. It is ready to use. I just scoop a little out onto a sponge sufficient for the job, be it scouring a pan or a sink or a tub, and apply the proverbial elbow grease. Sometimes for tough jobs I will spritz the surface with All-Purpose Citrus Cleanser first and allow that to loosen dirt or soap scum a bit before scouring with Earth Scrub. This recipe comes to me from my sister herbalist, Andrea Koutras Lay of Hidden Hollow Farm.

*Natural Wood Balm Being married to a woodworker and living in a hand-built home in the mountains means that I am surrounded by mostly wood. From walls to cabinetry to kitchen utensils, there is A LOT of wood in our home. And I love it! I am not always consistent or conscientious about their care but I try and trying harder is definitely on my New Year’s Resolution List. Having the supplies and tools at hand enhances the likelihood of success significantly. None of the wood in our home is sealed with polyurethane or varnish so the natural grain of the wood is still open to absorb water, air, and whatever else is in the environment. Keeping it from drying out requires nourishing the wood with natural oils. The botanist in me likes the connection to the living trees from which these beloved items and structures came. Extending their useful life as tools for comfort and ease in our own lives is simply good stewardship. Maintaining cutting boards and other treenware, which in case you’ve not heard the term before is the name for carved wooden utensils like ladles, spoons, rolling pins, etc., can be as simple as washing with a mild soap and water, rinsing, drying well, and then rubbing them down with a bit of natural oil. Walnut oil is probably the finest oil and least likely to go rancid. However, it is rather pricey. Olive oil makes an affordable substitute. It does not necessarily have to be Extra Virgin Olive Oil for this purpose. Lower-priced pure Olive oil would be fine. Natural, unfinished hard woods have many antimicrobial properties of their own. However, I also like to make my own Wood Balm because it is less messy to apply and quick and easy to make. I simply place about a cup and a half of oil (Walnut or Olive) in the top of a double boiler along with 1/3-1/2 cup of grated Beeswax from a local apiary. Once these are melted the balm is ready. You can enhance the antimicrobial qualities by adding a few drops of appropriate essential oils. [See below.] Pour the finished balm into containers, labeled of course, and allow it to firm up. You can make this any consistency you like from a gel to a firmer waxy salve. Apply to clean wooden surfaces using a soft cotton or wool rag.

*Natural Air Fresheners Clean is probably the freshest scent I know and nothing more need be added. Commercial air fresheners with their sickly intensity and highly questionable ingredients are not even on the table for discussion to me. In the warmer months a clean house, if a bit cluttered with books and our various hobby supplies, with the windows thrown open for fresh air is all I need in the way of “air-fresheners” but in the winter months in our mountain home, the air is decidedly bracing and not conducive to this method. This is my favorite winter air-freshener recipe. Combine and place in a labeled spritzer bottle:

3/4 Cup distilled water

1/4 cup vodka

30 drops Orange essential oil

12 drops Rosemary essential oil

8 drops Clove essential oil

8 drops Peppermint essential oil

It is ready to use but you will notice that the scent changes after about 24 hours of blending. I cannot remember for sure but the original recipe for this, and probably I have tweaked it over time, came from Mountain Rose Herbs. They carry a fine line of pure essential oils as well as herbs and other herb-related products.


A special word is in order regarding essential oils. They most certainly warrant at least one blog post, and probably many, all their own but I will try to rein myself in today and keep it simple. You may have noticed the book Jeanne Rose’s Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations in the photo above of my basic cleaning supplies and tools. I use this reference extensively and daily. Not only is it a joy to read cover to cover but the charts and tables are something I turn to again and again. This book, and others by Jeanne Rose, along with correspondence courses are available here:


I use essential oils in my homemade cleaning products for two main reasons. One is that they can affect the mood of the person using them. I really think this is the main reason for scent in commercial cleaning products. If scrubbing your tub or tending to the needs of your cutting board proves to be an uplifting, energizing experience then you are much more likely to enjoy it and repeat it often. I really like both the bright, refreshing citrus scents as well as warm woody ones like Rosemary and Cedar, and these are prominent in my home care products.

The other reason to use essential oils in homemade cleaning products is that they all inhibit the growth of organisms [read: bacteria and germs] and some are particularly effective at this such as Eucalyptus, Lavender, Rosemary, and Tea Tree essential oils. A word of caution is in order because essential oils are very concentrated and potent. I have read that a single drop of essential oil taken internally is the equivalent of drinking 28 cups of infused tea of that same plant. That is a lot of potential energy to unleash in one tiny drop. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of thoroughly educating yourself before applying or ingesting any essential oil. They are wonderful natural resources and it takes many, many pounds of plant material to even make one tiny 1/3 oz. bottle of essential oil. For both safety and environmental reasons learn when and how to use herbs and when and how it is appropriate to use essential oils.

May 2015 be bright and merry with blessings for you and yours! ~Leenie

Essential Oils

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