Fun With Water, Vinegar And Essential Oils: A Super-Basic DIY All-Natural Household Cleaner

It wasn’t really a conscious New Year’s thing, but a few weeks ago I picked up some essential oils on sale at Meijer. I’ve been wanting to mess with oils for awhile, but I always tend to forget to check them out when I’m shopping. But there they were, two little vials of lavender and tea tree oil for a super-sweet price, and that little reminder light went off in my head.

Once I got them, my mind basically exploded with all kinds of DIY-ish ideas, and I was casting about for what to do with them. I wasn’t interested in getting a diffuser or anything. I looked into homemade facial care products, but the idea of trying to buy glycerin and what have you felt like too much. But then I remembered seeing something on Pinterest or wherever on making your own DIY all-natural household cleaners. It seemed doable for a busy mama/lazy newbie like myself. And lately I’ve found myself interested in de-toxifying as much of my home as possible. (I know, I know: something about ‘detoxing’ is so Gwynnie Paltrow-bougie, but after a massive coughing fit after using a mildew remover one night — and weeks of hives afterwards — I figured going eco in this particular arena wouldn’t hurt.)

I’m not going to recite stuff about parabens, phthlates, chemicals and stuff about household cleaning products here. I’m sure a search on Google will do you good if you’re curious about the chemicals in conventional home cleaners. I don’t have a particular soapbox to stand on, though I do go for the environmentally-friendlier options when it’s affordable for me and my family. Because why not act in the interests of the natural world when you can? I tend to go by personal experiences when it comes to these kind of things, anyway. (I’ve tried eco-friendlier skincare, for example, and found it usually irritates my skin — formulas in general with few ingredients are way better for me, even if one of those ingredients is petrolatum.) But I will say that I’ve found, overall, that household cleaners are one area where the DIY natural route works just fine, and is way cheaper and less harsh.

I spent a few evenings down a rabbit hole of searching and researching formulas, but I found the best thing to do is start super easy. The basic ingredients for the most basic formulas are likely right in your pantry. For the easiest, simplest cleaner of all, all you need is white vinegar and water, mixed with essential oils, and poured into a spray bottle. That’s it! That’s all! So easy!

This is what I’ve been using the past few months:

Basic Household Cleaner

1 part white vinegar
1 part water
Drops of essential oils
1/2 juice of a lemon (optional; see note below)

The amount you use can be customized — I started with a half-cup each of vinegar and water, tossed it into a spray bottle and added some drops of lavender and tea tree essential oils. I tend to play it by nose — I found 15-20 drops of lavender and about 10 of tea tree oil to be more than enough, and it masked the smell of the vinegar quite nicely, especially once you shake it all up.

I keep our cleaner now in our kitchen and bathroom, where it works great on grease, dirt and general ickiness — and it smells wonderful. This really basic cleaner is great on surfaces, and I also spray our bath with it, which has kept mildew at bay. But I don’t use them on granite or marble — the acidity of the vinegar will eat through the finish, I think.

I’ve seen some recipes add some lemon, which I figure can’t be too bad — but generally if you add it, you should refrigerate the formula. Otherwise, the formula lasts about six months from what I’ve read, so I label the date on a piece of tape, as well as a reminder to shake the bottle before use and a warning not to use on granite or marble. (Though, let’s be real, I don’t live in a home with those anyway!)

The oils are where you get to play around a bit. Some say certain oils have inherent anti-bacterial properties, like tea tree. I don’t know if that’s true — it’s not like you’re adding tons of the oils to the formula, and I haven’t seen any legit scientific analysis of this. But the combo of lavender and tea tree oil has worked nicely so far. I’m planning on getting a few more oils to experiment with — lemon and basil sound nice for spring, right? I also love the smell of geranium and sage, for an earthier-smelling, aromatic combination.

Beyond oils, I’m likely going to experiment with other formulas in the future — ones meant for mildew, for instance, or ones with castile soap. But honestly, this super-basic recipe meets most of our needs, is hella cheap and easy and smells great. Why mess with beautiful simplicity?

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