If you’ve ever bought cleaning products anywhere besides one of the dollar stores, you know they can get pretty pricey — and they’re even more expensive if there’s an ‘all natural’ label slapped on the packaging. But are you really getting something safer and healthier when you pay more for one of those ‘green’ products? Not really.
According to a recent report by the Wall Street Journal, last fall Whole Foods began selling a laundry detergent called ‘Nature’s Power’ — in a green bottle that claims the product is made “with plant-derived soaps.”
The main active ingredient is sodium laureth sulfate, a common cleaning agent found in many other regular old cleaning products. It can be produced from coconut oil, palm oil or petroleum. So while it says “all natural” and the package is labeled to make you think you’re getting a better quality product, it’s really pretty much the same as all other cleaners out there.
What ‘all natural’ labels actually mean
“It is the same chemical compound, regardless of what it’s derived from,” says Clarence Miller, a professor emeritus of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice University in Houston. A spokesman for the company that makes the detergent told the WSJ that the sodium laureth sulfate in Nature’s Power “is plant-based and not the same.’
But here’s the thing — there are no official guidelines for what makes a household product ‘natural’ — which is also the case with ‘all natural’ food labels. Companies that make detergents, dish soaps and other household cleaners aren’t required by law to tell consumers what’s actually in these products — which is why you’ve probably noticed more and more cleaner labels claiming to be eco-friendly, nontoxic, hypoallergenic etc.
Read more: What ‘all natural’ food labels actually mean
And that’s because people are willing to pay extra for a product they think is safer or healthier, especially if children are involved. In fact, U.S. sales of ‘natural’ household and personal care products have increased 35% since 2012 — while the industry in general has only grown 4%.
So companies will classify products as ‘natural’ simply if anything in them is originally sourced from plant-based materials — which are pretty much the same ingredients in the mainstream equivalents that don’t say ‘natural,’ according to a chemical safety firm.
Read more: 5 cheap options for organic foods
And even entire brands that are focused primarily on ‘natural’ and safer products aren’t any different. Here’s what the folks at the WSJ found when they took a closer look at one of these companies:
Sodium laureth sulfate is part of a family of cleaning agents that also includes sodium lauryl sulfate. The Journal reported earlier this month that Honest Company Inc.’s laundry detergent contains sodium lauryl sulfate, according to two independent lab tests, even though the labels on its bottles say the product is “free of SLS.” The company disputed the labs’ findings and said its detergent contains an alternative called sodium coco sulfate. Multiple chemists told the Journal that sodium coco sulfate is a mixture that has a significant amount of SLS.
A safer and cheaper alternative
If you want to make sure you’re using safe, natural products — without spending a fortune — try making your own cleaners at home! The process can be super easy and can save you a whole lot of money!
Do-it-yourself home cleaning products have become very popular over the last few years. They’re often healthier, you can customize them to make them smell the way you want, and best of all, they save you money by investing just a little bit of time!
We’ve compiled a list of the ingredients you’ll need to create your own home cleaning products, and then the recipes for the most common cleaning solutions. You’ll also want to be sure to check out our recipe for DIY laundry detergent here!
Ingredients for homemade cleaners
Here are some household items you can use to make homemade cleaners (plus some extra materials for specific recipes below):
- Baking soda
- Olive oil
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Washing soda
- Castile Soap or Sal Suds
- Citric acid
- Kosher salt
- Your favorite essential oils (These can get expensive, but you’ll only need a few drops for each recipe. Orange, lemon and lavender are most common in cleaning product recipes.)
- Microfiber cloths
- T-shirt strips, cut into 5-inch squares
- Glass and/or plastic spray bottles
- 2 airtight glass jars
1. Homemade all-purpose cleaner
- 2 cups distilled or boiled water
- 1 tsp borax
- 1/2 tsp washing soda
- 1 tsp liquid Castille soap
- Essential oils as preferred (Suggestion: 4 drops lemon, 4 drops lavender and 10 drops orange.)
- Glass spray bottle
Put borax, washing soda and soap in a spray bottle. Add distilled warm water. Cover bottle and shake well. Use as needed.
Read more: 5 ways to use vinegar around the house
2. Re-useable cleaning wipes
- 1 cup distilled or boiled water
- 1 cup white vinegar
- Essential oils as preferred (Suggestion: 15 drops lemon, 8 drops lavender essential oil, and 4 drops bergamot.)
- Microfiber cloths or t-shirt strips
- Glass jar with lid
Place liquid ingredients in airtight glass jar. Close it securely and swirl to combine. Open container. Add microfiber or pre-cut cloths to jar, close it securely, and shake lightly to soak up ingredients. Wring excess liquid from cleaning cloths before using. When soiled, machine wash wipes and repeat process to be used again. (Idea: you can also use an old wipes container, roll up your cleaning cloths, and use them as you would paper wipes! T-shirt strips work best for this though.)
3. Furniture polish
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 tsp. lemon oil
- Small glass spray bottle
Using a funnel, pour vinegar, olive oil, and lemon oil into bottle. Shake well. Spray and polish with microfiber cloth, going with the grain of the wood. Remove excess polish with a clean cloth.
Read more: 5 ways to use salt around the house
4. Floor cleaner
- 2 cups warm water
- 1 cup vinegar
- A few drops essential oils (Lavender or orange is nice!)
- Spray bottle
Add water, vinegar, and essential oil to a spray bottle. Shake. Spray on floor, mop. Add 1 tablespoon castile soap and 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol for wood floors, and use 1/2 the amount of vinegar.
5. Dishwasher detergent
- 1 cup borax
- 1 cup washing soda
- ½ cup citric acid
- ½ cup kosher salt
Add all ingredients to a clean container you will not be using, such as an old yogurt container. Use 1 Tbsp per load of dishes.
6. All-purpose scouring scrub
- 1 cup baking soda
- ¼ cup castile soap or Sal Suds
- 1 TB hydrogen peroxide
- 1 large jar with a lid (such as a Mason Jar).
In a medium-size bowl, combine the baking soda, castile soap or Sal Suds, and hydrogen peroxide. Stir until the scrub cleaner looks like thick glue.
Spoon the scrub cleaner in a large jar with a lid. Seal the jar. This cleaner will harden when exposed to air for a prolonged period of time. The scrub cleaner can be used immediately and kept at room temperature (in a sealed jar) for several months.
Note: It’s important to leave room at the top of the jar for expansion. The cleaner will expand within the first 24 hours. I leave 2-3 inches at the top of the jar for expansion.
To Use: Apply the amount desired to a cloth or scrub brush and apply to a dirty surface. Allow the scrub cleaner to sit for a couple of minutes. Wipe the surface with a damp cloth.
Read more: Cheap and easy way to unclog a drain
7. Stain remover
- Spray bottle
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 1/4 cup baking soda
- 3 cups warm water
Spray on stain, let sit for a few minutes, then toss clothing into laundry.
There might be a little upfront expense buying the ingredients and containers, but over time, you’ll really see your savings add up!
For more money saving tips, check out our Deals and Savings page.