Cleaning with Natural Ingredients

Sherrie Graham

Sherrie Graham › Sherrie Graham and her husband Adam live with their two boys in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, ...


I love cleaning. I really, really do. I know that I just alienated a bunch of you, but bear with me! Even though I love to clean, I still don’t want to spend a lot of time scrubbing counter tops when I could be reading books or playing outside with my kids. And since most grocery store-bought cleaning products don’t disclose their ingredients, smell strange, and are dispersed through the air, I’ve been dedicated to non-toxic, natural cleaning in my home for several years. A bonus to natural cleaning? There’s no excuse for the kids not to help!

Although I use a few additional ingredients as well, I rely primarily on three inexpensive, readily available, and effective items to clean my house and leave it smelling fresh and clear: lemons, baking soda, and vinegar.

There are certainly many, many more ways that they can be used, but here are my top three uses for each:


I love lemons! They’re so fresh, bright, and cheery. And they smell wonderful. It’s often less expensive per lemon to buy them in a bag, so if you’ll use them up before they spoil, that may be worth your while. Also, they look beautiful in a bowl on the counter!

  1. Freshen up wooden cutting boards and utensils by cutting a lemon in half and rubbing the cut side in coarse salt. Scrub the wood with the salty lemon, rinse well and pat dry.
  2. Wooden cutting boards and utensils can then be treated with conditioning oil. Mix one part lemon juice with 2 parts olive oil, and rub into wood with a soft cloth. This is super fun to do with kiddos, they love to help!
  3. To freshen the air (I especially love this in the kitchen after cooking fish) – simmer what’s left of your lemon used to scrub the cutting board in a bit of water on the stove, with a splash of vanilla and a sprig of thyme.

Baking Soda

The last time that I ran out of baking soda, I went for broke and bought a 22-pound bag. That’s how much I love the stuff. For ease of use, you need to be able to sprinkle it around, and what I’ve found works perfectly is a glass shaker jar, commonly found at thrift stores and restaurant supply stores.

  1. Bathtub scrub. We have a lovely old enameled cast iron bathtub, which has some rough spots. These tend to turn dingy, and the best solution I’ve found to clean them is a spray of oxygen bleach, then a generous sprinkle of baking soda. Let sit for a few minutes, give it a few additional sprays of oxygen bleach to re-wet. A quick scrub and rinse, and voila! A squeaky clean tub.
  2. Sprinkle lightly over the kitchen sink after you’ve done the dishes, and scrub it around with the damp dishcloth you already have in your hand. A quick rinse, and your sink will shine.
  3. Cleaning the oven – this is a bit of a messy process, but it works. In a bowl, make a fairly thick paste of baking soda and water. Spread it over parts of the oven that need a good clean, and let sit overnight. Scoop out excess, then use a damp rag to clean what’s left out of there. One last rinse to make sure all of the baking soda’s gone, and you’re all set.


Another love of mine, vinegar can be found in 4L containers at the grocery store, and is least expensive in that size. Don’t be put off by the smell – it dissipates very quickly. Be sure to check manufacturer directions for particular surfaces or do a spot check on an inconspicuous area, as vinegar can react with certain materials, especially stone.

  1. Mirrors, windows, and countertops can be cleaned using a half and half mixture of vinegar and water.
  2. To clean floors, a simple solution of 4 parts water to 1 part vinegar does the job nicely. There’s no sudsy residue – just a beautifully clean floor.
  3. To clean slow drains, pour a pot of boiling water into the sink, followed by ½ cup or so of baking soda. Let it sit for a few minutes. Pour another cup of vinegar and a cup of boiling water on top, and let it do its thing for an additional 5-10 minutes. Pour another pot of boiling water on top, and your drain should be clear! This can be repeated if needed.

In addition to these three powerhouse ingredients, I have one other trick up my sleeve. My go-to all-purpose cleaner recipe is effective and very inexpensive to make. It can be customized to suit your essential oil preference, and is great for cleaning countertops and the floors underneath toddler seats at the table.

All-Purpose Cleaner

2 cups water
2 tbsp liquid castile soap (Dr. Bronner’s, or here in Canada, Nature Clean – both great options)
25 drops essential oils (my favourites are lemon, orange, lavender and / or peppermint)

This can be mixed directly in a spray bottle, and used on table tops, counters, and other hard surfaces. Give it a few gentle shakes before spraying to evenly distribute the oils. If the surface is stone, antique, expensive, or unknown, test on an inconspicuous area first.

Happy Cleaning!

What are some of your favorite ingredients for natural cleaning?

Photo Credit: Sherrie Graham